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We Can Change the War

As someone trying to build a third party in the United States, I often complain about the lack of democracy in this country: the way money has corrupted politics, the exclusion of third party candidates from debates, corporate-run media that usually ignore third-party challengers, two major parties so alike that half the eligible voters don’t even bother to vote. Add to that our daily exposés of corporate scoundrels with hands in the public till, or political scoundrels with hands in the corporate till, and it’s hard not to be cynical about the state of our democracy.

But right now I don’t want to complain. Right now I am desperately eager to be proven wrong about how this country works. Right now I want to believe that the people do indeed have a voice in the critical issues of our times, a voice that can influence the policymakers. I want us, the people, to leave aside our partisan differences. I want us, the people, to free our representatives in Washington from the saber-rattling that envelops them and endangers us. I want us, the people, to stop a war with Iraq.

So does the rest of the world. Our only ally in Europe is Tony Blair, who is starting to backslide because the majority of the British people say no. The Arab states have urged the Bush administration to focus on solving the crisis in Israel and Palestine instead of creating a war that will fuel a new wave of anti- American sentiment. Even the Kuwaitis, who were invaded by Saddam Hussein, shake their heads in amazement. The New York Times quoted a Kuwaiti royal family member saying, “Just open a map. Afghanistan is in turmoil, the Middle East is in flames, and you want to open a third front in the region? That would truly turn into a war of civilizations.”

Within the U.S. government, there is also plenty of dissent. Rumor has it that Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and many career military officers—including some in the Joint Chiefs of Staff—think war with Iraq a terrible idea. And while most of Congress has been appallingly quiescent, holding hearings that focused more on the mode of attack rather than questioning the entire rationale, we’ve had some notable exceptions, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and most recently, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas)—neither of them peaceniks. So, on the one hand, we have a president who wants to help his oil buddies get control of Iraq’s vast supplies and quash Saddam to finish the task his daddy started. On the other side we have the rest of the world shouting, “Don’t do it!” And the one factor that may well determine whether or not we embark on this reckless venture is, believe it or not, us. Remember, there is an election coming up this November, and then a big one in 2004. If the polls show a high percentage of public opposition, the wheels of war may well come to a screeching halt.

We don’t have much time, and the stakes are enormous. That’s why we’ve got to work together—Republicans, Democrats, Greens, nonvoters, whoever—to educate and mobilize the American public. I think most Americans know deep down that this impending war makes no sense. Our task is to turn their latent misgivings into blatant opposition. We’ve got to talk to our friends, our relatives and our coworkers and let them know that yes, Saddam Hussein is evil, but he is not threatening us, he had nothing to do with Sept. 11, and attacking a Muslim country at this point in time will put us and our families in danger. We’ve got to convince them that the United States has absolutely no justification for a preemptive strike that could, according to Pentagon figures, kill some 10,000 Iraqi civilians and many of our own young men and women.

And if they’re not swayed by the potentially catastrophic loss of life and the anti-American backlash, then try the bread-and-butter issues. The last Gulf War, in today’s dollars, cost $80 billion. Back then, our allies chipped in 80 percent of the cost. This time, we taxpayers would foot the entire bill. Ask your friends if they can think of some better uses for $80 billion, like putting it into our schools, or Medicare or Social Security, or using it to pay off our budget deficit. Let them know that there is a much better way to deal with Iraq: We can join our allies in pressuring Saddam Hussein to resume weapons inspections. Despite Bush’s naysaying, these inspections did work in the past to eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and they can work again.

Let’s assume, for the moment, that we have a real democracy where we can mobilize the American public, get our voices heard in the mass media, and force our policymakers to listen to us. If that’s true, then we should be able to stop this war before it starts. And if we do indeed accomplish such an awesome task through the power of the people, then we can start working together on other things like getting money out of politics and creating a real multi-party system. But let’s take this democracy thing one step at a time.

—Medea Benjamin

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