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[NOTEBOOK]An obstinate leader, a bad war

Mar 04,2003
The Middle East region saw its heaviest snow in half a century. A reporter in our international news department who was in Jordan to cover the pending Iraq war was confined to his hotel because of snow more than a foot deep. It would be too much to ask for a dry land where dust flies all year to be equipped with snow-clearing equipment. Choi Chang-mo, an academic who writes a column “From Jerusalem” for the JoongAng Ilbo, sent a picture of the city blanketed in snow. Heavy snow and a cold wave in the Middle East is a most extraordinary phenomenon.
There were unusual changes in the weather, but it was unlikely that unexpected changes would take place in Iraq, which is moving closer to war. The war could start any time after Friday, after a United Nations weapons inspectors’ briefing to the Security Council.
The war in Iraq is foreordained because U.S. President George W. Bush is determined to end Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The situation could be compared to a time bomb. President Bush seems firmly convinced that a true leader must go his own way, ignoring the wishes of his people at times. His conviction could be likened to religious zeal.
President Bush said that at this moment, he would have been in a bar in Texas instead of the presidential office were it not for his belief in God and the power of prayer. It is natural for him, who overcame alcoholism through religion, to seek God at every possible opportunity. It is well known that President Bush opens his day with a prayer and ends it the same way. Cabinet meetings he presides over also start with a prayer. His public addresses are more closely resembling prayers as time goes on.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the United States changed its strategy toward the so-called “rogue states” from isolating them to defensive interventions. President Bush’s obstinacy has targeted Iraq as the first goal of this defensive intervention strategy. His actions are forcing the world toward division and conflict, the worst since the end of the Cold War. International society is divided into a group that endorses war against Iraq and those who do not. Within nations, some leaders’ choice runs up against public opinion. Conflicting views exist within political parties that are united on most issues. The division is growing worse every day. The United Nations, the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are also divided over the issue, bringing a serious breach in their credibility.
The Bush administration is forcing the international community to follow the U.S. banner, tacitly saying that opposition to the war is tantamount to anti-Americanism.
Looking at anti-war sentiment as the equivalent of anti-American feeling is dangerous. It is too much like dividing the world into good and evil. Countries opposed to the war are not opposed because the war was initiated by the United States. They do not want a war lacking a cause, and are worried about the devastating results the war could bring. Various public opinion polls showed that people do not harbor hatred toward the United States itself, but most people dislike the Bush administration’s unilateral foreign relations strategy. Opposing a war against Iraq and feelings about the United States are separate things.
Putting away one’s sword could be done out of real courage and not from cowardice. The United States has succeeded in taming Iraq at this stage without resorting to force. It could consider the option of disarming Iraq peacefully by extending the period of United Nations weapons inspections.
President Bush will pray to God every day to give him strength and wisdom to handle the situation.
Will the president’s God answer his prayers? Could the president change his mind, as the weather in the Middle East changed after 50 years?

* The writer is international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Bae Myung-bok


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