Meet Alex Han

In These Times is growing: We’re excited to announce that labor organizer and activist Alex Han has joined us as the new Executive Director.


Joel Bleifuss

The war with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban straddles the millennium. This war, rooted in the 20th century Cold War charnel house, is being waged in a 21st century that is witnessing the emergence ofand struggle overnew codes of international conduct.

People are beginning to see other inhabitants of the planet as fellow citizens, endowed with an equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Human rights organizations, the anti-sweatshop campaigns and the globalization movement are all fueled by an expanding awareness that the well-being of the earths people should take precedence over the gambits of nations and the profits of corporations.

International organizations and treaties are laying the groundwork for economic and legal standards that would supersede those of nation-states. World trade bodies (were their deep flaws fixed) could provide a basis for an integrated world economy. The International Criminal Court, despite U.S. refusal to accept its jurisdiction, could provide a forum to hold leaders of nation-states accountable for crimes against humanity.

Armed conflicts also have become internationalized. As the September 11 attacks demonstrated, some are no longer limited to self-contained regions. Other wars are limited geographically, but, as in the case of East Timor, the world community takes it as its responsibility to get involved.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon fostered a nationalistic reaction, but they also personalized war by bringing home the tragedy of civilian lives lost. As a result, many Americans are reluctant to endorse military action that costs further innocent lives. The Bush administration understands this, at least judging by the rhetoric if not the substance of its actions. Adapting to this new reality, the U.S. military has tried to limit the killing of Afghan civilians via unintended damage. 

Yet such an awareness has yet to filter down to the current U.S. policy toward Iraq, where sanctions have taken the lives of up to a million people. Recall that prior to the Gulf War, the Bush Sr. administration, playing a geopolitical power balancing game, quietly provided more than $1 billion in aid and more than $2 billion in loans to support Saddam Hussein, who was still waging war against Iran and massacring Kurds.

Bush was continuing the Reagan administration policy of supporting Iraq over archenemy Iran, which, until the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 by Islamic fundamentalists, had been our best friend and the recipient of 26 years of U.S. military and financial aidlargess that began in 1953 with a CIA-orchestrated coup that deposed the elected government of Mohammed Mosaddeq, who had threatened the profits of transnational oil corporations.

Successive American administrations have squandered the goodwill of the Islamic world through a parade of geopolitical gambits that have placed U.S. commercial interestsunimpeded access to oilover an interest in doing the right thing. As Henry Kissinger once put it, Covert action should not be confused with missionary work. (He was explaining the logic of a Nixon-era deadly double-cross of Iraqi Kurds that delivered them to Saddams forces as part of a backroom deal with the Shah.)

We are now dealing with the consequences of that venal foreign policy. And so far the only lesson the administration seems to have learned is one of public relations. In announcing the bombing of Afghanistan, Bush declared that Operation Enduring Freedom aimed to defend not only our precious freedom but also the freedom of people everywhere to live and raise their children free of fear.

But there are other freedoms: freedom from hunger, freedom from want, freedom from disease, freedom from ignorance, freedom to live in a clean environment, freedom to unionize, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom from war. These freedomsfar from enduring for people everywhereare ones the administration has yet to acknowledge.

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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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