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Kevin Martin

With the commencement of the Afghanistan campaign six months ago, the United States gave the green light to governments around the world to solve their problems through violence. All they need to do is cite the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which began Oct. 7, or call their opponents “terrorists.”

The Web site of Human Rights Watch lists dozens of countries, from Australia to Zimbabwe, where civil liberties are being threatened, legitimate dissent is being crushed or warfare is being waged more brutally, all in the name of the war on terrorism.

In many armed conflicts, there are indeed terrorists. That’s not the point.

The point is that, just as in Afghanistan, justice is not being served by killing more people. The war on terror, whether waged in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Putumayo, Kashmir or elsewhere, will not work. It will not make Americans, Afghanis, Israelis, Colombians, Indians or Pakistanis safer. It will only bring more death, more “collateral damage,” more grieving families, more anger and despair, all of which sow the seeds of future terrorist attacks.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the other wars mentioned do predate Sept. 11 – many by decades. The United States did not cause them.

But make no mistake: We enable the killing. Uncle Sam, as the world’s number-one weapons dealer, has armed one or more sides in nearly every war worldwide. We set the example in terms of strategy as well. By announcing an all-out war on terrorism that, according to the Bush administration, may not end in our lifetimes and could extend to up to 60 countries accused of harboring terrorists, we, the unchallenged world leader, say that war is the answer.

The United States is in a unique position to provide global leadership toward real solutions for a safer world. We should work to strengthen the force of law, not the law of force, by supporting institutions such as the proposed permanent International Criminal Court to deal with acts of terror. And as the strongest military power in the history of the world, we are uniquely qualified – obliged even – to lead a global effort to abolish nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The United States needs to end its shameful status as arms merchant to the world. We need to build goodwill by increasing foreign aid even more substantially than the recent hike, and by promoting sustainable, just development programs. We need to take a hard look at our policies in the Middle East and revamp them to reflect American values like democracy and respect for human rights.

One needn’t be a pacifist to observe this: War isn’t solving the world’s problems. After more than 40 years, it has not brought peace, justice or security to Colombians, Israelis, Palestinians, Kashmiris, Pakistanis, Indians, Congolese or Angolans. Americans who think a blank check for the Pentagon and an open-ended commitment to wage war on terror will make us safer should look at those conflicts and think again.

President Bush has asked us to be patient with the war on terrorism. Shouldn’t we instead be patient in trying less violent, more practical, more realistic solutions to the world’s problems?

Kevin Martin is the executive director of Peace Action (