My Turn: Right thing done the wrong way

Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Regardless of the consequences that result from the impending war, the U.S. has suffered and will continue to suffer because of the way in which this war came about. The Bush administration should be held accountable for the damage that it has done to the United States' historic reputation for truth, tolerance and reasonableness. The way this nation pursues regime change in Iraq is as significant to the rest of the world as the actual removal of Saddam Hussein is to the U.S. The administration's failure to appreciate this fact may ultimately prove as disastrous for world order as the threat that Bush is determined to expunge.

The choice in Iraq was never immediate war or no war - all or nothing - despite the fact the Bush administration always posed it that way. There were ways in which Saddam Hussein could have been disarmed and removed from power that would have been approved and supported by the majority of the world. But pursuing those ways required real diplomacy, compromise, patience and humility on the part of the administration. These are traits that the Bush administration simply finds too inexpedient and unnecessary for the only remaining superpower (Bush's pre-election rhetoric about humility and compassion notwithstanding).

Bush's handling of this situation, starting with his "preemption doctrine," has been a classic case of "the end justifies the means." Most people learned in kindergarten that this rationale was simply wrong; the means used to accomplish an end can never be ethically separated from the end itself. If Bush had set out to do the right thing, which would have been to make a convincing case based on the moral legitimacy of overthrowing a brutal tyrant, not a fuzzy case based on the necessity of such action because of some possible future threat from unverified WMDs, and had this administration been willing to listen to the pleas by other nations for a plan that ratcheted up inspections, set a reasonable timetable, and then gave an ultimatum to Saddam, the majority of the world would have eventually, willingly and gratefully followed the U.S. lead.

It was not that a convincing case could not be made. Rather it was that this administration was accustomed to relying on a justification that has succeeded domestically for it time and time again - "trust us." The administration was caught surprised and unprepared when the rest of the world didn't accept that justification. Rather than acknowledging other nations might have some legitimate concerns about the rush to use force and rather than seeking to address those concerns in a meaningful fashion, this administration put its resources into bullying, bribing and belittling those who dared question its stance. The administration's willingness to practically participate in a public auction to garner support from Turkey while poking some of our historic European allies (and their long-standing democratically elected governments) in the eye was a demeaning display on the part of this administration.

Not only was it demeaning, it was completely unnecessary. Had the administration even slightly compromised on some of its timetable demands, it likely would had have been overwhelmingly supported by the majority of the world. With a little thoughtful negotiating, the U.S. would have been able to legitimately show that any other nation not willing to also compromise on a plan to remove Saddam was merely content on being an obstructionist. But the Bush administration made no secret it was determined to have its war when it wants it. To ensure this desire was accomplished, it moved 300,000 troops to Iraq's border and effectively presented the world with a fait accompli for its plan to use force.

Over the course of our lives, everyone discovers that when you do the right thing in the right way, then most people will ultimately support you. As President Bush prepares to send Americans into battle, he does not have the world's support. Even if liberating the Iraqi people from the despotic grip of Saddam Hussein is the right thing, the arrogance of the Bush administration has needlessly caused it to do this in the wrong way.

Garland Walker of Juneau is an attorney and served on active duty in the U.S military for 10 years.

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