On September 19, 2000, Danny Muller and Andrew Mandell, both of Voices in the Wilderness, went to the Oprah show. Her guest that day was presidential hopeful George W. Bush. They had come to ask important, unscripted questions and to find out if our future 43rd President would toe the same line on the Iraq issue as the administrations of his father and Bill Clinton.
Other Voices in the Wilderness members handed out roses to the other audience members before they were seated in remembrance of the 5,000 Iraqi children who die each month due to sanctions.
We didn’t see those roses on television, however, because before each audience member could enter the studio, they had to hand over their rose.
Halfway through the show, impatient for the canned question period from the audience, Mr. Muller stood up and asked Bush, “Mr. Bush, would you continue the Democrats’ policy of bombing and sanctions that kill 5,000 children a month in Iraq?”
The show immediately cut to commercial.
Mr. Mandell then stood and asked what the children of Iraq could expect. Bush stared directly at him. Both Muller and Mandell were escorted out of the audience for their acts of conscience.
More than two years later, the children of Iraq know what to expect.
For many Americans, Iraq had disappeared from the map since the last Gulf War. The economic embargo remained in place, routine bombings dotted the landscape, and Iraqis suffered in silence.
In September 2001, Thomas Nagy, a professor at George Washington University, released a report detailing the U.S. government’s foreknowledge of the devastating effects of sanctions and the impacts of the Gulf War on civilian infrastructure. The document, published in The Progressive, outlined the outcomes of impure water and insufficient sanitation on the most vulnerable members of society: the children. He cites the Geneva Convention as precedent for why these actions are illegal and punishable under international law.
As history repeats, a country considerably less prepared is bracing for another invasion.
“There will be no safe place in Baghdad,” the U.S. Department of Defense declares. Only now the country is dependent on the U.N. programs which keep the cycle of food and humanitarian goods in motion. Were that to be interrupted, there will be major problems for the Iraqi people.
The pipeline for humanitarian goods for Iraqi civilians is potentially jeopardized by an invasion. In the event of a massive conflict, who will take responsibility for the unfulfilled contracts for humanitarian goods? Governments and private companies enter into contracts under the current conditions the Oil for Food Programme and the current Iraqi regime, but if a major war occurs, the agreements to fill orders for wheat and rice, or to transport those goods into Iraq, may fall through.
This would mean that the people of Iraq would be forced to buy their food at market prices. Currently they pay the equivalent of $.12 for their monthly ration which includes rice, lentils, baby formula and flour. The market price is $3.50 and the international price is $8.50. Most Iraqis have a monthly salary equivalent to $2-4 USD. Even government employees only make an average salary amounting to $12 USD. Iraqis could not afford to pay the market or international prices for food, and thus the alternative is starvation if the food basket under the Oil for Food Programme were interrupted due to war.
Mr. Mandell and Mr. Muller doubtfully could have predicted the catastrophic global events which have transpired since their appearance on the Oprah show. The events of September 11th changed the face of modern geopolitics, of civil liberties and of human interaction.
But rather than recognizing the human capacity to transcend hateful acts of extraordinary desperation, our leaders have called for retributive justice smeared across a global canvas. Afghanistan was not enough revenge. The detainees at Camp X-Ray were not enough. Peaceful Tomorrows, a group comprised of the families and loved ones of those killed on September 11th, calling for an end to war has not been enough. The unprecedented international dissent and the street protests in nearly every country have not been enough.
Unfortunately, short of Oprah taking a stand against the war or adding Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Peace Is Every Step” to her book club list, those with something to gain from waging this war will continue to do so at the expense of those who have everything to lose.
*Leah C. Wells serves as the Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. This piece also appears at http://www.electroniciraq.net.