MAP Member Opinion "Peace"  

Winning Without War
Philip Steger

received 2-11-03

Most Americans don't want to go to war with Iraq, but they don't know what else to do. We have a chance - now - to achieve peace, achieve security and to help the Iraqis liberate themselves, whether Saddam disarms or not. But we must know what to do.

We can achieve the ends we desire through peaceful means. This is the only way that offers any real hope of a positive outcome and any hope at all of a humane path. We must lift the sanctions.

Sanctions are a policy failed from conception. They form the most destructive link in a chain of failed US policy toward Saddam Hussein and Iraq. This chain includes arming Saddam, funding Saddam, looking the other way, and even defending him from international consequences, while he tortured children, executed dissidents en masse, destroyed entire villages of Shiites and Kurds, and gassed Iranians and his own people alike. It includes the mass destruction of the Gulf War, which razed the Iraqi civilian infrastructure and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The war left Saddam Hussein at the top of the pyramid and again our government looked the other way while he leveled whole villages and put tens of thousands of people to death.

Yet, forming a link 12 years long, the destructive effects of sanctions overshadow all of these, for they have killed more than one million people. They have caused such deep damage to the Iraqi economy and life-support infrastructure that UN officials predict it will cost $100 billion just to restore infant mortality rates to levels that existed before sanctions were imposed in 1990. Domestic food production has all but disappeared, and so has any value in the Iraqi currency. This combination has made 70% of the population totally dependent for all their daily calories on food rations distributed by the Iraqi government and the UN, which puts them at risk of widespread famine in the event of a war. What's more, this forced collapse of the national economy cleared away room for Saddam Hussein and his regime to operate a black market that increased his wealth and power over his people.

Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Each failed to help Iraq. Each damaged US integrity and honor by first courting a tyrant who slaughtered the innocent, and then second, by slaughtering the innocent to kill the tyrant. And now, with a second Bush, we are back again on the brink of war.

There is another way out of this ugly, shameful mess.

The Bush Administration broke the sanctions stalemate with ultimatums and war threats that no one could pretend to doubt. Inspectors are back in Iraq largely because of these threats. While we might have gotten to this point much earlier and without adding to the fear and suffering of the Iraqi people, and to our own, we can be glad that we now have a chance to keep the future from repeating the past. But war won't do it. War got us here. It can't get us out. Peace and security will be won by supporting the Iraqi people and empowering them to put pressure on Saddam.

With inspections underway, lifting sanctions will invest the vast majority of the Iraqi people, including most of the army, in the disarmament process, forcing Saddam Hussein to cooperate. If he doesn't, then all the frustrations built up during the last thirty years of his rule, and magnified by the last twelve years of total, lethal embargo, will focus on him. He'll no longer have the US to blame for his country's problems.

The Iraqi people do not want a Saddam with a bomb. History teaches that he only uses such weapons against those who can't fight back, or when the US is defending him. When sanctions are lifted, the people will not let the new wealth flow past their decrepit homes and skinny children to swell Saddam's palaces and missile silos. They will demand their share and he will have to deliver, or be deposed. His hold will weaken. Cracks in his armor will appear before the people. They will be emboldened and assert even greater will against him. Every crackdown on this impoverished yet proud people will produce more dissidents, and deeper cracks. These will penetrate ever more deeply into the army, and perhaps even the Ba'ath Party and secret police itself. He may not fall. He may not need to. But he will have to change.

The American people should support the work of international, human rights groups like Voices in the Wilderness, who have amply demonstrated their commitment to the Iraqi people. With sanctions lifted, their work for human rights in Iraq can turn to advocating for the corrections of the regime's own abuses. These groups are respected and trusted by the Iraqi people. If Saddam seeks to persecute or slander these groups, the people will see right through it, and their deepest sense of honor as Arabs and as Muslims, an honor that has hospitality as its firmest bedrock, will be outraged.

The US should not be in the business of breaking and making nations. Freedom does not come from occupation, but from the work of the people within the country desiring it. The founders of this nation did not declare independence from British imperial rule in order to found a new empire to rule others, but to usher in an entirely new era, one of freedom for all from foreign rule. The only safe, legitimate and honorable way forward for America from this point is to support the Iraqi people in their indigenous drive for freedom.

America can reverse the last twelve years of ruin by truly supporting the Iraqi people. America can help the Iraqi people disarm Saddam by unbinding their hands and feet and allowing them to receive adequate food and clean water. America should never have been so gravely mistaken as to have carved the punishment for Saddam's actions out of the backs of Iraq's young and poor. The least that decency demands is an immediate to end that policy. This action will be rewarded with the practical, dependable means to be safe from Saddam. They are means that are peaceful and productive. They are means that America can be proud of.

Philip Steger is Executive Director of Friends for a Non-Violent World, a non-profit in St. Paul, MN. He has traveled three times in the last two years to Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness. He has been spoken widely in Minnesota and the US as an expert on US policy toward Iraq, especially sanctions, and has been a guest on WCCO, KSTP, MPR and Wisconsin Public Radio talk radio shows.

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