Sunday, February 23, 2003

"Let everyone be subject to his neighbor." - I Clement

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Dear friend:

Please send the following message with all due haste. And pass it on!

The key to avoiding a war against Iraq is the united efforts of those nations with votes on the UN Security Council to push through a viable alternative to war.

Our own government is an unbending obstacle to this outcome, so those of us Americans who prefer peace must go directly to these other nations. If we American patriots for peace can help steel these leaders to do the right thing, we can change the course of history right now. As soon as these foreign leaders start making the right signals forcefully enough, more of our own Congresspeople will be able to come out from under cover to support the plan for peace.

Please copy the letter below and send it to the following addresses. These are the email addresses of the Ambassadors to the UN of those nations with current seats on the Security Council. Do it now!

To the Ambassador:

I speak to you as a very concerned American citizen.

I urge you in the strongest possible terms to immediately unite with other nations to enact any responsible plan for the disarmament of Iraq that avoids war and enhances peace in the Middle East. For example, an increased weapons inspections team coupled with United Nations forces in Iraq could enforce the process of disarmament and avert an unnecessary war.

You must overcome the opposition of my own government. I hope that, as many of my fellow American citizens unite with me in sending you this same message, you will recognize the strength within the United States of the anti-war viewpoint that I believe you and we share in common.

Our shared democratic values allow me to speak to you with collegial directness. As long as my own government pursues a strategy of war not peace, I call upon you to act in concert with the will of the American people in partnership for peace. Let our nations together strengthen the rule of law over the twisted logic of war.


United States of America

Thursday, February 13, 2003

If it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
- Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, 2002

Saturday, February 08, 2003

Put a piece of your heart into each thing that you do.
And be ever ready to give each of your gains away.

Friday, February 07, 2003

I have a couple of thoughts following the 1/30/03 open letter by several European leaders in support of Bush’s planned Iraq war, as published in the Wall Street Journal. The big problem I have is with its thesis statement, coming at the end of the first paragraph: “Today [our shared values of democracy, individual freedom, human rights and the rule of law] are under greater threat than ever.”

I could be cheeky and ask, “Under threat from whom – Saddam Hussein or George W. Bush?” But I must take the authors’ intent at face value and accept that they actually do believe that Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, and by extension Saddam Hussein – whom some suspect either is supporting these terrorists or would like to – pose the greatest threat ever to our democratic values.

What I have to ask is, why do these leaders suffer such a profound crisis of confidence in the sturdiness of our fundamental values? I would probably be more assured if I thought that this was mere posturing, scare-mongering – but I’m going to take them at their word. Do they think that our militaries cannot stand up to the onslaught of Muslim hordes, that the streets of Europe and America will soon be overrun by actual invasion? Probably not. But do they think that a future of relentless fundamentalist terrorist strikes in the heart of Europe and America will chip away at our citizens’ resolve to defend and uphold the values of democracy, individual freedom, human rights and the rule of law? If that’s what they think, then I’m very disappointed in them.

Our societies are too strong and dominant to be overrun by force. And acts of terror alone do not destroy the will to democracy once it’s planted. There’s only one way for these values to erode, and that’s by decay from within: a willful, power-hungry, manipulative leadership combined with a weary, flabby, clueless, brainwashed populace.

In this sense, these commentators may be right: our values may be under threat. If so, then that danger is the measure of our own failures in the way that we respond to fundamentalist violence. Yes, we must be resolute, and we must protect each other. But as is always the case, we must defend our liberties from within as well as from without. The terrorists will succeed only to the extent that they warp us to give up our values out of fear and in the name of defense.

The good news is, religious fundamentalisms of all kinds are in their death throes. The bad news is, this process could go on for several more centuries yet. I have no fear that Islamic fundamentalism from outside can by itself threaten the triumph of our values. But I do fear that it can trigger us to respond foolishly to its provocation so as to cheapen our values, weaken ourselves from within, give the fundamentalist enemy one last injection of lifeblood, and extend this tug-of-war for many decades beyond its natural lifespan.

I’m afraid that such expressions of panic by our leadership are taking us in the wrong direction.

The other objection I have is to the leaders’ assertion that “the Security Council must maintain its credibility by ensuring full compliance with its resolutions.” On the face of it, that might seem like a difficult statement to refute. But the recent shuttle disaster reminds me that there are limits to the control we can exercise over the things of this world, and this is never more true than in the case of states and leaders. I look at post-WWII international relations under the aegis of the UN as a long, slow historical process of incremental improvement – very much analogous to the slow growth of our own celebrated democratic values over recent centuries. It takes time to build compliance through the slow growth of consensus values. That’s why I put greater stress on the long-term efficacy of multilateral institutions like the International Criminal Court and war crimes tribunals than on military interventions.

The imminent invasion of Iraq is the outcome of a massive failure of policy: beheading the monster whom we created and found that we could not control. But the sheer bluster of the operation allows us to forever avoid admitting this fact. I say, it’s better to take our lumps, admit our mistakes, and pull a long-term success out of the mucky hat by working through this crisis under the framework of the rule of law, thus strengthening our shared values of justice for future days.

(In this context, I have to laugh at the proposal of exile for Saddam. We would save face and avoid war, but at what cost to the credibility of the nascent International Criminal Court? I guess that’s just another reason for the administration to like the idea of exile: anything to pour dirt on the ICC. But really, long-term, Pinochet’s near-miss and Milisovic’s trial are better signals to be sending to bloody dictators than we-will-kill-you-in-your-bunker.)

What has actually happened is that by playing a high-stakes game of chicken while simultaneously denigrating the institutions of the UN and international justice at every turn, it is we who have brought the credibility of the Security Council under severe, possibly irreparable, strain. Whereas a reasonable tolerance for dissonance and bad-boy dictators’ games, combined with an implacable but steady and level-headed will to see justice win in the end, would build the credibility of the Security Council over the long term, we instead have willfully and unnecessarily thrown that precious credibility into great danger. We have made war the only viable solution to save the Council’s bacon. And even war might not do the trick, because, once we come out the other end of this mess, unless it’s a smashing success by all accounts, world opinion may still find the Security Council’s judgment wanting. Then a crisis of credibility of a very different sort will ensue.