As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war -- as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years -- I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address, January 1961
Throughout much of today's world, peace and freedom remain only distant ideals. Every day, we continue to be saddened by the deaths of innocents, the troubled pattern of regime change in capital after capital, and the displacement of millions.
Since the First World War, no region of the world has suffered more than the Middle East, and today's relentless carnage in Gaza has only intensified the pain. The civilization that used to lead the world is in ruin. Babylon, "The Gate of God," was once a city well known for its impressive walls and buildings, its reputation as a great seat of learning and culture, its formation of a code of law predating Mosaic Law, and, in the modern world, for its 112-billion-barrel treasure-chest of oil. Today, however, after the U.S., with its utopian ideals of democracy and happiness, landed boots on the ground to liberate Iraqis from a dictator's iron fist, this former "Gate of God" has become "Assassins' Gate." In Damascus, too, where the first human blood was spilled when Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, slew his brother Abel, death has become commonplace. And Palestine has remained a simmering cauldron since the Birth of Israel.
The entire Middle East, which wallowed deep in history's shadows for about 400 years under Ottoman Rule, has since the early 20th century become a chamber of horrors that is now on its way to an irreversible collapse. The lines drawn in the sand 100 years ago with the establishment of national boundaries by Britain and France have not corresponded to actual sectarian, tribal and ethnic population differences. It seems the boundaries have served only to create a whirlwind that will soon reduce the infamous "Sykes-Picot Agreement" to shreds. The tide the U.S. set in motion in Iraq is now rolling throughout the Middle East, causing many dominoes to fall. As last year's New York Times' visual map illustrates, that tide could soon divide the current five Middle Eastern states into fourteen states formed along sectarian lines.
The story of Iraq is a direct consequence of the American war industry. Its interventions into the security affairs of other lands, sending marines to its protectorates and installing dictators to head its client regimes, can all be traced to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. This "watchword" of U.S. foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere provided the rationale for the invasion of the Philippines, which the U.S. occupied for many years and then left behind in a state that remains insecure to this day. Other examples of instability left behind after U.S. occupations include Nicaragua, occupied from 1912 to 1933, and Haiti, occupied from 1914 to 1934.
The U.S. economy is based on massive interventions. Since World War II, U.S. wars and conflicts have led to the deaths of 20 to 30 million people worldwide. During the Cold War, the U.S. dominated the global system through a series of fraudulent pretexts for invasion. It overthrew parliamentary governments in Iran and Guatemala in 1953 and 1954, attacked Cuba shortly after its independence, took repressive actions in Latin America in the early 1960s that had no precedent in the violent history of the hemisphere, and imposed murderous security states, such as Suharto's in Indonesia, to control the virus of nationalism. Noam Chomsky argues this well in his recent article "Our Govt. is Capable of Creating Total Catastrophe for Humankind."
Despite such interventions, the world was no more peaceful even when the Soviet dragon was slain in 1989. Everything continued the same as before. Then, some prominent members of the Bush administration revived a staple of Cold War thinking, the flawed "domino theory," to oust Saddam Hussein.
The U.S. consumes 25 percent of the world's oil, and its military floats on oil. As Sonia Shah writes, the invasion of Iraq was about "oil as power," not "oil as fuel." Still, oil as fuel was critical to waging the war, as illustrated by the fact that over 2 million barrels of it were combusted each week in U.S. operations to "liberate Iraq."
A strong case can be made that Iraq was in fact more livable under the heels of its oppressive dictator than it became during and after its "liberation" by the U.S. Saddam may have killed 250,000 of his own people, but the U.S. economic strangulation of the country caused 500,000 infants' deaths alone. The wounds the U.S. inflicted on the people of Iraq will last for decades. Two years ago, when the U.S. pulled its troops from Iraq, it left the country in the grip of a deadly cycle of sectarian strife. The same thing happened when the U.S. pulled its troops from Vietnam after signing the Paris Peace Accord. The agreement created a ceasefire, but it did not end the conflict and soon led to the fall of Saigon.
The calamitous event of 9/11 caused fewer casualties than did the horrors of America's two decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The estimated toll of deaths caused directly by the wars is 225,000, along with 365,000 wounded. The U.S. sent 2.2 million combatants into the wars. Of these, nearly one million returned as veterans, and 6,802 lost their lives in horrific ways. These estimates do not include deaths outside the war-zone and the suicides of veterans caused by PTSD. They also do not reflect the physical and psychological injuries, and loss of economic infrastructure, from which the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan will need many decades to recover.
Unfortunately, the U.S. did not learn an important lesson from its massive invasions and the consequent abject failures of its boots on the ground and drones. As Gordon Adams writes: The very attempt to provide security and build stability in another country is tragic in the most pure, Greek sense: "we head toward doomed fate, doing what we believe to be right, only to have our efforts undone by the effort itself, since occupation always creates resistance and opposition."
Now, in the early years of the 21st century, many of us, as citizens of the world, have clear memories of the calamitous preludes to the two world wars and the prolonged Cold War and proxy wars fought in the last century. Those conflicts surely did not serve humanity well, but rather added to its miseries. Today, when the human race has enough technological capacity to destroy the world many times over, my hope is that, as a "supreme creation of God," we will have enough wisdom to forestall such a catastrophe by understanding the challenges that now loom large in the shadows.
In his insightful article, Paul Rogers warns us about two dangerous human capacities that we must now rationally confront. The first is the development of military technologies that, if used, could set back the human community many decades, possibly centuries. The second is the impact of anthropogenic effect on global ecosystem homeostasis (human responsibility for global climate change).
Rogers writes that the Cold War period was a time of great risk, in which international catastrophe was avoided not by wisdom but by luck, and at the expense of an immense waste of human resources. He notes further that, in light of mankind's present response to global environmental constraints, the prognosis for a human future is poor. At the same time, he offers two examples of past events that served as warnings of greater problems and elicited the appropriate responses. The first of these was The Great Stink of London, which in the hot summer of 1858 turned the River Thames into little more than a giant sewer and made it almost impossible to live or work close to it. Nearly a century later, the four-day Great Smog of London caused the deaths of 4,000 patients from bronchitis. In both cases, however, rationally organized human action brought these disasters under control and headed off future catastrophe.
Today, the state of the world from Kiev to Cairo is harrowing, and the Arab Spring has failed to blossom but turned directly to winter. It is imperative that we change course now to make this world a better place, as I wish a peaceful tomorrow for the next generations. Regrettably, however, I must express that wish with the poignant reserve of Eisenhower's words more than a half-century ago: "I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight."