As the US death count in Iraq approaches 600 and the number of injured and evacuated nears 10,000, Rhode Island peace advocates and the stateís two anti-war senators disagree on how to extract the US from the Middle Eastern country.
Greg Gerritt, secretary of the Green Party of Rhode Island, and Michael Shaw, co-coordinator of the Providence ANSWER, both say the US should withdraw its troops immediately. "Iíd withdraw them today," says Gerritt, "I donít see them contributing anything except making things worse."
But others who opposed the war, including US Senators Jack Reed and Lincoln Chafee, say more troops are needed to maintain order. "I opposed the war, but now weíre there," says Chafee, adding, "I do think itís going to take more soldiers." Says Reed, "We need more troops there," and he believes the US armed forces should be expanded to provide a fair rotation of military units through Iraq. Withdrawal, adds Reed, "probably makes it much worse," by creating a power vacuum and signaling that the US will abandon military efforts when faced with casualties.
Many Rhode Island peace activists want the United Nations to oversee the US occupation. Anna Galland, program director of the American Friends Service Committee in southeastern New England, says the US should not abandon Iraq, but "the Pentagon canít be the one making all the decisions." Unless the US military is under UN supervision, she says, the Iraqi Governing Council and any future Iraqi government will lack legitimacy. She points to past US involvement in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Vietnam, and Cambodia in arguing that the US has a dismal record of trying to create democratic governments. Chafee also wants greater involvement from other countries, but warns, "Itís going to be difficult to enlist their aid because of past transgression [by the US]. Their voices werenít listened to."
Neta Crawford, associate professor at Brown Universityís Watson Institute for International Studies and an opponent of the war, also backs more troops to provide security for rebuilding efforts. And she shares Gallandís belief that US efforts need international oversight to become more legitimate. Otherwise, she warns, a new Iraqi government will appear to be a figurehead for the US, especially if it is chosen through a caucus system rather than the direct elections demanded by some Shiite leaders. It is ironic, she notes, that the US fears the consequences of direct elections.
Reed is also critical of Bushís plan to create an Iraqi government by July without direct elections. Fearing American voter backlash for growing casualties and increased military budgets, he charges that Bush crafted the plan to form a provisional government by summer. "To create a stable democratic government," Reed states, "thatís a multi-year process." Unless it is changed, Reed predicts, the Bush process will produce either a government that requires US support to stay in power or a government the US does not like.
Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also essential to create stability in Iraq, states Chafee. Recalling graffiti he saw during an October visit to Iraq, he says US opponents use the Palestinian situation to win supporters.
Meanwhile, back in the US, peace activists are calling for a debate over Bushís new foreign policy of preemptive strike and unilateralism. Galland wants the US sanctioned by the World Court or the UN for invading without the support of international law. And Gerritt suggests that during Saddam Husseinís trial, the presidentís father, former president George H.W. Bush, should be subpoenaed to explain US weapon shipments to the dictator during the 1980s Iran-Iraq War.
Issue Date: January 30 - February 5. 2004
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