While Secretary of State Colin Powell droned on at the United Nations trying to alarm us last week, I tried to gauge his likely impact on our growing anti-war movement. Reflecting Brookline's liberal history, the town's become something of an anti-war hotbed. I doubt Powell's matter-of-fact calmness changed many minds.
Last November, Brookline Town Meeting members voted to oppose "any U.S. attack on Iraq until and unless (1) there is clear and convincing evidence of a serious and imminent threat of aggression by Iraq, and (2) the U.N. has determined that collective action is necessary against Iraq." That resolution was proposed by Brookline PAX, the town's long-time progressive organization.
Since then, some PAX members have teamed up with members of Brookline Peaceworks, the newer group that organizes Coolidge Corner anti-war vigils every Saturday at noon. Peaceworks founder Amy Hendrickson has been playing a growing role in state-wide peace efforts.
A new Peaceworks member, Brookline resident Matt Osborn, was arrested for trespassing last week (along with a Massachusetts Green Party organizer) for refusing to leave Senator John Kerry's office. The civil disobedience was prompted by Kerry's refusal to back a resolution, sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy, insisting that President George W. Bush obtain new congressional authorization before going to war. Civil disobedience will likely escalate once the bombing starts.
Kerry voted last fall to let Bush go to war essentially whenever he feels like it, though the wannabe president claims that's not really what he had in mind. Kerry's fuzzy have-it-all position resembles the November UN Security Council resolution, which Bush says gives him leeway to go to war at will even though France and other signers claim any attack requires UN approval. The Security Council's intentionally ambiguous resolution was apparently designed to persuade members to sign even at the cost of guaranteeing disagreement months later about what was intended.
Some of Powell's evidence last week was reasonably clear and scary, assuming for the moment he wasn't presenting doctored photos and transcripts manufactured by one or another spy service. Past U.S. leaders lied to build popular support for war -- Vietnam immediately comes to mind -- so evidence of new deceit wouldn't be astonishing.
Yet even if Powell's evidence is legitimate, the weak link from evidence to conclusions makes his argument less than convincing. His failure to give that evidence to UN inspectors when they really needed it raises suspicions about U.S. motives.
Powell's proof that Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator was hardly necessary. What was necessary, but completely absent, was reliable evidence that Saddam's effort to scrounge together weapons of mass murder is either fully realized or an imminent threat to the United States.
Given the president's pre-September 11th determination to eliminate Saddam and the presence of so many old-time power-mongers running the Bush administration, it's hardly persuasive that the president's man of the hour assures us we're all in danger. Bush's credibility is not much greater than Saddam's, or for that matter any head of state committed to protecting at all costs their self-defined state interests.
As I watched Powell, I did wonder what it would take to convince me, a Brookline Peaceworks member. What kind of evidence would justify attacking a country that our own intelligence services acknowledge is unlikely to use weapons of mass destruction unless we attack them first?
How certain must we be before we repeat the 1991 Gulf War, which researchers estimate directly or indirectly killed more than 200,000 Iraqis, half of them civilians, even before a decade of sanctions killed hundreds of thousands more?
Whose logic might persuade me that Saddam Hussein has not only the means to attack the United States but the intention to do so?
I confess I don't have good answers. But I do know that Powell's earnestness isn't nearly enough to make me think dropping bombs on children is a good idea.
Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix delivers his next UN report on February 14th. The next day, perhaps 100,000 Americans will rally outside the UN building in New York, as will millions more around the world. To join other Brookline residents at what may be the last pre-war protest, see http://www.justicewithpeace.org .
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Page updated September 30, 2007