We can’t win if we fight alone

Chris Good is an activist and musician living in Sparks.

On the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, the six billion people of Earth were perhaps as close to unanimity as we have ever been. The global community joined us North Americans in sorrow, shock and outrage at the terrorist murders in New York and Virginia. It was an awful, historic moment, rich with possibility. With the support of nearly every informed and rational person on Earth, the United States faced an altogether new decision: We could lead the world toward universal acceptance of international law, or do what the cynics predicted and rely on our military strength to punish anyone we could find. Unfortunately, our political leadership chose the latter course.

It was soon clear that Osama bin Laden was the lead criminal. The world knew where he was, and we presumably could have assembled the evidence to punish him for his crimes. This would have required working with other countries in acknowledgment of international law and justice, however, which the United States refuses to do. Instead, we attacked Afghanistan, lost our prime suspect and killed 4,000 innocent people (for those keeping score—and the rest of the world sure is—that’s more than died on Sept. 11.) Today the al Qaeda has gone underground while we make enemies by bombing wedding parties.

Then George W. Bush made two huge mistakes, both of which were morally wrong and pragmatically stupid. First he delivered his “axis of evil” speech, alienating people all over the Earth. His primitive “them and us” approach produced mass protests in Iran, drawing people away from the secular democratic movement we should have been supporting there. It also threatened to chill the slow thaw on the Korean peninsula. Fortunately South Korea and Russia ignored Bush and began rebuilding dialogue with the north. Second, as the bloodshed rose in the Middle East, Bush supported Israel in the face of otherwise universal condemnation.

Now Bush wants to attack Iraq, killing thousands more in defiance of world opinion. The rest of the world is very much aware that, as of 1996, our sanctions had killed half a million children in Iraq, and that then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that these deaths were “worth it.” These deaths, and our support for some outlaw regimes while we threaten to attack others, have cost us potential friends throughout the world. In September 2002, the world is more polarized and more dangerous than it was one year ago.

Rather than continuing to use our strength to punish the weak and poor, the United States should change course drastically. We should join the rest of the world and support international law through the International Criminal Court. We should work openly for democracy through rational persuasion and our own example, not bombs that do more harm than good. One of the great things about living in a free society is the real possibility of changing our own government’s policies. As U.S. citizens, we should demonstrate that our democratic institutions are capable of reining in an executive who acts irrationally. We should work with other nations to move the world away from the brink of war. The events of the last year have demonstrated that the United States cannot do this alone.