Iraq War Plans Consume Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking
by Corinne Whitlatch, Director, Churches for Middle
September 2002 [posted here 9-10-02]
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While the world waits for the necessary leadership of
the United States to act on the President's stated vision of a viable
Palestinian state living alongside a secure Israel, the President's
inner circle prepares for war against Iraq.
The column by Morton Kondracke in the August 15 issue
of Roll Call, a weekly Capitol Hill newspaper, began, "The
American public stoutly supports military action to oust Iraqi dictator
Saddam Hussein, but the Bush Administration still needs to mount a case
to convince Congress and allies abroad." This assertion of public
support is premature, as polling shows that public opinion is subject to
change as people better comprehend the enormity and dangers of going to
The hearings held in the Senate on July 31 and August
1 officially launched a national debate. The voices of the churches and
of individuals who are both constituents and church-members will need to
be loud and clear to be heard. The core of our message -- opposition to
the U.S. going to war against Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein -- should
be grounded with an understanding of the main issues in play in the
debate and the dynamics of policy formulation.
How Did It Come to This?
It was only a year and a half ago that Secretary of
State Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he
wanted to replace the comprehensive sanctions against Iraq with
"smart sanctions" focused on preventing the development of
weapons of mass destruction. It was then proposed that the grave
humanitarian plight of the Iraqi people, confirmed by United Nations
agencies, might be relieved at the same time that the weapons threat
posed by Saddam Hussein would continue to be contained.
One factor in the reversal of policy objectives is the
galling resilience of Saddam Hussein's rule, 12 years after being
largely defeated by an international alliance authorized by the U.N. and
led by the father of President George W. Bush. Far more significant,
though, is the changed American mindset following the September 11
attacks on the U.S. As the "you're with us or against us"
response of the Bush Administration to the ensuing war on terrorism went
unchallenged, collateral damage was done to the principles of
multilateralism and United Nations authority. The all-encompassing
nature of the terrorist threat and the expanded definition of war has
awakened previously constrained ambitions to shape and control the
troublesome and strategic Persian Gulf. The President's popularity
soared; those who might oppose the Commander in Chief worried that their
patriotism would be doubted.
Additionally, despite its initial reluctance, the new
Bush Administration did get involved with the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict and its domestic political landmines. There is a remarkably
similar list of those who oppose pressure on Israel and those who push
for an American military intervention in Iraq: Vice President Cheney,
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, influential
adviser Richard Perle; and on Capitol Hill - Tom DeLay, Trent Lott,
Joseph Lieberman and Tom Lantos.
It is primarily from the highest ranks of Republican
stalwarts that questions about the risks of going to war are being
raised. James Baker, the Secretary of State during the Gulf War, said in
an Aug. 25 op-ed in The New York Times that "if we are to change
regimes in Iraq, we will have to occupy the country militarily." He
outlined the costs of doing so and counseled against unilateralism and
for United Nations Security Council authority.
Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Gerald
Ford and George H.W. Bush, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed,
undercut the alleged linkage of Saddam Hussein to terrorist
organizations and the September 11 attacks. He then warned that military
action against Iraq's leader would "seriously jeopardize, if not
destroy, the global counter-terrorism campaign we have undertaken."
Scowcroft raised the likelihood that Saddam Hussein would conclude,
while under attack, that he had nothing left to lose and would use
whatever weapons of mass destruction he does have against Israel.
Scowcroft predicted that Israel, unlike in 1991, would respond, perhaps
with nuclear weapons, "unleashing an Armageddon in the Middle
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) further cautions
that President Bush's policy of preemptive strikes could induce India to
attack Pakistan and could create the political cover for Israel to expel
Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. (NYT, Aug. 16)
Former U.S. military leaders are also challenging the
war calls. General Anthony Zinni, a former chief of the U.S. Central
Command, has said that the U.S. would be wiser to negotiate peace
between Israelis and Palestinians and to pursue the al Qaeda network
before going after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "It's pretty
interesting that all the generals see it the same way," said Zinni,
"and all the others who have never fired a shot and are hot to go
to war see it another way."
The questions of debate are now on the table: How
dangerous and how urgent is the threat posed by Saddam Hussein? What
options are available and at what cost? What would be the consequences?
Might the preemptive use of military force by the United States to deal
with proliferation problems, however serious they may be, establish a
dangerous precedent for other nations who feel threatened by their
The Plight of Iraqi Civilians
For the most part, there is little talk of the moral
consequences, including the impact of war, on the Iraqi people - the
Chaldeon Catholics, Armenian Orthodox and Assyrian Protestants, the Shia
Muslims living in the south, the Sunni Muslims in Baghdad and the
central provinces, and the Kurds of the north who have flourished in
their protected enclave.
Some analysts predict that the people of Iraq would be
dancing in the streets if Saddam Hussein were eliminated. Others predict
chaos and civil war between and among Iraq's ethnic, religious and
regional fault lines. Imagine the invasion and occupation of Baghdad,
which has a population of more than five million. In addition to concern
about death and injury of men and women in the U.S. armed forces, the
CMEP member churches are concerned about the impact of another war on
the ordinary people of Iraq; the loss of life, the injuries that will be
caused, the destruction of property and the possibility that many will
The U.N. sanctions against Iraq have already done
great damage to many people in the nearly 12 years they have been in
place. UNICEF, on May 29, 2002, reported that one in eight Iraqi
children die before their fifth birthday. Along with U.N. and other
studies, numerous delegations from U.S. churches and humanitarian
organizations over the years have reported on the human consequences of
the damaged economy and infrastructure and its continued deterioration.
Care International and the Iraqi Red Crescent told these delegations
that war would divert both international and Iraqi humanitarian
resources from development and rebuilding and toward emergency relief.
Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, General Secretary of the Middle
East Council of Churches, in an August 5 statement, wrote of "the
human suffering that has already scarred and ruined a whole generation
of Iraq's youth, caused the death of thousands of infants, destroyed one
of the region's most productive and creative middle classes, and left a
wasteland, a swirling pool of despair and rage, a time-bomb to bedevil
This does not absolve President Saddam Hussein, who
bears much responsibility for the suffering in Iraq. His defiance of
weapons inspections and United Nations resolutions, his building of
palaces and monuments for his glorification, his taunting rhetoric of
hate, and his manipulation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict all
reveal a disregard for the welfare of Iraqis. But, as one Iraqi
Christian told a visitor from the United States, "Americans hoped
the sanctions would cause the Iraqi people to rise up against the
regime. But the opposite is true. Sanctions have attached people to
Ways must be found to lessen the anti-American
passions in the region that seek to calm, rather than provoke, the
confrontation with extremist Islamic movements and that witness to our
respect for the value of all lives and the rights of all peoples in Iraq
and the Middle East.
Other Costs of War
The cost of a war is the point of dissent for some
opponents of military action, and should be of concern to everyone. The
1991 Gulf War costs added up to $60 billion, but that was little noticed
by Americans since U.S. allies picked up the bill. The President hasn't
said how he plans to fund this war. Then there are the costs and
problems of occupying and administering Iraq, including providing
humanitarian aid to the victims of war, along with the uncertainties
about what type of government and leadership would follow.
The costs to other American policy interests must also
be considered. The impact on the oil supply and the price of oil could
be considerable, especially if this war or the Israeli-Arab conflict
spill over into nearby countries. The pressures that the U.S. would
place on potential staging bases for attack - Jordan, Turkey and Qatar -
would likely require the regimes to squelch popular opposition and
surely set back their progress toward democratization. Not only would
international cooperation with the war on terrorism suffer, it seems
reasonable to fear that terrorism against the U.S. and its interests
would instead be re-energized.
Relationships with practically all other Arab
countries and U.S. allies in Europe and elsewhere will be weakened along
with principles of multilateralism and international law. If the U.S.
does go to war against Iraq, could any credibility remain for the United
States to call for non-violent resolutions of other global conflicts?
Beyond the human dimension, the greatest cost could be to the moral and
political authority of the U.N. Security Council, placing at risk the
notions of collective security and international law at the heart of the
The Weapons Issue
Vice President Cheney, in arguing for a preemptive
attack on Iraq, declared there is no doubt the dictator has weapons of
mass destruction (WMD) and is preparing to use them against the United
States and its allies.
Some, such as Scott Ritter who served as chief weapons
inspector for UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission), doubt Iraq's
potential threat to the United States. Both the devastation of Iraq's
military in the 1991 Operation Desert Storm and the destruction of
Iraq's stockpile by UNSCOM are cited. However, UNSCOM's disarmament task
was incomplete when they withdrew in late 1998, and Saddam Hussein's
will to develop and use WMD is indisputable. There is widespread
agreement that the threat to Israel is serious, as is the possibility
that Iraq's WMD would be smuggled out of the country into the hands of
The need to contain Iraq's military threat and
eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is beyond doubt and that
responsibility is rightly held by the United Nations Security Council.
The UNSC remains the sole internationally accepted authority. The Bush
Administration should lay aside its objective of "regime
change"- the overthrow of Saddam Hussein - and cooperate with the
Security Council in a reformed weapons inspection program that has
international legitimacy and support.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate will
hold hearings on Iraq before adjournment. Your representative and
senators will be watching their constituent communications for
indicators of public opinion.
Mail delivery to Congressional offices is problematic;
delivery can take three weeks and the letters are unpleasant to open
after having been treated for possible contamination. The most effective
modes for advocacy at this time are phone calls to the Washington
office, faxed letters or E-mails. The Capitol switchboard can connect
you with your members' offices where you can ask for fax numbers and/or
E-mail addresses: Senate (202) 224-3121; House (202) 225-3121. If you
have internet access, directories are at www.house.gov
Your advocacy message, especially if by telephone,
should be short and to the point.
Make these three points: