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Commentary: An Unjust, Unjustifiable War

By Mark Ashwill

Buffalo, NY – There is perhaps no better way to gain a heightened awareness of the effects and implications of our government's foreign policy than to spend some time abroad, especially during a time of crisis. Thanks to a U.S. government grant, I recently had the good fortune to be a visiting scholar in Vietnam - lecturing, consulting, and, at times, reflecting on the Bush Administration's plans to wage war against Iraq. In Vietnam, once on the receiving end of America's good intentions, poignantly depicted in Graham Greene's The Quiet American, I couldn't help but think that my country was on the verge of stumbling into yet another unjust, unjustifiable and costly war.

The glass is half empty part of me believes that the chickens are coming home to roost. George W. is still trying to learn on the job but without the intellectual wherewithal of his predecessor who, for all of his faults and baser instincts, was one of this country's smarter presidents. His tendency to personalize politics is dangerous and pointless. Think for a moment of his much-publicized visceral reaction to North Korea's Kim Jong Il, or the fact that Saddam tried to kill his Daddy.

To make matters worse, Bush II has surrounded himself with throwbacks to an era in which American unilateralism was the order of the day. Many of the planners of this war are chicken hawks - hawks too cowardly to do any fighting themselves. Bush, Cheney and many of their closest advisers supported the Vietnam War, yet managed to have the necessary strings pulled to avoid the draft. Edward Said, a Columbia University professor and long-time critic of U.S. policy toward the Middle East, recently asked this rhetorical question - isn't it outrageous that people of such a dubious caliber actually go on blathering about bringing democracy, modernization and liberalization to the Middle East?

Their ilk evokes a simpler time when America had the luxury of pursuing a shoot from the hip approach to foreign policy; a time when the U.S. supported brutal dictatorships (including ones in Iraq and Iran) in the interests of national security and the national interest ; a time when horrific crimes were committed in the name of the American people.

As General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, pointed out on a recent Sunday morning talk show, this is an elective war. As evil and despicable as Iraq's leadership may be, it is NOT a threat to America's national security or regional stability. Bush and his armchair warriors, blinded by their preoccupation with regime change, are neglecting more pressing priorities such as Al-Qaeda-sponsored terrorism, North Korea's membership in the nuclear club, and an anemic U.S. economy. To not proceed with war at this stage of the game would result in a loss of American face and a public relations disaster. It would also save countless lives, billions of dollars, and keep the lid on a Pandora's box that our government would be well-advised not to open.

On a glass is half full day, I am reassured by the rational, reasonable, and informed people in this country who recognize the folly and madness of this Administration's policy. I am also gratified by the demonstrations at home and abroad, and the fact that the United Nations -- as a legitimate forum for international discussion, debate and action -- has become a force to be reckoned with. Never has the adage that no man is an island been more relevant in this age of globalization, instant communication and interconnectedness.

Dr. Ashwill is director of the World Languages Institute and Fulbright Program Adviser at the University at Buffalo. He is also executive director of the U.S.-Indochina Educational Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Buffalo.