MAP Member Opinion "Peace"  

Phil Steger: Regime Change Didn't Have to Come Via War
Op-Ed on behalf of Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers
by Phil Steger
published 4/25/03, Star Tribune

“When do we know when it’s over? They could have sent two guys to kill Saddam Hussein. Why did we have to kill so many people? So many people died today.”
'Sgt. Scott', a US Army infantryman, standing amidst Iraqi corpses in Baghdad, quoted in The Washington Times, 4/4/03.

We’ve been called “professional protesters”, “traitors”, and “cowards.” While name-calling, and too often those who resort to it, can’t be reasonably responded to, those who haven’t abandoned America as an arena for the free exchange of ideas and values may want to know something about the millions of Americans who participate in the peace movement.

We are ordinary people. We come from every walk of life and live in urban centers, suburbs and small, rural towns.

We are conservatives and liberals. We want to conserve what is good, and to free ourselves, and others, from what is harmful, or inhuman.

We are grown-ups. We don’t need a tough-loving Father for a president, who treats disagreement as treason and acts though he were the only adult capable of protecting us from the harsh realities of life. We know how to defend our communities, our families, and ourselves. We do so in countless ways every day.

We still aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was enough of a threat to the United States to warrant war. We weren’t the only ones to doubt the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. CIA director George Tenet told Congress last year that only an invasion would create the conditions in which Saddam Hussein was likely to use weapons of mass destruction against the US, or help others to so. But then again, he may not even have had any.

We believed that Saddam Hussein was enough of a threat to the Iraqi people and others that the US should at least not have supported his brutal rule. We believed this in the 1980’s, when Presidents Reagan and G.H.W. Bush paid him billions in US tax dollars to build his military, and to invade and gas his neighbors and his people.

We believed the US should have supported, or at least not hindered, the Iraqi people in seeking political and economic freedom in the 1990’s, when the US enforced the debilitating, total embargo known as sanctions for 12 years. The Gulf War and the sanctions combined to kill 46,900 under-five-year-olds by September 1991 alone, according to The New England Journal of Medicine, and 500,000 under-five-year-olds by 1996. The impact on Saddam Hussein was dramatic: he grew immensely stronger and richer. The impact on America was subtler, but just as serious. We ceased to be recognized as a moral force by most of the world.

There’s no way to calculate the number of Iraqis killed in the last, three Administrations’ reckless efforts to get what they wanted in Iraq. The dead can’t be liberated, and now Iraq’s population faces an immediate future of looting, civil and guerrilla warfare, starvation, polluted water, disease and dehydration.

It didn’t have to be this way. This is exactly what our peace activism sought to prevent.

There were other means to resolve this crisis, even to remove Saddam Hussein. But they should have been put into the hands of the Iraqi people, not the American president. We might have achieved this, but the president forced the country into a false choice: between doing nothing and going to war. Now, more than 100 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis, at least 1000 of whom were civilians, have paid the price for that false choice, and war has plunged a nation of 24 million into humanitarian crisis and political chaos. Their total number of fatalities are certain to rise - hour-by-hour for Iraqis, and, if the last Gulf War is any indication, again after a few years’ incubation period for American veterans and Iraqis both. The number of GI’s killed in combat in Desert Storm was around 280. According to the VA, the number of Desert Storm veterans to die of illness since coming home is 9,600… so far.

Others may think so little of American integrity, ingenuity, courage and creativity as to believe that America’s only choice was between war, and inaction. We do not.

Sanctions should have been lifted. An arms embargo should have been enforced on Iraq, and a moratorium on weapons of mass destruction sales to the entire region established. Inspections should have continued their successful, if painstaking work, without the snide sabotage of the Bush administration. UN human rights inspectors might have increased the pressure on Saddam Hussein’s regime and created a space for the Iraqi masses to experiment with ways of resisting and asserting their wills over their ruler. Under such conditions, we might have watched Hussein fall the way the Soviet Empire fell, Milosevic fell in Yugoslavia, Pinochet fell in Chile, Marcos fell in the Philippines, the apartheid regime fell in South Africa, segregation fell in the American South and the British Empire exited from India without a war.

The time is coming when regimes that threaten the peace and security of the world’s people will be promptly and peacefully removed from power by the nonviolent, political force of the people. It might have happened in Iraq. It will happen in America.

Phil Steger, executive director of Friends for a Non-Violent World, writing on behalf of the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers, consisting of 48 peace and justice organizations and associations in Minnesota.

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