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The double-talk of war



Our determination to go to war despite the objections of even some of our closest allies has led to some of the most patently self-serving and incoherent language to come out of the White House in years. At his press conference after the March 16 meeting in the Azores, President Bush sounded for all the world like a man doing his best to stop a war, not start one. "Tomorrow is the day that we will determine whether or not diplomacy can work," he said, referring to his 24-hour deadline for the Security Council to approve an invasion of Iraq. For the President, "diplomacy works," not when it prevents war, but when it promotes war.

"Many nations have voiced a commitment to peace and security," he added, "and now they must demonstrate that commitment to peace and security." How? By approving an invasion. Like the American officer in Vietnam who said, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it," Mr. Bush probably has no idea he is torturing the language.

Mr. Bush and his circle have repeatedly told us that unless the United Nations approves war in Iraq, it will condemn itself to irrelevance, and that it can maintain credibility only by approving the use of force. But of course it is the United States that is destroying the credibility of the United Nations by flouting its will. Not even an unprecedented campaign of bribes and arm-twisting could line up nine votes in the Security Council to approve a war. A head count of the General Assembly would have produced an even more overwhelming defeat.

It is breathtaking arrogance to defy the UN, reject its counsels, go to war, and then complain that the UN has somehow undermined its own credibility. If any other nation behaved like that, the United States would declare it a rogue state and sponsor Security Council action against it. And how are we proposing that the UN win back its self-respect? By abjectly rubber-stamping a war it plainly opposes. It will somehow gain prestige by humiliating itself.

The American approach to the UN appears to have been an act of bad faith from the beginning. The Iraqis are smashing Al Samoud missiles, and chief inspector Hans Blix cannot find chemical or biological weapons even with our best intelligence. So what was the point of sending inspectors to Iraq if we were determined to go to war even if they found nothing?

According to the Washington Post of January 19, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seemed to think inspections could lead only to war: "Hussein was so skilled at deception, he said, that failure to find weapons the United States has insisted exist could be considered proof of Iraqi lack of cooperation." Lack of cooperation with UN inspectors was grounds for war in Mr. Rumsfeld's view, so even if the inspectors found nothing it still meant war. The UN has every reason to be furious at the way we have treated its procedures as a sham.

At his Azores press conference, Mr. Bush had a sop for the UN: After we invade Iraq, the UN can help with "post-Saddam" reconstruction. "And that way," he said, "it can get its legs of responsibility back." In other words, the UN can gain respect by doing what we tell it to do, by helping establish order out of the chaos we create. The UN can do the difficult, unglamorous work of nation-building — the work that Mr. Bush said during his campaign the United States should not do — which will be necessary only because of our nation-wrecking.

Spokesmen for the war party have answered opposition from our allies with self-absorbed nonsense. They have claimed over and over that we saved the French from Nazism, as if that somehow meant they must do our bidding forever. But if any one country could take credit for defeating the Third Reich, it would be the Soviet Union, which killed ten times as many German soldiers as we did. If 60-year-old gratitude should be driving its foreign policy, France should defer to the Russians — who oppose war in Iraq — not to us.

On a TV program on March 16, Vice President Cheney had an equally self-absorbed explanation for why so many countries oppose this war: It is because they did not suffer from the September 11 attacks and have therefore not "come to grips" with how the world has changed. In fact, the Russians have suffered a continuing series of very violent attacks by Chechen terrorists. Hundreds of Muscovites have been blown up in apartment-house bombings, scores of Russians have died in smaller incidents, and the whole world watched in astonishment in October as Chechen gunmen held 700 hostages at a theater in the Palace of Culture in Moscow, in an incident that left 170 people dead. But no, the Russians don't understand the threat of terrorism.

During the 1980s, Paris was paralyzed by terrorist bombings in subway stations and department stores, and the French had so much fellow feeling for Americans after the September 11 attacks that even the prickly, left-leaning Le Monde printed the headline "We Are All Americans." But no, the French can't grasp the significance of September 11 either. Only we understand the world and what it requires.

The administration cannot grasp that most of the world opposes this war because it is an act of aggression. The war party seems to think the whole world should swallow the idea of preemptive war without a gurgle — so long as we are waging it. Anyone who thinks it is wrong to attack a country that has not attacked us is an irresponsible coward or an admirer of Saddam Hussein. We might do well to recall that "waging aggressive war" was one of the crimes for which defendants at Nuremberg were executed.

But the administration's silences are perhaps even more telling than the self-serving nonsense with which it justifies war. The United Nations Charter, which was drafted at our direction, and which we were one of the first to sign, spells out the two conditions for war: self-defense and approval of the Security Council. Even if one accepts the strained view that war against a nation that cannot even reach us with its weapons is "self-defense," Washington is violating international law by making war without Security Council approval. The administration can afford to be silent about that because no one cares enough about international law to bring the question up.

Even if they don't care about the UN charter, Americans might be expected to care about the Constitution, especially Article I, Section 8, which states that Congress has the power to declare war. Most of our previous undeclared wars have been called "police actions," or were said to be administrative support for allies in need, but no one is pretending an invasion of Iraq is anything but war.

And yet, like Stalin or Xerxes, George W. Bush will decide all by himself whether there will be war. If Mr. Bush wants war, we get war; if he doesn't, we get peace. That is not how the country is supposed to work. Power-hungry Presidents are no surprise; it is the servility of the country, particularly of Congress, that is astonishing. A few congressmen actually filed suit asking the federal courts to require a congressional declaration of war. The country yawned.

And so we march off to war, to kill people in the name of "peace and security." We practice "diplomacy" so we can wage war more freely. We ignore the Constitution and our treaty obligations, and insist that the host of countries that oppose us just don't understand how the world works. We accuse the UN of undermining its own credibility when it is we who are treating it as an irrelevance. We call for inspectors in the hope they will find a "smoking gun," and ignore their recommendations when they don't. We will kindly let the UN regain respect by giving it the wretched work of salvaging something out of the war wreckage.

Americans may be fooled by this sort of thing, but others are not. No wonder so many people — and not just Arabs — hate us.

March 17, 2003

Jared Taylor is a writer living in Oakton, Virginia.

© 2003 Jared Taylor. All rights reserved.

A related article by Mr. Taylor posted March 29, 2003.
Related article by Mr. Taylor from 2001.

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