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Debate: Commentary (September 18, 2003)

U.S. Can Still Turn It Around

Masamichi HANABUSA (Chairman, English-Speaking Union of Japan)

Two years have passed since hateful acts of terrorism shook America to its core and moved it toward a force-oriented and unilateralist world policy. This writer detests and condemns the cruel oppression by the Saddam Hussein regime against its people in Iraq and against its neighbors over the years. I have no sympathy for the fate that has befallen Hussein and his cohorts. I am not satisfied, however, with what has transpired since 9/11. I offer my assessment of the current status of the American response to the tragedy upon its second anniversary.

My strongest point of dissatisfaction is that the Bush administration, American intellectuals and the American general public seem to have perceived 9/11 as an absolute evil that hit America out of the blue within an international political vacuum. It is absolutely clear that no justification can be found for such terrorism aimed principally at civilians.

We have thus far lacked the intellectual exercise for giving sufficient thought to why such terrorism occurred, and to consider whether such acts may be contained by dealing rationally with its root causes. Perhaps it is time to reflect on whether we have been amiss for doubting the rationale and feasibility of a policy that lumps all terrorist groups around the world into one group and launching a full-scale attack in an effort to destroy them.

Why did 9/11 happen? Was al-Qaeda really intent on achieving solidarity with the world's terrorists? Are the conditions for "containing" terrorism unacceptably enormous or incompatible with the principles of the democratic world? It is incredible that no rational attempt to address these questions has been made in the United States, or in other major countries.

Classifying everything under the sun into either good or evil and attempting to destroy such "evil" is an unreasonable course of action. In the political world, where passions entertained by human groups clash against each other, political compromise or postponement of thorny issues by adopting tactical appeasement could better contribute toward the resolution of difficult issues. This is true both in domestic politics and in world politics.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy toward Adolf Hitler at Munich in 1938 was a notorious failure. Yet the decision could have been considered reasonable from the viewpoint of earning precious time to unite domestic opinion in preparation for the fight against Hitler.

In hindsight, probably the more serious mistake in choosing the right time to confront Hitler -- considering the enormous cost subsequently paid to destroy Hitler -- was the failure to prevent him from reoccupying the Rhineland in 1936.

The fundamental flaw in U.S. policy toward the Iraqi regime was continued support for Hussein in the Iraq-Iran War despite Iraqi use of chemical weapons against civilians in Iran. These instances teach us that, in reality, there are various options for dealing with "evil."

Then comes the question of whether the American option taken to deal with terrorism after 9/11 has been appropriate. In light of the present state of affairs in Iraq, it is clear that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq -- whose al-Qaeda links have yet to be proven -- on the pretext of preventing imminent Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction was an unbelievably gross miscalculation, occurring as it did without endorsement by the United Nations. It was also unwise for the U.S. to adopt the policy of rooting out terrorists around the world.

As a result, Russia, Israel, Indonesia and others have taken advantage of the policy to suppress domestic insurgents by force. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has relentlessly attacked Palestinian "terrorists" protesting against Israeli settlements, while President Vladimir Putin of Russia has pursued military suppression of the Chechen insurrection.

The Kurdish people are far from the acquisition of self-rule, not to mention creation of a Kurdish nation. In fact, terrorism is proliferating rather than diminishing as the dissatisfaction of suffering peoples is running deep.

Sooner or later the U.S. will be obliged to change its approach to Middle East policy. The greatest possible misfortune for the world would be for America to go isolationist out of frustration. The U.S. must return to the postwar U.N. experience and, on the basis of that, strive to rebuild an effective international mechanism that relies on the consensus of the international community.

The window of opportunity for turning the 9/11 misfortune into a blessing for the U.S., the unrivaled military superpower, is still open.

(This article originally appeared in the September 12, 2003 issue of The Japan Times. Do not quote without the authorís permission.)

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