Open Letter from
an American to the World: HELP!
by Jeremy Brecher*, December 28, 2001
The Bush Administration is blundering into a global
conflagration. There is currently no force within the U.S. likely
to stop it. It is up to the rest of the world, and especially
America's friends and allies -- both governments and their citizens
-- to constrain its rush to disaster.
The Bush administration was warned by its European
and Arab allies and its friends around the world to avoid:
A long bombing campaign with significant civilian
Afghanistan. --Seizure of Kabul by the Northern Alliance.
Bombing Afghanistan during Ramadan.
Failure to reestablish the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.
Each of these warnings was ignored. And the emerging result of
these and similar Bush Administration policies is a vast global
destabilization that is acquiring a momentum going far beyond
the responses to September 11. As The New York Times reports,
"new battlegrounds" have opened up "from the Palestinian
territories to Kashmir."
Whether or not the war in Afghanistan was justified,
the issue is no longer about destroying Al Qaeda, or removing
the repressive Taliban regime, or even whether the U.S. will attack
The issue is now an emerging world crisis provoked
by a superpower administration that is acting without rational
consideration of the effects of its actions. The number of additional
civil and international wars it may stir up is simply incalculable
-- and certainly is not being rationally calculated by the Bush
This represents a new stage in testing what it
means to be the world's only superpower. As a German official
put it in The New York Times, in the past Washington determined
its national interest in shaping international rules, behavior,
"Now Washington seems to want to pursue its
national interest in a more narrowly defined way, doing what it
wants and forcing others to adapt."
The Bush Administration has a list of dozens of
countries for possible intervention, and it is presently debating
who's next. "Pentagon officials have openly agitated to finish
off Mr. [Saddam] Hussein.... Recently an American delegation from
the State Department was in northern Iraq, discussing activities
in that part of Iraq with Kurdish leaders... [S]ome administration
officials say that Pakistan may be where the next phase of the
war must unfold."
Somalia, the Sudan, the Philippines -- the shopping
list goes on and on.
The Bush administration's global destabilization
is not limited to the war on terrorism. U.S. withdrawal from the
ABM treaty is initiating a new nuclear arms race.
Joseph Biden, Jr., the chairman of the U.S. Senate's
Foreign Relations Committee, cites widely reported U.S. intelligence
community conclusions that "pulling out of ABM would prompt
the Chinese to increase their nuclear arsenal tenfold, beyond
the modernization they are doing anyway.... And when they build
up, so will the Indians, and when the Indians do, so will the
Pakistanis. And for what? A system no one is convinced will work."
It is an illusion to believe that the U.S. is in
any way in control of events. Consider the mid-East peace process.
Just as Bush and Powell were rolling out a major peace initiative,
the combination of war parties in Israel and Palestine sabotaged
The U.S. then tilted wildly toward the very forces
in Israel that had sabotaged the U.S. initiative. The attack on
the Indian parliament -- believed by our new friend India to have
been organized with the connivance of our old friend Pakistan
-- threatens to provoke a war that the U.S. will now be in the
The U.S. justification for its attack on Afghanistan
as "harboring terrorists" has already been echoed almost
word for word by India, Israel, Russia, and China for their own
purposes. The use of the "right of self-defense" as
a justification for a unilateral decision to attack any country
one accuses of harboring terrorists provides a pretext that any
national leader can now use to make war against anyone it chooses
in complete disregard of international law.
There is something that peoples and governments
around the world need to understand: There are currently no effective
internal constraints on what the Bush Administration can or will
do. Because of popular response to the September 11 attacks, the
Administration feels --correctly, at least for a time -- that
it can do anything without having to fear dissent or opposition.
It withdrew from the AMB treaty with barely a ripple
of public questioning. Its endorsement of Sharon's attacks on
the Palestinian Authority wins overwhelming Congressional support.
Open advocacy of a military attack and occupation of Iraq causes
The peace movement that has challenged Bush administration
policies may become a significant restraint in the future, but
it isn't now.
Nor is there any effective institutional constraint.
The U.S. Congress has almost unanimously given the Administration
a blank check to conduct any military operations it chooses.
Practical concerns of senior military officers
at the Pentagon are apparently ignored by Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld and his ubiquitous supporters. Secretary of State Colin
Powell, looked to by many as a source of reason and restraint,
has been unable to make the Administration heed any of the warnings
listed above. It is hard to detect any indication of a business
or foreign policy "Establishment" putting any constraints
on the unleashing of US power.
Most serious of all is a lack of constraint based
on rational evaluation of long-term consequences. As an "exuberant
senior aide" put it recently, the Bush administration is
"on a roll"; its "biggest concern" is "how
to make maximum use of the military as well as the diplomatic
momentum he has built up abroad and the political capital he has
accumulated at home."
As an article in The Guardian entitled "Washington
hawks get power boost: Rumsfeld is winning the debate" puts
it, "For the time being, at least, there is little in Washington
to stop Mr. Rumsfeld chasing America's foes all the way to Baghdad."
A time for friends to help friends
The U.S. in the Cold War era at least purported
to be protecting its allies. But today, as the U.S. projects its
power unilaterally, it friends and allies are the ones most likely
to feel the blowback from destabilization in the form of terrorism,
refugees, recession, and war.
It is up to governments and civil society outside
the U.S. to put constraints on what it does -- both for their
own sake and for America's.
In the Suez Crisis of 1956, the armies of Britain,
France, and Israel invaded Egypt and began advancing on the Suez
Canal. The U.S. under President Eisenhower intervened -- not to
support the invaders but to restrain them. It is time for the
world to return the favor. For example:
* A "coalition" in which the U.S. Goliath
cuts a separate deal with each "coalition partner" is
a formula for U.S. dictation. U.S. coalition partners must insist
that the U.S. spell out its intentions for open world discussion
before they agree to provide any support.
* U.S. coalition partners with few exceptions oppose
U.S. attacks on Iraq, Somalia, the Sudan, or anywhere else. Yet
it is no secret that planning for such attacks is under way in
Washington. Coalition partners must move from private grumbling
to a concerted public united front against such actions.
* The U.N. can serve as an arena for challenging
and providing alternatives to superpower supremacy. At the least,
the U.S. can be forced to isolate itself by vetoing resolutions
that run counter to its unilateralism.
(The Security Council recently voted 12 to 1, with
Britain and Norway abstaining, for a resolution calling for international
monitors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The U.S. vetoed
the resolution -- thereby isolating itself from many of its own
Strong, unified, public endorsement of Secretary-General
Kofi Annan's campaign against an attack on Iraq would have a big
impact in the U.S. at this point.
* It has been widely reported in the U.S. that
foreign critics of the war in Afghanistan have now concluded that
they were wrong because the war was short and because it freed
Afghans, especially women, from the tyranny of the Taliban.
This is being used in Washington to argue that
popular opinion abroad need not be regarded as an impediment to
further U.S. attacks elsewhere. Washington needs to hear a clear
message that that is not the case.
* There are concrete ways in which people and governments
can begin putting the brakes on Washington. The refusal of European
countries to extradite suspects who may be subject to military
tribunals or the death penalty provides an excellent example.
This is going to be a long struggle, not just about
one policy, but about a basic historical tendency of the world's
only superpower. It is sad but true that the rest of the world
may not have enough leverage in the short run to stop the U.S.
from attacking whomever it chooses to target next. But it is time
to begin laying the groundwork for a long-term strategy of containment.
Such international pressure can serve as a deterrent
to the craziest actions the Bush administration is considering.
For example, press reports suggest that opposition from Russia,
Europe, and Arab countries may be leading Bush's advisors at least
to delay an attack on Iraq on the grounds that "there is
insufficient international backing."
If U.S. friends and coalition partners toll the
alarm bell, it will begin to evoke different responses in Congress,
the Pentagon, corporate elites, and the American public as well,
especially as the untoward consequences of the Bush administration
juggernaut become apparent.
Without an outside wake-up call, these forces are
currently prepared to plunge into the abyss in an empty-minded
Restraining the Bush Administration is anything
but anti-American. It is the best thing America's friends can
do for us right now. We have a slogan here: "Friends don't
let friends drive drunk."
PLEASE: America's friends need to take the car
keys away until this power-drunk superpower sobers up.
*Jeremy Brecher is an historian and the author
of twelve books, including GLOBALIZATION FROM BELOW, and producer
of the video documentary GLOBAL VILLAGE OR GLOBAL PILLAGE? (website:
www.villageorpillage.org) Anyone is welcome to forward or reprint