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As I See It

International waters are getting deeper and murkier.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Bush led the country in declaring a war on terrorism and terrorists. It was all very simple. Any country which supported terrorists and gave them money, supplies or sanctuary was an enemy of the United States. You were either for us or you were against us.

Now it turns out that the situation is not that simple. Saudi Arabia is supposedly our friend in the war on terrorism. But 15 of the 19 airplane highjackers were from Saudi Arabia, and there is a suspicion that there may be money trails from Saudi Arabia to Osama bin Laden (who is from a well-placed Saudi family) and his al-Qaida network. Pakistan, as well as Russia and China, supposedly our friends, are the source of shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles now in the hands of terrorists. And we have no idea how many of the hundreds of Stinger missiles we sent to Afghanistan the terrorists have acquired. The border area of Pakistan adjacent to Afghanistan is a haven to Taliban and al-Qaida forces who can freely cross that border and are protected by Pakistanis sympathetic to their cause. So who are our friends and who are our enemies? Apparently there is a whole spectrum of friendship, much of it not much more than lip service.



What we have to recognize is that the ruling regimes in many of these countries are walking a tightrope between supporting our war on terrorism and the threat of being overthrown by a restive population, a large majority of whom are not particularly friendly to the United States. Fundamentalists in those countries see the United States as an enemy in league with the regimes which they feel are being kept in power with American money and armaments. We played that role with the Shah in Iran, who was ultimately overthrown by a popular revolution which hated us for keeping him in power, and took American hostages as a way of demonstrating that hatred. That scenario can very easily be replayed in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

So now we have turned our attention to declaring war on Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein, because we suspect him of developing and possessing weapons of mass destruction. But then along comes North Korea admitting that it has developed nuclear weapons and medium-range missiles capable of delivering them. How do we reconcile going after Iraq to take out its supposed nuclear weapons and missiles without also eliminating the even more present threat in North Korea? It all gets very confusing.



It looks more and more like we have embarked on the wrong course. We have squandered a great deal of the sympathy of the rest of the world which we had after the 9/11 attack, with our fixation on starting a war with Iraq and deposing Saddam. Our favorable rating in the Muslim countries, which was not all that great to begin with because of our one-sided policy in Israel, has plummeted. And even among our traditional allies our image is being tarnished by the Iraq thing, and popular support for the United States is slipping. If we persist in our zeal to attack Iraq, it will further radicalize the fundamentalists in Muslim countries and possibly gain them the support they need to overthrow the governments in Saudi Arabia and Palestine and lose us the support of many of the countries we consider to be our friends.

What we really need to do is re-evaluate our priorities. For less money than we would spend on a war with Iraq (and whoever else we might find ourselves embroiled with) we could bring about a fair and equitable solution to the Palestinian problem, help the economies of the poor Muslim countries, and start a crash program at home to permanently reduce our dependence on oil by improving energy efficiency and expanding the use of renewable energy sources. Instead our government has taken the minuscule step of requiring auto makers to improve fuel efficiency by one half mile/gallon per year, starting in 2005. Obviously this keeps the oil industry happy, but does almost nothing for the future of the country as a whole. Similarly, getting into a war with Iraq will pump lots of money into the military/industrial complex, creating a “credit card” boost in the economy, which somebody (you know who) will have to pay for for many years to come. We are also being saddled with the $140 billion/year cost of the newly created Homeland Security Department, a huge bureaucracy of questionable effectiveness.

Surely there are more productive ways for us to direct our resources than to pour them into a war whose cost, duration and outcome are uncertain at best, except that that cost will be high in both money and lives. But sadly our government has selected war with Iraq as our highest priority, in spite of the ambiguity of who are really our friends and who only pretend to be, and the real possibility that invading Iraq may tilt the balance against us in many countries. For our own good we need a better plan.

Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.


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