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So much squandered in so little time

The phrase, repeated in a number of ways in news reports, was revealing: “The diplomacy game is over.”

In looking back on the rush to war, the term “game” seems too literally accurate a description of the effort. The United States seems, in hindsight, to have dealt rather mockingly with the process. The minds were made up long before the diplomacy game played out -- the new go-it-alone foreign policy, dredged up from the Reagan era.

We have said before that one of the serious tragedies of the war, not to understate the awfulness of the destruction that is about to be unleashed, is the collapse of the diplomatic effort.

While general support of the decision to go to war will inevitably spike as the first bombs drop, the depth of concern over the failure of diplomacy is striking. Business Week, for instance, in a major piece in its March 24 issue, bemoaned the loss of good will that existed toward America immediately following Sept. 11.

“How did things come to this? The failure of the Bush administration to manage its diplomacy is staggering, and the price paid, even if the war ends quickly, could be higher than anyone now anticipates,” according to the magazine.

“The political effect of this foreign policy imbroglio is already obvious. It can be measured in tattered alliances and global tensions, eroding support for President George W. Bush, and big changes throughout the Middle East.”

The unknowns are frightening, as is the hubris displayed in this administration’s decisions to strike out on its own.

Much attention will correctly be directed at the tattered relationships that the United States has left in the wake of this decision to invade Iraq.

No less tattered, however, are the political institutions at home. “On this February day, as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war,” said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. “Yet this chamber is, for the most part, silent -- ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.

“We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events.”

And so Congress remained -- mute, the rare bit of criticism evoking a response as if the speaker had advocated treason.

On the day the United States decided that war would be the option, Byrd commented on the floor of the Senate that the reason we had been able to convince so few in the world of this cause was because it was not a necessary war, but a chosen one.

However this war goes, the United States has set a new course for itself in the world, one in which it stands apart with its doctrine of preemption.

The Bush administration has squandered so much in so little time. The chance we had to engage world opinion in our behalf after Sept. 11 has dissipated and begun to turn against us. The possibilities of cooperation in a post-Soviet, post-Cold War world, a world in which Europe unites, are fading.

Recently, The New York Times ran a story announcing Iraqi officials targeted by the United States to face war crimes trials. The irony, of course, is that any judgment would have to be rendered by a special tribunal set up by the United States, because we do not recognize the International Criminal Court that opened this week to handle cases of human rights, genocide and war crimes.

We have the power to wage war on our own and to engage in other actions that characterize an empire.

We have not figured out, however, that to act with real authority in a dangerous and changing world requires that those of like mind join us in shaping a different future. Right now, it seems, many simply resist us out of fear of what we are becoming.

National Catholic Reporter, March 28, 2003