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U.S. no longer plays by the rules it invented

WASHINGTON — America stands on the brink of a vast unknown, facing a world in which its principles, its values, its institutional commitments and its world view have been bared for all the world to see.

This unknown encompasses far more than the war in Iraq, although that has become the symbol of it. The unknown in America now is not so much what Iraq will become as what we will become.

We go into a war with the excuse of overthrowing a regime, sordid to be sure, which has defied U.N. resolutions to disarm — and yet we go almost alone, ourselves defying the United Nations, in addition to public opinion on a massive world scale.

Deliberately, as though indeed wanting to "shock and awe" the entire world with our sheer power, if no longer our ethics and morality, the American administration step by step destroys our relations not only with the United Nations but with NATO, with international trade groups, and with traditional allies such as France and Germany. (Then it plays to the lowest American demagoguery by blaming them for not appreciating our help in World War II.)

"Leadership" becomes a word misused; the new American style is not to lead (most of the "allies" now need to be bought) but to command. The word "allied" no longer applies. You can't, after all, be a leader with no one following you, but you can become a leviathan, and you can have, if not allies, then subjects.

All the rules and regulations, all the promises to ourselves and to mankind, created and laid down over the last two centuries are being discarded like dirty linen. The Geneva Accords, protecting prisoners and non-combatants? No need for them anymore, as the White House and the Pentagon make the rules now.

The rules of non-combatancy for humanitarian workers and journalists? They are part of the military machine now and almost wholly dependent upon it.

The crucially important concept developed within the highest levels of Christian thinking over the last centuries is that of civilized and largely Christian countries following the theological and practical concepts of the "just war." This has historically taken the place of the primitive tribal will to kill your enemy before he can get to you.

With this war against Iraq, the "just war" theories and protections, and the manner in which they were meant to gradually diminish the cruelty of war, are dead, at least for the time being.

Jesuit sociologist Father Thomas Gannon, director of the Heartland Center in northern Indiana, says: "The doctrine of a pre-emptive war is neither in accordance with the United Nations charter, nor is it morally defensible."

Instead, he says, according to Catholic catechism, just cause limits wars to cases in which "the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or the community of nations is lasting, grave and certain. . . . The application of a doctrine of pre-emption would open the door to an infinite war, to war without end."

And that is exactly what the zealots in this administration surely seem to have in mind for an America that never before in history fought a war pre-emptively, without imminent threat.

Officials and supporters within and of the administration, such as John Bolton, Michael Ledeen and Bill Kristol, to name only a few, speak openly of taking this "first war" in Iraq to Iran, Syria, North Korea and even the moderate Arab countries. Now, instead of the measured response of the "just war," President Bush seems captured by the archaic Christian myth of pre-emptive violence, which posits an eternal struggle between ultimate good and evil.

Bush speaks — occasionally and totally without enthusiasm — about other solutions to the Middle East imbroglio, such as the central question of Israel/Palestine. But his brief proclamation on Palestine during his one-hour meeting with the leaders of Britain and Spain last week was darkly comedic — all of the Bush war planners, from Paul Wolfowitz to Douglas Feith to Elliott Abrams, are fiercely against a Palestinian state and will most probably instead press for Ariel Sharon's total takeover of Palestinian lands.

And so, the country that invented the rules no longer plays by them. It diminishes its past leadership of the world in the name of an obsession and a delusion of leadership and hubris. Illusions of grandeur help it to believe that no one will strike back — but of course they will, with new recruitment for terrorism, with the pervasive hatred that is growing for America, and with economic restrictions as well.

Only this last week, Islamic scholars at Cairo's Al Azhar University, the pre-eminent seat of Sunni Muslim learning in the Arab world and always a place of restrained moderation, declared that a U.S. attack on Iraq called forth a "jihad" or holy war against America. Recruitment for al-Qaida has picked way up all across Europe, and hundreds of sympathetic Muslim warriors have been pouring into Iraq.

Thus, the beginning of the new era of American Empire.

God, truly bless America!

Universal Press Syndicate