One of Martin Luther King’s objections to the Vietnam War was that the War sabotaged his preaching of nonviolence. King told us of how young people would reply to him saying why shouldn’t they use violence to solve their problems when our government uses the same in Vietnam (see King's sermon against the Vietnam War)?
At this point, we might want to point out another fringe detriment to our War on Iraq. We already are experiencing a reallocation of national wealth resulting in a decaying infrastructure and increased domestic needs, a dangerous budgetary deficit, a spike in world terrorism, and an increase in terrorist recruits. In addition, the Iraqis now have a war-torn country to live in with up to 1.3 million dead and approximately 4.7 million forced from their homes. On the other hand, violence has significantly decreased during the past few months.
But an often ignored problem caused by the war is the example we have left for the rest of the world. Now it certainly does not bother us when a friend imitates our actions by attacking countries without due process. This is because they are often doing our bidding. So when Columbia violates Ecuador’s sovereignty when chasing FARC gorillas or when Israel continues to brutally occupy and even confiscate Palestinian land or invades Lebanon, we are not disturbed. But let a non-satellite country do what we did and we self-righteously condemn all invasions of sovereign nations. We are providing a classic example of taking exception at the behavior of others while taking our actions for granted.
What kind of precedent did President Bush’s invasion of Iraq set? What Bush did by invading Iraq was to act as if he was not accountable to any group or law. As a result, Bush was free to act as if his accusations were verdicts and thus he pronounced and executed a sentence. Bush showed that if a country is strong enough, it could do what it wants to others with impunity.
Do we not see the same approach being practiced by Russia in Georgia? Russia accused Georgia of wrongdoing and acted accordingly. Because Russia is powerful enough to overpower Georgia and its nuclear arsenal is an effective deterrent that keeps all other nations from intervening, Russia can act with impunity.
There is no doubt that what President Medvedev and Russia are doing in Georgia is immoral and criminal. But, unlike our invasion of Iraq, there is a historical context that can provide insight into its actions. Russia has suffered major invasions from the West in both the 19th and 20th centuries losing 10s of millions of people. President George H. W. Bush promised not move NATO East in exchange for the reunification of Germany. But it did not take America long to treat the Russians like it treated its own Indians as President Clinton expanded NATO eastward (see Chomsky article on Capitalism, Europe and the WB and Chomsky article on We Own The World). Bush continued Clinton’s expansion that now can possibly include Georgia. If we add to NATO’s eastward expansion the real significance of the proposed missile defense system for Europe, including Eastern European nations, that such a system is considered a first strike weapon (see Chomsky article on missile defense) , we see that Russia has real reasons for feeling angst. We see this angst come to the surface as Russia is now threatening Poland with possibly a nuclear strike if Poland accepts a US missile interceptor base (see article on Russian threat). So when we add the precedent set by our own invasion, Russia’s invasion of Georgia, though immoral, is logical.
The opportunity that America missed by attacking and invading Iraq without using the due process afforded by the international community was to lead by example. Imagine what kind of influence we could have wielded if we responded to the 9-11 attacks by adhering to international law and allowing ourselves to accountable to others for our words and actions. We could then legitimately challenge Russia to observe international law by respecting the sovereignty of another nation. But instead, when we charge Russia to do what we say, Russia responds by doing what we do.
The warning issued by the Russell-Einstein Manifesto is as clear as it is ominous. We have an “inescapable” choice between war and survival (see Russell-Einstein Manifesto). Each new war brings us closer to the possible exchange of WMDs. And if each war brings us closer to using WMDs, then each provocation or action that does not respect the security concerns of another nation also brings us closer to using such weapons. We could certainly blame America first because of its invasion of Iraq. But Russia’s invasion of Georgia keeps us from blaming America only for moving the world to self-destruction.