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  Opinion 09/23/02

What you (and Mr. Bush) ought to know before attacking Iraq

By Leon D'souza

Ted Pease's strongly worded commentary on the sheer imprudence of going to war against Iraq is a must-read for those who beat the war drums vigorously.

There are a few things those advocating war should know.

First, the U.S.-led war against Iraq has never ended, so by commencing a fresh round of strikes, we will only be ushering into a second decade what we began in 1991. War, we need to understand, isn't about pounding a country to smithereens. It's about subjecting it to intense repression to force it to see a certain point of view, and that we've done in Iraq for a long, long while.

In all these years, the people most affected by our actions have been those we seek to liberate. More than a million Iraqis have lost their lives since the early 1990s, and a great majority of these -- nearly 60 percent -- have been children. In December 1995, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization team members estimated that over a half million children under the age of 5 had died in Iraq as a direct result of economic sanctions. Several other vulnerable groups of people --innocents like you and I -- are languishing on account of the economically repressive measures we've initiated to get a stubborn dictator to abdicate his throne. And the sad reality of the futility of our aggression against Iraq is that no matter what we do, Saddam Hussein seems to hold his ground.

What the average American needs to know is that despite CNN's relentless demonization of Mr. Hussein, there is, as NPR's Mike Shuster discovered from his visit to Baghdad's Saddam Hussein Museum in 1996, a cult of personality that dominates political life in Iraq, and it is from this that Mr. Hussein derives his legitimacy. Unfortunately for us, this is something that those raising war cries in Washington will not allow us to understand because it doesn't help feed the propaganda machines.

Second, a war against Iraq right now will hurt our already stumbling economy a great deal. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey had estimated that the United States might have to spend as much as an upper bound of 1 to 2 percent of its gross domestic product on a war with Iraq, which translates into a cost of about $100 billion to $200 billion. While these numbers are disputed, one cannot ignore the inevitable truth that unlike the Gulf War, where our allies picked up almost 80 percent of the bill, few countries today, if any, would be willing to contribute to a new war against Iraq. This means, as The New York Times' Patrick Tyler pointed out, that the United States would have to pay most of the cost and bear the brunt of any oil price shock or other market disruptions. With a burgeoning federal budget deficit on its hands, the Bush Administration would do well to reconsider its options.

And just in case you fell victim to presidential prevarication, there are other options. All Mr. Bush needs do is listen. The Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby, presents a commonsensical approach to bringing the conflict with Iraq to a close. It suggests a six-point strategy. First and foremost, the administration is urged to desist from its relentless threats to topple Mr. Hussein's regime. Violence only begets more violence, and in the end, Mr. Hussein will most likely walk away with a higher political standing among his many sympathizers at home and abroad. Next, resume direct negotiations with Iraq. Dialogue has helped avert major military conflict throughout history. There is no reason why U.S. and Iraqi diplomats shouldn't engage in meaningful discussion on the issues at hand. Third, demilitarize the conflict. The Iraqi government has little incentive to cooperate with international agencies when its sovereignty is being violated daily. Fourth, end economic sanctions. Other than damaging the lives of innocents, these have been found to have little positive effect. Mr. Hussein and the ruling Baath Party have all they need and more to survive without any assistance from the outside world. However, the people of Iraq need more help than you and I can imagine. It's time we went to their aid. Fifth, continue the current embargo on sale and transfer of military equipment, and finally, keep the pressure on Iraq to accept U.N. weapons inspections and monitoring.

Fellow students, you and I are America's future. Tomorrow's world will depend on us for solutions to problems far more complicated than the ones we wrestle with today. If our only answer to discord is confrontation, then our world will be fraught with terror and hate. Let's not relegate history to the trash heap. There are lessons to be learned from stories of wars past. I guess it's time we read through those dusty old books again.

Web Resources:

Alternatives to War Against Iraq: Friends Committee on National Legislation

--Leon D'souza is a communication student and a frequent contributor to the Hard News Cafe


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