DAVID McREYNOLDS is a member of the War Resisters League, a secular international organization formed in 1923 by conscientious objectors who were jailed for their opposition to World War I. He spoke with JUDITH LEWIS about the pacifist viewpoint on the looming conflict.
I think pacifists have to be as honest as they can be. Is there ever a war we would support? No. But are there wars where we would sort of hope that we didn't lose? I think that's true of World War II. I don't think that our men in prison were privately rooting for Hitler. But Iraq is not a hard question. Not at all. It's so easy. Even if we don't like Saddam, that's not the issue. The issue is U.S. policy.
I think the real question of the Middle East is not the buildup of Saddam as a villain, but that the United States wants to keep power divided in the Middle East – to play Iraq and Iran against each other – in order to control the oil there. We backed Iraq, and we backed Saddam Hussein, all through his war against Iran, which was a dreadful war and something for which Saddam certainly has to be condemned. But he had U.S. backing at that time.
I feel I'm watching a play in which the government trots out the “enemy for today.” The enemy for today is Saddam Hussein, and the country is Iraq. Very recently the enemy was the Ayatollah Khomeini, and the country was Iran. Not too long before that the enemy was Colonel Qaddafi, and it was Libya. It's never been Israel, and people ought to take a hard look at the fact that Israel's unilateral entrance into the nuclear-weapons race has triggered an inevitable effort by every Arab state in the region to gain some way of deterring Israel.
I don't blame Israel for trying to protect itself. But it does guarantee, absolutely guarantee, that Syria, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, every Arab country in the area is trying to gain either nuclear weapons or what are called the “poor man's nuclear weapons,” which are biological and chemical weapons.
I don't like Saddam. I was in Baghdad in 1990, and I did not like what I saw. But Saddam did something that he's not being given any credit for: He built Iraq up. He didn't take the money from the oil and stick it in Swiss banks. He built hospitals, he built universities, he built roads way into the countryside. He's a proud nationalist – and also, he's a bastard, politically. I'm not his defender, but if you're looking for why he has any support in Iraq, aside from his machinery of terror or the secret police, it's both what he's actually done – lifted Iraq up by the bootstraps – and it's U.S. sanctions. All the pressure on Saddam has unified the population behind him. As a result of the sanctions, tens of thousands of children have died because of lack of food or medical care. The Iraqi people don't blame Saddam Hussein for the sanctions – they blame us. When starvation occurs and the kids die in the hospital, the Iraqis' anger is not aimed at Saddam.
My suggestion is that at this point people get hold of the members of Congress and tell them that the question of whether they get voted for in November depends on what they do on the floor of Congress over the next 10 days. They cannot just let Bill Clinton take the country to war. We have to have some sense of the Congress behind him. Washington lives in a world of its own, completely removed from reality. And right now, Washington is in the midst of a war fever.
I'd have a lot more respect for Newt Gingrich if he were actually going to lead a charge into Iraq instead of just cheering on bombing attacks from a distance. There's something terribly sick about watching people cheer a bombing attack, saying, “Nuke Iraq!” or “Nuke Libya!” because it's a safe game to play. It's a game Americans should be ashamed of playing. We're so powerful and we have so little support on the Iraq question. We have almost no nations except for Great Britain and Israel that support us on this. I really think we should take a long, fast step back toward the United Nations and toward diplomatic ways of resolving this.
If diplomacy is perceived as finally having broken down, we're going to launch air attacks. It won't solve the problem, which is a great tragedy. The only way to solve the problem is to change U.S. foreign policy. But if the target of U.S. foreign policy is Saddam, then you have to go in and take him out. But that is incredibly stupid. We did that in Vietnam, and it took 10 years to learn we couldn't find a government that would cooperate. We facilitated the assassination of Diem, we replaced governments, we overthrew the government of Cambodia and in doing so prepared the ground for the rise of the Khmer Rouge. What are we going to do in Iraq if we overthrow Saddam, and then find out that the people we install won't do what we want?
In the current situation, I don't think there is a “pacifist” position. I think there is a political position widely shared by a number of analysts that this is a mistake. So there's no singling out the pacifist position.