A 'just cause' ill-served

Michael Jochum

February 14, 1991|By Michael Jochum

THERE is something in America's value system that threatens the lives of GI's in the gulf: It is more rewarding for a president to win a war than to avert one. This may not be obvious to Americans, but it is striking for a visitor from Germany like myself.

Of course, President Bush says there was no other way. But let's not be mistaken. During the Cold War, the U.S. would have found another way. If the "Cold War order" forced us to keep the peace, how can it be that the "new world order" forced us to war? Bush argued for its necessity by saying that the world failed to punish Hitler for seizing Czechoslovakia -- and look what happened. But that distorts the MichaelJochumrecord. Did the world impose economic sanctions on Germany in 1938? Did it send some 150,000 troops to Poland?

But it is not just a false analogy and not just oil that pushed America over the brink. It is the state of its civic culture: If George Bush had maintained 150,000 troops in the desert until mid-1992 but failed to "liberate" Kuwait, only a booming economy could have security his re-election. Now, if he wins a war and is lucky enough to hold U.S. casualties to an acceptably low level, he may emerge as the president who freed the world of an easy-to-hate dictator. Isn't that what America is all about?

No matter how "just" the cause may be, this war is not the appropriate means of serving it. Urging the president to realize that before it's too late isn't anti-American at all.

Michael Jochum is a research fellow in international relations at Harvard University.

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