Normally I would speak without notes. But, for this venue, I think it is proper for me to present in this way, for the following simple reason: there is an increasing pile of rotting, stinking corpses in Iraq, and we owe it to the 327 American soldiers, 7377 (or the high-end estimation of 9180) Iraqi civilians, and unknown thousands of Iraq soldiers who have died to talk as directly to the issue as we can.
To go to war is the most serious decision a country can make. It can have apocalyptic repercussions. In a civilized society, a decision to go to war would require the mandate of the entire population, engaged in discussion and debate. It isn't just for the people to rubberstamp or decline. They should be involved in every level of decision-making, but when consistently denied information and lied to, it is logically impossible to make a proper decision. Democracy is predicated on the assumption of full knowledge.
The main crux I see with this issue is that those in power can define what is or what isn't for democracy. And in whose "national interests"? Yet, a democratic society would have had widespread, public debates such as this one for months leading up to the previous war on Iraq. The media would have raised these issues and held politician's feet to the proverbial fire. None of this happened.
America's most priceless treasure is its democratic values and its growing sense of human rights-not its leaders. The military exists only to serve the will of the people, not for its own purposes. Eisenhower warned of a military industrial complex that took on its own agenda. The "Founding Fathers" specifically set-up laws (such as the 3rd Amendment) that impede the ability of the military to gain autonomy from its populace.
In many cases internationally, even a small number of troops can avert a major tragedy. More than half a million Rwandans were butchered because the US wouldn't allow a small, armed U.N. force to halt the genocide there. In some respects it wouldn't even have to have been a military intervention, but just an intervention. Such a small-scale act would not degrade America's immense combat capabilities, but would rather broaden the US's narrow definition of "its interests" to be more of "world interests".
Indeed, states themselves are violent institutions, and, to paraphrase Arundhati Roy, the nationalism inspired by these institutions has lead to the vast majority of the carnage and war of the previous century. In short, the American people must force the US to align its values to be more Earth-centric rather than US-centric. The American people must internalize the reality that violence and poverty throughout the world will eventually impact them, and thus even from cold, utilitarian grounds it is also in their interests to address.
For example, the very first recommendation of a recent paper from the conservative RAND Corporation on terrorism, advised-not the creation of more and more military power-but: "Social and economic development policies [for] the expansion of a new middle class in communities that have traditionally lent support to terrorist groups. In many cases, this section of the population has recognized the economic benefits of peace and, as a result, has worked to inhibit local support for terrorist activities". While this attempts to buy off discontent and not solve it, it gets close to a core cause of terrorism: economic and political inequality.
I think history bears out that the more a state focuses only on "national interests" the more aggressive and invasive it will become. The more it is oriented towards international interests and the values of justice and international law, the less violent and the more protective it will become of the defenseless. It will invade less, reduce its plunder of weaker nations, and trade in lonely unilateralism for the comradery of internationalism.
But, again, whose interests are "national interests"? American military intervention has always been waged on behalf of big business and monied interests which are not relevant to the vast majority of Americans-- this "American interests" is an incredibly obtuse phrase for describing something that only benefits wealthy elites. Compare the income of the average American solider to the average income of CEOs who head weapons manufacturing corporations or oil companies. Compare those soldiers risks to that of the well-paid American politician. "National interests" is a propaganda term, a term of colonialism and of empire.
As 34-year veteran of the Marine Corp Smedley Butler said in the early 20th century: "War is just a racket. A racket is best described... as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses." War has not radically changed since Butler's time. The release of the Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s illustrated vividly the offensive, so-called "interests" of the US in its invasion and massacre in the Indochina region. Whose interests? US corporate interests, obviously not those tens-of-thousands of youth sent back in body bags.
According to Herman Goehring, chief of the Nazi Luftwaffe: "Of course, the people don't want war after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship." For these reasons, it is always the rich who declare wars and the poor who fight and die in them.
Arguments offered in favor of an aggressive military hinge on the assumption that other states are uniquely violent or that terrorists are merely irrational, violent individuals. Both assumptions are false, and truly lack vision. Building a more nonviolent world must be done through international institutions and through acts of mutual aid amongst nations. If actions are taken-particularly of an insidious nature-without the involvement of other states, the result will continually lack progress.
There is a truism that smart military leaders have understood: Injustice breeds violence. Violence begets more violence. Or, as Noam Chomsky has put it: if you want to reduce the level of violence (or terrorism) in the world, there's an easy way to do it: stop participating in it. Military conflicts are often the result of machoistic escalation or a failure of political will to compromise. When intervention does become necessary, it should be done on the assumption that it will help to expand justice and fairness, not to merely put people in "their place". A "peace" without justice is an empty peace, and one that will sow the seeds for future discontent. No example better illustrates this than the rise of Nazi Germany.
The US must be very careful in its actions in order to reduce the chances that US soldiers are forced to die for their country and, perhaps more important to this discussion, to reduce the chances that US soldiers will be ordered to kill for their country.