Saying no to war
By James Carroll,Boston Globe - 2/11/2003
DON'T BE FOOLED by Colin Powell. With testimony before the UN Security
Council last week, the secretary of state brought many formerly ambivalent
politicians and pundits into the war party. But that is a measure of how
callow the entire American debate over war against Iraq has been. The
question is not whether Saddam Hussein is up to no good. Powell's indictment
confirmed the Iraqi's malfeasance, although with no surprises and no
demonstration of immediate threat. The question, rather, is what to do about
Don't be fooled by Donald Rumsfeld, either. The secretary of defense said
in Munich on Saturday, ''The risks of war need to be balanced against the
risks of doing nothing while Iraq pursues weapons of mass destruction.''
Just as Powell fudged on what the question is, Rumsfeld fudged on there
being no alternative to war. Ongoing and ever more robust inspections, like
those proposed by France and Germany, are an alternative to war. Containment
is an alternative to war. And an aggressive application of the principles of
international law is an alternative to war.
Powell's prosecutorial summary of the case against Saddam should have
been prelude not to further warmongering but to a legal indictment of the
Iraqi leader for crimes against humanity. In what court, you ask, and under
what jurisdiction? America's imminent war takes on an absurd -- and also
tragic -- character in the light of what else is happening right now. Last
week the International Criminal Court was initiated with the formal election
of judges. Next month the court will be official. Its purpose is exactly to
deal with offenses like those of which Saddam stands accused. A forceful
indictment in such a forum, followed by a trial, verdict, and world-enforced
sentence, has an unprecedented potential for a laser-like release of
transforming moral energy.
The court intends on the world scene what has already happened within
nations -- the replacement of violent force with the force of law. A true
alternative to war.
But the 139 nations that signed the agreement no longer include the
United States, since George W. Bush ''unsigned'' that treaty early in his
term. The US refusal to participate in the new world court makes it
irrelevant to the present crisis, but that refusal also lays bare the
world's gravest problem -- an American contempt for the creation of
alternatives to war.
The most important reason to be skeptical of the Bush administration's
claim of necessity has nothing to do with Saddam. It has to do with Bush's
own palpable predisposition in favor of war, and when the casus belli is in
dispute, predisposition counts for everything.
Powell's performance at the UN was compared to Adlai Stevenson's in 1962,
but war was averted in the Cuban crisis, as it had been in the Berlin crisis
the year before, precisely because John F. Kennedy's predisposition inclined
him away from war, not toward it.
Kennedy's inaugural address, which is often misremembered as a Cold War
call to arms, was a straightforward challenge to create new structures of
peace. He proposed a litany of political change -- an extension of the
''writ'' of the UN, ending the arms race, replacing the ''balance of power
(with) a new world of law,'' a new trust in negotiation (''never fear to
negotiate''), an affirmation that ''civility is not a sign of weakness.'' On
each of those points -- the UN, the arms race, international law,
negotiations, even civility -- the Bush administration has reversed the
momentum that began with Kennedy.
And as for war, in the most misremembered passage of all, Kennedy made
his repudiation explicit: ''Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a
call to bear arms, though arms we need, not as a call to battle, though
embattled we are, but the call to bear the burden of a long twilight
struggle, year in and year out . . . a struggle against the common enemies
of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.''
War itself the enemy. Not the sentiment of ''idealists,'' but the
supremely pragmatic conclusion of men and women who saw the horrors of war
played out in the 20th century. In rejecting Bush's war, France and Germany
honor that memory today, as do the creators of the International Criminal
Court. ''War never again!'' Pope Paul VI declared -- also at the United
Nations -- in 1965. When he cried, ''No more war!'' a generation of world
leaders cheered him -- all but one. Then, too, in that autumn of Rolling
Thunder, an American president defied the universal longing for another way.
But the pope did not hesitate to cite ''a great man now departed, John
Kennedy'' against the warmonger in Washington, and neither do I.
''Mankind must put an end to war,'' the pope recalled Kennedy saying,
''or war will put an end to mankind.''
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