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The honor of one is the honor of all
The hurt of one is the hurt of all

Old Dakota Proverb

It has been said that History is written by the victorious. But no matter how much the aggressors in Iraq may wish to write or re-write History some notorious and stubborn facts will remain from that conflict. Some of them of such significance that they are likely to shape a more complex and decentralised international scenario in the years to come, quite apart from the self-serving or oversimplifying conclusions the apparent winners of the war may wish to entertain.

The dominant image of the Iraq war was not in the end that of “a superpower teaching a lesson to an impudent regime in a Middle Eastern country”-as many originally expected. In actual fact, the dominant image was the surfacing of a new world consciousness opposed to war. In spite of all the overwhelming media and politico-military-economic power that imposed the Iraq war, it turned out to be, long before its outbreak, the most unpopular armed conflict in history. Indeed, George Bush, with his swaggering and flippant style, was not the protagonist, and even less so was any of his belligerent lieutenants, including Tony Blair and Jose María Aznar.

The protagonists were all those individuals who in an unprecedented phenomenon in world history took to the streets by the millions in a colossal outcry against war, under slogans as striking as “No more blood for oil” and “Not in my name”. Among the many highlights, the sight of Arabs and Jews marching side by side in an anti-war demonstration in Argentina-a country which suffered in recent years one of the most devastating anti-Semitic terrorist attacks-stood out, as well as the protest rally in India where uncommon bed-fellows, Hindus and Muslims joined hands under the banners of peace in Gandhi’s fatherland.

The protagonists were religious leaders like John Paul II (who early characterised the war as “unwarranted and an impending catastrophe”); former presidents like Nelson Mandela (who denounced it as “incited by senseless greed and conducive to a holocaust”) and Jimmy Carter (who, like the Pope, disqualified the war as “unjust”); art and literary world celebrities (like British best selling author John le Carré and Hollywood actors voicing their dissent in the Oscar award show); courageous independent intellectuals (like the American Noam Chomsky); conscientious journalists; governments that bravely resisted blunt and harsh pressures to support the war (including the telling cases of Mexico and Canada, so dependent economically on the United States); and last but certainly not the least, principled dissident government officials in the warring countries (like Robin Cook, who in protest resigned his key post in the government of Tony Blair) who vigorously voiced their opposition. All these players took a firm ethical stand against the war.

The unpopularity of the American-British war was not related to any international support for Saddam Hussein. It was clear to most that the world would be better off without his tyrannical regime. Very few anti-war protestors defended Saddam. The unpopularity of the American-British attack originated in its blatant economic motivations such as securing control of Iraq’s oil and preserving the Anglo-US economic might threatened by the emerging powers of the European Union and Asia (including the challenge of the euro to a declining dollar, propelled too by a switch from petrodollars to eurodollars by countries like Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as documented by forward-looking analysts such as Hazel Henderson and William Clark).

It was also rooted in the fact that the aggressors refused to give the UN a chance-though its inspection mechanism with Iraq’s cooperation was gaining significant results. There was also revulsion at the new indescribable suffering-luridly portrayed in TV-newscasts and war reports-visited upon a population with a proud and ancient history that should not have been penalised for crimes attributed to its government. Lastly, and probably most importantly, the war was unpopular because it was largely seen as an unwarranted and morally inadmissible war.

In this latter regard, it was emphasised that:

  1. Hostilities began without exhausting all avenues for non-violent solution.
  2. It was not a war in legitimate defence, since Iraq did not represent a real threat to the faraway countries that declared it-even its own neighbours did not consider it as such (see the article “Iraq: An Unnecessary War”, Foreign Policy in January-February 2003 issue). On the contrary, this defensive strategy was nothing but the dangerous parading of the doctrine of “pre-emptive war”.
  3. The military hardware used (particularly for massive bombardments) did not guarantee a clear distinction between military and civilian targets; neither were the “shock and awe” attacks proportional to the alleged wrongdoings of the attackers.
  4. The war did not receive international institutional legitimacy. The United Nations never endorsed it and on September 14, 2004, Secretary General Kofi Annan declared it illegal.

In an article published in the New York Times on March 9, Jimmy Carter, availing himself of his authority as a former president of the US, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize as well as a champion in the defence of human rights, ethics in politics and peaceful mediation in conflicts, masterfully detailed a critique along those same lines.

To the above ethical objections we should mention the blatant double standards in the allegations made: Why pick a fight with Iraq for its previous and persistent non-compliance with UN resolutions and not with Israel, for instance, a country that for years has reportedly done the same? Why was Saddam Hussein indicted now as a despicable oppressor of his people and not earlier when, with American technological and politico-military support, he used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds and Iranians with impunity? Why was Iraq singled out for possession of “mass destruction weapons” while North Korea, Pakistan and also Israel were left out-countries which have openly threatened their neighbours with their nuclear weapons? Not to mention the weapons of mass destruction owned by the Anglo-American attackers themselves whose present and past use of these weapons can hardly be credited with restraint or wisdom (remember Hiroshima, Vietnam and even the first Gulf War, where the number of dead totalled several hundred thousand).

Why a regime change in Iraq and not in other countries? The Bush administration came to office through a highly controversial electoral process and was dogged by public scandals that seriously undermined its credibility, such as the wave of fraudulent corporate bankruptcies that rocked the country in 2002. Would that give the international community the right to demand a change of regime in the United States? One US Senator deeply disturbed by the Iraq war dared to put forward that very issue in the following terms: “We need a regime change not just in Iraq but also in the US”.

On the other hand, the recent internal Venezuelan conflict demonstrated that an electoral victory alone does not automatically legitimize a standing government, a claim that not only reflects the stance of the opposition in Venezuela but was also admitted as a constitutional principle-enshrined in the new Constitutional Charter adopted under the current Chavez administration-which provides the right to a mid-term recall vote for any elected officer. Thus, the “regime change” argument, indeed, could lend itself to various interpretations, if not wisely and equitably framed.

The vigorous anti-war consciousness resulted from an unprecedented access to information, debate and analysis that lasted several months and took place in both conventional and unconventional media, including the internet and many other communication channels of today’s globalised world. All this in spite of the efforts of the US and major world media “encasing” pro-war information, hand in hand with diverse pressure tactics applied by warmongering interests attempting to hinder the truth concerning war plans on Iraq.

In the face of so many odds, this anti-war mobilisation was, indeed, a deeply conscientious one. Except for the United States where there was a split in the population regarding a war lacking UN support, in practically all countries of the world public opinion was overwhelmingly against the war, even before it started-contrary to the war in Vietnam where years passed before any anti-war movement expressed itself in a major way. A decisive factor for this difference was the widespread perception of the United States as an unreliable and bellicose superpower.

A poll taken in Europe by Time magazine at the end of 2002 on the question, “Which country poses a greater threat to world peace in 2003?”, gave the following striking results: Iraq: 8 per cent, North Korea: 7 per cent, United States: 84 per cent! That is a rating that should deeply trouble any country which cares about its influence in the world.

With regard to all the above, Robert Muller-one of the outstanding members of the UN founding generation-made the following evaluation, of great significance: I am so honored to be alive in such miraculous time in history...Never before in the history of the world has there been such global, visible and open debate about the very legitimacy of war ... All of this is taking place in the context of the United Nations Security Council, the body that was established in 1949 exactly for this kind of purpose ... It has taken us more than 50 years to realise that function, the real function of the UN ... There are now two superpowers: the US and the merging, surging voices of the people of the world ... No matter what happens, history will record this as a new era.

It is not true that the UN and multilateralism were fatally wounded by the haughty disregard shown by the US and Great Britain, for the UN and the immense majority of countries therein represented, denied their support to the war.

But even if that denial had not taken place, the worldwide anti-war consciousness amounted, like Muller said, to a grand victory for what the UN represents. It is important to underline that the United Nations Charter begins with the expression “We, the peoples of the world...” (not “we the governments...”). Nonetheless, the UN, an organisation born of an inescapable need for a planetary community, will finally be in the end what both peoples and governments want it to be. That is a forum for humanity sworn to defeat the “lone gunmen” of egoistic and irresponsible unilateralism, for the sake of humanity’s and the planet’s best interests.

All the above must be remembered today, or the new post-war peace-making initiatives will deaden the memory of many and blur the actual motives behind the Iraq war. Because, as it has been rightly said, “Truth is the first casualty in any war” or, like Gandhi said, “Only within non-violence may truth fully express itself”.

Evidence of a war within the war driven by an intent to hide and fudge the truth was apparent in the big media world. The expulsion of correspondents for Al Jazeera TV-network, the so-called “CNN of the Arab world”, from the New York Stock Exchange for their alleged “anti-American coverage” was an emblematic event that, as denounced by the New York Times, “embodied a shameful action against the freedom of expression about which American capitalism has so frequently boasted”. Other similar actions corroborated the above, like the summary dismissal by NBC of its correspondent in Baghdad for voicing “anti-American” critical comments about the war.

As Muller said, no matter what happens, including the Iraqi and international destabilisation that will persist long after the war is over, nothing will ever be the same. Prior to the outcome of the war William Ury, consultant for the Carter Center in Venezuela noted that, “The US will probably win the war but lose the peace”, indicating that the strategy of resorting to raw force sooner or later would create a backlash against the pretensions of warmongers, unless they backtrack and reverse their dangerous course of action while there is still time.

So far weapons of mass destruction have failed to show up, in spite of the efforts of the occupying forces to locate these (of course any finding under such pressing circumstances would now be subject to suspicion). The situation has turned into a public relations nightmare for both George Bush and Tony Blair in view of an increasingly vocal demand at home and abroad to hold them accountable for the war and call for independent investigations.

In Washington, amidst other damaging leaks to the Press was an excerpt from the September 2002 report of the Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency acknowledging that “no reliable evidence exists of Iraqi nuclear weapons facilities or even whether it could produce chemical or biological weapons”.

Some Democrat members of Congress have branded the affair “The greatest security hoax of all times” and the Senate Intelligence Committee has supported establishing a bipartisan congressional probe on whether the Administration exaggerated war claims on the basis of manipulated intelligence.

In Britain, a similar investigation was launched amidst a public outcry and the BBC reflected the public mood by reporting that, “It now seems clear that the imminence of the Iraqi threat was grossly overplayed”. The Parisian Le Monde has called it “The greatest lie statesmen have told in recent times”; and the Frankfurt newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung has concluded that “The charge of deception is inescapable”.

To add to all the above, Hans Blix, the then retiring head of the UN’s Iraqi weapons inspection team, publicly declared that, from his experience in the field, the intelligence provided to him by the US and UK to locate the weapons was basically useless or flawed. It is ironic that the very same countries that denied the UN more time to complete its Iraqi inquiry are now pleading for patience in order to try putting their messy act together.

Indeed, it seems to be a characteristic trait of the times we live in that, no matter what the dominant system does, the truth surfaces irrepressibly as do the falsehoods; either because the world’s conscience has reached a social “critical mass” or because the problems have attained gigantic magnitude.

Perhaps, most damaging of all for the advocates of the “global war on terror”, which served as a backdrop to the Iraq affair, has been the severe criticism of such a war by Amnesty International in its recently released Annual Report. The influential human rights watchdog has charged that, “If the war on terror was supposed to make the world safer, it has failed, and has given governments the excuse to abuse human rights in the name of state security.” When presenting the Report on May 28 th, Amnesty’s President Irene Khan said: Washington’s war on terror has made the world more dangerous by curbing human rights, undermining international law and shielding governments from scrutiny ... It is vital that the world resist the manipulation of fear and challenge the narrow focus of the security agenda ... the definition of security must be broadened to encompass the security of people, as well as states.

It is regrettable that a country like the United States of America, founded on commendable values like freedom and justice, the land of Jefferson and Lincoln, a nation once seen by the world as the home of enlightenment and promise, could succumb to the unscrupulous lust for imperialistic power under the guise of acting as the world’s policeman. This does not mean that one should disregard the earlier healthy effect of US pressure to prod a tarrying UN to pay greater attention to the “Iraqi issue”.

Neither should one forget that the stance taken against the Anglo-American attack by countries like France, Russia, China and Germany was influenced by their own questionable motives in the Middle East, its oil and its strategic location. The later overtures for rapprochement among these countries and the US and UK indicate the strength of “Real Politik” and the shared interests they still hold in the ongoing power game-in which political leaders continue to be both players and hostages.

There is no reason to believe in pacifism at all costs-a naïve and irresponsible attitude. Under extreme circumstances the use of force might be inevitable either for self-defence or for protecting the weak attacked by an unscrupulous aggressor-including any and all kinds of threats of terror, whether they be by civilian groups, States or economic and media powers. We should also uphold the freedom of conscience that gives individuals and nations the right to take a stance of their own against misguided institutions or majorities.

In the aftermath of the Iraq war there may still be time to prevent the most undesirable consequences of an escalation of violence and to address them with truly committed peace-building initiatives in that turbulent region. The US-UK coalition will have to reassure a skeptical global public that any such initiatives are not self-serving window-dressing or diversionary tactics to escape responsibilities for the ugly consequences of the war. Any authentic peace initiative, meant to remedy past misdeeds and bring solace and hope to the many who have suffered the ravages of war and violence in the Middle East (including the victims of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict) as well as elsewhere will gain applause and support from the world community.

All the major actors who bear a responsibility in the devastating Iraq conflict must realise that war never results in victory, but only in suffering and terrible consequences, and that every war, like the Pope said, “is a defeat of Humanity”. Further, as Gandhi also put it: The world has enough to meet the needs of all; but not to satisfy the greed of even one single person. Violence is the weapon of the weak while non-violence is the weapon of the strong. I firmly believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence and mercy far nobler than punishment. A conflict settled according to the principles of non-violence will leave no rancour among enemies but rather turn them into friends.

Perhaps this new disastrous war will lead to the understanding that peace can only exist in a world where no one exploits or subjugates others; a world where lobbies blinded by greed and the lust for power do not jeopardise the future of all; a world knowing no more wars for oil (a resource that is limited, polluting and an unceasing source of conflicts); a world based rather on alternate energy sources, which are ecological, inexhaustible, and largely available to all. In general, a world committed to sustainable development in all its facets, in harmony with basic human needs and the natural environment.

Moreover, despite the alarms it raised over the threat from the alleged Iraqi chemical weapons, the dominant system continues to turn a blind eye to the threat daily being posed by the civilian chemical industry. In the name of economic growth and progress, major companies have been relentlessly releasing into the environment a growing number of untested polluting substances and products. This situation has long been denounced by environmentalists, international organisations, and responsible scientists.

Among the latter we should single out Rachel Carson, author of the milestone book Silent Spring which back in the sixties first unveiled the lethal effects of chemical pesticides on life and the environment, as well as Theo Colborn, chief author of another, major work Our Stolen Future, released in the late nineties which exposes the deeply disquieting effects of thousands of endocrine-disrupting synthetic chemicals.

Industrial development so far has amounted to a merciless “warfare on the environment”, with terrorist overtones for helpless sentient beings and ecosystems, compromising the future of life and the planet, in a much more ominous way than the arsenal of a country like Iraq could have. Of course by now it has been well established that all the major products of technology and of the chemical industry can be substituted by biological, environmental and health-friendly alternatives, if only there were greater political will, a better sense of corporate responsibility, enough initial investment resources and supportive public policies to undertake the change-just as it has been proven in the field of energy.

In fact, many leading technologies of modern industry, by their open disregard for environmental safety, have mirrored the development and proliferation of nuclear power and weapons of mass destruction, in terms of the problems posed to society and the planet. This matter is highlighted in a recent article by James Bell in the May-June 2003 issue of The Futurist:

The human loss caused by experimentation, production and development is still being felt from the era of NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) technologies. The discussion of the environmental impacts of GNR (genetics, nanotech and robotics) technologies ... has been relegated to the margins... The true cost of this technological progress and any coming singularity (exponential disrupting technological change) will mean the unprecedented decline of the planet’s inhabitants and an ever increasing rate of global extinction.

After surveying troublesome applications of some of the latest technologies, including some biotech creations and awesome robotised lethal weapons, Bell highlights the relevance of the term “Knowledge-enabled mass destruction”, coined by an unlikely tech critic, Sun Microsystems Corporation’s chief scientist Bill Joy, who has predicted that unless present trends change in time, “we could be the last generation of humans”.

Saving the world’s environment from the contamination, and risks posed by industries, as well as the accelerated depletion of natural resources and disruption of critical and sensitive biological processes such as the water cycle and climate balance, is one of the most pressing rallying calls to get the world united behind a new and truly sustainable civilisation-one with new patterns of production, consumption and technology.

One whose production of energy and matter doesn’t exceed nature’s regenerative or assimilative capacities. The wars of the future are likely to be environmental wars, wars about increasingly scarce-both in quantity and quality-vital natural resources like water, energy and land; wars likely to lead to human extinction where perhaps other more resilient species like cockroaches may survive the erring homo sapiens.

Unless we change our course when there is still time. As the Earth Charter has stated: “We stand before a critical threshold in Earth’s history; a threshold where humanity has to choose its future; either to forge an alliance to care for the Earth and care for one another, or risk self-destruction and the destruction of life’s biodiversity.” And as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said, “Respect for the environment is essential for our common future. It is the duty of every person, every organization to help preserve the world riches for the generations who will succeed us. That is the only battle we should be fighting.”

(Cynthia G. Wagner, “War Crimes against Nature”, The Futurist, idem.) But high on the list for common enlightened action are also the major and pressing problems of poverty, ravaging diseases, day-to-day violence, the illegal trade in weapons and drugs, the money laundering and the wildly speculative “money casino” that has hijacked the world economy.

As recently highlighted by Moises Naim editor of Foreign Policy, all of these major challenges call for the use of intelligence, wisdom and concerted action, more than money or military might, to be effectively addressed.

Enlightened apologists of the neo-imperialism of US foreign policy such as Robert Kaplan got the diagnosis largely right when they raised the alert about a world dangerously riddled with anarchic, centrifugal forces in the coming years, as a result of the serious threats humanity is facing today. But those apologists miss the point when they call for a forceful concentration of power in the form of some kind of a new American “Roman empire” to save the world; failing to realise that that this very power scheme coupled with insatiable materialism and greed have been at the root of the world’s maladies, including the dissolution of convivial values and the disruption of sustainable societies. In fact, as suggested earlier, it is in the best interest of a country like the USA, placed at the centre of the global system, to undertake timely self-corrective action, because of the law of cause and effect-the prime rule of the natural universe. The US has accumulated too many “unpaid bills” and is bound to suffer dearly from a collapse of the present unsustainable paradigm.

What the world needs today is a new concept of enlightened, decentralised, pluralist power, guided by superior values, in order to bring about a new civilisation based on self-responsibility and solidarity, rather than a “global war on terror” and a new kind of messianic Roman empire running contrary to the evolutionary imperative.

As J.C. Kapur warned in the October-December 2002 issue of World Affairs, when referring to the perils of a new imperial supremacy: This attack on human freedom and the rights of other nations and peoples is in reality an expression of desperation in the face of the historically uncontrolled evolutionary shifts in the world environment. The future alone can tell what will be the consequences of such an attempt at disrupting natural and human processes ... reckless development of an “armament-protected consumerist system” ... “has disrupted the heat and energy balances within the earth’s life support system.

In dealing with the present problems of the world a wise balance will need to be struck between upholding a moral high ground and ensuring effective and agile institutions and norms to deal timely with the problems. As former Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Iraq, Prakash Shah reflected:

The tested principles of international behaviour and law, such as non-interference, right to choose one’s own government and multilateralism as a pillar of global decision-making are obviously needed to keep the international order from deteriorating into chaos ... however, rigid and indiscriminate application of the otherwise valid principles of international law and behaviour in the field of security would lead to the disorder that they are meant to prevent. (Financial Times, Mumbai, India, March 31, 2003)

But, again, the simple precepts of life-based ethics and God-given natural order, such as those of “the unity of life” and “unity in diversity”, will always be, when in doubt, an unfailing guide and an antidote against any senseless conflict among natural cultural identities or beings.

Above all, what we need is a world where spiritual values, representing the superior human dimension, are fully vindicated. For as Dag Hammarksjold-former UN Secretary General-said just before his martyrdom at the service of peace in the conflict of Congo, “We have used all ways and means to attain peace but we will secure success only with a spiritual renaissance in our planet.” In brief, only when each inhabitant of the world comes to terms with his/her inner being will he/she be able to generate external peace. A world where as Pope Paul VI said, “The well-being of all shall be the new name for Peace.”