[SCRIVENER]When the war in Iraq hits homeA week into military action, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq continues to raise a veritable sandstorm of debate around the globe.
Allied forces look set to free Iraqis and their neighbors from an extremely nasty dictator. By doing so, they may have pre-empted terror against both Western and Middle Eastern interests. And their action puts other regimes with nuclear ambitions, like North Korea, on notice.
It’s hard to argue with these ends. But what’s on most minds is whether the chosen means are morally right.
For those who think they are, there has been a conscience shift, accelerated since Sept. 11, away from tolerance of the non-democratic and which allows that invasion of sovereign nations is now all right. Such folk also exhibit a willingness to act unilaterally if certain Europeans are too busy reading Jean-Paul Sartre.
But for a vast number of sensible people -- that means, not counting the knee-jerk anti-Americans -- the feeling that the means are morally questionable creates a sense of foreboding, a profound worry that the unintended consequences of this action may exceed its planners’ imagination.
It is just one short step to the next conclusion ― particularly in Korea where the intellectual fashion is to resent American power ― that the world’s policeman may have become a crooked cop.
I don’t share that conviction, but am surprised by how many thoughtful people do.
Just how widespread the questioning of this war is was brought home to me personally last week when my two sons, who are aged 11 and 12 and at school in England, sat down in the playground with other students to protest Britain’s participation. The younger, ignoring a teacher’s order to go back to class, took off across the playing fields with some fellow revolutionaries and spent the rest of the day protesting in the town. His teacher, who was sympathetic but legally responsible for her charges during school hours, gave him three hours of detention for leaving the school and advised him to e-mail the local member of parliament next time.
As his father, I want to tell him to be careful about the choices he makes. That’s because I’m concerned he acted impulsively in running out of school and may have been influenced by older boys. But I can’t criticize his conscience. He’s had a “Don’t Attack Iraq” sticker on his skateboard for some weeks because that’s what he feels.
At heart, there are two issues: The first is whether it is acceptable for a civilized country to be an aggressor. The answer is yes, sometimes. The global conscience can accept such action if it is for the benefit of the citizens living in that country. In 1991, for example, the allies went to war against Iraq to free Kuwait from Iraqi invaders.
Now it is we who are invading a sovereign state. But the motive is not really liberation of Iraqis. That’s a consequence, not an objective. The motive is pre-emption, which is a form of self-defense, and a hard one to explain internationally.
Concern about this may subside if the war goes in the allies’ favor. A rapid resolution, Iraqis dancing in the streets, and a smoking gun of terrorist connections and illegal weapons development may provide the international conscience with retroactive justification for the violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
The second issue concerns unilateralism. The only way an action such as the current attack on Iraq can really be palatable is if it’s multinational. That didn’t happen sufficiently this time, which is disturbing, but it’s possible that through the current efforts to stress the presence of other nations’ forces, this fact may become diluted.
Again, if things go well, we may quietly forget that Moscow, Paris and Berlin formed an axis of governments unwilling to fight evil. But, to be sure, the United States should take British advice and ensure that the peace of reconstruction is conducted not by the military victors, but by the United Nations.
Something tells me that this is not going to happen and that it is more likely to be a botched peace that leads to the unfortunate consequence.
* The writer is managing director of Merit/Burson-Marsteller and author of “The Koreans.” He is a member of the JoongAng Daily Obmudsman Committee.
by Michael Breen