POWER VS. AUTHORITY
By Donna Lee Bowen
Donna Lee Bowen, a professor of political science, considers the war with Iraq through the frameworks of power and authority.
I would like to address two concepts that are basic to political science and, indeed, to the world we live in. These are the concepts of power and authority.
In our introductory political science courses, we define power as the ability to influence the outcome of events. Power may be correctly used power; it may be incorrectly used power; it may be power exerted by sheer force and coercion.
Authority, on the other hand, is subjective; it is depends upon an individuals perception of its rightness. Authority is defined as rightful power. It might be helpful to think which individuals and institutions in your lives command rightful power. Perhaps your bishop; perhaps President Gordon B. Hinckley. In terms of our political lives, the president of the United States and his administration command authority, or rightful power, for at least a critical mass or majority of American citizens.
There is no question that Saddam Hussein has been recognized for decades as a person who holds power. He is highly coercive in that he has weapons he can use both within and without his country. But is he legitimate, and does he hold real authority? In the United States and the rest of the world, including the Middle East, the answer would be absolutely not. Saddam Hussein is an illegitimate leader who holds power by commanding fear, not respect.
The major issue for the United Statesboth in terms of the war we are to fight and in terms of recovering from the war and rebuilding the Middle East and our relationships with other countriesis how to keep attention focused on the illegitimacy of Saddam Hussein as the villain of a situation that demands action. Next, how do we retain authority for the United States?
These concepts are difficult; dealing with them is more art than science. Perceptions often become reality. Immediately after Sept. 11, the sympathy that the world had for the United States after the unprovoked attacks by Al Qaeda gave us enormous authority. And it gave us the ability to address the question of how we end a reign of terror exercised by non-state entities in almost every country in the world. Because of the rightness of our stance, we had support worldwide.
Today, in March 2003, the situation is very different. The authority of the United States within its borders remains very strong. But I suggest to you that the authority of the United States outside of our borders is waning and may, in fact, lead us to problems that decrease, rather than increase, our security.
It is recognized in all parts of the world that the United States, by virtue of its wealth and its resolve, has overwhelming military power. It is totally reasonable that the United States can wage war with the help of allies or alone, although the situation would be far more difficult without the cooperation of others. If we fight alone, will our authority in the eyes of the world be maintained? Will a loss of legitimacy cause us other problems that we do not currently anticipate? Or, through our overwhelming force and our new doctrine of preemption, will our credibility be destroyed? Because of our great military and economic power and because of our role as a world leader, most of the world depends on the United States to act with restraint, to reign in impulse, and to act judiciously. If we wage war alone, much of the world will question whether U.S. actions are restrained or judicious. And if we go to war, questions of short-term and long-term effects must be considered.
Twelve or 13 years ago I stood in front of a group, not as large as this; we were talking of going to war in 199091. I gave a statement there that most laughed atthat if we go to war with Iraq, we are not just opening a conflict in the Middle East that U.S. power can easily win; we are opening a conflict that will last for at least half a century and have consequences that we cannot predict. We are now 12 years into those 50 years and I worry that the conflict is becoming more intense. The introduction of terrorism has ratcheted up the scope of the conflict and given it worldwide impact.
Middle Easterners are united in the belief that the most pressing conflict in their region is not the problem of Iraq and is not the problem of Saddam Hussein; it is the question of Palestine and Israel which at this point is more or less ignored by most of the world, even as the death toll grows on both sides. They see the United States as belligerent, rushing in alone to pursue war rather than waiting for a multilateral response. How will this affect us as the years go by? Will the United States become the villainnot Saddam Hussein?
A letter from Britain crossed my path today and caught my attention. It concluded, The United States is becoming increasingly loathed as it tries to impose its powernot its authority, but its power. Now, why should it matter to us in the United States if we were seen as having power, but not having authority? Let me remind you that the catalyst for entering this war is the fact that we are actually right now fighting another wara war against terrorism worldwide. Al Qaeda poses a greater threat to the United States than does Iraq. Professor Taylor addressed this when he addressed the Wolfowitz doctrine of preemptive strikes. The scope of the war against terrorism is worldwide.
Can we fight this war alone? Or can we fight this war against terrorism with only three or four, five or seven allies? I would question whether we can. It is a worldwide war. The United States needs the active help of the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia in order to confront and defeat the network of terrorists active today. Indeed, antagonism toward the United States is currently generating new recruits for terrorist groups and will generate thousands of new terrorist cells. Terrorism is a global phenomenon and needs to be confronted as such. Without the goodwill of other nations, without authority in the world community, can we succeed in our quest to make the world safe from terrorism?
We have one other problem. We will be able to fight a war in perhaps a few months. We will have losses, and there will be unintended consequences. It looks as though the economy of the United States will suffer a number of hits. But following that is a much more difficult, long-term problem, which is how to rebuild Iraq. President Bush speaks of creating democracy in Iraq. Can democracy be imposed? Can you force another person, another group of people, another country to be responsible and accountable? Middle Easterners say no. They ask for the chance to create their own democracies.
How can the United States authority best be used to meet our goals and our needsnot just in the short term, but in the long term? And how will this affect how we address the war that is to come?