Thursday, December 8, 2005

Balancing the news from Iraq

It was refreshing to see your positive coverage of Iraqi sentiment and improvement amid an American political environment that unfortunately is pessimistic and divided (“On balance,” Editorial, Wednesday), and I look forward to future editorials that promote hope and advocate patience despite the negativity surrounding the Iraq question.

We should not necessarily be surprised that the newly freed Iraqis are more optimistic for the future than we are. As a fledgling nation searching for a new identity after the War of Independence, America had to deal with a population divided by slavery; a split among the Founding Fathers into federalism and anti-federalism; and a series of conflicts, including the Whiskey Rebellion and the War of 1812.

Yet, despite the setbacks and the growing pains of a new nation, America survived and prospered. It seems as if in recent years, we have developed a mentality of defeatism and impatience in foreign policy. Democracies are not born overnight; they begin in infancy and evolve over time. We cannot expect our military to create democracy in a troubled region in such a short amount of time. Those who oppose the war have set impossibly high expectations. Therefore, it is imperative that we continue our mission, despite the setbacks, until we steer the Iraqi people on a path to a free and fair society.


Lewiston, Maine

A Tower of Babel?

Wednesday’s Page One story “U.S. firm on U.N. budget threat” is one more reminder that the United Nations is a many-splintered thing.

First, there is the United Nations of aspiration enshrined in its charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Noble documents both, but they are about as effective as the League of Nations and the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 in stopping tyranny or predatory war.

The Security Council, the institutional manifestation of these aspirations, cannot prevent war or make peace. It played no role in ending the Cold War and has not prevented the 30 small armed conflicts that ravage the world each year. It cannot effectively combat terrorism.

Second, the sprawling General Assembly has even less influence on the behavior of states than the Security Council. With its 120 members, the assembly resembles the ancient Tower of Babel, whose builders were determined to escape earthly strife by erecting a monument that would reach to the heavens. Spurred by their utopian dream, they started assembling foundation stones, but their lofty enterprise was doomed quickly when they realized they could not speak the same language.

Throughout history, idealistic men have reached to the heavens to escape the problem of evil, to end conflict and war. In his 1842 poem “Locksley Hall,” Alfred Lord Tennyson dipped “into the future” and saw “the heavens fill with commerce” until “the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d/ In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.”

A century later, in 1943, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, assessing the embryonic United Nations, rhapsodized: “There will no longer be any need for spheres of influence, for alliances, for balance of power … by which, in the unhappy past, the nations strove to safeguard their security or to promote their interests.” Mr. Hull received Nobel Peace Prize just as we were entering the dangerous 40-year Cold War.

The United Nations cannot prevent tyranny, war or aggression because throughout history, decisions on these fateful issues have always been made by the prime actors in the world drama — sovereign states and, more especially, the great powers. This has been true since the armies of the ancient empires of Rome, Babylon and Persia determined the destiny, however long, of millions of human beings.

Then, third, there are the multitude of specialized U.N. agencies, committees, conferences and missions that carry on functions that, in most cases, could be better addressed were there no U.N. Secretariat brooding over them. The essential agencies, such as the Universal Postal Union, the U.N. Refugee Agency and the World Health Organization, need no overlordship.

World peace is possible only when the powerful states succeed in achieving a balance of power among themselves and maintain sufficient military assets to deter and, if necessary, throw back any aggressor. Britain and the United States failed to act soon enough against Mussolini and Hitler. With the shock of Pearl Harbor, the United States saw its responsibility only in the nick of time to throw back Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.


Chevy Chase

A worst-case scenario

The Monday editorial “Iran, Israel and nukes” could have included some appraisal of the global economic impact of the “worst case scenario,” the exchange of nuclear weapons by an Islamic nation and Israel. Israel doesn’t need German submarines with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to respond. Israel can easily use the three refueling jet tankers that the United States recently sold it to reach Islamic cities from Morocco to Indonesia. The German submarines provide only an additional buffer to ensure that an Israeli response to a nuclear threat that becomes real is overwhelming.

There is the danger that Israel, if attacked, may not be able to figure out which nation (crazed leaders abound in non-Islamic nations, as well) actually attacked it. In that case, Israel most likely would use its remaining arsenal of nuclear weapons on countries that it believed could have supported the attack. (The list would be a long one.) What would happen to the world economy when Persian Gulf oil production dropped to 15 or 20 percent?

World leaders have an obligation to their citizens to spell out how the Israeli “worst case scenario” could impact their economies as well as the well-being of their people. Once the potential danger to their own way of life becomes clear to other people around the world, nuclear weapons development will receive the attention and resolve needed to curb active programs. Doing an “analysis of what went wrong” will not be helpful after a nuclear exchange. Our world leaders have an obligation to provide open and frank dialogue on why many countries are not entitled to pursue nuclear programs.

The real “failure of Western diplomacy to halt Iran’s march” is that far too many people remain ignorant of the danger to the world’s economy that nuclear weapons programs pose. Most Russians and Americans understood the implications of mutually assured destruction (MAD), which assisted American and Russian leaders in finding a compromise to live together in the world. The rest of the world could use a little MAD education to bring back into focus the “worst case scenario” between the Israelis and Arab and other Muslim-world nations. Regardless of a country’s professed right to defend itself with nuclear weapons, the potential effects on the rest of world must be made clear to all.


Fort Belvoir

Recruiting military lawyers

Although I argued, as a public-interest lawyer, for a lawsuit against the Solomon Amendment, I nevertheless believe that the attorney attacking it in the Supreme Court made concessions that could doom his case (“Campus access sought for military,” Nation, Wednesday).

He agreed that his position would permit universities to bar military recruiters over virtually any policy disagreement: over the military’s different treatment of homosexuals or women, faculty opposition to a particular war, or presumably even the military’s use of animals in research.

This made it clear that holding the amendment unconstitutional would seriously impinge on the government’s constitutional power to “raise and support armies” — a very difficult position to maintain while our nation is at war.


Professor of public interest law

George Washington University

Law School


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