Letter from the Road #15

Path of the Friend

Elias Amidon


What About Saddam?


A couple of days after we got back from Iraq we were on a Denver “drive time” AM radio program speaking about our experiences. It was a call-in show, and the telephone lines were full, about equally divided between people who thought we were saints and people who thought we were traitors. One man in particular was quite agitated, blasting us for being dupes of Saddam and shouting, “You peaceniks are so naïve! You say Saddam is a bad guy, but if you had your way we’d just pack up and go home and let him go on killing and torturing the Iraqi people!”

I tried to respond to this man, but after a half sentence he interrupted with another angry retort. This kept happening until the show host turned off the man’s line. It was especially frustrating to me because there IS an answer to this charge, even though it may not lend itself to being shouted in a sound bite. In fact, shouting anything is pointless; too many of the “dialogues” between pro- and anti-war people are good examples of how difficult it is for people of different views to listen to each other.

So if we try to really listen to the angry man on the call-in show, what can we hear? Yes, we hear his fear, his anger at us, his categorical and polarizing statements, his carelessness with facts, but what else? We can hear his compassion. He bases his viewpoint on the same thing we do, his compassion for the suffering of the Iraqi people. He wants to free them from the control of a ruthless dictator. Fair enough.

“Well?” says our angry friend, “What about Saddam? What would you peaceniks do to get rid of him?” It’s nice to be offered the opportunity, even hypothetically, to suggest non-violent approaches to the current impasse, but let’s remember one thing first: the current impasse has been created over the last few decades in large part by people motivated by self-interest and who believe in and use violence as one of the primary tools for addressing conflicts. For them to challenge advocates of non-violence with “what would you do now?” is a little like a cook, who, having burned the soup, asks another cook to fix it. The soup is burned! It was burned by thousands of large and small decisions over the years pursuing our perceived self-interest rather than our common interests; it was burned by American and British firms selling anthrax and chemical weapons plants to Saddam; it was burned by 12 years of murderous sanctions that resulted in the deaths of 500,000 children from water-borne diseases; it was burned by the five permanent U.N. Security Council members being responsible for 85% of the world’s arm trade; it was burned by the failure of the U.S. government to understand that our own well-being depends upon the well-being of all our neighbors, friends and foes alike.

If we “peaceniks” are given the chance to do something about the Saddams of this world, let’s also demand the chance to do something about their creation. If “we” sat at the helm of the world’s sole superpower, how much could be done! “In order to bring about radical change in current unilateral tendencies,” writes Frederico Mayor, former Director-General of UNESCO,

“there is a need to consolidate an ethical and legal framework that can offer the world’s peoples hope of human dignity on a global scale, in a multilateral context. …the U.N. system needs to be fortified and democratised in order to perform fully the functions entrusted to it in the Charter… There is an urgent need… to hold a General Assembly on peace, justice, and security, in order to establish legal and ethical frameworks and punitive mechanisms for transgressors, and thus reduce the possibilities for isolated fanatical terrorist groups, and to increase international cooperation promises. …It is not war but international justice and well-coordinated international cooperation that will substantially reduce many imbalances on a global scale and lay the foundations for just and lasting peace.”

The point is, eliminating the Saddams of this world requires a radical change in the way we do politics. It requires pre-emptive peacemaking, rather than simply reacting to threats as they occur. (For more in this vein, see the last part of LETTER #6, Letter to a Warrior.)

As for stopping this particular Saddam, there are a number of options open to us if we used our imagination. The following suggestions are from a mix of sources, including Scilla Elworthy of the Oxford Research Group, Mary Kaldor, anti-nuclear activist, Said Aburish, author, Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, plus conversations with peace advocates in the U.S., Europe, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. These options do not represent a phased process or unified proposal, rather they illustrate the range of alternatives available short of invasion.

How to stop Saddam:

  • Maintain a credible military threat for the time being.
  • Continue and expand the inspection process. It is working.
  • Establish a permanent weapons-monitoring program in Iraq.
  • Create a visible and credible containment system, involving strict rules with Iraq’s trading partners and rigorous inspections at all points of entry, to restrict the flow of weapons-related goods into Iraq.
  • Instantly lift the current sanctions. Saddam and his cronies benefit from smuggling. More importantly, the sanctions belie everything we claim to stand for.
  • Help Iraq increase its oil production, on condition that some or all of the revenue go into an account controlled by the U.N. These funds would be released first for humanitarian purposes, and thereafter dependent on the implementation of specifically defined democratic reforms, such as freedom of assembly, establishment of a free press, abolishment of the laws restricting civil and political rights, and the introduction of a multi-party system. Once these changes are firmly established and an elected government is in place, commercial arrangements for the export of Iraqi oil would return to a free-market basis.
  • Establish a program of “human rights inspectors” who would investigate and report on any human rights violations in Iraq.
  • Support a U.N. administered “Marshall Plan” of $20 billion to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure, medical facilities, schools and universities. Sponsor joint research and student exchanges.
  • Negotiate for the return of Iraqi exiles, consisting of hundreds of thousands of professionals, with guarantees for their safety, including an agreement that any violations of their security would result in the arrest of Saddam, the sequestering of oil revenues, and/or military attacks on targets precious to the Iraqi elite.
  • If removing him immediately is judged essential, give Saddam Hussein (along with his family and other selected leaders) the option of retirement in Iraq (outside of Baghdad) rather than exile. This option would require adequate security guarantees, and Saddam would know if he tried to manipulate Iraqi politics from his retirement he would be arrested. If he refused this offer of retirement, he and others in his leadership would be immediately indicted for war crimes and human rights violations, their foreign bank accounts frozen and they would be unable to travel.

Yes, these options do include the threat of force, and, in extremis, the willingness to use it judiciously. The point is often made that the weapons inspections would not have restarted without the threat of force. That may be, but this is an endgame, a situation where the soup is already burned. There were many choice points in the past where this outcome could have been avoided. In addition, if a morally consistent policy had been pursued from the beginning, other nations would be much more willing now to trust our intentions and to join a military coalition if that was still necessary.

Then with the threat of a U.S., or better, U.N.-led invasion on one side, and enticements like an immediate end to sanctions and a multi-billion dollar aid program on the other, this formula for non-violent change would be difficult for the Iraqis to refuse. Giving Saddam a respectful way out, while unpalatable to some, must be balanced against the danger to thousands of innocent people if he stays and war breaks out.

Until options like these are given a try, the U.S. and Britain cannot claim that “all other means” have been exhausted. If they are tried and they fail, then the community of nations could launch an invasion of Iraq if they decide that’s the wisest course at the time. But not until.

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