National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  October 3, 2003

Go-it-alone conquest has consequences

President Bush and his neoconservative advisers are learning the hard way that a nation cannot exist solely on the adrenalin rush of war and conquest.

There are, as the president is so fond of pointing out for others, “consequences” to actions taken by the United States. The administration may be learning, as we have said previously on this page, that even though we are unquestionably the world’s lone superpower, there are real limits to what that power can accomplish and sustain if substantial agreement does not exist amid the international community.

Some argue that Bush’s recent speech at the United Nations was aimed not so much at the international community as at his political base at home, the true believers who, the polls suggest, are decreasing with each passing week.

That analysis might explain why Bush felt he could deliver an assessment of U.S. progress in Iraq that was, in its mildest claims, wildly optimistic, and in its boldest assertions, bordering on fiction.

It might also explain why the response to Bush’s call for international cooperation in the matter of Afghanistan and Iraq was a call for reform of the United Nations.

As Canada’s Jean Chrétien said, in urging reform of the United Nations, “New challenges demand new structures. And a historic opportunity has emerged. Let us seize it and let us realize the powerful idea that created the U.N. The idea that nations can unite to save their people from the scourge of war.”

One of the realities that must be factored into any unity equation is the fact that the United Nations included 51 member states when it was founded in 1945. While that number is not inclusive of all countries at the time, by 2002 the number of member states had grown to 191. The old colonial powers are no more, and the old hierarchical pyramid of power and domination is considerably flattened out over a much broader landscape of international interests and ambitions.

Chrétien earlier had joined other leaders in criticizing the United States, saying, “No one country, no matter how powerful, has neither the wisdom nor the ability to defeat terrorism on its own.”

And while he and other world leaders, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, made conciliatory comments in public about moving beyond the sharp disagreements that developed over the U.S. decision to invade Iraq, it was clear that no other nation was willing to jump to the aid of the United States. Following a day of intense talks with foreign leaders, Bush left New York with commitments from no one and no certainty about when or even if he will get the U.N. resolution he was after.

With the request for $87 billion to finance U.S. efforts in Iraq going before Congress and the situation on the ground in Iraq apparently deteriorating by the day, and formal reports stating that investigators have found no evidence of the vaunted weapons of mass destruction that underpinned Bush’s logic for the war, the administration will also face tough going at home.

It would be folly to leave Iraq, at this point, to its own devices. The result would be bloody chaos throughout the Middle East. It would be even worse folly, however, to ignore the lessons of the Iraq debacle -- that the neoconservative vision of go-it-alone conquest has consequences. And so far the consequences have been disastrous.

National Catholic Reporter, October 3, 2003

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