Hope for peace

March 1, 2003

Along with the majority of people around the world (and millions in the US), I am horrified and disgusted by the killing unleashed by the Bush regime on the long-suffering Iraqi people. This aggression is taking place despite unprecedented opposition by governments in scores of countries, including traditional allies of the United States, such as Canada, Mexico, France, and Germany.

Those nations that stood up to Bush, including Canada, did so in part because of the strength of domestic sentiment as shown by opinion polls, by demonstrations in the streets, and by the dozens of ways that citizens (not "protestors" or "peaceniks") make their feelings known.

This opposition results in part from overwhelming rejection of the idea that the US can ignore international law and go to war whenever its leader gives the order. It also stems from concern over the US attempt to be the (unelected) sheriff of the world ("You've got 48 hours to get out of town.")

In addition, most people were not fooled by the phony excuses that Washington offered for halting the work of the UN weapons inspectors. No justification was more revolting than citing the UN's failure to stop the genocide of 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994, when, in reality, it was the United States which repeatedly prevented the Security Council from acting.

There's also concern over the human cost of US violence: hundreds of thousands of people injured, killed, and made refugees--a "major catastrophe" in the words of one UN official. Those who claim there was no time for continued inspections and a peaceful resolution should take the "family" test: would you still support a rush to war if it meant that you and all the people in your family would be killed? If not, then don't condemn Iraqi families to death.

For some, the failure to deter the US from attacking its former friend and ally might prompt a feeling that "resistance is futile." Which, of course, is exactly what the US (and Britain) would like people to believe. Such defeatism, however, will only make future international thuggery more likely. It is also premature.

Rather, global opposition to Bush's war may in fact herald a turning point in international politics. One reason for optimism is the early appearance of the resistance. When the US attacked Vietnam in the early 1960s, it took five years until significant peace movements appeared. The mobilization in the current crisis, which was larger and more wide-spread than during the Vietnam War, took place even before the attack began.

Surprisingly, many governments found the courage to stand together and resist US "diplomacy" (actually a combination of threats and bribes.)

But the most hopeful sign is the overwhelming public opposition around the world to using war to solve international disputes. In country after country, polls found that 80-90% of the population--and sometimes more--opposed any war without UN approval (and many felt that even UN support would not justify a war.)

Public opinion has never been such an important factor in international relations. The Los Angeles Times noted that, "We are seeing something absolutely different. Citizen preferences, and public opinion more generally, have become a real-time factor in diplomatic decision-making in a way it never has before."

Former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Robert Muller, points out that, "Never before in the history of the world has there been a global, visible, public, viable, open dialogue...about the very legitimacy of war."

In fact, there are now two global superpowers: the United States, and world public opinion. US intervention and violence (from Greece in 1947 to Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Cuba, Indochina, Chile, Angola, Nicaragua, Panama, as well as the Middle East) have created tremendous animosity, crystallized by Washington's unilateralism and war obsession.

This public questioning of the resort to force has exasperated both Bush and Blair. As the leader of the Canadian Islamic Congress wrote, "never before have the warmongers felt so frustrated, so isolated, so unpopular. They are on the defensive..."

The task is difficult and the outcome uncertain. But this may be the best--and last--chance to make the political cost of war unacceptably high. In the words of Judy Rebick, "democracy is the most powerful force for social change the world has ever known."


Peter G. Prontzos is a Research Associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He teaches Political Science at Langara College in Vancouver.