America, the Rome of the 21st century: Protest grows of policy of "Regime Change by War"

by Mark A. Heller

The Jerusalem Post

March 14, 2003

At the risk of rhetorical overkill, it seems that what started out as a relatively simple mission to get rid of a vicious thug in Baghdad has turned into a transforming event in international relations.

This mission is not simple in the technical, logistical or administrative sense, but it is conceptually simple because it follows a trail already well blazed by others.

In the past few decades, a whole host of slimeballs have been thrown out of office as a result of outside military intervention without UN sanction. The list of ex-tough guys includes Idi Amin, chief clown of Uganda, deposed by the Tanzanian army; Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge band of merry men, sent packing after a Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, and Mobutu Sese Seko, chief kleptocrat of Zaire, ousted by a coalition of the African willing.

None of these interventions provoked massive protest marches in London, Paris, Rome or Surabaya, and one is tempted to conclude that the non-reaction is explained by the belief that it's ok to kick out the bad guys, as long as the kicker-outers are not Americans.

But even that doesn't capture the whole picture, because Uncle Sam, without provoking much outrage, has also ousted a few such characters in his backyard, including Panamanian chief pusher Manuel Noriega and the voodoo king of Haiti, Doc Duvalier, Jr.

This time, however, things have gone badly wrong.
The US administration telegraphed its intention to throw out the baby Saddam along with the Ba'ath water, and the plan, rather than eliciting the support at least of liberals and human-rights activists, has aroused a firestorm of resistance around the world. Why?

The answer is not simple, because the opposition is actually a huge coalition of the unwilling that gathers under its wings bedfellows as strange as Islamist fundamentalists in Lahore and aging hippies in Berkeley, California.

But the one thing that seems to distinguish this intervention from all those that went before is that if it is done, it will be done, for perhaps the first time since the Roman Empire, in a unipolar international system by the unipole.
In some cases, opposition by other governments can be explained by traditional reasons of state, including economic interest, self-esteem, or concern for their own fate if the idea that outsiders might break repressive regimes really catches on.

But public opinion is usually moved by different sentiments, and there is a lot of serious public opposition to American intervention, even in countries that formally support the US.

That is not the case in countries that have been victimized by Saddam such as Iran, Kuwait and Israel. And it is certainly not the case among Iraqis themselves, at least among those free to speak, most of whom have also been victimized by Saddam; the Kurds seem to be supportive of regime change (tempered by fears about how Turkey might take advantage of developments), and Iraqi exiles are in the forefront of demands to get rid of Saddam.

Indeed, it's probably a safe bet that the only Iraqis present in anti-war demonstrations around the world are agents of the regime.

BUT THE protest against regime change by war is strong and growing everywhere else, particularly in the "enlightened" West. This resistance is not being waged for the sake of Iraqi sovereignty, that is, for Saddam's right to continue ruling Iraq as he has done for the past 24 years at least, that is not the intention of the resisters, though it may well be the practical outcome of what they do.

Nor is it being waged in order to deny Iraqis basic human liberties and rights, including the right to choose their own leaders, or just live decent lives; at least, that is not the intention of the resisters, though it may well be the practical outcome of what they do.

Instead, it is waged to constrain and hobble the exercise of American power, or, as intellectuals, politicians and other aspiring moralists like to put it, to uphold a world order based on the principles of international legality and multilateral consensus.

And the truth is that protesters have already succeeded in ensuring that the basis of world order will be profoundly affected by the outcome of the crisis, whatever it is.

For if the administration ultimately ignores the mass and institutional expressions of opposition and wages war on Saddam, the result, assuming the war ends with Saddam gone, will be even greater American preeminence, along with greater contempt for multilateral institutional constraints on American power and even less willingness to consider the views of anyone else except the few allies who stood with the US before and during the campaign.

In other words, the result will be precisely that least desired by American critics: The UN will go the way of the League of Nations (perhaps even to the point of American withdrawal), and the US, instead of being a mere global cop, will become a global supercop.

Alternatively, if the administration backs down because of fear of the possible consequences of acting unilaterally (hostile editorial comment, critical resolutions in the UN, sanctions, even indictments in the International Criminal Court) and leaves Saddam alone, the result will be either a variety of small cops acting independently to take care of their own neighborhoods (Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast) or else multilateral paralysis, that is, no cops and no global order at all.

That would not be a step forward to world government or world law; it would be a step backward to the anarchy of the state of nature, where life, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

The writer is principal research associate at Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.