Kobe, Shaq and war in Iraq


One of the great underappreciated resources at HLS are the LL.M. students (and I’d say that even if I wasn’t dating one of them). There’s certainly diversity within my section and 1L class, but meeting people from other countries offers a type of diversity to which I hadn’t previously been exposed in such a large number. However, there is one part of the experience that remains the same: My group is in the “majority” — white male for domestic diversity purposes, and United States citizen for global diversity purposes.

During the past few weeks, I’ve discussed the situation in Iraq with an LL.M. friend of mine, and almost every time, I find myself defending the actions of the United States, regardless of the bearings of those actions on the present situation. My conversation partner often seem unimpressed with any past actions by the United States that I would deem positive, and argues that for every horrible act that some dictator has done, the United States has done something just as bad, if not worse.

At first, these comments caused unbelievable frustration. “How dare other countries (or their citizens) accuse the United States as being on the same level as dictatorial regimes after all we’ve done” I’d fume. The way I saw it, if it wasn’t for us, most of these countries would’ve been overrun either by the Germans or the Soviets or their own civil strife. Why was it that the rest of the world always seemed to spend half their time waiting for the U.S. to take care of every crisis that popped up anywhere in the world, and the rest of the time criticizing the U.S. for “meddling” in everyone else’s affairs? As an article in Time put it “European allies oppose our use of force in Iraq; of course if Saddam marches on Paris, we know who they’ll call.”

Obviously, this kind of thinking was not leading to anywhere productive, but I didn’t know where to turn for a fresh way of thinking. Oddly enough, the answer hit me while watching ESPN’s SportsCenter. Perhaps channeling the Zen philosophy of L.A. Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson, I began to take a basketball-centric view of the current situation with Iraq: due largely to their two superstars, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers are the three-time defending world champions. This year, however, they’ve had a rough season, and dissension has run rampant through the team. After every loss, one of the stars would blame the rest of the team for not trying hard enough. Their teammates, predictably, began to weary of hearing that every loss was their fault. The problem seemed to be that the Lakers had lost sight of the team concept. Talented as they are, Shaq and Kobe can’t win by themselves. As much as their teammates need them, they need their teammates as well.

Applying this view to the current situation with Iraq, the United States would assume the role of Shaq and Kobe, and our allies would take the role of teammates. In terms of sheer power, the U.S. is clearly the global “star” if you will. However, it would be erroneous for the U.S. to think that it could act unilaterally. President Bush has often expressed the view that the U.S. can and will act on its own if the U.N. refuses to approve the use of force. This would be an unwise decision, as I think Mr. Bush realizes despite his rhetoric. Aside from needing the permission of other nations to use their airspace and lands for military purposes, it is essential that the U.S. not be the only country rebuilding a postwar Iraq, should the situation come to that. I strongly disagree with the antiwar argument that Iraq does not present an “imminent” threat. It makes little sense to wait until the world is on the brink of nuclear war before taking out Saddam Hussein, Yet the U.S. must be aware of Iraq’s geographic position in the Middle East, and realize that Americans are not a popular bunch in that area of the world. The prospect of the United States being solely responsible for rebuilding Iraq, when most of the world did not want it destroyed in the first place, is not comforting. The U.S. needs the support of its Arab allies in the region to counter the charge that the purpose of attacking Iraq is to fulfill the selfish interests of the Americans.

This is not to say that “what’s good for the United States is good for the world.” Many times this will not be true, just as many times what’s good for other nations will not be beneficial to the United States. Each “side” needs to recognize the importance of the other and work as a team in order to combat evils such as Saddam Hussein. The U.S. should stop acting as if it doesn’t need any help from anyone else, and some of our reluctant allies should stop acting as if the U.S. is the only country that is concerned about its own interests. Much like Kobe and Shaq, the U.S. will not “win” without its allies, and like the rest of the Lakers, they won’t win without the United States. Los Angeles has managed to turn its season around and are back in the hunt for another championship. I certainly hope that the United States and its allies will regain the proper focus and work together to stop a dangerous tyrant before it’s too late.

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