The afternoon before bombs were released over Baghdad, Senator Robert Byrd was on the floor of the Senate, lamenting America’s “arrogance of power.” He complained about the Bush Administration’s lack of diplomacy – I largely agreed with him. He feared for our soldiers – so did everyone. But when he decried the loss of America’s image as a peacekeeping nation fewer than 24 hours before America launched an attack on Baghdad, I was truly surprised.
He wept for the United States, he said. Not because troops would soon die. Not because families would be left without fathers or mothers. He wept because “no more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. ... Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.”
That is, no doubt, a sad thing. To be constantly questioned and mistrusted is, for a nation trying to lead the world, a sign of impending failure. But I ask: when was the last time we were seen as a “benevolent peacekeeper”? I could not avoid the feeling that Byrd was behind the times by several years. We were a peacekeeping force once, not long after the Cold War ended, when the UN only stepped into situations in which both aggressors decided they wanted outside help. But that did not last long. Soon, the UN was coming in uninvited and forcing peace on strife-torn countries.
American troops were deployed as peacekeepers in Somalia– but they quickly turned into peacemakers when it became clear that actively hunting down the warlords was necessary. The movie “Black Hawk Down” chronicles the ambush at Mogadishu, when soldiers trying to keep a tenuous peace suddenly became combatants– warriors who were trying to kill the fewest women and children possible while preserving their own lives.
That conflict left a sour taste in the collective mouth of the UN, so it and the US backed off the next fight. UN headquarters ignored advance warning that the Tutsis in Rwanda were going to be slaughtered. Then, when the killing began, peacekeeping forces in the region kept their hands off, forbidden to intervene lest they break their “monitoring” mandate. They refused to be proactive makers of the peace and ended up either folding their hands or pulling out of the area while some 500,000 died in a Hutu genocide.
The most important lesson to be drawn here is that the simple, benevolent peacekeeper role that Byrd seeks is unattainable in the modern world. It is, indeed, a cause for sorrow that such is the state of the world, but we must keep in mind two things. One: the US has not been a benevolent peacekeeper for at least 10 years now, with one notable (and disastrous) exception. Two: it should no longer strive to be.
It may be argued that the attack on Iraq did not even constitute peacemaking, but merely sheer aggression. I’m not so sure. President Bush may or may not have a sufficient justification for the war; insofar as very few people are convinced, he failed to give an adequate one. Nevertheless, I think there are good arguments to be made for the war, and I think it begins with an understanding of peacemaking, particularly in contrast to peacekeeping.
As we saw at the end of the century, there is personal danger in being too active and community danger in being too passive, at least as a superpower. The war in Afghanistan, most people agree, was justified as self-defense. We were restoring peace to the global situation by rectifying the atrocities committed by terrorists. We were unseating the government that aided them, lest it happen again. But in Iraq, regardless of Bush’s protestations about indirect links to Al-Qaeda, the situation is different.
In Iraq, we are making peace both by disrupting it and by preventing it from being disrupted. That may sound like MiniTru propaganda from Orwell, but let me clarify. We are building real peace for that country’s citizens by breaking the thin veneer of peace that currently exists. Instead of an orderly country where subjects can be murdered en masse and the people are “protected” from the evils of free speech by the government, we are willing to create disorder in order to build a better system, wherein citizens can choose their own government without fear of ending up in a mass grave. That is what it means to make peace through disrupting it.
In addition to making peace in Iraq, the United States is defending itself. Yes, the US is protecting its own interests. Heaven forbid. If the US is to be the only country not allowed to seek its own interest, then it is going to have a hard time competing in a world market. The goal here is to make sure that it is using those interests as a way of choosing whom to help, not as a substitute for leadership in helping other countries. For example, it is often claimed that there are many other illegitimate foreign governments that are tormenting their own people. True. It does not seem like any of those are substantially worse than Iraq, though, and in the absence of other mechanisms, it seems just for a country to use selfinterest to decide which country to help first. Given that, then, let us turn to the protestation that Iraq has done nothing to us. Yet. This is also true. I admit here that Bush did not do a particularly good job of demonstrating that Iraq was a potential threat, aside from pointing out that Hussein is inherently dangerous and hates us. So I think the doctrine of preemption may have been misapplied here, although the idea itself is not blatantly wrong.
Bush’s major failure, however, is not that he caused America to lose its status as a benevolent peacekeeper. It is actually what Byrd lamented in other parts of his speech: the failure of American diplomacy – not with Iraq, but with other nations of the world. Bush managed to catch France in its own inconsistency, which is acceptable. But when much of the world is against America’s actions, it changes the situation diplomatically rather than morally. America was justified in war with Iraq regardless of world opinion–it is the nature of justice that it is not dependent upon public opinion. But for a nation that is trying to lead the world, diplomacy matters a lot, and that is why Bush’s failure is so lamentable.America lost its status as a benevolent peacekeeper long before Bush was elected to the presidency. Unfortunately, the war in Iraq was responsible for the destruction of America’s diplomatic relations with nations of the world.The task before Bush now is more than just the successful rebuilding of Iraq – it is the successful rebuilding of American diplomacy.
William Britt is a freshman in Morse College.