Bakersfield Californian

VIEW POINT: U.S. must not ‘go it alone’ in waging war against Iraq

World Community must join, endorse response


Sunday / October 13, 2002


Whether or not you agree with President Bush’s rationale for pursuing war with Iraq, one thing is clear.  The president must secure key allied and moderate Arab support if our Iraqi effort, and the larger war on terror, is to succeed.  Without this support, going it alone in Iraq will chip away at American prestige and create a more tense and divided world. 


Unfortunately, unaccompanied and preemptive war appeals to the imperial visions of fringe policy-makers in the Bush Administration.  This is so because it allows them to recreate an era where, in their minds, the U.S. could use force at will and act unilaterally.  However, as Vietnam, the Cold War, and the Gulf War demonstrated, this moment in time never existed.  To understand why the U.S. should work with the international community we must remind ourselves the 20th century was the American Century because of two parallel strategies.  One pillar of American geostrategy was based on power politics, which required military build-ups backed by nuclear weapons.  The second pillar rested on building multilateral institutions that promoted our interests but also facilitated global dialogue. 


Our reliance on the former, power politics, shouldn’t be surprising.  The primary features of international politics – fear, security, and deterrence – haven’t changed over the millennium.  Practical considerations like the need for stability and growth, and the reality that the Soviet Union couldn’t be eliminated, led us to focus on containing Russia by building security alliances.  It wasn’t always pretty, as the Korean War and various proxy wars around the world demonstrated.  But from a security perspective it worked.


Containment and strategic partnerships afforded us the stability necessary for diplomatic treaties to thrive, which were the basis of the second pillar of American geostrategy: Building global institutions that allowed the U.S. to promote democracy and capitalism around the globe.  These twin strategies – power politics and inclusive multilateralism – created a stable balance of power that provided a predictable and manageable global environment. 


Hindsight shows us the cumulative impact of treaties like those signed at Versailles (1919), Yalta (1945) and Bretton Woods (1945) has been a world order based on respect for national sovereignty, cooperation, and growth.  The institutions that flowed from these agreements haven’t always gotten it right but they established a broader set of relationships and standards of international protocol that tied the world together in a web of treaties, international law and diplomatic routine.  More than anything else, the habit of dialogue continues to be the legacy of the American Century.


This is why going through the UN to press our case is so important.  It places Iraq in the position of rejecting UN inspectors, and the weight of world authority.  Without military provocation, or evidence that Iraq has anything to do with al-Qaeda, this is the response needed to legitimize U.S. action in the region.  Absent this legitimizing process, the U.S. will be hard-pressed to gather the financial and logistical support necessary to make our long-term efforts in the region successful.  In the process the U.S. will undermine long-standing patterns of cooperation, endanger fragile relationships, and undercut American prosperity around the globe. 


For example, if aggressive unilateralism against Iraq can be justified today, what can we do when Russia, India, China use the same argument in their sphere of influence tomorrow?  Currently these and other nations can be swayed by international opinion.  Tomorrow this won’t be the case. 


As well, war in Iraq won’t be complete with military victory alone.  A post-Sadaam Iraq will have to be rebuilt, governments must be established, peacekeepers will have to be brought in, and task-oriented multilateral agencies will have to be consulted, among other tasks.  To do less will invite state breakdown and radical mischief in Iraq.  We had a difficult time getting support in Bosnia, and were fortunate the global goodwill generated by 9/11 encouraged other states to ante up in Afghanistan.  We will not be so fortunate in a post-Sadaam Iraq.  Success in Iraq will demand an expensive and sustained operation, which will require a perpetual war tax on the American public if we go it alone.


Perhaps more importantly, going it alone might cause us to lose the support of moderate Arab allies.  Domestic realities will require Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and moderates in places like Jordan to distance themselves from our efforts in Iraq.  Radicals and fundamentalists might begin calling for regime change too. This would be a best-case scenario. 


An even uglier reality would be the overthrow of the corrupt and kleptocratic Mubarak regime, and the ouster of increasingly authoritarian and isolated Musharraf in Pakistan.  Just the threat of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling in fundamentalist hands would prompt another U.S. preemptive strike.  An additional economy busting war tax will follow.


Similarly, it will be difficult to convince our allies of the need to cooperate in global efforts like intelligence sharing, tracking international capital, pursuing criminals, and turning over terror suspects if they believe we will ignore information, or pursue our own course without consulting our partners. 


While few doubt Sadaam’s evil, if we are going to engage Iraq we must not compromise the larger war against terror.  Ultimately, going it alone against Iraq will undermine international cooperation, split military alliances, and foment instability and radicalism, precisely when our fight against terrorism requires partnerships. The next American Century requires that we engage our allies while working through the institutions that have contributed so much to our world.  Our long-term security depends on it.

Dr. Mark A. Martinez is an associate professor of American foreign policy and international relations at California State University,  Bakersfield.