Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Between Iraq & A Hard Place

Last Monday night at the Council meeting, a gentleman spoke during the Public Comment time about the essential rightness of communities and citizens expressing their objections to the Iraq 'War'. Who can honestly disagree with that? Granted, we are here now and can't take back history, but we can certainly object!

Since the invasion on March 20, 2003 -and the 'Mission Accomplished' speech on May 1, 2003- there have been over 650,000 Iraqi deaths and almost 3700 Americans killed. The $400 BILLION that has been appropriated for this 'war of choice' amounts to a cost of over $1300 for every man, woman and child in the US. With the population of Whatcom County at about 185,000, that is the equivalent of about $240 MILLION. The gentleman has other statistics he will present later that indicate the war's cost to Whatcom County is only $130 MILLION. Either number is a heckuva cost! And that's just the dollars. What about the human costs, the suffering that lingers, the worry about more losses, the concern about destabilizing the world, the toll on our allies, and the erosion of trust and respect that the US has earned over many decades? Difficult to gain, but easy to lose. But we have lost it, because we believed a series of deliberate lies from our highest elected official!

I strongly agree with Bill Bradley -whose book I am paraphrasing liberally- that the central lie was not about Weapons of Mass Destruction, or about liberation of the Iraqi people from a dispicable tyrant, or that Iraqi oil would pay for the costs, or that Iraq would house permanent US bases against terror, or that a free Iraq could help support Israel. The central lie was that Iraq was linked to al Qaeda! It wasn't, but it certainly is now! Yet, as late as the summer of 2006, 64% of Americans still believed that central lie! How is that for abuse of truth -and power? At last in 2007, over 60% of Americans finally thought the invasion was a bad idea! What took so long for that to happen? Isn't our history completely different from what has transpired since March 20, 2003?

The events of 9/11 changed things forever, because it was the first time we were attacked on our own turf since Pearl Harbor. Our initial response to retaliate at al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan was appropriate, since they were the perpetrators. Stepped up intelligence operations, police actions, targeted military strikes and diplomacy and real coalition building with other nations are the recognized and appropriate methods that take time, but work. A full scale invasion of a foreign country -that had no al Qaeda or Taliban- was not justified, and has not worked. It's just that simple! Not only has it not worked, it has backfired and exacerbated Mid-East unrest in a way that Osama bin Laden could only have imagined!

War on terrorism is serious business, but force should only be used as a last resort, and that must be done with an exit strategy and massive enough force to insure victory in a reasonable time. None of that happened. Now, we're stuck in a mess of our own making, and its just getting worse every day we are there. So now we deal with that mess too.

What Ben Franklin said is still true, 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'. Let's don't let that pound grow to several pounds!

Just before the invasion of Iraq happened, the Herald published the Guest Editorial below, which I believe reflected the thoughts and hopes of many Americans. Unfortunately, our President was not one of them.
War Principles: A Herald Guest Editorial

From the City Council meetings held during the week of January 27th, at which a possible Iraq War Resolution was publicly discussed, the most commonly heard objections seemed to fall into one of these four groupings:

• Decision-making Roles & Responsibility:
This is not the City Council’s job or even within its realm of responsibility. Federal officials were elected who are responsible for such decisions, we need to trust them to do it. Even if we agreed on a Resolution, it wouldn’t make any difference.

• Accuracy in Representing Community Sentiment:
The City Council can’t speak for everyone in our community. Only a small group of vocal activists are behind this idea. It's impossible to make such a decision without hearing from everyone. This exercise is doomed to be a waste of time and taxpayer money.

• Conflict Resolution on a Controversial Issue:
This is too divisive an issue on which to have any meaningful discussion. We could never agree anyway. I’m having trouble focusing both halves of my brain on this issue.

• Overcoming Mind-sets:
City Council needs to avoid all unnecessary controversies, such as this issue, especially during an election year. Such an action is unpatriotic, doesn’t support our military, or may even border on treason. My mind is already made up and I won’t change it - no Resolution -pro or con!

It may sound strange, but I was encouraged by the turnout and the comments made at the Town Meeting, which attracted a diversity of thought and opinion, comparable to that heard during earlier meetings or received through phone calls and e-mail.

My hope is that we can make this issue much less divisive. How this might happen would be to align our aspirations with what is possible, and simply begin to identify those points upon which general agreement can be reached within our community. If some points of agreement can be reached, these could evolve into a 'de facto' set of principles, or nucleus of ideas that the Community could endorse. But, to reach such a goal will require us to raise our sights well above the win-lose situation that we now seem to face.

An idea gelled the morning that Brett & Debbie on KGMI said that 'no one wants a war'. That is so obviously true that it could become our first point of community agreement! What reasonable person could disagree with that?

That spurred more thinking about other principles that might have similar potential for community agreement, such as:

Before declaring war:
• War should be a last resort; a sign of a failed international policy and diplomacy.
• US unilateral action should be discouraged; UN support encouraged.
• The US Constitution should be strictly followed for US involvement.
• A formal declaration of war by US Congress should be expressly required before any attacks -except defensive- are authorized.
• US War budget estimates should use full-cost accounting methods to anticipate paying for mitigating domestic economy impacts as well as global impacts resulting from war.

In the event war is duly declared:
• International law must be respected, including the Geneva Convention.
• Civilian populations should not be deliberately targeted or endangered.

Following the successful conclusion of war:
• The US needs to fully recognize and be accountable for the full negative impacts on both its own people and the people who are harmed or deemed the enemy.
• The US should commit the resources and expertise necessary to help reconstruct the essential public infrastructure destroyed or damaged by war actions.
• The US should commit to a meaningful and ongoing humanitarian policy of assistance to the people harmed, whether deemed friendly or enemy.
• The US should recognize there are finite limits to both its resources and power in the world and diligently seek ways to use them wisely in the best interests of world humanity and the global environment.

A methodology to determine the extent of agreement on these -or other- points could be to simply test each one against the list of objections above. If widespread agreement can be reached on one or more points, these could be clearly considered reflective of the will of our community.