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The Iraq War and Mediation?

In the recent letter, a citizen has raised several important points regarding the war in Iraq. Noting that the U.S. essentially is fighting the war alone, without allies, this person suggested that “mediation is the only channel which will allow the U.S. to gain support with former allies and end this daily slaughter of human life.” Let’s follow the order of the elements mentioned in turn: mediation, support of former allies, and ending the war.

Mediation. Mediation in international diplomacy is quite different from court-appointed mediation. Many nations’ leaders want to have mediated discussions with their enemies, but fear reprisals (such as assassination) by their own peoples. For example, some Americans believe President Bush has done a perfect job on the war in Iraq, yet would feel betrayed if they heard he had “back channel” mediation talks going with radical leaders in Iraq. The same is true for the beheading faction of Muslims. If they wanted to have a mediated discussion, someone surely would want to kill them, if they found out there were “conspiring with the enemy.”

Moral courage is required for mediation to work in a political situation. For the political manipulator, it’s easy to talk peace, but to keep on fighting or planning to fight during the break offered by mediation talks. That was, and is, Arafat. For the political leader, it’s risky to talk mediation when one may be assassinated by radicals among your own people. That was Yitzhak Rabin. That was Anwar Sadat. That was Abraham Lincoln. Character assassination is a far more common risk for brave souls.

Nelson Mandela is the perfect example of moral courage in mediation. He had every right to declare war. People he respected wanted to declare war. He knew he would win the war eventually, if it was declared. But Mandela’s heart loved his people so much, in fact, loved the innocent white Afrikaners so much, that he was wiser than most men around him—on both sides. After being imprisoned unjustly for many years, he went to the mediation table to seek peace for the innocent, and just, even generous, treatment for the guilty. Nelson refused quick, easy, strike-and-kill justice. He was ridiculed for being weak, and some whites hoped to take advantage of him. But Nelson’s courage and strength led to a mediated peace that reduced bloodshed, and offered a very unique method for offering justice to all.

U.S. Former Allies and Iraq. Most of the allies who refused to fight in Iraq for the current President George Bush, fought earlier in Kuwait and Iraq for his father, President George H.W. Bush. What is the difference between the two Bush presidencies? Mediation. The Gulf War was a brilliant development of alliances, and of peaceful pressure upon Saddam Hussein to cooperate for change. Mediation was used in two ways.

First, George H.W. Bush used mediation to obtain agreements with our allies as to what the U.S. would or would not do, in case of war. He refused to act until he had the allies allied into an alliance. Second, he used mediation methods via the United Nations to pressure Saddam to prevent war through cooperation (even coerced). The attack by Iraq on Kuwait was an act of aggression that pushed the two-pronged mediations on a fast-track to what became the Gulf War.

These were the first President Bush’s uses of mediation, and he was superb. While he also talked at the time of democracy and liberation, many U.S. citizens were not convinced that U.S. soldiers fought for those reasons. The Gulf War appeared more to serve restabilization of the Middle East, protection of Israeli and Saudi dominance in the region, and U.S. oil interests, not the transplantation of American values. Regardless of whether these were the motives for the Gulf War, the complete unity of the nations opposed to Saddam was a great demonstration of the first President Bush’s abilities as a leader.

The same allies who fought for the father did not fight for the son, however, and their refusal to fight is linked to how the current U.S. President both contradicted and ignored the positive uses of mediation.

First, in his first major speech after 9/11, President Bush referred to the “axis of evil” and mentioned, by name, several nations, including North Korea and Iran. The linkage was intended to portray the seriousness of dangerous forces in the world; however, the President provided no warrant for mentioning specific nations in connection with the tragedy of 9/11. The use of “axis” traditionally has meant an intentional coordination of forces for a common goal, yet there was no supporting evidence for that term. The allies saw that the President Bush had judged and named specific nations as “evil” within an inflammatory context and without supporting evidence. The allies could not miss that the President was willing to generate global humiliation that only could antagonize already-unfriendly regimes.

Second, in his first major military response to 9/11—the invasion of Afghanistan—the allies were given courtesy calls, not developed into a global alliance. Afghanistan was an easy target for contempt for most nations of the world, with its terroristic regime and its safe haven for terrorists. The entire world grieved with the U.S. and wished us well against the Taliban; nevertheless, global grief is not a global alliance.

Third, when the focus changed to Iraq and the allies were asked to participate, the President did not provide sufficient bases for leaders of other nations to put at stake their political futures, economies, and the blood of their peoples. It was New York that had been attacked, not Berlin, Paris, or Moscow. If major allies were to support an action against Saddam—from whom they purchased oil—compelling reasons would have to persuade and unite them to do so, as the first President Bush had provided. The allies already had fought Saddam once, when convinced he was a broad threat to them and their peoples. They have their own intelligence services and were unconvinced by what the CIA offered. No proof was offered to them that was as compelling as what the first President Bush had offered before the Gulf War.

Fourth, the U.S. departed from a historic aversion to military actions, unless compelled by attack, and adopted a “first strike” policy. Weak intelligence aside, this may have generated more resistance from allies than any other causes, ”axis of evil” name-calling or weak intelligence arguments aside. President Bush not only never convened a mediation table for Saddam Hussein and his threat, but the new willingness to use inflammatory rhetoric, weak evidence, and a first-strike policy, were all calculated to alienate allies who were expected to throw in money and blood to support these historic departures from U.S. foreign policy.

Fifth, the allies who expressed dismay or disbelief in the arguments for war, were subjected to ridicule and accusations of cowardice or shallow self-interest by the President and his administration. Not only had the mediation table been abandoned in Saddam’s case, President Bush guaranteed the perception that the U.S. was not interested in sitting at the mediation table with any except those willing to rubber-stamp its proposals. All others were labeled and mocked as the enemies of freedom and democracy. These things were complete departures from the masterful uses of mediation techniques used by the first President Bush, which convinced the allies of the need to participate in controlling Saddam at that time.

Ending the War. Whoever has advised the President on his uses of mediation, it appears not to have been his father. The President has been given bad advice, or else ignored good advice, concerning the use of negotiation and mediation. The only less-bloody way to end the war is to begin using every form of mediation possible. However, there are people who believe that patience is weakness, and that sincere conversation with your enemies is collaboration and betrayal.

Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, but more than that–a wise, gentle, and war-hating American–had patience and was not weak. He sincerely talked with his enemies who had killed, not a mere three thousand as on 9/11, but hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers, who had ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands more of widows and orphans on both sides. Yet Lincoln is not remembered as a collaborator or betrayer of the U.S. trust, but a great healer struck down by the hateful act of a small man. Like Mandela after him, Lincoln loved the lives of both sides enough so he sought a mediated peace that gave honor and dignity to all.

The first President Bush may not have removed Saddam Hussein from power because this would have fanned the flames of Muslim revolution. The second President Bush has fanned the flames of Muslim revolution by giving Muslim radicals examples of U.S. policies and military practices that now fit things Osama bin Laden wrote about us as early as 1996. Gasoline has been poured on ashes smoldering from our seventy years of U.S. policies which appear to many Muslims a complete disinterest in them, except for their natural resources.

Before Afghanistan was invaded, I said to my family and friends:

“The entire world knows we have the might to destroy nations. The President has done such a wonderful job of helping our nation come together and heal. We all expect a military action now. If only he would convene a meeting with radical Muslims, on their lands, with military protection, to sit with them and hear why they decided to take such risks with their wives and children. Then, if they refused to talk, at least he would have given an opportunity to prevent the loss of so many innocent widows and orphans.”

People need not be worried about ending the Iraq war. It will end, some day, some how, with or without this Commander in Chief. They should be worried more about two different conflicts that need immediate mediation. America is spending money we do not have on a war we likely would not have fought, had a son followed his father’s example. Second, we are offering precious U.S. blood in the name of safety and democracy in ways that will guarantee that more precious blood will be shed in the future.

Publicly inflaming already-hostile nations without due process of strong evidence; pressuring allies with weak intelligence, followed by ridicule for those who reject it; and, finally, adopting a first-strike policy against enemies who allege U.S. historic aggression against the interests of Muslim peoples—these are not the methods of mediation for international conflicts. Perhaps the U.S. can learn from more successful models of leadership, such as the Republican, Lincoln, or from another legend living among us, Mandela? Mediation is a wonderful, wonderful tool. It’s cheaper than either money or blood. Let’s mediate.

John D. Willis, PhD Shelbyville, Kentucky Member, The Association for Conflict Resolution Member, The American Bar Association Member, The International Association for Conflict Management [email protected]


John Willis

John D. Willis, PhD is an expert in conflict dynamics and drivers, psychological and social; a practitioner in EEO grievances and conciliation; and, consultant to executives on conflict and ethics.  John earned his PhD from the University of Chicago, with concentration on the motives and justifications of the religious wars… MORE >

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