COL Consequences of unilateralism

Initiall,y the Bush administration led us to believe that we would be welcomed in Iraq with open arms after Saddam Hussein's removal from power. That has not proven to be true, and another problem now is surfacing: the cost of "liberating and democratizing" Iraq.

According to a July 2 article in The New York Times, our involvement there is "costing the Pentagon $3 billion a month."

After thumbing our noses at the United Nations and NATO and pre-emptively invading Iraq in pursuit of yet-to-be discovered weapons of mass destruction, Defense and State Department officials now recognize the need for other nations to get involved and bear some of the cost of our occupation of Iraq. What is the likelihood of financial assistance, or additional troops? Probably not great.

At the outset of the conflict with Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell assured us there were 30 nations prepared to support the United States. However, according to a BBC News commentary, "only a few of these countries are providing any major military presence in the Gulf, notably Britain and Australia." Just how solid is support from Great Britain today? A July 1 Financial Times poll in England reveals that "almost two-thirds of the public have lost personal trust in the Tony Blair (government)." Can Britain or other nations continue to be counted on if the Bush administration decides to act against the other members of the so-called "axis of evil?"

A Washington-based Pew Research Center poll indicates "the number of Europeans with a favorable image of the US has plummeted, even among the coalition of the willing." Is our image better elsewhere?


In a July 2 article in The New York Times, President Bush vowed that the United States would "stay with the job of stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq." He added, "The rise of Iraq as an example of moderation and democracy and prosperity is a massive and long-term undertaking." These pledges were made in spite of the deaths and injuries since the end of the war, the financial costs, and the questionable support of our allies.

Stabilizing, rebuilding, and democratizing? From a Western perspective, those may be desirable outcomes, but aside from financial or other costs, are they applicable to the Iraqi culture? As Benjamin Barber of the University of Maryland points out in a June 29 Guardian article, it is not possible for one nation to democratize another. Democracy comes from below, it is not imposed from above. This crucial consideration seems to have received scant attention.

Barber, an expert on international affairs, says, "The U.S. and British governments seemed to imply that if you liquidated the Ba'athist dictatorship, automatically in its place would appear overnight a democracy, as if the only thing that stood between Iraqi society and democracy was the presence of a dictator." Historically, few people in that region have revealed a penchant for democratic idealism. Thus, President Bush's proposals for Iraq's future bear virtually no relationship to reality.

In an earlier column, I mentioned that neither major branch of Islam in the Middle East promotes democratic values. Since the seventh century, Mohammed's followers have sought to live according to the prophet's words. The Quran is believed to contain direct revelations from Allah to the prophet. In view of that, it would be difficult to comprehend how Iraq could become democratic. It is easier to change laws and personnel than it is to change religious traditions thoroughly steeped in antiquity. The idea that the present U.S. administration, or any other administration, would have the staying power to make this happen is remote.

We have adopted a foreign policy toward Iraq that is, to say the least, ill advised. The abandonment of our post-World War II diplomacy of "containment" in favor of pre-emptive strikes is fraught with danger. We have violated the United Nations charter that we helped create and flung to the winds the basis for its establishment. We have alienated our friends and allies, and we have helped create a more insecure world.

Iraq is like a bucking horse. We knew how to get on but have no idea how to get off. Vice President Cheney said we would be accepted as liberators. The violence there reveals otherwise. The latest administrative spin is that when Saddam Hussein is found and no longer constitutes a threat to the Iraqi citizenry, stabilization and democratization will follow. As Barber pointed out, the problem is not just Hussein, it is the culture itself.

Now we are turning our eyes toward Iran and North Korea, the other elements of Bush's "axis of evil." Who will follow us after another pre-emptive strike?

James M. Russell is a European historian and retired chairman of the Social Science Division of Rochester Community and Technical College.

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