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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

October 2002

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Jefferson & Saddam--A Personal Statement

The author of the following observations spent thirty-two years in the U. S. Foreign Service, retiring in 1986 as a minister-counselor. Other than Washington, he was posted in Berlin, Yaounde, Kinshasa, Rome, Bern, Brussels (NATO), and Ankara.—Ed.

A great leader of our emerging nation opened his immortal Declaration of Independence with the words, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people…”, and he deemed it proper and necessary to add the humble phrase that “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them” to embark on this course.

How much has changed in the 227 years since Thomas Jefferson wrote those lines! From a small, marginal, agricultural federation of colonies we have grown into the most powerful nation on the face of the Earth. With prophetic justice one of our great senators has declared us guilty of the “arrogance of power,” and never has this accusation rung more true than in these days, under the leadership of as arrogant a president as has ever been imposed on us.

Unfortunately, the United Nations is but a feeble shadow of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s dream of “the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World,” far removed from the day when “the war drum throbbed no longer, and the battle flags were furled.” And yet—how terribly wrong we are if we contemptuously dismiss this “impotent debating society;” how terribly wrong that our president—obsessed with Iraq as his predecessors were obsessed with Vietnam or Nicaragua—practically had to be dragged before this forum to issue an ultimatum to the world: “You will do as I say, or I will impose my will with the force of my own, unequaled arms without your help, without your friendship and support!”

I have no doubt that Saddam Hussein—like Hitler or Stalin—is an utterly evil, power-mad, extremely dangerous man who must be deprived of the means to wreak havoc on his region and beyond. And yet I remain convinced that we must exhaust every means to disarm him with the help and cooperation of the world community, that unilateral action is the wrong policy, that we need the help of other nations to solve the inevitable problems of a post-Hussein Iraq—in other words, that we cannot and should not try to “go it alone,” however tempting the prospect to display the awesome power of our weaponry before the world.

However rich, powerful, and armed to the teeth we have become—striding across the earth today like a colossus—it is every bit as true today as it was on July 4th, 1776 that “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind” requires that we explain to the world the causes which impel us to take the actions which we contemplate, and to seek the counsel and the help of other nations around the globe. Failure to do so is a sure recipe for failure—and for ever-increasing hatred directed at us.



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