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So It Has Come To This

Andrew C. Thomas

The moment could be felt as far away as a year ago, but I doubt anyone could have predicted the power of the moment. President Bush, after a great deal of drawn-out debate, officially signed the measure and pulled the trigger. Conflict has officially begun (widened, really, since smaller-scale conflict in Iraq has been ongoing for 12 years). And the impact is already being felt all over the world.

Yesterday a large gathering of MIT community members watched in excitement as a mob walked down Massachusetts Avenue; the parade marched in lock step, to the beat of makeshift drums. Anyone who woke up before noon knew what the protest was about, though in comparison to other rallies, the event itself actually seemed unremarkable as it passed through the MIT campus.

The protesters, and many who did not walk with the mob yesterday, clearly realize the severe moral issues that surround this conflict. Most chose to locate the sources of these issues directly in the Oval Office, questioning the leadership of President Bush. I fear that they are symptoms of a bigger problem

If I may be allowed to oversimplify, the geopolitical problem is simple: In matters of foreign policy, America is a 6-year-old boy (and an overly large one at that). He sees what it wants and grabs for it, with little concern for long-term consequences, because he’s bigger than the other kids on the playground.

In hindsight it seems inevitable that America decided not to act through the United Nations. America has a strong trend of ignoring large international movements. The Kyoto Accord, the International Criminal Court, and the Geneva Convention, just to name a few, were all swept aside with disdain by the Bush Administration when circumstances suited its needs. Small wonder that other countries are feeling bullied by the policies of this government.

Did Colin Powell seriously believe that he could single-handedly convince the rest of the world that the Bush Administration wanted their input? I wanted to believe he could, as did many others, but I also wanted to believe that this dialogue would be a two-way process. Neither side seemed willing to discuss, simply to reiterate their tired positions; a compromise proposed by Canadian representatives to the United Nations (which essentially called for a deadline delayed by two weeks) was brushed aside.

Certainly, the world had other options; if the issue was simply about banned weaponry, a weapons inspection program 100 times bigger would surely have accomplished that result, with a much friendlier price tag. If there has been one point the government has proven by omission, the issue is not terrorism. There are many different motives for this conflict -- among others, oil and water seem viable at this point -- but in order to proceed with even a shred of legitimacy, Mr. Bush needed a real selling point for this conflict. And it appeared, quite ironically, as a humanitarian cause.

The goal to free the people of Iraq from oppression is, I believe, a noble one. I have no doubt that all members of the United Nations would share that sentiment in its naked form (though whether they would act on it, in this way, is another story). “Not in our name,” a slogan put forth by anti-war parties, is painfully selfish. If the issue is between the oppression of 28 million people and the death of innocents on one hand, and the liberation of an entire country with the sad price of a loss of life -- of soldiers and civilians -- the mathematics alone suggest we must act.

Anti-war activists remind us that 500,000 children have died in Iraq as a result of U.N. sanctions following Gulf War I. It is completely meaningless to ask how those casualties could have been prevented; I fear that more might have died in a prolonged conflict. With any luck (and, maybe, a little thought), there will be a minimum of bloodshed. Now that war has begun, it is the responsibility of those who oppose it to focus their efforts. A head-on conflict to end the war would only toughen the resolve of the Cowboy President, who cannot back down. Those who oppose a high death toll should demand that lives are saved through careful, surgical military action rather than massive, blunt force. Those who want to ensure a high quality of life for the Iraqi people should fight for large humanitarian contributions to the rebuilding of the nation.

Yesterday’s collection of protesters, however, made me wonder. While some of the protest signs had clever slogans (“Empty War-Head found in Washington” with a picture of the president), others were utterly devoid of content (“More Trees, Less Bush”). Others I noticed during the past weekend’s protest were utterly baffling as to their true meaning (“Bush Is Sauron -- We Hates Him”). More than a few sported the bird call of the anti-war movement, No Blood For Oil. But the idea that an army was being raised to fight against the war -- a marching army complete with a drum corps -- terrifies me greatly.

There is no greater act now for us than hope. May this conflict be as short as possible; may the casualties be low; and may this country, and its people, feel these growing pains, mature in the process, and realize that in the aftermath, true global citizenry might actually be within America’s grasp.