Alternatives to War

by REP. BARBARA LEE

Our nation is today on the verge of going to war against Iraq. In a rush to launch a first strike, we risk destabilizing the Middle East and setting an international precedent that could come back to haunt us all. President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emption violates international law, the charter of the United Nations and our own long-term security interests. It forecloses alternatives to war before we have even tried to pursue them.

The president has submitted a resolution to Congress seeking a proverbial blank check to wage war against Iraq using “all means.” Just two weeks ago, he went to the United Nations and called on that organization to prove its relevancy by ensuring Iraq’s disarmament. But he has undermined the United Nation’s chances to succeed, first by issuing it an ultimatum and now by asking Congress for a use-of-force resolution that distorts the language of the U.N. charter, supports a pre-emptive strike by the United States and ignores the grave security risks posed by such an approach.

The president has told us that we must attack Iraq because our nation is in imminent danger from Saddam Hussein. We have received no proof of immediate danger, and scant evidence that Iraq has the means or intent to use weapons of mass destruction against us. We have not been told why the danger is greater today than it was a year or two ago or why we must rush to war rather than pursuing other options. We have not given the United Nations time to try to reach diplomatic solutions.

We do know that virtually all of our allies are strongly opposed to a first strike by the United States. Statesmen such as Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela have beseeched us to turn away from this disastrous course. The majority of the world is opposed to forced regime change.

We all agree that the world would be better off without Hussein in power, but we would be better off still if we eliminate weapons of mass destruction from the entire world.

President Bush has asked Congress to provide him with “all means that he determines to be appropriate including force” to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions against Iraq. This resolution is based on the false assumption that we have no other options; it also falls short of a fundamental constitutional standard — an actual declaration of war. Furthermore, the resolution is misleading: While it includes language from the U.N. charter acknowledging the right to national self-defense, it deliberately omits the charter’s next crucial words: “if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations.”

The desire to rush to war glides over the tremendous costs and risks involved, including the dangers for American servicemen and women and for Iraqi civilians, as well as the potential destabilization of the Middle East. War would likely derail any chance at a Palestinian-Israeli agreement, while trampling international law and U.N. principles and setting a terrible international precedent. It would also sidetrack efforts to prevent terrorism. Moreover, it would divert some $200 billion from our own profound domestic needs, including health care, prescription drugs, education and homeland security.

This is a price we do not have to pay. There are viable and more effective alternatives. For these reasons, I have introduced House Concurrent Resolution 473, which urges the United States to re-engage the diplomatic process and stresses our government’s commitment to the U.N. inspections process. Containment and inspections have worked and can work in the future.

President Bush called on the United Nations to assume its responsibilities. I call on the United States to assume ours by working with the United Nations to ensure that Iraq is not developing weapons of mass destruction by utilizing mechanisms such as the resumption of arms inspections, negotiation, regional cooperation and other diplomatic means.

Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, has represented the East Bay in Congress since 1998. She has voted against using force in international conflicts, at least twice as a lone dissenter — in last year’s anti-terrorist authorization and in 1999, when the House approved the bombing of Serbia.

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