MAP Member Opinion "Peace"  

Starving Children
Cause Administration Credibility Crack to Grow Wider

by Phil Steger
dated 6-30-03, sent to Star Tribune

A recent report from UNICEF in Iraq ought to cause a deeper crisis of confidence for the American people regarding the rightness of the war on Iraq. The report, issued on May 14, warned that 150,000 Iraqi children are now facing death by starvation due to the war.

“We knew going into the war that Iraqi children were poorly nourished,” UNICEF representative in Baghdad Carel De Rooy said. “But these findings make clear that not enough is being done to turn the situation around.

“Instead, it has gotten worse.”

Many agencies, including UNICEF, predicted these casualties. Many people, including myself, worked around the clock to try to warn people about it, and to make it a factor in weighing whether war on Iraq would be the right thing to do.

I met Carel De Rooy two years ago in Baghdad. A solid, straightforward Dutchman, he had just been transferred to Iraq from Columbia. His job was to do everything he could to secure the survival of Iraq’s children, shattered by two wars, oppression and crushing, economic sanctions. Just a few weeks into it when I met him, he had already run into the wall that everyone who has known or cared about Iraqi children runs into: when it comes to what kills Iraqi children, American media and politicians only want to hear about Saddam Hussein. Give them the data on the tens and tens of thousands of Iraqi children killed by the combination of the Gulf War and the US/UN sanctions, and the interviews are over, the tape recorders turn off.

This January, De Rooy’s office published its predictions that war would create famine-like conditions and endanger 500,000 children’s lives, by cutting off the distribution of essential Oil for Food rations that 75% of the country's population depend on utterly for their every, daily calorie.

I’d heard exactly the same thing eleven months ago when I stood in that same office in Baghdad with four, other Minnesotans on a humanitarian delegation to Iraq.

When we got back home, we warned every one we could, meeting with Congressmembers and Senators, giving five or six presentations a week to Minnesota audiences, and appearing on every TV and radio show that would have us. The TV networks ran the facts when they came from our mouths, but went no further. Neither paper investigated a thing until we presented them a petition signed by 1000 readers calling on them to do so. Of the two, only the Pioneer Press went on to publish anything further about it, and it did so only after we showed them to its sources. Still, it was better than nothing.

Painfully, the Administration and its supporters treated such predictions with the same mixture of smug superiority and marketing strategy with which it dismissed the occupation force recommendations of former Army Joint Chief Erik Shinseki.

Now the life is leaving these children in tens of thousands across the country. War-triggered hunger is killing children – just as predicted. There are no embedded reporters to beam us their images. No generals in the studio with maps to show us where they fall. No presidents looking at us with a hard eye telling us that it’s an ugly job, but that it has to be done.

The frightening question that the American people must face regarding this war looms larger and larger with every passing moment: When it comes to the war on Iraq is there anything the President says, the networks play or the papers print that we can trust?

This question isn’t any easier to answer when it arises in the midst of a crisis like the one we face in Iraq. There, the price of the Administration’s failure to secure the country it has just “liberated” is being paid not just in handfuls of proud, but unprepared American soldiers, but also in more than one hundred thousand of Iraq’s weakest and hungriest children. Here, the biggest threat to our country arises if the President was right about weapons of mass destruction, but failed to find them and to keep them out of Al Qaida’s hands.

What can we, the American public, do about this crisis, and the question that looms behind it?

What we did when we joined the largest mobilization of human will against war in the history of our kind: educate ourselves on the facts, discuss these with our families and neighbors, and exercise our power as free and sovereign people.

The power of presidents and “free” press has led us from war to war to war. It’s up to the people of our country and our world to lead ourselves into peace.

Phil Steger
Executive Director
Friends for a Non-Violent World
St. Paul, MN

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