All Writings
November 24, 2002

Waging Peace While We Wage War

Although we must be relentless in waging war against terrorism and spare no efforts or resources to win, we must simultaneously wage peace in other parts of the globe with the same tenacity and commitment. Indeed, regardless of how much in resources and political will we can muster to eradicate terrorism, we will fail unless we put out the many fires in the places that feed it.

As the only superpower with national interests that reach into every continent, the United States has no choice but to project itself forcefully into the search for peaceful solutions to these conflicts, especially those involving Arabs or Muslims. Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups want these fires to rage on not simply because they create new recruits, but because they also function to destabilize international security and frustrate many of America's foreign policy objectives. A brief look at three of these conflicts will illuminate this critical point:

The conflict in Chechnya is certainly not limited to Chechenian terrorism. The roots of animosity can be traced to Chechnya's battles, which have gone on for hundreds of years, against the centralized Russian government whose policy has been to restrict Chechnya's autonomy. Whereas no one can possibly condone any acts of terror such as occurred in Moscow recently, there will be no end to the conflict as long as Russia insists on subjugating Chechnya and dealing with the situation as a terrorist phenomenon rather than as a national struggle for independence, which as such requires a political solution.

The violence between Pakistan and India over Kashmir is another destabilizing conflict. It has already caused two wars and recently brought the two nations once again to the brink. Although we were successful in defusing the tension for the time being, the conflict over Kashmir is a simmering volcano ready to erupt at any moment. Only a political solution can prevent another flair up, which would play directly into the hands of Al Qaeda, between these two nuclear powers.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a third example of a conflict that has been neglected by an administration fixated on Saddam Hussein. Here too the prospects for a solution will be slim until the United States is resolved to find a way out. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda and Hamas are capitalizing on this incendiary state of affairs to beef up their rank-and-file supporters.

Scores of other conflicts stretching from North Africa to South East Asia are causing global havoc but have received cursory attention from the U.S. government. America can ill afford to focus on terrorist groups or rogue states only because they pose an immediate threat. That we should deal with such threats is a given. However, our success will be of a limited duration unless we simultaneously lead other states to solve their violent conflicts, as these are like pipelines carrying fuel to international terrorism. A start would be for Mr. Bush to assign a permanent and high-ranking government official or private individual as presidential envoy to each of these hot spots, whose job it is to mediate a settlement.

Not since the Roman empire has a single country amassed such formidable military, economic, technological, and cultural power, with the capacity to project them globally as has the United States. There is no single power or a combination of powers on the horizon that can begin to rival our reach. With this unprecedented power, however, comes a heavy responsibility, a global responsibility that transcends every one of our immediate or salient national interests. Our power will neither be sustainable because it self-generates nor because of its self-propelling dynamics. As long as we operate within an international system, what other nations do and how they conduct their affairs matter, and may, as we learned with 9/11, endanger our well-being and very existence. We cannot allow ourselves, therefore, to be totally preoccupied with one or two conflicts however menacing they may seem. Rather, we must somehow dig deep into ourselves and summon up the resources, both human and material, and the political will to promote peace whenever and wherever we can. And we must have the fortitude to remain committed to this agenda regardless of the difficulties or out of any fears of failure. We will have our share of successes and failures, but if we fall, we must rise again and keep trying. No other nation will or even can make the attempt. In the end our supremacy will be sustained only if it is nurtured by the growing goodwill of other people in many other areas of the globe, who find themselves benefitting from our efforts and commitment to do the right thing. the hatred directed against us by so many may emanate partly from misunderstanding and partly from jealousy. The main cause, however, is that we appear arrogant, exploitive, and disingenuous. We preach the gospel of democracy and human rights, when in fact we pay only lip service to these values if they do not serve our interests. We support corrupt regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere as long as they do our bidding. That these governments ride on the backs of their own people and violate every code of human rights are apparently of negligible concern to us. We have thus the burden of disabusing these people of some these notions about us while doing something real to change this sorry state of affairs. We must earn the moral authority to lead. But that will not occur unless we establish a new foreign policy agenda befitting our supremacy, our true values, and our global responsibility.

My students often ask why should America take upon itself such an awesome responsibility. They argue that we cannot police the whole world, our means though great, are not unlimited, and we have our own share of problems right here at home that require tremendous energy and resources to solve. This viewpoint is persuasive but misguided. It is misguided because we can and indeed must be able to summon the will to tackle all these international issues and then mobilize the necessary sources for the job. I am not suggesting that we assume this responsibility single-handedly or exercise it unilaterally. On the contrary, we must lead and mobilize other nations to work together to fashion solutions by identifying and developing their own vested interests in the search for such solutions.

The war on terrorism may continue for many years. The only way we can bring it to a successful conclusion is if we simultaneously wage many other wars on many fronts to secure peace. If we do not dedicate enough resources to ending these debilitating conflicts, we condemn ourselves to live in the constant and lengthening shadow of terror.