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chairman, Defense Advisory Board

An Open Letter to Richard Perle

by Kathy Kelly

director Voices in the Wilderness

Dear Mr. Perle,

I am writing to you from a faraway land, Iraq, and yet I sense we are not remote from one another. Perhaps you are thinking every day of the cities I’ve visited this last month: Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul. Be assured that I am thinking, every day, about the recommendations that you and your colleagues make as you urge President Bush to show strength, courage, and vitality by intensifying U.S. warfare in Iraq.

I recently watched children dance and sing and play at the Baghdad school for Music and Ballet. One little girl played the piano, another the violin. Young Ibrahim sang an Arabic translation of a song you may know, based on a melody composed by Jean Sibelius. The lyrics were written in the 1930s during the brief outbreak of peace between world war. “This Is My Song” expresses hopes for peace among people who hold in common a deep, true love of their homeland. Another little boy showed me a drawing he made of 9-11, twin pillars of fire and smoke. He said he felt bad about the attacks, but added that he doesn’t think Americans understand what happens to other people when they’re hit by American bombs.

After Christmas, you wrote a rosy scenario for the New York Times entitled “The U.S. Must Strike at Saddam Hussein,” (12/28). In it, the U.S. attacks Iraq with extraordinary precision. In the cross hairs of a gunsight appears the only Iraqi who seems to matter to American policymakers, Saddam Hussein. After U.S. forces for good eliminate the evil leader, Iraqis take to the streets, dancing, and we all rejoice the outbreak of peace.

However, the fantasy reveals more about America than it does about Iraq. It’s easy to imagine the crowds that would tear down pictures of Hussein or topple statues of him. Reporters in Kabul found some Afghans dancing when the Taliban fell, and shaving their beards or removing their burkas. But what about the Afghans who huddle now in fear of Northern Alliance warlords, or who quietly starve due to the physical and social chaos war has brought? Survivors who’ve seen their villages obliterated by U.S. bombs aren’t joyous. Beyond the fanfare of the media, refugee families are even now dying in the snow.

Mr. Perle, you work with complex issues and must know the pitfalls of over-simplifying the realities of other peoples. Your plea for war ignores the future horrors the horror of war may bring. If Iraq collapses in civil war, where would the bloodletting stop?

Increased belligerence does not address a solution to the complex and lethal problems that have already arisen because of current U.S. policy. Whatever the future, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children will never celebrate it. They are already dead. Economic warfare, waged through sanctions, claimed the lives of these innocents.

Will their parents blithely overcome the sorrow they felt when they couldn’t obtain the medicines they needed? Will the liberation you envision erase the pain they felt when they gave their children poisoned water and watched them succumb to sicknesses? Will the doctors who struggled vainly to heal them jump for joy if Iraq is again attacked?

Teachers, writers, engineers and civil servants who’ve lost their savings, sold their belongings, and eked out a living on paltry wages aren’t likely to rejoice if the U.S. again bombs the debilitated infrastructure they’ve tried mightily to restore.

Across Iraq, people ask us why Americans want to punish them even more. For 11 years they’ve been told sanctions were a “peaceful” alternative to war, and now they’re told war is the solution to the suffering of sanctions. In a twisted way the message is at least consistent: to please remember that they’re better off dead.

Remarkably, children here seem very ready to believe that Americans can be kind and just. Like children everywhere they are full of curiosity and show easy affection. In their laughter and hopes rest my hopes for a peaceful world.

Please, Mr. Perle, when you preach that no war against terrorism will be successful without Saddam Hussein’s removal, try also to remember other terrors inflicted on these people over the last 11 years of our “assistance.”

I feel sure that you care deeply about America’s national security. Placing our trust in developing, stockpiling and using overpowering and costly weapons has not enhanced that security. We must open our hearts to the cries of people across the world who feel we treat them as dust beneath our feet.

At its core, war is impoverishment. War’s genesis and ultimate end is in the poverty of our hearts. If we can realize that the world’s liberation begins within those troubled hearts, then we may yet find peace, and a renewal of the courage and vitality you so passionately desire.

Kathy Kelly is director of Voices in the Wilderness, the first U.S. grassroots organization to bring activists into Iraq to witness the effect of sanctions, to violate the sanctions by bringing medicine and toys into Iraq, and to educate the U.S. public upon their return.