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Dear Minority Leader Daschle and Minority Leader Pelosi:
President Bush is on the verge of taking the United States into a costly preemptive war, against an enemy widely viewed as posing no imminent or direct threat to our nation or allies, despite the nonviolent alternative of relying on continued and expanded UN-backed inspections. He seems bent on a war, fraught with short- and long-term global risks, without support from long-time international allies, in violation of international law, and without a Congressional declaration of war required by our Constitution.
Moreover, he does so despite the grave dangers his actions provoke — not just to the children and people of Iraq, who are sure to suffer thousands and perhaps many more deaths, injuries and toxic sickness — but to the United States and its international standing in world affairs. These include:
* The heightened risk of terrorism on U.S. soil and against U.S. citizens in foreign countries;
* The risk of serious casualties for our soldiers, including toxic illness as in the first Gulf War and, in Mr. Bush’s view, possible exposure to chemical and biological weapons for which official U.S. army audits say they are inadequately trained and ill-equipped;
* A draining of the federal budget to pay the enormous costs of war and occupation, at the expense of existing critical domestic and international programs and the daily health and safety of the American people.
* A diversion away from the struggle against stateless terrorism which has concerned many former national security specialists, including General Anthony Zinni and the first President Bush’s National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.
Confronted with a President who has made clear for months an intention to drive his manufactured crisis to war with a surrounded, weakened, watched and inspected Iraqi regime, Congressional Democrats have been divided, and the party leadership has declined to criticize the President directly and on the core issue of the dangerous rush to invasion. Mr. Bush, as a consequence, has had a virtually unrebutted propaganda barrage to the public through the mass media before and after the November 2002 elections. This must be the first unilateral war in American history driven by a covey of chickenhawks in and around the Presidency and opposed by many ex-military, ex-diplomatic, ex-intelligence leaders who are speaking also for muffled dissenters in the U.S. military and intelligence agencies.
Now, in the remaining days before the outbreak of war, is the time for the Democratic Party’s leaders to declare that while you of course support the troops and hope to minimize all dangers they face, that you oppose the President’s dangerous, illegal and immoral war-invasion and occupation. The nation will surely rally around the troops once hostilities break out, but this war, its Presidential promoter, and especially its festering aftermath will feed public dismay and disillusionment. The citizenry will want to know not just who criticizes the inevitable problems after they emerge, but who had the foresight and courage to identify the risks in advance and counsel a more prudent path in our country’s best interests.
I urge you to meet this challenge. Forcefully and clearly declare your opposition to the President’s present war path. Not only is it the right course of action, but history, and this nation’s citizens, will judge you kindly for offering a more sensible and peaceful alternative: containment, deterrence, UN inspections and doing what the early 2001 Bush administration once favored — tightening military sanctions while easing the economic sanctions that have caused untold suffering for the Iraqi people.
RALPH NADER is America’s leading consumer advocate. He is the founder of numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen, and has twice run for President as a Green Party candidate. His latest book is Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President (St. Martin’s Press, 2002)