[CULTURAL DIMENSIONS]Filling the holes, with helpThe murder of two Omu Electric Company engineers in Iraq brought the distant war home to Koreans. The murders were the latest step in a steady escalation in terrorist acts. In November alone, terrorists in Iraq and Turkey have killed Americans, Colombians, Britons, Italians, Japanese, Koreans, Poles, Spaniards and Turks. Their message is clear: Americans and supporters are fair game anywhere, any time.
The terrorists are gambling that their war of attrition will work because the war in Iraq has weak support in most of the counties concerned and weakening support in the U.S. The further support weakens, the greater the likelihood of a withdrawal, particularly if the United States forces President Bush from office in November 2004. The terrorists desperately want a U.S. withdrawal so that they can turn Iraq into a base for terrorist activities and infiltration of important countries near Iraq. Having lost Afghanistan and on the defensive around the world, the terrorists desperately need a home for their activities so they can gather strength and prepare for the next Sept. 11.
The Bush administration wants Iraq with equal desperation. It wants to turn Iraq into a model Arab democracy that will stand by it in the war on terror. From the start, the U.S. course implied the use of military force around the globe to fill the holes by imposing order. Like Afghanistan, Iraq was a hole that needed filling.
Imposing order in far-off lands, of course, is imperialistic, which is why the policy has caused so much discomfort in the world. Guilt-ridden former colonial powers and post-colonial nations found it difficult to sympathize with the U.S. effort.
Iraq is now in the hands of two desperate forces: the terrorists and the Bush administration. The more desperate the terrorists become, the more committed the Bush administration becomes. When it comes to hole filing, it follows that the wider the conflict spreads, the more committed the Bush administration becomes.
With such a strong commitment from the Bush administration, the outcome of the conflict in Iraq should be clear. It is not, however, because support for the war in Iraq is falling in the United States and in allied nations. A recent poll in Japan, for example, showed that 88 percent of Japanese do not think that their government has offered a clear explanation of the need to send Japan Self-Defense Forces to Iraq. A poll in Korea before the murders would have most likely shown a similar lack of understanding mixed with lack of support.
Democratic societies cannot fight wars without a strong national consensus. To his credit, President Bush has recently made a greater effort to maintain support for the war in Iraq. Leaders of nations that have committed themselves to sending troops to Iraq must do the same. They must present a forceful argument stating how sending troops to Iraq serves a broader national interest. The argument is easy to make because a failure to fill the holes in the rule of law risks destroying the global system that, for all its faults, has encouraged a steady advance in human freedom and dignity.
Korea has used the global system to its advantage to develop a thriving economy and democracy in a single generation. It has been so successful, in fact, that it often takes the stability of global system for granted. That ended with the murder of the engineers in Iraq. Korea now knows the cost of leaving the holes in the rule of law open for terrorists to fill. Expect the Roh administration to make a much clearer and stronger case for involvement in Iraq in the days to come. In the process, Korea will play a key role in inspiring other nations not to give in to terrorists.
* The writer is an associate professor at Kyoto University in Japan.
by Robert J. Fouser