Measured by progress made towards a just and peaceful world order, 2003 is thankfully over and best forgotten. Especially depressing was the spectacle of the richest, most scientifically advanced human beings on the planet lapse into a kind of high-tech barbarism. It was a year that saw the world’s only superpower, on an increasingly unhinged score-settling mission, lose its democratic compass and all but opt out of the human family.
The concern is about more than just the war on Iraq, waged on false pretences against the wishes of the international community. It is about the world the “war on terrorism” is creating — one in which might replaces right, the unilateralism of the powerful trumps inclusive global governance, the values of one culture are forced down the throats of others, human rights become the prerogative of the privileged few, and the economic and political interests of 290-million people set the agenda for the mass of humankind. The Iraqi invasion climaxed a pattern of United States unilateralism, including the boycott of the International Criminal Court and the refusal to endorse the Kyoto protocol on climate change.
Consider where the “war on terrorism” has brought us. “Liberated” Iraq is an armed garrison that shows no signs of transition to meaningful civilian rule. A tyrant is toppled, only to be replaced by a puppet ruling council that would not last a day without the shield of US firepower.
Far from rolling back terrorism, the war has made Iraq a new terrorist cockpit. To avoid the obvious inference that it is facing a people’s war, the US continues to characterise the attacks as the work of Ba’ath Party remnants. Yet although 42 of those on the original list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis have been killed or captured — now including Saddam Hussein — insurgency continues to escalate. Twice as many US soldiers have been killed in the past four months as in the previous four, while attacks are increasingly being broadened to target other foreign soldiers.
Nor, if recent outrages in Turkey and Saudi Arabia are anything to go by, does the worldwide offensive against terrorism seem to have achieved much. Osama bin Laden remains at large, and there appear to have been no significant breaks in cracking the terrorist infrastructure. One of the few “victories” claimed is the duplicitous announcement by that old fox, Libya’s Moammar Gadaffi, that he has abjured weapons of mass destruction he never had in the first place.
The erosion of the US’s democratic values is most dramatically highlighted by the running sore of the Guantanamo base, where hundreds of “terror suspects” have been held in cages for months, without being charged or released, at the discretion of President George W Bush. The US calls them “enemy combatants” and justifies their detention as a requisite of the war against terrorism — while refusing to give them prisoner of war status. The manner of their detention, which includes hooding, leg-irons, weeks of compulsory silence and cultural/religious humiliation such as the shaving of beards, strongly suggests that the basic purpose is to intimidate the Islamic world.
Saddam and other captured members of the former Iraqi government have also disappeared into military internment, underlining the fact that the US is steadily institutionalising detention without trial in its dealings with a hostile outside world. What will happen to Saddam? Will the US run the gauntlet of a public trial that would inevitably expose its large role in installing and arming him, as well as the almost certain fact that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were decommissioned after the first Gulf War, more than 10 years ago? Will it hand him over to a kangaroo court of the feeble and discredited Iraqi judiciary? Or will he languish indefinitely in some US military facility at the pleasure of Bush?
The Mail & Guardian is routinely accused of knee-jerk anti- Americanism. This is unjust — we admire the many glittering American achievements in the fields of science, technology, sport, entertainment and culture.
But as we move deeper into the new millennium, it becomes increasingly clear that the world needs a different kind of America — one that recognises the obligations of world citizenship, upholds multilateralism and the peaceful resolution of international disputes, and promotes justice and human rights everywhere, not just in perceived enemy states. With its material and human riches, it has so much capacity for good.
The first step is the removal from power of Bush and the neo- conservative Neanderthals who surround him. 2004 is an election year in the US. Americans are thus presented with an opportunity to begin reintegrating their country into the family of nations.
… but cause for hope
In contrast with the rather gloomy world picture, South Africa enters its 10th year of democracy in relatively good shape.
The country is set fair for its third democratic election. The government is at last confronting the HIV/Aids scourge with purpose, while the economic auguries are encouraging.
In a more hopeful mood than in many years past, the M&G wishes the country, and all its readers, a peaceful and prosperous New Year.