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Writers and Artists Petition Against Iraq (Take Two)
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On my old Xanga blog, I commented at length about the Writers and Artists Petition Against War On Iraq. Well, the fellow who co-wrote the petition came across my commentary, or was sent it, and responded, both on my old blog and via e-mail.

I'm posting it here in its entirety, and if so inclined, I'll respond in the comments section (of course, feel free to comment extemporaneously yourself). Otherwise, I think it would become too unwieldy. It's long.

Here you go:

Mr. James,

I wanted to respond to your criticism of the petition against expanding the war on terrorism to Iraq. Your response is not very dissimilar to the few other rational critiques I’ve recieved, and I do think the petition suffers from a lack of context. This is what I hope to provide for you and your weblog readers by answering your objections:

>>The Petition

>>Artists have both the ability and the moral obligation to combat deceit and distortion. It is this ability to illuminate even difficult truths that defines an artist.

>>Truth has been one of the casualties of the "War on Terrorism". Assassinations, bombings, and chemical and biological attacks, whether perpetrated by individuals or states, are crimes.

>Okay. Following this one sentence with the first, it almost sounds like they're saying we've been lied to about assassinations, bombings, and BCW attacks in the context of the War on Terrorism. Or am I reading too much into this?

You’re not going too far, that is indeed what we meant. The first lie is that there is a “war on terrorism” going on. The United States often supports terrorism, and in fact uses terrorism as a tactic itself.

The second lie that we’re being asked to accept is that the mechanisms of war can be effective against international terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda. Instead a police action, most likely headed by the UN, should have been used to capture Al Qaeda members and bring them to trial. However, I think many of the people who signed this petition merely signed it in opposition to a war on Iraq. The petition was written while the war on Afghanistan was still going on, but it only gained attention and signatures later on. So, while it speaks to the war on terrorism generally, I wouldn't assume that everyone who signed it was against the bombing of Afghanistan.

>>They should be dealt with by the rule of law, and not by the use of indiscriminate force.

>How about discriminating force? I don't think we're planning on bombing random countries. And I agree about the rule of law. So within the framework of law, is force never justified?

We aren’t planning to bomb countries at random, that’s true, but we are planning an awful lot of bombings. Dick Cheney has stated that there are something like sixty countries on our list for possible conflict.

One thing we’re not doing is targeting countries based on any kind of realistic estimate of a threat to us.

Saddam Hussein is a terrible menace to the people of Iraq, but he’s not really much of a threat to the United States. Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspections team leader, has stated that there is no evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. And even if Iraq does have some weapons programs going, no serious claims can be made that their capacity reaches the level of, say, North Korea. Certainly Iraq is not as dangerous as Pakistan or India or Israel or plenty of other countries with far greater arsenals and far more incentives to use their arsenals.

As to the claims that Iraq might give weapons to Al Qaeda, there is no credible evidence of any contact between Hussein and Al Qaeda. On the other hand there is plenty of evidence of support for Al Qaeda coming out of Saudi Arabia, but nobody is seriously suggesting the US invade that country (nor should we.)

>>With this in mind, we condemn the US "War on Terrorism" and call upon both the US government and the "anti-terrorist" coalition to end this war, which benefits no-one but those who are making money from it, and which is sowing the seeds of future terrorism and violence.

>So no one benefitted from the campaign in Afghanistan? Al Qaeda's operations are not significantly more disrupted, making their terrorist operations more difficult to carry out?

The answer to the second question is a resounding “no.” Let me quote the head of the CIA. This is from the Washington Post:

"The threat environment we find ourselves in today is as bad as it was last summer," Tenet told the joint House-Senate panel examining the performance of U.S. intelligence agencies before the attacks on New York and Washington. "They are reconstituted. They are coming after us. They are planning in multi-theaters. They are planning to strike the homeland again."

>And though the benefits to the Afghan people were indirect, the benefits are still tangible. Ask the millions of refugees returning to their homes, or the people now able to receive steady supply lines of food aid, or the Afghan girls who can now attend school.

This last bit about Food Aid is truly disturbing to me. The famine in Afghanistan is something I feel strongly about.

Look, Afghanistan is in shambles, and while it’s true that for some, especially in Kabul, life is better now--the women can go to school, and the hospitals are being rebuilt there, and so on--it’s also true that the US bombing campaign cut off the supply of food aid for months. Further, the warlords in Afghanistan are still making it difficult for aid workers to do their jobs.

The United States bombing campaign pushed 2.5 million out of their homes and put this same number at risk from starvation. The total number at risk was 7.5 million in October of 2001.

We bombed a country, cut off the food aid for a country, that already had 5 million people in it who were relying on food aid to survive. Now the 7.5 million people who could’ve died last winter were spared. This massive tragedy was averted (mostly due to a mild winter) but even after the World Food Program got in and delivered most (75%) of the food aid needed there were still about 1.8 million people at risk of starvation.

If you’ve read about the conditions in the refugee camps, if you’ve read about the people who returned from the camps to empty fields and no food, if you’ve read about the people who felt compelled to sell some of their children in order to feed the others, if you know even a little bit about this subject, then you know that the war was the source of the refugee crisis and the massive increase of the threat of starvation.

There are plenty of good articles about the famine, mostly in the British press. Here’s a link to some articles from the Guardian:

Now the fall of the Taliban was definitely a good thing, but the way it occured was atrocious, and the prospects for a decent society in Afghanistan emerging from the war are next to nil.

>>The "War on Terrorism" is now being used to justify further US aggression against the people of Iraq.

>Yes, that's exactly what Bush and all the people supporting military action as consequence for noncompliance want. We want aggression again the people of Iraq. Um, no. We have no beef with the people of Iraq.

We’ve killed somewhere at least 500,000 Iraqi civilians in the last 10 years, just from sanctions alone, so while we may not hate them, we sure don’t seem to care very much about the people of Iraq. I wrote that a war on terrorism would be “further aggression against the people of Iraq” because I think there is ample evidence that the sanctions are an act of aggression against the people of Iraq.

Three UN humanitarian aid co-ordinators have resigned in protest over the sanctions, all of them claiming that the sanctions did grevious harm to the people of Iraq. Further the United States knew from the beginning that the consequence of the combination of the original bombing of the infrastructure and the sanctions would be massive civilian casualties, mostly children actually, and since the beginning the policy of the US government has been to pin the blame for these consequences on Iraq.

So, I see a war on Iraq as just an escalation of a ten year campaign of aggression against the Iraqi people.

>We have a problem with their leadership, and the only problem we have with the people themselves is to the extent that they support Hussein (which a lot of ancillary evidence contradicts).

>>Such aggression would lead to a high civilian and military death toll and a further deterioration of the situation in the Middle East.

>People will die, yes. This is the nature of war. As with any situation, the cost and risk has to be weighed with the possible outcomes. The assertion that the death toll will be high and that it will lead to a further deterioration of the situation in the Middle East is speculation. It could be argued that a post-war Iraq with a democratic government could in fact have a stabilizing effect on the Middle East. It could also be argued that if Hussein is allowed to develop nuclear weapons unfettered, prospective death tolls could be vastly higher. This in fact seems very likely.

Actually nobody in the CIA thinks it’s very likely that Iraq has nuclear weapons, and this led Rumsfeld to create another intelligence gathering mechanism headed by the White House that would be more likely to find the right answers for the Bush administration.

See this article on CNN’s website:

and this one

>>* We call upon the United States and the United Nations to lift all economic sanctions on Iraq.

>Okay, so we're not going to consider military action and we're going to lift the sanctions. What exactly are we going to do about the Iraqi regime's decade of noncompliance and 16 failed UN resolutions? Nothing? Hope really hard that Hussein abandons his nuclear program out of the goodness of his heart?

Okay, first off all there is very little evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.

But secondly, you’re right in way. The way we listed our demands doesn’t make it clear that what we want is for weapons inspections to occur in Iraq and, consequently, for the sanctions to be lifted. The sanctions were, after all, put into place in order to limit Saddam’s ability to create weapons of mass destruction, and after a thorough weapons inspection process is completed the sanctions are supposed to be lifted.

By the way, I think the inspection process might’ve gone off better in the past if the US hadn’t tried to change the game by tying the lifting of sanctions to a regime change in Iraq.

>>* We call upon the United States and its allies to abandon preparations for war against Iraq.

>Again, as opposed to what course of action?

As opposed to sending in weapons inspectors. At the time this petition was written the Bush administration was rejecting the notion of weapons inspections, now the Bushies seem to be okay with the inspection process continuing, but I’d bet that they’ll try to start a war without letting the inspection process come to a close. They’ll probably claim that Iraq is defying the inspection process on the December 8th when Iraq turns over it’s list of sites. If we don’t like the list of sites they give us the US will try to declare war on Iraq (even though the inspectors have been able to go wherever they like and won’t be limited to the list of sites on the Iraqi list.)

>>* We call upon the United States, Iraq, and all other countries to refrain from developing and deploying weapons of mass destruction.

>Oh, well heck. That oughta do it. Iraq will definitely comply now.

Can’t we dream just a little? I sure would like everyone to refrain from developing and deploying weapons of mass destruction, wouldn’t you?

>>* We call upon Iraq to allow the resumption of weapons inspections, and upon the United States to allow these weapons inspectors to operate independently rather than as a projection of US interests.

>Independently? Isn't disarmament a "projection of US interests" and a projection of international interests, as well? In fact, by this I think they're alluding to the propaganda that the UN inspectors were spying on Iraq last time they were there (though to what end, no one has try to find WMD maybe?).

It’s not propaganda. The weapons inspectors were spying last time they were there. The head of the weapons inspection team at the time admitted it in an interview a leftist magazine called “Time.”

Here’s a a quote from that interview and a link to the article in it’s entirety:

“The U.S. had a track record of putting pressure on the weapons inspectors program during my entire seven years there. It's ironic that everyone has focused on the struggle of the inspectors vs. Iraq. Not too many people speak of the struggle between the weapons inspectors and the U.S. to beat back the forces of U.S. intelligence which were seeking to infiltrate the weapons inspectors program and use the unique access the inspectors enjoyed in Iraq for purposes other than disarmament. Iraq has a clear case that under this past inspection regime unfortunately it was misused for purposes other than set out by the Security Council resolution.”,8599,351165,00.html

>>The Undersigned

>And then there's a list of writers and artists, some of whom I know, like, and respect. But I certainly disagree with their decision to sign this petition.

>My main problem is that it proffers no real alternative in place of the threat of military action, followed up with substantive consequences. They "call on" Iraq to let the inspectors back in and disarm? Iraq hasn't complied with 16 UN resolutions, but they're going to respond to a petition by writers and artists?

I wasn’t aware that the United States cares about UN resolutions. It seems odd that we would care about them, considedring we violate UN resolutions all the time. We’ve certainly violated more than 16 resolutions.

The alternative is to abide by international law. There is no way to legitimately claim that a US invasion of Iraq would be an act of self defense.

Oh, and by the way, this petition was primarily about getting artists and writers to think about this issue and hopefully to take a stand against the war. I thought of it as a first step towards political engagement.

I don’t truly expect either the US government or Iraq to listen to the demands on the petition.

>Look, there are plenty of rational writers and artists who don't want war either, but who recognize the validity of the use of force as a last resort when all else fails.

Yeah, well, I recognize the legitimacy of the use of force in self defense too. But in this case, and in a great many cases when it comes to US action in the world, the use of force is not a last resort but a first choice. But let me make something clear, there are some problems that can’t be justifiably nor legally solved by military means. In fact, by law, the only time military action can be justified is when it’s an act of self defense.

>I believe that is the case here. All diplomatic efforts have been thoroughly exhausted.

The inspectors are in Iraq right now so it’s obvious that not all diplomatic efforts have been exhausted.

>The threat of force has brought Iraq back to the table, and hopefully it won't have to be followed up on. But it needs to be a substantive threat, because the risk of inaction is greater than the cost of action. I don't think one has to be a frothing-at-the-mouth warmonger to believe this to be the case, and to believe that the greater good is served by the threat of force, followed by the use if necessary.

You may be right about the threat of force bringing Iraq to the table, and we both hope that the weapons inspection team is allowed to do its work and resolve this peacefully, however if the US claims that a few missing sites on the Iraqi list is enough to justify war then I think it will be clear that the US is pushing for war against all reason.

Any thoughts?

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