Millard Grimes: Whatever happened to peace?

June 9, 2014 

As the year 2014 began there were hopeful signs that peace might break out in some of the most unlikely world trouble spots. Then, a few weeks later, war accelerated, even expanded. What happened?

Waging peace is never easy and there are no parades or medals for the peacemakers, just fewer funerals and devastated cities.

The longer I live and observe the folly of war, the more I am puzzled why so many intelligent leaders detect an advantage to their country or cause by killing as many of the "enemy" as possible and destroying monuments of civilization that have been built at great cost and diligent effort, on both the construction drawing boards and at the tables where would-be peacemakers convene and often find their only agreement is that they hate each other.

War or peace should not be a political dispute in American politics, as the U.S. is far removed from the areas of combat, but small conflicts are a U.S. concern because the U.S. is the most powerful nation in history, and because its economy and thus its people are affected by wars and rumors of war.

As 2014 began, the most hopeful development was that Iran might open its nuclear program to U.N. inspection and negotiate on other matters with the U.S. - and six other world powers.

About that same time the U.S. backed off a shooting war with Syria over Syria's use of poison gas against the rebellious forces trying to overthrow the Bashir Al-Assad government.

For good reasons - and some not so good - the U.S. has not responded enthusiastically to these peace gestures.

Then after staging a mainly impressive Winter Olympics pageant and athletic display for worldwide TV, Russia suddenly got in a snit over criticism of its hotel facilities and decided to bully parts of its former empire, mainly Ukraine.

Syrians kept killing each other, with 40 percent of Syria's population displaced as refugees, prisoners or corpses.

There are still accusations of poison gas use and other atrocities on both sides. The rebels are not united and most of them are anti-American, and probably anti-peace, unless they are in charge.

An election for president is now being held with Assad expected to win easily, but it should at least demonstrate the futility of the rebellion and persuade the rebels to accept the best deal they can get, which is peace.

The most definitive statement about the Syrian situation is that there is no military solution, but the advantage is clearly with Assad, whose family has controlled Syria since 1971.

The U.S. can exert its influence in many ways and that influence should be directed toward an effective truce and help in bringing back to Syria some of the millions of refugees.

Assad's presidential victory -- even if ill-won -- will be a convenient time for negotiations. Elections are not precise, in any country. The U.S. has even had some in which the candidate with the most votes did not prevail.

Then, there is Iran. The U.S. and Iran have been in conflict for 40 years and while it is not an armed conflict, both nations have suffered economic consequences. Americans forgave the Germans and Japanese after World War II, and then bought enough Volkswagens and Toyotas from them after the war to make them economic powerhouses. Is it not time to forgive Iran for holding American hostages for a year in the U.S. Embassy. It is significant that not a single hostage died, mainly due to President Jimmy Carter's patience.

But economic sanctions against Iran have been in place ever since, with threats to broaden them if Iran expands its nuclear development. Gasoline prices have been nearly $3 a gallon higher.

The current Iranian prime minister appears to be the most reasonable leader since the revolution that overthrew the shah. The U.S. should not ignore the chance to negotiate with him. Iran, with 80 million people and the potential to be the major force in the Middle East, would be a friend worth having.

In the bitter war between Iran and Iraq from 1982 to 1988, the U.S. mainly sided with Iraq, then ruled by Saddam Hussein. After the war, it was revealed the U.S. had also sent weapons to Iran. So nothing is simple or final in that area of shifting loyalties and centuries-old hatreds.

But ending the sanctions on Iran would produce two definite improvements: the Iranian people would immediately have better living conditions they have been denied by the sanctions, and the price of gasoline would immediately drop for American consumers.

So, why the delay in these talks which have been planned since late 2013? It seems like a win-win situation for both sides, but actually there is opposition even among U.S. congressmen. They just don't want Iran to have nuclear capability.

But even if that happens - which is not by any means certain in a country with so many needs - several nations in the area already have nuclear weapons, far more advanced than Iran could develop in the near future. Among them are Israel, India and Pakistan, not to mention Iran's big neighbor, Russia. The U.S., of course, could nullify any Iranian nuclear threat with the ammunition on one warship.

Yes, peace is hard to wage, and earns no medals and ribbons. But for the millions of people in the countryside and in the streets of nations, peace is the goal that best rewards them.

Millard Grimes, editor of the Columbus Ledger from 1961-69 and founder of the Phenix Citizen. is author of "The Last Linotype: The Story of Georgia and Its Newspapers Since World War II." A profile of Grimes can be found in the Georgia Encyclopedia, www.georgiaencyclopedia.org.

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