San Francisco Chronicle – 2/10/2002

While we rejoice in our Afghan feat of arms and while George W. exhorts us to now train our bombsights on the “Axis of Evil,” America has very quietly arrived at a moral tipping point.

The number of dead Islamic innocents in the War on Terror, according to an estimate by a British newspaper, the Guardian, now equals the tally of American innocents struck down on Sept. 11.

This is a landmark moment. Over the last five months, America has justified its war by invoking the primal human right to strike back when struck.

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” resonates universally and requires little explanation. But with America and Islam now even in eyes and teeth for eyes and teeth, this war is about to change character.

One obvious consequence of this transformation is that George W.’s upcoming campaign against the alleged “Axis of Evil” must be subjected to a different moral accounting than has prevailed thus far. From here on we have to find some justification¬†for killing Iraqis, North Koreans and Iranians other than the memory of al Qaeda’s assault on New York and the Pentagon.

And if we can’t make a better case for our right to kill these people than the president made in his State of the Union address, our presumption to act in the name of dead innocents and on behalf of justice is a fraud.

Understandable revenge is morphing into unprovoked aggression. So let’s do the moral audit on phase two before it’s bankrupt, rather than after.

Start that accounting with the president’s failure to offer any evidence that any of these states in the alleged “Axis of Evil” had anything to do with the attack on the World Trade Center or on the Pentagon or any previous attacks on the United States or any alleged attacks still in the planning stage.

So, before he goes any further, George W. needs to get on television again and tell us what exactly it is that makes the three Axis members so Evil we must now unilaterally claim the right to stamp them out Proceeding on the basis of what the president has put on the table so far is at best deficient and, at worst, its own kind of Evil.

It’s true that all three Axis members have provided protection and nurture over the last 20 years to political groups organizing attacks on civilian populations in pursuit of their political ends. But, then again, so have we, and so have many of our staunchest allies.

The Axis members also all have an apparent interest in developing the same kinds of weapons of mass destruction we already possess and whose possession by a number of other nations we accept without similar objection.

Is our position really going to be that the United States gets exclusive control of the threat such weapons pose? That any nation failing to accept our control will face pre-emptive attack? That our vulnerability to these weapons is sacred, to be avoided at all costs, and that their own is worthless and unworthy of even the most rudimentary recognition?

If so, George W.’s phase two amounts to the declaration of an American empire in which the only two choices are accepting vassal status or facing our wrath.

Of the Axis members, Iraq is the not familiar, featuring an oligarchic pyramid sitting atop an unprotected population and led by the brutal Saddam Hussein.

North Korea is a dictatorship of the proletariat turned into just plain dictatorship and made hereditary, while the proletariat faces starvation.

Iran is more complex a theocracy replacing a monarchy and now struggling over how much democracy to allow.

All are, to our eye, flawed, perhaps hopelessly.

That said, the United States has no mandate to choose other people’s governments, even if the ones they have are bad, brutal, ugly, stupid, point- less, corrupt or mean. And claiming the preemptive right to kill people whose governments we suspect, or simply disapprove of, is a violation of most of the things for which America is supposed to stand.

In arguing against the “Axis of Evil,” the administration is quick to point out that all three of these places hate us. This approach sets another unacceptable precedent, though not because the description is inaccurate.

How any nation feels about us is no justification for military assault. We have no license to hunt down people who don’t like us. The “Axis of Evil” must actually do something to us to justify the kind of belligerency the president has in mind. That they might hope to see us get what they think we have coming some day is insufficient to justify this kind of gunboat behavior.

Wake up, America. We can’t kill people just because our president’s speech writer thought up a catchy name to call their countries, And right now, the only other justifications we have for waging war against the alleged “Axis of Evil” are that we are strong enough to do whatever we want and that George W. says they’re the kind of people who deserve it. This combination adds up to less than justification in anybody’s moral arithmetic.

So if George W. can’t come up with a better argument, what he is planning to do next is little more than killing people for no good reason.

And that, of course, is the definition of terrorism itself.

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