Beyond the War on Terror

A scandal is brewing in Washington over the questionable intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Regardless of whether or not investigators prove that the White House consciously manipulated the facts, this should be an opportunity for all of us to ask larger questions about the takeover of US foreign policy by hawkish right-wing conservatives.

Our recent foreign policy has distanced itself so completely from world opinion that it is hard to imagine how we got here. How did our response to Sept. 11 become so reliant on military aggression? And what alternatives exist for the pursuit of national security?

From the start, the Bush administration's response to the attacks was phrased in militaristic terms. Rather than an international police action -- a manhunt for terrorists who perpetuate crimes against humanity -- the White House launched a "war," suggesting that our security would be based on military might.

This War on Terrorism has increasingly been shaped by neoconservative officials who argue that "unquestioned US military preeminence" should form the foundation of world order. Considered fringe voices not long ago, they have successfully turned several of their key doctrines -- diplomatically discredited concepts like "regime change" and "preemptive war" -- into household words.

The war in Iraq put this brand of extremism on full display. Since Baghdad fell it has become evident that the real goal of the war was not to take out any genuine security threat to America. Neoconservative star and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz famously admitted in an interview with Vanity Fair that a focus on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was simply a pretext for invasion, settled on "for bureaucratic reasons ... because it was the one reason everyone could agree on."

Sadly, the neoconservative War on Terrorism is making the world a more dangerous place.

A recent cover story in the New York Times Magazine dubbed the site of our first post-9/11 invasion "Warlordistan" -- noting the Bush administration's broken promises of "safety, money, and democracy." In a revealing omission, White House officials neglected to include any money for rebuilding Afghanistan in their original budget proposals for 2003.

With Iraq, no one denied that the US military would overwhelm Saddam's enfeebled forces. But experts consistently indicated that a stable peace would be much harder to win. The situation in Iraq today appears uncomfortably similar to the "chaos, poverty, hopelessness, [and] hatred" that Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) warned about in February, saying it could become "a fertile breeding ground for terrorists."

Given this record of failure, Americans must demand new foreign policy approaches based on cooperation and social investment.

First, officials should recognize that any effective security strategy requires international goodwill and collaboration. The Bush administration has done its best to alienate leaders in France and Germany, even though these allies have made invaluable contributions to international police work against terrorism.

The International Criminal Court, established despite American opposition, is precisely the kind of institution neoconservatives despise because they think it limits US power. But a strong cooperative framework for international security urgently requires this and other multilateral measures now spurned in Washington.

Second, long-term solutions to terrorism must grow from social justice and humanitarian investment. Some of the most innovative thinkers at the United Nations Human Development Program have worked for years to give theoretical backing and policy direction to this notion. Those obsessed with "hard power" as a singular solution ignore the importance of commitments to health care, education, and institutions of democratic governance for easing tensions that militarism only exacerbates.

Unfortunately, while President Bush and our European allies pay lip service to aid for developing countries, their actual poverty reduction programs too often make relief contingent upon conditions like fiscal austerity, which regularly forces poor countries to cut public health care and education in order to get needed support.

The neoconservative ideology of American supremacy and current economic responses to poverty fail to provide a just or effective model for human development. Instead, they produce bitterness, inequality and violence. Before we are led into another war, Americans must tell the White House that alternatives do exist, and that real security will depend on pursuing them.

Mark Engler, a writer based in New York City, can be contacted via the web site www.DemocracyUprising.com. Research assistance for this article provided by Katie Griffiths.

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