TOPICS > Politics

Protesting War

January 17, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Fallout continued today from yesterday’s discovery in Iraq of rocket warheads that could be used to deliver chemical weapons. We have more from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The prime minister was briefed by the chief weapons inspector at Chequers this afternoon. Hans Blix has seen American and European leaders now and will be delivering a strong message when he returns to Baghdad this weekend. One of the main issues is the inspectors’ discovery yesterday of 11 warheads designed for chemical agents. Earlier, Mr. Blix was in Paris, calling on Iraq to prove they’ve destroyed their stocks of chemical and biological weapons.

HANS BLIX: There are two ways of this, one was the one we represent; namely, disarmament through inspection, not inspection for the sake of inspection but inspection for the sake of disarmament. And we feel that we need a more sincere and more proactive, to use the modern word, cooperation from the Iraqi side.

LINDSEY HILSUM: To the Americans, such talk means inspections aren’t working, time is running out. But the French say it proves the inspectors need more time.

PRESIDENT JACQUES CHIRAC (Translated): The inspectors have asked for more time. Both Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei told me that. I think it is only wise for us to agree to this request for more time, to work to bring about a more detailed response.

LINDSEY HILSUM: In Iraq, they’ve been marking the anniversary of the last Gulf War. These men are expected to fight on the streets of Baghdad. Even Iraqi journalists were called on to the streets to prove their loyalty while the president said the Americans would meet the same fate as invaders of ancient times.

PRESIDENT SADDAM HUSSEIN (Translated): The people and rulers of Baghdad have resolved to force the mongrels of this age to commit suicide on its walls.

LINDSEY HILSUM: There was also a small anti-war demonstration in Bahrain where the American naval forces will be based in the event of war. Reports have emerged that Arab leaders are trying to persuade Saddam Hussein into exile or tempt his henchmen into staging a coup. More demonstrations, these in Turkey — next week Middle Eastern leaders will meet in Ankara. Officials deny they’re offering exile to Saddam or pushing for a coup, but it is clear Iraq’s neighbors know they must do something if they’re to avert a war they believe will destabilize the entire region.

MARGARET WARNER: There are additional anti-war protests planned this weekend in 25 countries abroad, as well as in Washington and San Francisco. Separately, a new poll shows a majority of Americans support going to war only under certain conditions. A poll by the Pew Research Center for the Public and the Press found, 76 percent of Americans favor using military force if U.N. Inspectors find Iraq is hiding banned weapons, but only 29 percent support force if no such weapons are found– even if Iraq can’t prove it’s destroyed all its weapons. And while two thirds of Americans support military force if U.S. allies join., only one quarter favor war if the U.S. goes it alone. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked today if the president was troubled by signs of dissent in the protests or the polls.

ARI FLEISCHER: I’m not sure that it’s fair to say it’s sizable. I think it’s anybody’s guess. There are equal numbers of people who– larger number of people who, of course are very much in support of what the president is doing. I think the fact of the matter is most people who support what the president is doing are not going to take to the street for the sake of Saddam Hussein.

MARGARET WARNER: Now two perspectives on whether a war on Iraq is justified. Brian Becker is a an organizer and spokesman for the Answer Coalition, one of the groups organizing this weekend’s anti- war protests. Randy Scheunemann is president of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Until this year, he served as a consultant to the secretary of defense on Iraq policy. Welcome to you both. Brian Becker, why are you and your fellow demonstrators so opposed to this prospective war?

BRIAN BECKER: Well, hundreds of thousands of people will be in the streets tomorrow trying to preempt the preemptive war. The people of this country are skeptical; they’re apprehensive about the consequences of the war. And frankly many millions of people believe the government is not telling the truth. They do not believe that Iraq poses a grave and imminent danger to the United States, that in fact this is a pretext designed to carry out an unstated but preplanned war policy with other goals in mind and it is not about disarmament; it’s about the reconquest of this oil rich region. That’s why people are saying it is not enough to send our sons and daughters to shed their blood or to kill others for the interest of big oil.

MARGARET WARNER: Not about disarmament but about big oil?

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: No, it’s actually not about disarmament; it’s about liberalization, because there’s no way Saddam Hussein is going to voluntarily disarm. There is nothing in the record of the last 12 years to see that he will. And, in fact, there is a strategic threat because of the threat of Saddam Hussein and there is also a moral case, because of the horrible things that Saddam Hussein has done to the Iraqi people in his 20-year dictatorship.

MARGARET WARNER: You each raised different issues, so I’m going to try to get you each to respond to the one the other raised. Let me ask you about Mr. Sheunemann’s point, first of all about human rights abuses. This is one of the points that the president has also talked about, that Saddam Hussein abuses his people and that someone has to liberate them.

BRIAN BECKER: Well, if the criteria for U.S. military invasion, especially preemptive war was to attack governments that had bad human rights records, the United States would be at war ceaselessly all around the world. The United States government’s policy and policy on regime change also has to be looked at. The United States government overthrew the Allende government in Chile, for instance, in 1973, a democratically elected government and we got Gen. Pinochet. They got rid of the democratically elected government in Guatemala because he nationalized United Fruit Company, and we got a death squad government. The policy of regime change is largely based on what U.S.-geostrategic interests are, not about human rights.

MARGARET WARNER: What about the point that if our test were leaders that abuse their people, we would be in a lot of other conflicts?

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: There are many, many countries that abuse their people but there are very few countries that reach the scale of genocide against their own people as Saddam Hussein has against the Kurdish population in the North and the Marsh Arabs in the South. In the words of Max Vanderstoll, the former U.N. human rights reporter for Iraq, the crimes committed by the Saddam Hussein regime are the worst he has seen in the world since the end of World War II. It is a very different case qualitatively and quantitatively from literally any other regime in the world.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you, Mr. Sheunemann about a point Mr. Becker raised about U.S. Oil interests. There are many people, if the polls are to be believed and certainly many in Europe and the Middle East who think that it is no accident that Iraq has sizable oil reserves. U.S. interest in it, there is no accident.

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: Sure.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying you don’t think that’s a factor at all?

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: I think if oil were a factor in our policy, we would follow a policy followed by France and Russia for many years; that is cut deals with Saddam Hussein, sign contracts and lift the sanctions. If our interests were greater access to Iraqi oil, we could cut a deal tomorrow and lift sanctions. Clearly the interest is not oil because we are taking tremendous risk to liberate the Iraqi people that could involve damage to the oil fields much as Saddam Hussein did when he left Kuwait before we liberated Kuawit in 1991.

MARGARET WARNER: If the U.S. wanted access to Iraqi oil there, would be an easier way, wouldn’t there?

BRIAN BECKER: This is not about access to oil. This is about control of oil. This is about the domination of a region where two-thirds of the world’s known oil reserves are. Iraq was first placed on the terrorist nations list in 1972 when it dared the nationalized western oil companies. That’s when Iraq really became in the crosshairs of western interest. Then the United States found it convenient to use the Saddam Hussein regime, including Donald Rumsfeld, who is Reagan’s personal envoy to the Middle East and who met with Saddam Hussein at the time that the weapons of mass destruction were actually used during the Iran-Iraq war. The United States has cynically manipulated the issue of disarmament. What is really behind it is control. Not access of oil but control of oil and oil profits which, in the past, before this era, constituted a huge part of the foreign policy– foreign investment profits for oil companies and for big banks in America.

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: Well, I think if the argument is that we followed some wrong policies toward Iraq in the past, it may be one of the few things we can agree on. But what our policy over the last 20 years spanning four administrations demonstrates, is we have tried every option with Iraq. We have tried accommodation. We tried limited war in liberating Kuwait. We tried sanctions, we tried coercive arms controls and inspections and containment, and all have failed. He is still in power, slaughtering his own people and developing weapons of mass destruction to threaten his neighbors.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Mr. Becker. Now, address the weapons of mass destruction issue which right now seems to be front and center in this whole debate about whether to go to war or whether the inspections are working. Are you saying that you don’t think the weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s pursuit of them is a legitimate issue, or is something that the U.S. should be concerned about?

BRIAN BECKER: I think it is nonsense. I don’t think Iraq poses a grave and imminent danger to the United States. Even its neighbors Saudi Arabia and the other Arab countries don’t want this war. They would be the ones most threatened supposedly. The United States government has eleven to thirteen thousand nuclear weapons and continues to build nuclear weapons. The Iraqis have suffered from 11 years of economic sanctions that according to the U.N.’s own statistics have killed more than a million civilians. Economic sanctions are a weapon of mass destruction. Americans have to face the fact that this government, speaking in our name, has carried out a policy that’s slaughtered innocent Iraqis. We have to stop that. We have to end the sanctions on Iraq, stop bombing that country. Every day Iraq is bombed by the United States, not the other way around.

MARGARET WARNER: Two points there: First on the weapons of mass destruction.

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: On the weapons of mass destruction, there is no doubt Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. He has used them in the past against his own people, against his neighbors. And in fact, yesterday, demonstrates that Saddam Hussein meets the criteria that the Pew poll did, 76 percent of the American people that he is hiding weapons of mass destruction.

MARGARET WARNER: What about Mr. Becker’s point, why are Saddam Hussein’s neighbors against this war?

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: Well, I’m not sure it is true to say they’re against this war. And as often when you’re a front line state facing someone with a demonstrated record of invading had his neighbors, have you to be very careful what you say in public versus what you say in private. I think they’re very much in favor of this war if we go in once and for all and finish the job of, instead of launching Cruise missiles and pin prick attacks but end the Saddam Hussein regime and liberate the Iraqi people.

BRIAN BECKER: Well, it’s very easy to talk about pin prick attacks. It is not our homes that are being destroyed by Cruise missiles. The Iraqi people have suffered from thousands of bombs and million dollars since 1998. We have to hold this government accountable. We have to say to this government, we don’t want the money spent — billions of dollars spent to kill poor people in Iraq when the government says there is no money for jobs and education and housing. It’s our money and we have the right to say… and that’s what we are doing when we hit the streets tomorrow… we want to go in a different direction — we want peace with Iraq, not war with Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: Respond to Mr. Becker’s last two points about Iraq’s policy– the U.S. policy toward Iraq and damage to the Iraqi people.

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: It is not U.S. bombing of surface-to-air missile sites targeting our aircraft enforcing a U.N. no-fly zone killing Iraqi people. What is killing Iraqi people is Saddam Hussein. He has killed about a million of them. If you care about the Iraqi people, you care about ending that regime. Mr. Becker has never found an anti-American regime that he hasn’t found some reason to defend. He went to Pyongyang and denounced the United States for mercilessly killing innocent civilians. This is all part and parcel of the technique to attack America but I think the Iraqi people know the difference.

BRIAN BECKER: Not only did we go to North Korea but we went to South Korea and talked to many people who are upset with U.S. policy, very upset with the crimes that were committed by the United States forces and admitted during the Korean War. This is about taking control of this country and saying the Bush administration, and their cronies and corporate America don’t have the right to sends our sons and daughters to die and kill.

MARGARET WARNER: So let me ask a final quick question. How many people do you expect to turn out in San Francisco and Washington? Do you think this will affect the president, who really has the undisputed power, after the congressional resolution last fall, to make this ultimate decision?

BRIAN BECKER: Yes, Congress abrogated its responsibility, but hundreds of thousands of people are going to come into the streets. Bush is rushing to war not because of a military calculation but a political calculation. He wants to stop the antiwar movement from growing and growing and growing. We are in a race for time but trying as best we can to stop a war of aggression carried out in our name.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you see this anti-war movement growing? Do you think it will have any impact?

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: No. I’m pleased that they have a chance to protest and because we are not in a rush to war, this has taken months, more of a crawl to conflict, they have the opportunity to express their views. And I welcome their freedom and I look forward to the day when the Iraqi people have the same freedom to express their views in the streets of Baghdad.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen, thank you both.