EVEN BEFORE conclusions can be drawn about the war in Iraq (Saddam? Weapons of mass destruction? Iraqi stability? Cost to civilians? Syria?) a home front consensus is jelling around a radical revision of America's meaning in the world.
Centered on coercive unilateralism, the new doctrine assumes that the United States not only stands apart from other countries but above them. The primitive tribalism of boys at football games -- ''We're number one!'' -- has been transformed into an axiom of strategy. Military force has replaced democratic idealism as the main source of US influence.
Formerly conceived of as essentially defensive, US armed services are now unapologetically on the offense. Aggression is prevention. Diplomacy is reduced to making the case for impending war and then putting the best face on war's denouement. The aim of all this is not world dominance but world order. That world order in the new age requires American dominance is an unintended consequence of America's power-altruism. That ''We're number one'' makes the world safe for everybody -- if only they accept it.
This new vision is clear, its advocates are powerful, and with Iraq its main blocks are in place, with obvious implications for countries as geographically dispersed as Iran and North Korea. What are the elements of an alternative vision? In a world traumatized by terrorist threat, weapons proliferation, and the sensationalism of Fox and CNN, disruption is infinitely magnified.
When such horror strikes, whether from twin towers collapsing or twin snipers shooting strangers, can human beings put faith in something other than overwhelming force? What strategies should critics of the new US doctrine of coercive unilateralism employ in opposing it? Learning from the past, I think of several:
Don't cede the language of morality to the right wing. Manichaean bipolarity oversimplifies good and evil, banalizing both. Still, some things should be done because they are right or opposed because they are wrong.
Critics of the intended new Pax Americana should not hesitate to say that long-agreed ethical principles are being violated. It is wrong to break treaties, as the United States is doing in its treatment of POWs in Cuba. It is wrong to wage aggressive war, as the United States now openly does. To make decisions for or against such policies on supposedly pragmatic grounds is to break the crucial link between means and ends, as if an outcome (''regime change'') can justify whatever was done to accomplish it. In the long run, the only truly pragmatic act is the moral act.
Be skeptical of ''homeland security.'' The American tradition prefers the risks associated with liberty to the risks associated with bureaucratic control. The new homeland security state threatens the kind of excess that came with the national security state after World War II. It was the National Security Act of 1947, after all, that laid the groundwork for the univocal bureaucratizing of government based in the Pentagon that marginalized debate and eliminated the natural checks of multiple power centers.
''National security,'' defined by anti-Communist paranoia at home and abroad, was false security. ''Homeland security'' promises to be a paranoid reprise.
Be suspicious of foreign policy based on ''worst case'' thinking. During the Cold War, the United States made fearful assessments of Soviet capabilities and intentions that turned out to be entirely false -- assessments that shaped policy. Low-level intelligence estimates regularly reported mere possibilities of hostile threat, which, reported up the chain of command, were transformed into certain facts. Thus, Soviet troop strength was wildly overestimated in the beginning of the era; Soviet missile strength was overestimated in the middle; Soviet political strength was overestimated at the end. The result was a US-driven nuclear arms race, the effects of which still threaten the world.
The worst case for the Soviet Union existed only in Washington's fantasy. And now it seems that the Saddam worst case resides in the same place. A nation that is so driven by fear will always find things to be afraid of. That nation's gravest threat arises, of course, from what it then does to defend itself.
Beware of war as an organizing principle of society. It should be a source of alarm, not pride, that the United States is drawing such cohesive sustenance from the war in Iraq.
Photographic celebrations of our young warriors, glorifications of released American prisoners, heroic rituals of the war dead all take on the character of crass exploitation of the men and women in uniform. First they were forced into a dubious circumstance, and now they are themselves being mythologized as its main post-facto justification -- as if the United States went to Iraq not to seize Saddam (disappeared), or to dispose of weapons of mass destruction (missing), or to save the Iraqi people (chaos), but ''to support the troops.'' War thus becomes its own justification. Such confusion on this grave point, as on the others, signifies a nation lost.
James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Boston Globe.
Source: Boston Globe
You make a great point. However, I don't apreciate how you call my views shallow and assume that I support America occupying Iraq, killing innocent people, and controlling oil. I never said that in my post. I said I hope peace and democracy and freedom comes to Iraq just as it did in Germany, Eastern Europe, and Russia. I also said Allah knows best. My opinions can always be wrong, but all I want is what is best for the Iraqi people.
You must also remember that before the US war on Iraq, Saddam Hussein was killing and oppressing people all the time. He was a TYRANT. If people protested against Saddam, they would have been KILLED. People for the first time ever in Iraq are able to protest, masha Allah!! And all thanks to American soldiers who risked and gave their lives to do so.
Ahmed, the death of innocents is always wrong and sad. I always greive and pray for those who die tragically. We as Muslims have an obligation to help alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi's as much as we can.
You see, we always like to blame America for everything, because it saddens us to see what a pitiful state Islamic countries are in. But we HAVE TO STOP MAKING EXCUSES and start building a better future for our Muslim children. We need more tolerance in our societies, I beleive that is one of the key things that is destroying us.
I can go on and on, and I will if you make me, but bottom line is, please don't call my views shallow. It hurts my feelings. I don't think you would apreciate it if I accused you of "just being jealous of America so you want to paint the most evil picture of it as you can." No, brother, I respect your veiws and I love you, and I know tht you only wish for the best for our beloved Iraqi people.
Asallam ule kum
Your ignorant, and presumptive hyperbole refects more the kind of manure Fox news feeds its audience.
I am rekram.
I am rekram.
parents teach kids that violence does not solve problems yet our president is saying exactly the opposite. war is the worst form of violence and should be avoided at all costs.
What a shallow view you have there by justifying what the US did in Iraq. You seemed to be a Muslim and you are saying it is ok for the US to overestimate their fear and kill innocents people and grab control of Iraqi oil. What kind of a non-sense is that?? You seemed to be rejoicing about what took place in Iraq rather as a Muslim you should feel sorrow for the Iraqis innocents who perrished as "collateral damage".
Then it is ok according to your view for others to do the same. Just invade when you have fear of someone!! If your view prevails among nations, the world wouldn't be around long.
By the way the Soviet Union did break apart because US "overestimated" their enemy. The USSR broke apart mainly due to their economy that was in a shabble state proofing that communism was a failure. US did not invade them as they invaded Iraq or even Vietnam where they failed.