November 20, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
By Lynn Rapoport
THE HOLIDAYS ARE upon us, and for the broad spectrum of people in the Bay Area who, for a broad spectrum of reasons, don't support a war in Iraq, the traditional familial huddle around the turkey platter could be pretty grim. A few of you were raised by folks who came to San Francisco wearing flowers in their hair, but many more are going home to attend a summit with relatives whose viewpoints on matters geopolitical haven't synched up with yours since you stopped building snow forts and playing with G.I. Joe. Conversation at such gatherings is a minefield at the best of times, and these are far from the best of times.
But you have a captive audience (and chances are good half of them didn't even vote for Bush). Why not take advantage of the situation? The peace movement, this peace movement in particular, while it's made up of career peaceniks and social justice activists and anti-imperialists, is also made up of people with concerns about national security, people who supported the war in Afghanistan but don't see any rationalization for this one, people who never waved a sign in their life until sometime this fall, and people who used to think differently, maybe as recently as last year.
There are powerful arguments to make, arguments that might not get you accused of having your head buried somewhere unpleasant. Maybe one coherent point to convey instead of drinking too much and getting into a screaming match with your mother will inspire her to write a letter to her senator. Maybe she'll get her work friends to write their own letters, or march on Washington. Maybe your greasy-haired, apolitical juvenile delinquent brother will become interested in the concept of direct action and explain it to all his greasy-haired, apolitical juvenile delinquent friends. It's one meal; it's probably worth a shot.
Here are a few arguments to present:
We need a better reason to go to war The Bush administration has failed to offer a compelling explanation of why Iraq's actions warrant a military attack. It has failed to draw a credible link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. And while we need to take seriously the idea that Hussein is holding on to weapons of mass destruction, we also need to address the fact that credible experts doubt he has the means to deliver them. And it's not just the peaceniks who aren't buying Bush's reasoning. It's the Central Intelligence Agency. It's Colin Powell. It's Brent Scowcroft. It's Gen. "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf. It's 133 representatives and 23 senators (whose resistance hardly jibes with the "one voice" of America Bush spoke of). All of them, not to mention the bulk of the international community Security Council resolution notwithstanding are asking for military restraint.
Invading would make the United States a rogue nation There's been a post-World War II consensus among most industrialized nations on only a few points, and one of them is that you don't unilaterally attack another country just because you don't like whoever's in charge. It's been done, certainly, but largely to the tune of international outcry. If Bush invades Iraq without strong United Nations support, the United States will be violating one of the most powerful rules of civilized nations and losing massive credibility on the global front.
What happened to the war on terrorism? One of Scowcroft's concerns, as stated in an Aug. 15 Wall Street Journal opinion piece, is that putting our energies toward Iraq would dangerously deplete our resources for Bush's avowed number-one priority the war on terrorism as well as cause a major breakdown in international cooperation regarding global antiterrorism efforts.
Invasion will only give Hussein a reason to use WMD Scowcroft also points out that if Hussein does have deliverable weapons of mass destruction, he hasn't used them yet but might well consider it if provoked by a U.S. strike. U.S. troops would certainly be targets. Worst-case scenario: he sends a nuke over to Israel, and maybe starts World War III. Another possibility: he sets the oil fields ablaze, leaving a scorched-earth disaster area (with horrible environmental consequences and a huge cleanup price tag) for the U.S. to deal with.
There are still nonmilitary options It may not sound terribly satisfying, but the truth is, containment policies have worked in the past, if imperfectly. Even assuming Hussein was playing a shell game with UNSCOM up until the inspections stopped in 1998, U.N. officials say the vast majority of his WMD have been destroyed. Carried out with strong U.N. support, the inspections could work again.
A ground war in Iraq could make Vietnam look like cake Baghdad is comparable to L.A. in population, except that Baghdad's population, while it may not love Hussein, also has many reasons to despise the thousands of U.S. soldiers who would arrive in the event of a ground war. And unlike the flat desert terrain of Gulf War I, an invasion of Iraq would likely involve house-to-house fighting in dense urban areas, where familiarity with the terrain will count more heavily than technological prowess. The other option, of course, would be to carpet bomb civilian areas before sending in the troops leading to the death of tens of thousands of civilians and certainly international condemnation.
Why create more terrorist martyrs? If the U.S. invades Iraq without multilateral support (including the support of other Arab countries), the war will only inflame anti-American passions -- and give groups like al-Qaeda a great recruiting tool.
What if we win? And what would Bush do if United States forces managed to successfully invade Iraq and depose Hussein? There's no real internal opposition ready to take control. Would the United States give some general the authority to run a military government repressing what would be almost certain, constant uprisings for many, many years? And how will the United States pay for that government (and for rebuilding the civilian infrastructure of Iraq)? The war alone will cost billions, and almost certainly damage a struggling U.S. economy.
If you think these arguments might make a dent in anyone's political consciousness, consider doing a few minutes of research on the Web before you go home. Bring information on community groups in the area that are holding educational forums, coordinating letter-writing campaigns, or staging rallies.
Find out where the politicians in your relatives' districts stand on the war and get their contact info. Make it easy for people to write letters to their representatives at the national level.
Lastly, pass on the advice Pentagon Papers author Daniel Ellsberg gave at the Oct. 26 rally in San Francisco, a tactic sure to win the hearts of congressional members all across the land: All they have to do is send a check to the reelection campaign of any member of Congress in their state who voted Oct. 11 against giving Bush the power to invade Iraq; include a letter praising that decision; photocopy both check and letter; and send the copies to the pro-war politicians in their state, along with a note explaining why that check isn't going into their campaign bank accounts.
E-mail Lynn Rapoport at email@example.com.