Two speakers mixed humor with grave warnings about a U.S. attack on Iraq Wednesday at Hood River Middle School.
David Cortright and activist Dan Handelman both called for an end to economic sanctions against Iraq, and decried U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf.
“This is very serious. As we sit here, U.S. Forces are on their way to the Persian Gulf,” said Cortright. President George W. Bush favors military action against Iraq over fears Saddam Hussein would use chemical and germ weapons, as well as nuclear arsenal.
“Unless we turn around our national policy, our nation will attack,” Cortright said. He predicted, “It could be later this year, or early 2003, but not before the (November) elections.” Cortright has written eight books on non-violent conflict resolution and is president of the Fourth Freedom Forum and consultant for various United Nations agencies. He wrote “Stop the War Before It Starts,” the cover story in the August issue of The Progressive magazine. The talk was sponsored by Columbia River Fellowship for Peace, as part of the “From Ground Zero to Common Ground” series of events in Hood River and White Salmon this week. (Please see page A2 for details.)
The scholarly Cortright and the more casual Handelman provided differing approaches to the same message: that a war with Iraq would be unwise and illegal under international law, and that the U.S. has yet to exhaust all its diplomatic options.
“A war with Iraq makes no sense and is dangerous,” Cortright said.
Bush said this week he will seek Congressional approval as part of its international campaign for an allied military action against the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Cortright and Handelman said the United States’ main mission should be diplomacy to get United Nations weapons inspectors back into Iraq, so that Baghdad’s weapons of mass destruction can be located, monitored, and destroyed.
Cortright and Handelman both urged the audience of 135 to work in their communities and with members of congress to urge non-violent methods to deal with Iraq.
“Continue to be hopeful,” said Handelman, who works with Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago-based campaign that seeks to end sanctions against the people of Iraq.
“I think the tide is turning,” away from public support for war with Iraq, he said, citing one opinion poll that said 51 percent of the public favors a U.S. military attempt to unseat Saddam Hussein, down from 71 percent in March.
Later, Handelman said he stood before the group in violation of the U.S. sanctions on the Baghdad regime.
“Right now, I’m wearing Iraqi underwear!” Handelman said.
That drew a large laugh, but Handelman’s main message was serious: Iraqi sanctions are causing serious damage to the health and welfare of the children of Iraq. Handelman has twice visited Iraq to deliver medicine and food and to make video documentaries of conditions there. He showed an 18-minute video of tours to destitute hospitals and an Iraqi water treatment plant. He visited homes and businesses, and said that though he was introduced as an American, he was welcomed everywhere.
“The greatest lesson we can learn is that the people of Iraq are human and they recognize us as human,” Handelman said. “They recognize our government does not necessarily represent our views.”
Handelman said the U.S. and its allies should lift all sanctions on Iraq, “and let the Iraqi people make their decisions on their own of what to do.”
He noted that food and other goods are available in Iraq, but the problem is that few people can afford even the basics, because of high unemployment and devaluation of the currency, the dinar.
Cortright won an early laugh when he began his talk by pointing to his neckwear and saying, “I knew I was the speaker tonight because I’m the guy with the tie.”
Cortright spelled out 10 reasons not to attack Iraq, but it was no David Letterman list. They included:
“Number one, there is no justification for war; Iraq has not threatened the United States, and is incapable of attacking us,” Cortright said.
Second, “if this attack proceeds, thousands of innocent people will die.” He said it will be “no desert war,” but one in which Iraqi forces will retract into Baghdad and Basra, and fighting will be in the streets, with major losses to U.S. forces.
Third, the war would be expensive: $50-70 billion, plus a similar expense to — reason four — occupy Iraq. “This war will cost huge amounts of money that we as taxpayers will have to bear,” Cortright said.
Fifth, Iraq’s level of “weapons of mass destruction” is insufficient to justify war, and whatever germ weapons Iraq has it would likely use against American forces and Israel.
The continued destabilization of the Middle East, particularly regarding Israel and Palestine, is the sixth reason Cortright gave against a war; seventh, it would inflame anti-American sentiment throughout the region.
“An attack would be like a recruitment poster for extremisas,” he said.
Eighth, A war would undermine existing international security arrangements in place since Sept. 11, Cortright said.
“Our number one threat is not from Iraq — it’s from Al-Qaida,” Cortright said of the terrorist network now being fought by the U.S. in its ongoing War on Terrorism.
“If we attack, will the 130 countries now cooperating continue to do so? We may win the battle of Saddam Hussein but lose the War on Terrorism,” he said.
Ninth, he said, a pre-emptive war “would set a dangerous precedence and undermine the very principles of international relations,” he said.
For his 10th and final reason, he said, is that a war on Iraq would make the United States an “outlaw nation” because it allegedly would violate United Nations treaties.