It's not an incredibly benign international environment

Don’t be surprised if this year American warriors kill more Iraqis than Al Qaeda killed Americans in its attacks on September 11, 2001 (9/11).

Add to that the larger numbers of Iraqis who will be killed by other Iraqis in this man-made tsunami. In the past two years between 15,000 and 100,000 innocent Iraqi citizens, depending who is doing the counting, have been sacrificed to the ideal of freedom or the ideal of (im)pure religion.

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, as Marxist revolutionaries used to say.

For George Bush and his ideologues, turning Iraq into a simulacrum of a democracy is a first step in democratising the whole Middle East.

And there are small positive signs: a free trade deal between Egypt and Israel, elections in Palestine, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. This month’s Iraq election may produce a functioning government for a time. Turkey is joining the European democratic club.

But those signs are small. Iran is frozen in religious medievalism. Saudi Arabia remains a repressive monarchy. Most Arabs are poor amid the oil riches. The only bright spot is Dubai, with a strategic plan to be the region’s Singapore.

The Bush Administration will not fix all that. It is fixated on “terror”. We might ask if “terror” is quite the enemy Bush says it is. And even if we answer yes, we might ask if invading Iraq on a faulty pretext is reducing “terror” or boosting it and remember that most New Zealanders are indistinguishable from Americans as targets.

We might note, too, fallout in this country from Bush’s war in the paranoia over, and misapplied sympathy for, Ahmed Zaoui and the damage to the rule of law the Supreme Court identified in granting him bail.

Saying that does not endorse the ungodly maniacs who blow up others for the thrill of righteousness, still less the evil men who plot those missions and mothers who rejoice in them. Evil is evil, whatever the cause.

So we might spare empathy for frightened young Americans overreacting to danger in Iraq. Those Americans have a claim to life, too. You and I would likely overreact beside them. War is a rotten business: ask the victims — and observe that many of the victims are in the victors’ ranks.

Then, in Bush’s defence, we might ask how tyranny is to be defeated if not by “coalitions of the willing”. Whatever his pretext for invading Iraq, he did rid a savaged people of a vicious dictator. The human race could do with more such riddings.

The United Nations cannot do that. It is the plaything of nations jealous of their sovereignty. It is beset by scandal. It does many useful things no other organisation can do but it is inefficient and wasteful and its bureaucracy is a haven for layabouts.

It doesn’t do enough about mayhem and mass murder, of which there is still a great deal. What did it do about Rwanda? What is it doing about Darfur?

The United Nations published a report on collective security last month, with 101 recommendations Secretary-General Kofi Annan termed “far-sighted but realistic”. The report lays bare how interconnected the world is and thus how vulnerable all countries are to distant strategic, economic, environmental and health shocks. Something truly devastating could happen tomorrow.

The report proposes adoption of a variant of what I have written about here since before 9/11: a doctrine of “responsibility to protect”. Put most simply, that presumes a primary duty of all states to protect their citizens and a secondary duty of all others to intervene in states which seriously fail in that duty.

Since the United Nations can’t organise that without deep reform, which the large states have refused, we are left with “coalitions of the willing”. New Zealand joins some –Afghanistan, East Timor — and not others — Iraq.

Very belatedly — and thus at a cost to its claim to be a model international citizen — the government here, by way of a Phil Goff speech in September, has gingerly endorsed the “responsibility to protect” doctrine.

But don’t expect Bush to, not really. When he engages with outside forces, it is through a chauvinistic United States prism — and his servants caricature all critique except the slavish as “anti-Americanism”.

That is a problem for the world. How does it deal with this Leviathan? When should others join it on its adventures? Should the world form “coalitions of the willing” to hold Bush’s America in check?

There is a bigger problem. How does the world cope with the United States as its economic Leviathan? Huge tax cuts and tiny interest rates have lured Americans on a wild spending spree — on Asia’s savings.

If this tottering tower collapses, “terror” will be a small bother by comparison, especially for non-saving, wild-spending New Zealanders cruising on an ocean of loose money — an “incredibly benign environment” as Helen Clark said of security pre-9/11.

As she now knows, incredibly benign environments don’t last forever. The world is at our gate. Keep watch on it.