Navigating the road to Iraq

With the United States on the verge of a potentially chaotic war in the Persian Gulf, it’s time to reevaluate the driving forces behind today’s increasingly global system. Despite sentiment among businesses that the world has become one giant marketplace, national autonomy and regionalism are rising to the forefront of political debate. Is the nation-state something worth defending? Or is it a privilege earned by democracies with integrated economies and transparent leadership?

While it might be a wonderful world if every nation encouraged democratic principles, reaching that point is not necessarily a task for the United States. As was recently noted in Le Monde, setting a precedent of preemptive action in the name of security merely paves the way for similar attacks by Russia and China on Georgia and Taiwan, respectively. Neither Russia nor China is likely to veto the U.S. proposal concerning Iraq when the Security Council convenes. And even more alarming is the possibility that appealing to the United Nations will become a way to justify war, an outcome far from the organization’s founding intention.

Also of note is a recent study conducted jointly by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the German Marshall Fund of the United States on public opinion in Europe and the United States. According to the report, 83 percent of Americans believe that it is “very desirable” or “somewhat desirable” to demonstrate “strong leadership in world affairs.” But what constitutes strong leadership? Equating might and right is always a dangerous path to follow.

America is not the only part of the world hoping to take a strong leadership role. A significant majority (65 percent) of Europeans surveyed would rather support the evolution of the European Union into a superpower with military and economic clout on par with the United States than have the U.S. remain the world’s strongest nation. Nearly all of the European respondents viewed such a change in the distribution of power as a way to further global cooperation, but the fact remains that two thirds of American respondents were opposed to any rise in European power.

More than merely disrupting the balance of power, the changes in Europe are also disrupting traditional conceptions of the nation-state. Regional power has superceded political autonomy. Still, Europe’s willingness to give up domestic rule does not automatically legitimize the forceful destruction of domestic rule in Iraq. If Iraq does pose an imminent threat to the United States, then the removal of Saddam Hussein and war with Iraq will be required. But even as Iraq’s right to existence is hanging in the balance, so too is the right of every sovereign state.

In a speech at the United Nations, President Bush stated that “competition between great nations is inevitable, but armed conflict in our world is not.” Competition, chapter one of international capitalism, is by no means an evil in and of itself. There are even times where it acts as a stabilizing force. Nevertheless, globalization and extreme competition have been undermining the sanctity of the nation-state, sending a message that money is the most important kind of power. Globalization is a worldwide trend, but it is undeniably U.S.-driven. Americans tend to think that noble intentions should compensate for unintended consequences. Will Iraq become another item on the list of American miscalculations? Will America live up to its reputation for hypocrisy, promoting democracy but disregarding it in practice? Not questions for the faint of heart. President Bush has finally entered the big leagues of warfare; let’s hope that he’s prepared for the challenge.