No a la Guerra / Free Iraq

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Someone's got to say it on the left, so I'll say it for the record. Free the people of Iraq!

Jonathan Sterne

Monday, March 10 2003, 6:21 AM


No a la Guerra!

When I got on a plane at the Pittsburgh airport to visit Barcelona for a week, I really had no idea of what political mood to expect when I deplaned. In the United States, the nation of Spain is usually represented as one of "our" allies in the current campaign to attack Iraq. Nominally, this is a true statement. In a bid to do an end-run around Spain's status as a second-tier European power, prime minister Jose Maria Aznar has aligned himself with Bush and Blair in the war on terrorism. "Bush, Blair and Aznar" is a frequent line out of his mouth in public speeches and addresses to parliament. He seems to like the association.

It can be difficult for an American to grasp the absurdity of Aznar's position. Eighty percent of the Spanish population is opposed to the war in Iraq. To describe the breadth and depth of antiwar sentiment, the only comparison I can think of is the preponderance of American flags after September 11, 2001. Everywhere I went in Barcelona, there were no a la Guerra signs with crossed out bombs on them. Big banners hang from buildings all over town. Signs appear in windows. People wear t-shirts. Graffiti repeats the message or adds on its own unique interpretations.

One finds the antiwar message indoors in hotels, museums, religious institutions, shops, restaurants, and even in the interior waiting room of the general hospital's emergency ward (how I discovered this fact will be left to the imagination for now). The antiwar message is everywhere, all the time, and unequivocal. In Barcelona, it is simply inescapable. On La Rambla, one of the city's main thoroughfares, political groups set up booths and draw attention to themselves with antiwar messages: the Greens, the Basque separatists, the Marxists, the liberals, all of them begin with a petition to stop the war. Any even moderately progressive causes (and some of dubious political wisdom, like the violent Basque separatists) hitch their wagons to the antiwar message.

Like Bush, Aznar is aware of the protests against the war, and chooses to ignore them. Unlike Bush, Aznar is aware that his position is a great political risk for his administration. He has said that the cause is so important that it is worth risking his administration's downfall. Let us hope that he is right. Like Bush, may the foundations of his remaining support be made of paper, and may it soon start raining. . . .

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Free Iraq!

"Nobody's trumpeting the fact that Saddam Hussein's not such a great guy himself." The statement takes me by surprise. We are walking on a side street and my spouse and I are remarking on a spraypainted "Bush is a serial killer" sign. The retort comes from our for-the-moment traveling companion, a New York woman who is staying in Spain to learn flamenco dancing. My food coma dictated that I let her comment slide for the moment, though its patent absurdity ("Read a newspaper lately? Lots of people seems to have bad things to say about Saddam Hussein.") certainly deserves a response. One finds similar comments on an almost daily basis on the op-ed pages of the New York Times and in the mouths of whatever talking head appears on television. The protesters will carry Free Palestine signs, why will they not carry Free Iraq signs? Are they in favor of Hussein, who is clearly "not such a great guy"?

Well, I agree. It is time to change all that. Someone's got to say it on the left, so I'll say it for the record. Free the people of Iraq!

Thing is, I have never heard of a campaign to liberate a people that involves bombing that people until their well-fortified leader comes out of his barricade and gives himself up. On that score alone, the Bush strategy seems counterintuitive. If our goal is really to liberate the people of Iraq from the oppressive grip of poverty, hunger, and disempowerment, and install an Iraqi democracy, then I have a much better program:

1.         Lift sanctions. This act alone will free Iraqi citizens from the continued economic hardships they've endured. Sanctions hurt only the people who don't have power: as a recent Harper's article showed, the Iraqi elite continues to lead a life of comfort and luxury while the sanctions kill (based on UN estimates) hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.

2.        Using the money we would have spent on military action, put together a multinational incentive-based aid package to rebuild the nation's infrastructure and increase literacy to pre-Gulf-War levels.

3.        Wait ten years or so. Unlike war, peace can take a little time.

Let us see what a well-educated, well-fed Iraqi population thinks of its despotic leader. Remember, the USSR fell apart once things started to get a little better for its people. This is a recurring pattern in world history: people rise up against a hated government not when they are at their most desperate, but after they get a little hope.

So this is my plan and I stand behind it: lift sanctions, build an incentive-based aid package, and sit back and watch.

As for any concerns you have about weapons of mass destruction, I feel your pain. So does Bush. In fact, he's proposed a plan a little like this one to deal with North Korea's rogue nuclear program. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Free the people of Iraq!

Jonathan Sterne teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and is a member of the Bad Subjects Production Team.

Copyright © 2003 by Jonathan Sterne. All rights reserved.

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