War sets a new world in motion
April 3, 2003
There was a strange sense of disconnect as members of the International Ski Club des Journalists discussed the U.S.-Iraqi war in Les Diablerets in Switzerland last week.
I was there for the 13th time at an annual meeting of SCIJ, an organization born out of the Cold War in 1954 when a French journalist thought it would be a good idea for journalists to meet in a neutral setting to discuss shared problems and perhaps to enjoy skiing.
This was March 21 and the war was under way, and as with most journalists the discussion was about the now, how the various nations’ citizens felt about the war.
But that all seemed academic to me. The war was a reality and it didn’t matter what percent of France or Germany or Russia favored or opposed the war. To me what was much more important was how the war came to be and what it would mean in the future. So I offered my thoughts, which were far from the battle for Baghdad.
It seemed to me that the important matter was that the United Nations had lost political strength. By members threatening to veto or vote down a declaration of force to oust Saddam Hussein, the U.N. was going down the same path that led to the League of Nations demise in 1938-39 when it failed to condemn Italy for the invasion of Ethiopia.
There was a very good reason for France and Germany’s insistence on diplomacy, and that is the successful growth of European Union. The bloc has become a major world economic force and at the same time has, for practical purposes, ruled out war.
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To the EU, no longer a major military force, diplomacy was the only answer. The old Great Powers game, played for centuries by France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and Russia, was passe. Unlilaterialism was a thing of the past. And by leading the diplomatic efforts, France and Germany were staking claim to leadership in the world and in rebuilding postwar Iraq. France, once a Great Power, was determined to rebuild its Great Power status by forcing the U.S. to bow to its demands (and to protect the multi-billion-dollar debt Iraq owed to France).
Meanwhile, the United States had recently begun practicing unilateralism of old by rejecting international treaties and largely going on its own. As the world’s only Superpower, the U.S. could act as Prussia had in 1870, as Germany, England and France had in the carving up of the Mideast and Africa, as the Soviet Union had after World War II.
For the U.S., the threat posed by Iraq was something that had to be countered. The asymmetrical war launched by the terrorists Sept. 11 meant a response was required. And by extension, the possibility that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that could easily be dealt out to terrorists had be faced.
That, of course, resulted in the invasion of Iraq, and while that may take two weeks or two months, the war is a fact, while the postwar scene is uncertain. Already we see jockeying for the administration of a fallen Iraq, nations hungry for the oil fields — and fears of who is going to pay the international debts that Iraq will never service.
That the U.S. will probably rebuild Iraq much as it did France, Germany, Italy and Japan after World War II is a probability, with or without U.N. approval. The oil will flow and while it will profit the Iraqi people, it will also benefit the U.S. as a counterweight to threats of international use of oil as a political weapon.
So the future is the big question. Will the world see a struggle for economic and political supremacy between the EU and the USA? I suspect so. Will the U.N. become a debating society doing good works internationally? Possibly. Will the world order be significantly changed. Undoubtedly.
And what about the Islamic world? A mildly democratic Iraq could raise hopes among other Islam populations for some kind of representational government. And raise fears among the many despots and mullahs who currently rule most of the Islamic world?
But you get the picture. This war is going to create a whole new world with a whole new set of problems. And we’re going to be in the center of them all.
Sam Bauman, a former foreign correspondent, is editor of the Nevada Appeal’s Diversions section.