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I am not an expert on military matters or the consequences of war. I am an ordinary citizen concerned about the turn of events in Afghanistan — where lives are still unnecessarily being lost.

Mine is neither an admonition, nor is it a directive and not even a suggestion; it is a plea for the leading powers — notably, but not only the United States — to strive for policies that can create a better world.

I arrived in the United States 50 years ago, first as a resident, and later became a citizen. I came with the expectation that this nation would persevere in furthering the ideals of peace and justice that we all so badly wanted and needed at the time. Instead, what I have experienced is a country that enmeshes itself in unnecessary wars that weaken it considerably, both materially and in terms of international prestige. It saddens me because the United States has given me, my wife and my daughter so many wonderful professional opportunities.

Interventions in other countries have not led to better living conditions for the populations of those countries. In most cases, they have had the opposite effect. And this is true not only in the case of Afghanistan, it is also true of Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and all the other countries where the so-called “leading democracies” have intervened.

It is not cynical to replace the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” with “intervention in other countries breeds contempt.” The United States wanted to eliminate the Taliban, whose growth, ironically, it had fostered decades earlier. However, the Taliban have come back in full force after 20 years of a draining war that caused the loss of many lives and cost the country trillions of dollars. These funds have mainly served to increase corruption in that afflicted country.

In his poem “How to create an enemy,” writer Sam Keen reminds us of the brutality of war: “When your icon of the enemy is complete / you will be able to kill without guilt, / slaughter without shame.”

George Washington alerted the country to the dangers of foreign entanglements and President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about the threat to democracy of the “military-industrial complex.” This so-called military-industrial complex is made up of people — people who have children and grandchildren to whom they should want to leave a better world. But a world where war shows its demonic face is not a better world.

During the numerous health-related missions I have participated in in more than 50 developing countries I have seen the ugly face of widespread poverty and disease first hand. And I have also seen the terrible consequences of war and the displacements it can cause in countries, including in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mozambique and Angola.

Are these tragedies inevitable? Is it possible that instead of exporting war, countries such as the U.S. could export technology together with human capital, such as teachers, artists, doctors and researchers, to help create a better world? I am convinced it is possible. Why not foster policies based on humane values?

The world needs to replace the paradigm of confrontation with one of cooperation. As Pakistani physician and theater director Bina Shariff told me, “Colonizers don’t have a concern for other human beings, so they never think of improving people’s lives by a better health system, culture, education and nation-building.” She added, “Those thoughts are far removed from their minds. They want to keep imperialism going and war is the permanent feeding tube.”

Policies should be developed with the aim of improving the lives of people worldwide. They should help combat poverty and disease in developing countries through such measures as providing low-priced agricultural machinery and fair-trade conditions. These policies could also include the exchange between countries of artists, sports figures, physicians and researchers. The world needs to facilitate more, not less contact between peoples. People fear what they don’t know.

Ending wars could create cost savings that then could be directed at research efforts aimed at eliminating the diseases afflicting the world’s poor, as well as cancers, lung and heart disease and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few. Tackling such issues would vastly improve the quality of lives of countless numbers of people and, in the end, save money.

The world has the resources. What we collectively need is a new look on life and to recognize its wondrous possibilities. I have been called naive, but those leaders who led their countries into these wars were not — so who are the naive ones? The peoples of the world can create a better world if they truly want it.

Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and writer on human rights issues. He has conducted health-related missions in over 50 countries worldwide.

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