The United Nations Millennium Summit, in which some 150 world leaders are gathering in New York City, is supposed to be about peace, but it's really about war, and the threat of war.
Such hypocrisy will continue until the war equation changes, which will be quite a shock to smugly slumbering Americans.
Three different power centers will be vying for command of the world stage. First is the European Union. The EU spearheaded the separation of Kosovo from Serbia, although it needed the American military to do the dirty work. But now the Europeans are once again overseeing the situation, and the work has gotten even dirtier as the "liberators" look the other way while the Albanians ethnically cleanse the last of the Serbs. An Aug. 22 headline from Reuters sums up the situation: "Violence against minorities no longer stuns Kosovo." The piece details how the occupying authorities didn't even bother to issue a protest after a grenade attack left 10 Serbs injured.
The second power center is the U.N. itself. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is on the cover of Time magazine this week, spinning out his big plans for world UN-ification. He recently issued a report that called for -- surprise! -- a larger budget for a bigger and bolder U.N. peacekeeping force. "The problem is that you have countries like the U.S. that will not accept a single casualty," he explained to Time.
Indeed, the third and greatest power center is extremely wary of casualties, even as it enjoys throwing its weight around. When President Clinton was in Colombia last week dispatching aid and advisers to fight the narco-war, he promised, "This is not Vietnam." Still, it's ironic that the first Vietnam-era peacenik to sit in the White House has ordered more military interventions than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Who would have dreamed, for example, that after the Soviet Union collapsed, the Clintonians would be eager to expand the Cold-Warring North Atlantic Treaty Organization?
America is now pledged to defend Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic -- against what threat? The Russians, who can't even keep their submarines afloat? Right now, U.S. security commitments to Eastern Europe may seem risk-free (although not cost-free), but GIs are permanently very far from home indeed.
But the greatest American military undertaking is even farther away, in Iraq, and that engagement is not risk-free, even in the short run. Clinton inherited enforcement of the "no fly" zones from President George H.W. Bush, but in the nearly eight years since, the administration has grown rather attached to the policy. As Vice President Gore chest-beatingly told the Veterans of Foreign Wars last month, "If anyone doubts our strength, let them talk to our pilots patrolling over Iraq right now."
Nobody doubts America's strength, but many doubt the wisdom of a policy that has left us flying nearly 300,000 missions over Iraq since the Gulf War. Just in the last two years, some 294 Iraqis have died, mostly as innocent "collateral casualties" in our airstrikes against military targets.
And for what? Saddam Hussein is still in power, still working to perfect his terror-toys. It would be one thing if Clinton said that Iraq's arsenals had to be destroyed, by any means necessary, and did so. But instead, the United States has the worst situation of all: We are bombing and blockading a country without destroying its offensive capacity, so that one day Iraq will have both the motive as well as the means to destroy a U.S. city or two.
In the age of the anthrax vial, the Sarin gas caplet and the suitcase A-bomb, being the world's policeman is a colossal risk, not only to the "cops" on the global beat, but to the unsuspecting folks back home who pay only casual attention to foreign news, even to low-grade foreign wars.
So most Americans will hardly notice as Clinton uses his moment at the Millennium Summit to further expand his international "legacy." But one day, the wars we so fecklessly fight, from Kosovo to Colombia to Iraq, will come home with a hideous vengeance.
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