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A failure to influence Bush

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HONG KONG — Five years after the toppling of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the United States has precious little to show for its $3 trillion war, except for more than 4,000 American military dead (1,000 more than perished in the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11), 150,000 Iraqis killed, 1.5 million refugees who have fled abroad from warlordism and sectarian strife, and daily continuing grief in homes in Iraq and America.

In the U.S., media attention was recently focused on the congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and the implications of how many U.S. troops will come home and when. It is a pity that the U.S. has become so insular. In reality, the immense expenditure and the continuing deaths in Iraq are only the tip of the iceberg of the true damage, not merely to the U.S. but also to this fragile planet called Earth.

Deaths are only part of the sad toll. The occupiers have failed to create a society in which Iraqis can enjoy basic daily necessities, let alone the democracy and freedom that U.S. President George W. Bush promised when he launched his latter-day crusade against Hussein and his illusory weapons of mass destruction.

According to the testimony of the glittering medal-bedecked Petraeus, the surge has had some “significant and uneven” successes, but he warned that, “countless sectarian fault lines still exist in Baghdad and elsewhere.”

He resorted to cliche to underline the grim situation: “We haven’t turned any corners. We haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel,” and then later, “The Champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator. And the progress, while real, is fragile and is reversible.”

The recent attempt by the Iraqi government to assert itself in Basra failed ignominiously, and various Shiite gangs proved that they really rule the roost. Petraeus’ admission about the increasing involvement of Iran should cause Washington to ask — how did the U.S. blunder into Iraq in the quest for weapons of mass destruction that did not exist and then lay the table for a key player in Bush’s “axis of evil” to feast?

Depending on your assessment, the departure of American troops would either be the signal for all-out internecine warfare in which Iran plays a destabilizing role, or may force the various gangs and warlords to reach local accommodations. Either way, no party will thank the Americans for lingering much longer as evident occupiers.

Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz may have erred on the high side with his $3 trillion cost of Iraq, or he may not if John McCain becomes president and prolongs the U.S. occupation. But 140,000 American troops in Iraq currently costing $150 billion a year is a heavy price. For $150 billion you can provide a lot of jobs, rescue thousands of homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages or bail out a bust bank or few.

The economic downside of the spendthrift’s misadventure in Iraq is all too evident as the U.S. slides into recession with the loss of homes and jobs, a falling dollar, rising oil and soaring prices of other commodities. Did Bush really think that he could burn $150 billion a year without pain?

Worse, the decision to topple Hussein was just one hallmark of an imperial presidency that has damaged America’s own cherished democratic traditions. Egged on by Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush has sought to put his decisions beyond the review of Congress and the courts.

Unfortunately, the president’s imperial claims do not stop at the borders of the U.S. He has espoused a global mission, and at times invokes his Christian faith in justification, almost as if he were the angel of God charged with using his flaming sword to guard the kingdom of democracy and freedom. As a fellow Christian, I find Bush’s muscular Christianity in taking the law into his own hands, bloodily when he chooses it necessary, contrary to the message that Jesus Christ preached.

At this Easter season, it may be worth recalling the reaction of Christ when his apostle Simon Peter, later to be the first pope, took out his sword and sliced off the ear of one of those coming to arrest his master and send him to death. Christ reattached and healed the ear, and admonished Peter, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword,” and then went calmly to be tried and killed.

On issue after issue, from Iraq to world trade, reform of the international financial system, the environment and global warming, Bush has claimed that his is the only vote that counts. His former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton indeed gave his lesson in realpolitik, claiming, “There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States.”

This is dangerous for the world and ultimately for the U.S.

In the last 60 years most of the world has benefited from relative peace, economic globalization and efforts to see that a fledgling and ever-sickly United Nations’ system is put in place. Economic and political empires come and go, and it is better for the peace and harmony of this planet that right and principles are established rather than might.

It is ironic that Bush has tried to establish his imperial presidency just when the U.S. empire has passed its zenith and is reeling from the multiplicity of conflicting demands. What incentive has a man like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to play by global rules when he can gain more by tweaking the U.S.? Why should the rising power China listen when Bush plays god?

Was Bush watching his own country’s streets as Petraeus spoke? He would have seen the Olympic torch, supposedly the symbol of global peace and harmony, carried through San Francisco surrounded by U.S. and Chinese security forces to prevent it being extinguished by demonstrators against China’s record on human rights and in Tibet.

Of course, Beijing should in its own interests show more understanding of Tibetans, and listen as well as talk. But it has every reason to refuse to be bullied by an arrogant U.S. whose time is running out.

The implications for the rest of the world are worrying, especially for Japan, which has never broken away from the U.S. alliance to articulate its own position, has a disputed history with the up and coming power China and is small and resource hungry at a time of increasing competition for limited resources

Nationalists are already clamoring for scrapping Article 9 and getting global muscle as a nuclear-weapons power. It is tempting because Japan could acquire weapons capability quickly and already has superior delivery capacity sufficient to deter even mightily arming China.

It would be a mistake. Japan has two unique virtues: as a victim of nuclear slaughter and Asia’s first beneficiary of economic globalization, albeit often heavily manipulated, it should show the supreme moral leadership of being a pioneer of a peaceful way.

In this global village called Earth, war as a weapon for settling disputes no longer makes sense. Look at the mighty U.S. in Iraq, or even China facing Tibetan anger.

Nuclear war would be devastating for every last person left standing, leaving them to bury a destroyed planet.

The greatest tragedy of modern Japan is that its business corporations have demonstrated superior performance in every corner of the globe, but its politicians and bureaucrats seem to have no idea of where the rest of the world is, let alone how other people feel or how Japan impacts on the world. As soon as economic hardship hit home Japan rushed to cut the pennies going to economic aid, so that it lags in fifth place.

How different it could have been, should have been. With the shield of the U.S. nuclear umbrella and the memories of the horrors of war, Japanese political and intellectual leaders could have been free to explore and suggest new ways to bring the world together, to beat those swords into plowshares and to suggest practical ways to share the fragile peace and plenty of the planet. Is it too late?

Kevin Rafferty is author of “Inside Japan’s Powerhouses,” a study of Japan and internationalization.