OPINION

The burden of war

The US ultimatum to Iraq expired at dawn today and even as you read these lines, it is likely that hostilities will have already begun. «Hostilities» is perhaps the wrong word here, for although the plans call for an invasion and occupation of Iraq by land forces, this is not really a war with risks for both sides, but an attack from afar and from a safe place by destructive warheads without thought for the extent of the losses of the weaker side. The USA wants the downfall of Saddam, but the Americans are not going to risk an attack by special forces aimed at Saddam alone – they are destroying the country and its population, knowing that their own losses would be as unacceptable to the American public as the «collateral damage» suffered by thousands of Iraqis will be easily forgotten. Even if this inhuman «balance sheet of terror» is understandable, it is still a moral burden on the Americans and even more so on those Europeans who have so enthusiastically adopted a subservient stance. It is truly inconceivable how Washington has managed, within a year and a half of the attacks on New York when world support and solidarity was at its peak, to squander that enormous stock of diplomatic capital and to arrive at the lonely image of President Bush in the Azores with only the British and Spanish prime ministers for company – who are themselves ignoring public opinion in their own countries. If until recently Americans were expressing their – real or feigned – wonder at why they were disliked, they might find an explanation in Washington’s handling of the situation and in the ultimatum to the UN. The world – that is the Western world – has a real need for the American leadership to realize what a pointless act of arrogance it was to throw away the world’s support. US political circles, even while in thrall to the effect of its bombs, should not ignore these feelings. And if the USA has sunk to depths from which it will be difficult to emerge, it should realize even at this stage that there is meaning and value in the political management of the planet by the international organizations that have developed over the years. The law of «might is right» allows the weak to react in any way they see fit – allegations of crimes and terrorism have meaning only when the powerful exercise self-restraint and refrain from committing crimes themselves.