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Guest Commentary: Strength based in America's foundations of life, liberty, justice; not found in military might

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Ali Scotten
By Ali Scotten
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday March 13, 2003

As we prepare to send our young men and women to Iraq to kill and be killed in the name of America, we must ask ourselves this question: Will this war succeed in achieving the goals of our nation? If the actual goal, as stated by our president, is to keep Americans safe from terrorism and to spread democracy throughout the Middle East, then a U.S.-led war on Iraq is the surest way to see that we fail in those endeavors. A U.S. strike will not only destabilize the region, but will also fuel the anti-American hatred off which terrorist recruiters feed.

When will we finally learn that the only way to win the war on terrorism is to strike at its roots injustice and oppression? Incidentally, the United States is perceived in the Middle East as having played a large role in allowing the two to continue, all for the sake of American interests. Whether one agrees with it or not, this perception is what causes anti-Americanism, and any fight in the war on terrorism should first and foremost be one that attempts to change how the U.S. is viewed in the Muslim world. To do this, we must gain its trust after years of seeming indifference to its plight.

Contrary to what many Americans believe, most people in the Middle East don't hate us. They only hate our foreign policy that they feel has marginalized them as collateral damage in a U.S. bid to control the oil-rich region. When one looks at the history of our government's involvement in the Middle East, it's not surprising that President Bush's current rhetoric of wanting to improve life in the region by bombing Iraq would be seen by many as less than sincere.

Many in the Middle East ask, "Since when has the U.S. been interested in the lives of ordinary citizens?" This is a valid question. Was the American government concerned with the welfare of the Iranians when, in 1953, the CIA organized a coup that overthrew the popular and democratic Mohammad Mossadegh, reinstating the totalitarian shah? Resentment over U.S. interference in Iranian affairs carried over to the 1979 revolution, creating the rift between the two states that remains to this day. And where was our concern for Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses when we were supporting him with intelligence and weaponry to fight Iran in the 1980s? Wasn't it only until Saddam no longer served American interests that our government publicly condemned him as an evil man who "gassed his own people"?

These hypocrisies hurt our credibility when our president states that an attack on Iraq would be carried out in order to free Iraqis. The extent to which President Bush is sincere in his motives is not the issue; what is important is how a U.S. invasion, and subsequent occupation, of Iraq will be perceived throughout the world. With the historical context of past American and Western involvement in the Middle East, these actions will undoubtedly be seen as imperialistic. The anti-American backlash caused by this will be a tremendous setback in the war on terrorism.

So even solely from the standpoint of U.S. security, we should not be seeking a war with Iraq. Instead, we should be striving for peace and stability in the Middle East. And the only way to even begin to do this is to put forth a sincere, unbiased effort in bringing a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No other issue has brought together so many disparate groups in denouncing America than how the U.S. has involved itself in this conflict. Our supplying of weaponry and $3 billion a year to Israel, without strong diplomatic pressure from us to work for a resolution, has given the Israeli government the incentive to maintain its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the detriment of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians. Radicalism has risen as an increasing portion of the Palestinian population loses hope. On the other side, Israelis, fearful of attack, have re-elected a right-wing government to protect them. How can the Israelis be expected to concede anything in the midst of horrendous suicide attacks against their civilian population, and how can the Palestinians be expected to remain passive as American-supplied Israeli helicopters attack crowded streets, killing innocent bystanders?

If Bush's administration is committed to protecting our lives, it should understand that our security is inextricably tied to the welfare of those in the rest of the world. We need to promote American values through our actions; our founding fathers stated that "all men are created equal" not just those fortunate enough to carry an American passport. We must see that our real power lies not in the superficial strength of military superiority, but in what we stand for: life, liberty and justice.

Ali Scotten is an anthropology and Near Eastern studies senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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