2003-03-08 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart Mirsky

Time to Make the Donuts?

Some years ago there was a commercial for a donut chain that used to show a little mustached baker being awakened by a shrill alarm clock early in the morning, before the sky was bright with the day’s new sun, rubbing his eyes and rushing down to his donut store. "Time to make the donuts," the announcer told us as our baker grumpily rubbed the sleep from his eyes. The baker was up and at ‘em, ready to do his duty and make all those fresh donuts the good customers of his store would be expecting as they trooped in on their way to work, seeking their morning coffee and donut "fix". The baker and the perky voice-over found a place in our cultural lexicon, illustrative of all that is good and right and true that comes from doing our duty.

As if to recall this old donut mantra, Colin Powell, Secretary of State in the Bush White House, recently reminded the world that such a time is now upon us with regard to Saddam Hussein and his never-ending quest for regional dominance and world power. The dictator of Iraq, Powell noted, has long demonstrated his marked penchant for the technologies of killing via his pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear capacity. Moreover, he has practiced with what he has secured in the past on both his neighbors and his own citizens, instituting and maintaining a deadly regime that brooks neither dissent nor deviation from its dictator’s will and is characterized by heartless torture of human beings, reminiscent of the inhumanity of the Nazis. Saddam has used chemical agents to gas and slaughter neighboring Iranians and Kurds, and there is even indication that he may have used biological agents in this way. Certainly, as Powell told us, he has not ceased in his efforts to obtain these capabilities, along with the long range missile capacity to deliver them.

What can such a dictator want with these highly specific tools? Only one thing: to intimidate, dominate and conquer his neighbors. He has engaged in two wars of conquest to achieve that already: his attack on, and decade-long war with, Iran, and his brief seizure and rule of Kuwait. Certainly he doesn’t need such weaponry to protect himself as no nearby nations are threatening him! And he has no need for such equipment if his aims are merely diplomatic and economic in nature. No, as the Secretary pointed out, there can be only one purpose for obtaining such weapons.

But why should we care? He doesn’t threaten us, given how far he is from our homeland. Who cares what he does in the Middle East, right? Well, aside from the very real threat to us that is created by the nexus of terrorism whose center he seems to occupy, as Colin Powell noted in his presentation to the U.N. Security Council, his ambitions pose an equally dangerous geopolitical threat to us.

The world is made up of nations, powerful and small, of which the United States is today the most powerful. But we are a unique dominant power in world history, given our demonstrated good citizenship. We are not out rolling over other states, seeking to absorb them or install puppet governments to serve us. Although we have made many mistakes in our history, just like any other nation, the world is surprisingly lucky to have as its preeminent world power today the United States, a nation which is manifestly not like those who have played this role before. We are not aggressively expansionist like previous great powers (the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany come quickly to mind), not imperialist (Great Britain and France, among others), not interested in bleeding other peoples economically (think of the Spanish Empire in its heyday), or in eradicating other cultures and peoples to make way for our way of life (think of the Mongols).

The world, like nature, abhors a vacuum and nations will always arise to fill it. But insofar as that vacuum is already filled by a country like the United States who doesn’t threaten or have designs on its neighbors, the world is well-positioned for stable and peaceful economic growth. And that is where Saddam Hussein represents the real threat.

What possible implications can an aggressive and dominant Iraq have for Americans? Plenty, when we remember the vast oil resources possessed by the region in which Iraq is situated . . . and the strategic position in world transport that the region occupies. Let Saddam get a free hand in using and developing his weapons of mass destruction and he becomes much too strong for the other nations in the area to deal with. How long, then, before he secures a stranglehold on that part of the world? Do we care? If we don’t, we damn well should for this is the stuff of strategic shifts in global power.

Sure, people don’t like to talk about this issue of "global power" today. But this is really what it’s all about. If Saddam Hussein manages to realize his ambitions to dominate the Middle East, everything changes. A new regional power arises with global ambitions, massively destabilizing the current world order and our erstwhile allies in Europe, who are more dependent on Middle East oil than we are, become hostage to this dictator’s whims. If you think prospects look grim if we go to war to deal with Saddam now, think about a Saddam who controls the entire region from his bunker in Baghdad, a militant empire-builder able to shut down vast oil fields and all the shipping that must pass through the Suez Canal to Europe and the west. It’s all about geopolitics in the end, and preventing one very bad guy from getting his claws around the world’s very vulnerable throat.

Nobody in his right mind wants war today, or the risks war invariably brings with it. But the risks are infinitely worse if we don’t address the matter now. Unlike Neville Chamberlain at Munich, we dare not seek "peace in our time" by refusing to face up to a dictator’s ruthless ambitions for power. Colin Powell, and the Bush administration spokesmen who have followed in his wake, have learned history’s lesson well. It just remains for the American people, and the other peoples of this planet, to hear that alarm bell ringing and remember, as it shrills its insistent message in our ears before the dawn, that now it really is "time to make the donuts."

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