Friday, February 07, 2003

Imagine the best of all possible worlds...

Mathew Paris has a new column up on the Times Online web site that engages the reader in a very useful exercise: imagine that the rosiest of the war hawk scenarios were to come true. If so, would you still oppose a war against Iraq? If the world falls in line behind the US, the UN passes a resolution authorizing force, the war is over quickly with a minimal number of casualties, and the middle-east does not blow up as a result of the attack, would the doves have been proven wrong?
Don’t, in summary, dress up moral doubt in the garb of wordlywise punditry. Give warning, by all means, of the huge gamble that allied plans represent, but if all you are talking is the probabilities, say so, and prepare to be vindicated or mocked by the outcomes. We are very quick to aver that Tony Blair will be discredited and humiliated if the war goes wrong. Will we be discredited and humiliated if the war goes right? If the basis of our objection was that the war would fail, that should follow. I do not think that the war, if there is a war, will fail. I can easily envisage the publication soon of some chilling facts about Saddam’s armoury, a French and German scamper back into the fold, a tough UN second resolution, a short and successful war, a handover to a better government, a discreet change of tune in the biddable part of the Arab world, and egg all over the peaceniks’ faces.
Mr. Paris provides one answer to the question:
I am not afraid that this war will fail. I am afraid that it will succeed. I am afraid that it will prove to be the first in an indefinite series of American interventions. I am afraid that it is the beginning of a new empire: an empire that I am afraid Britain may have little choice but to join.
This really gets to the heart of the matter: what shape do we want the future to take? Do we want a world in which a multi-lateral coalition of nations cooperate with each other to bring about peace and prosperity? Or do we want a world in which one nation steps up above the rest and, in effect, imposes its own conception of "peace" and "prosperity" on the rest of the world? Does the choice come down to one of PAX-UN or PAX-America? There is, for me, another aspect to this, though it is related to this fundamental question. I have said before that I don't trust the Bushies to be in charge of this country or to lead this war. Why would I trust them to lead and shape the form of PAX-America? In his inauguration speech Bush spoke a lot of nice sounding words about a humble foreign policy which respected the opinions and independence of other nations. It was all a lie. To Bush, humility means that everyone else has to humble themselves before him and the mighty American war machine. As he told Bob Woodward
"I'm the commander—see, I don't need to explain—I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
The problem with a PAX-America, the problem with any empire, is that it is only as good as its leadership. PAX-Romana could at least be said to have had some wise leaders in its time, but it also produced Commodus. The one difference is that he didn't come along until the empire was a couple of hundred years old. In our case, Commodus may be our Octavius. (Thanks to Tim Dunlop of The Road To Surfdom for the link)


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