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Do we want a world in which paranoia reigns?

Copyright © 2003 Dorian Scott Cole

This is a second commentary about fundamentalist and ultra-conservative mindsets, and the susceptibility of these mindsets to become hijacked by leaders, to become radical and violent.

Is there an "us against them" mentality sweeping the US because of the US position on Iraq? In a previous article, I wrote that fundamentalists can become isolated and paranoid. The lack of contact with the outside world, and the idea that the world itself is bad, leads them to believe that everyone is out to get them. I am hearing similar rumbling on a larger scale regarding the US in its leadership role.

The US has had some important successes in world leadership in important causes that involved military intervention. In 1991, the US won a UN mandate to get Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. A few years ago, the US led a coalition of NATO forces against the Serbs, stopping a radical regime that was bent on ethnic cleansing. Failing in the UN to get such a mandate, the US, with dogged determination, won enough support from allies to end the problem for several Eastern European countries.

Why today can the US not hasten the time frame for Iraqi disarmament? Why can the US not lead the UN into a new resolution toward that end?

The US did not win over the UN before to intervene with the Serbs. While I have recommended in previous articles that the UN is the most appropriate route to take to get intervention for the people in countries that desperately need it, the UN is a body of many disparate parts that find it very difficult to agree. Each country has interests that can not easily be put aside, and there are a variety of opinions expressed in the UN.

The UN Security Council is made up of countries large and small, and the small ones could easily be bullied by the larger countries into decisions that can imperil them or their economy. If these countries begin voting to intervene in what are largely internal crises (as with the Serbs, and which lacks proven evidence in Iraq regarding disarmament), they leave themselves open to the same type of intervention. Stopping an attack on another country is something the UN seems ready to do. Intervention in other countries' internal decisions and actions, such as with the Serbs and in Iraq is a much larger step.

The UN is no more unbiased than the individual nations that comprise the body. As we are experiencing with France, Russia, and Germany, other nations have a different perspective on Iraq, and this is reflected in the UN. But I believe the UN is still the best place for countries to lobby for the individuals within other countries, and get resolutions for intervention. If the UN proves unable to protect others, then a coalition of countries may appear, and operating outside of UN sanction is not only a dangerous option, but a very expensive one for countries that are willing to take part.

What I am hearing today in the US is a passionate outcry against the UN and any country within it that opposes the US push for new resolutions that would lead to military intervention in Iraq. I'm hearing that all of those "other countries" have it in for the US and are using this, one way or another, to strike back at the US. Does this sound like paranoia? I'm hearing that the French not only have it in for us, but have all kinds of cultural, political, and economic (oil, trade, war spoils) motives for lobbying against the US plan. While the US says this conflict is not about oil, commentators within the US say that for France this is about all of these selfish reasons. Does this sound like the paranoia is deepening? US citizens are demonstrating against the French, threatening to cease buying French products and to cease traveling to France to hurt them economically - does this sound like paranoia that is deepening into hate and violence? Does this sound like the US any of us know and the things that we stand for?

I'm not a French apologist (defending or justifying). I don't know what French President Jacques Chirac knows, or Putin, or Saddam Hussein, or Bush, or the CIA. I do know that tensions run very high in the weeks leading up to war, and this heightened sensitivity pushes people to do and say very irrational and damaging things that they later regret.

War with Iraq, as Bush puts it, is a last response. War is horrible. Other things have to be tried first, and I'm not sure that the US has tried anything but force with Sadam Hussein since 1991. Containment seriously resembles provocation to the Iraqis - it is not a good-will gesture. But it may not be the place of the US to be conciliatory - it has an enforcement role. My second thought (never mind my first) in response to a rogue leader is to recommend doing what the Ancient Sumerians and Babylonians seemed to do. Their stories seemed to be tales that developed over time to instruct their leaders about what is the way to treat their own people and to lead, and that seemed to be delivered in the form of other leaders in the story who became persuasive friends. Other leaders are influential. If influence works, it is a much better response than war. But obviously I'm not in a position to judge the effectiveness of world leader influence on Saddam Hussein.

On the contrary, most of Hussein's peers in leadership in surrounding countries want him out of there. But carrying that out is unlikely as leaders in those countries consider the consequences to their own countries and to stability. The Arab League is against military intervention. Perhaps the combination of others' influence, and the presence of the US and British militaries, is slowly accomplishing the necessary task of disarmament.

"Why??!!" We all want to know, why are the French so adamant about giving Sadam Hussein more time? The French also want disarmament, and they don't believe that the existing conditions inside Iraq can continue. Why the hesitancy - have they no backbone?

French President Jacques Chirac went out of his way to establish a relationship with Sadam Hussein in 1975. Since that time, Iraq and France have been trading partners, with Iraq giving France "Most Favored Nation" status. Probably unwisely, France even gave Iraq assistance in developing nuclear electrical power (a step that could be used toward making material for nuclear weapons), but the Israelis took the nuclear plant out with a preemptive strike. Just as the US provided military weapons to Iran, France supplied weapons to Iraq - in hindsight, not good decisions by either country. While walking a thin line, both the US and France were interested in the stability of the region. France is the only Western country that Hussein has visited. The US, on the other hand, with few exceptions tends to quit speaking to countries until they prove good intentions. But in 1991, even Chirac had to break relations with Hussein when he invaded Kuwait.

In early 2001, Chirac reportedly began some discreet contacts with Iraq to try to find out if change without war was possible. Chirac was certainly the right candidate to do this. Apparently the results were positive. The changes that Chirac's group had in mind would have led to extensive changes and dramatically changed Iraq. In mid 2002, Iraq made an overture toward the US, saying it was ready to talk about normalizing relations. The overture was dismissed by the US. There is hardly any way that the US can trust Hussein to change, or to trust "normalizing relations" to do anything but hide Iraq's plans for military aggression. Trust is something that is earned, and as both Iraq and North Korea have shown, untrustworthy leaders rarely change even when goodwill is extended to them.

Purportedly there is now a French and German secret plan to avert armed intervention, as well as rumors of secret US negotiations with Iraq military leaders. The US and France both want the same things: the stability and security of the region, weapons of mass destruction out of Iraq, and the well-being of the Iraqi people. Those are publicly stated goals. They differ on how to achieve these.

Of course, it would be unlikely that Chirac could abandon his mission to Iraq, and his group do less than to continue trying in every way that they can to influence Iraq - it is the honorable thing to do, and the French feel that they are nothing without their honor and grandeur. They are, after all, the French. President Bush has no less of a mission: fighting terrorism (and making the world a safer place). We are, after all, the Americans. Bush must do what he believes is necessary to protect the US. It is a difficult and solemn mission that may conflict with Chirac's plans. I would hope that Chirac and his coalition would accomplish the impossible and avert war, but for the cautious, time is running out. As in 1991, at some point, one party will have to support the other. We can't allow these legitimate conflicts between nations with their own legitimate interests and missions to divisively damage the relationship between friends and allies.

Getting support for military intervention is somewhat like putting together a deal to make a movie. You get a lot of agreements to your face, but no real committments on paper. No one is willing to put themselves at risk until a winning team of supporters and actors actually gives it a nod and there is enough money pledged. At that point everyone signs (unless something else goes wrong - things often do). For Bush, if enough countries support what he is doing, eventually he will get the support he needs in some form. If not, then maybe the US needs to stop the paranoia rhetoric and listen before we jump into a war with potentially devastating consequences, and ostracize all of our allies.

It is something to think about that the leaders of Sadam's neighbors, the leaders of Russia, France, and Germany, and many of our other political friends and allies, many of whom depend on us for support, and even some religious leaders, do not want to support military intervention before more has been tried, and evidence proven, with Iraq - some not even until Hussein provokes action. Countries are typically very hesitant to commit lives to military intervention. In the early Twentieth Century, not even the US was proactive in joining in World Wars I and II to assist our allies, even though today many are currently beating their chests. The US remained outside these conflicts for years, while our allies countries were conquered and overrun, before finally getting involved.

Will the UN prove useless, as some predict? This is not the end of the UN unless we have unrealistic expectations of the UN and undermine it. The UN is a venue where differences of opinion can be aired, and sometimes a consensus of opinion can be garnered, not a platform for leveraging US leadership and foreign policy, as some seem to suggest. It is a union. It is a great hope and growing strength. But today it struggles in growth as the world struggles. The answers that the UN can provide must be hammered out.

The US had been through difficult growth, as well as other countries. Both the US and France had discouraging learning experiences in Vietnam. Earlier in the US, when the southern states tried to secede from the union of states because of a difference of opinion over slavery, the union resorted to military force to keep the union together. The individual states had made a commitment to be united - one nation for the common good - and secession was not an option. Commitments like these aren't easily broken, although disagreements inevitably come. The way forward is not dissolving the union of the UN, and not forcing agreements, but listening to each other with respect and finding a path forward that will work. The UN is a more fragile union than a union of states, appropriate to our times, and it should be treated respectfully. "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

In the case of abolishing slavery, it was a cause worth bearing arms for. Perhaps it will come down to bearing arms against Saddam Hussein. Hopefully, perhaps not.

I don't think that we want a world in which paranoia, hate, and violence reigns. This is exactly the goal of terrorism, to cause fear and hate, divide, anddestroy, and when we capitulate to irrational feelings and start throwing rocks at our friends, the terrorists and rogue leaders whom we are trying to eliminate have instead destroyed us.

- Scott

Below are a representative sampling of articles about Iraq and disarmament:

The Chirac Doctrine, by Amir Taheri, for Benador

France And The Arabs by Ahmed Salama at World Press Review Online.

French PM: Iraq Crisis Is Not A Game." CNN World News.

Coalition of the Unwilling, by James S. Robbins at NRO.

les opérations militaires menées sur le territoire irakien, Ministère des Affaires étrangères.

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Copyright © 2003 Dorian Scott Cole
Composed March 15, 2003