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Elias Amidon on How to Stop Saddam


Elias Amidon is an American who has travelled frequently to Baghdad as a peace-promoting citizen diplomat. His "Letters from the Road" chronicle his journeys, thoughts and feelings. His specific plan follows his intriguing reflections about where the crisis came from.


7 MARCH 2003

What About Saddam?

A couple of days after we got back from Iraq we were on a Denver "drive
time" AM radio program speaking about our experiences. It was a call-in
show, and the telephone lines were full, about equally divided between
people who thought we were saints and people who thought we were traitors.
One man in particular was quite agitated, blasting us for being dupes of
Saddam and shouting, "You peaceniks are so naïve! You say Saddam is a bad
guy, but if you had your way we'd just pack up and go home and let him go on
killing and torturing the Iraqi people!"

I tried to respond to this man, but after a half sentence he interrupted
with another angry retort. This kept happening until the show host turned
off the man's line. It was especially frustrating to me because there IS an
answer to this charge, even though it may not lend itself to being shouted
in a sound bite. In fact, shouting anything is pointless; too many of the
"dialogues" between pro- and anti-war people are good examples of how
difficult it is for people of different views to listen to each other.

So if we try to really listen to the angry man on the call-in show, what can
we hear? Yes, we hear his fear, his anger at us, his categorical and
polarizing statements, his carelessness with facts, but what else? We can
hear his compassion. He bases his viewpoint on the same thing we do, his
compassion for the suffering of the Iraqi people. He wants to free them from
the control of a ruthless dictator. Fair enough.

"Well?" says our angry friend, "What about Saddam? What would you peaceniks
do to get rid of him?" It's nice to be offered the opportunity, even
hypothetically, to suggest non-violent approaches to the current impasse,
but let's remember one thing first: the current impasse has been created
over the last few decades in large part by people motivated by self-interest
and who believe in and use violence as one of the primary tools for
addressing conflicts. For them to challenge advocates of non-violence with
"what would you do now?" is a little like a cook, who, having burned the
soup, asks another cook to fix it. The soup is burned! It was burned by
thousands of large and small decisions over the years pursuing our perceived
self-interest rather than our common interests; it was burned by American
and British firms selling anthrax and chemical weapons plants to Saddam; it
was burned by 12 years of murderous sanctions that resulted in the deaths of
500,000 children from water-borne diseases; it was burned by the five
permanent U.N. Security Council members being responsible for 85% of the
world's arm trade; it was burned by the failure of the U.S. government to
understand that our own well-being depends upon the well-being of all our
neighbors, friends and foes alike.

If we "peaceniks" are given the chance to do something about the Saddams of
this world, let's also demand the chance to do something about their
creation. If "we" sat at the helm of the world's sole superpower, how much
could be done! "In order to bring about radical change in current unilateral
tendencies," writes Frederico Mayor, former Director-General of UNESCO,

"there is a need to consolidate an ethical and legal framework that can
offer the world's peoples hope of human dignity on a global scale, in a
multilateral context. the U.N. system needs to be fortified and
democratised in order to perform fully the functions entrusted to it in the
Charter There is an urgent need to hold a General Assembly on peace,
justice, and security, in order to establish legal and ethical frameworks
and punitive mechanisms for transgressors, and thus reduce the possibilities
for isolated fanatical terrorist groups, and to increase international
cooperation promises. It is not war but international justice and
well-coordinated international cooperation that will substantially reduce
many imbalances on a global scale and lay the foundations for just and
lasting peace."

The point is, eliminating the Saddams of this world requires a radical
change in the way we do politics. It requires pre-emptive peacemaking,
rather than simply reacting to threats as they occur. (For more in this
vein, see the last part of letter #6, "Letter to a Warrior" at

As for stopping this particular Saddam, there are a number of options open
to us if we used our imagination. The following suggestions are from a mix
of sources, including Scilla Elworthy of the Oxford Research Group, Mary
Kaldor, anti-nuclear activist, Said Aburish, author, Jonathan Freedland of
the Guardian, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear
War, plus conversations with peace advocates in the U.S., Europe, Syria,
Jordan, and Iraq. These options do not represent a phased process or unified
proposal, rather they illustrate the range of alternatives available short
of invasion.

How to stop Saddam:

Yes, these options do include the threat of force, and, in extremis, the
willingness to use it judiciously. The point is often made that the weapons
inspections would not have restarted without the threat of force. That may
be, but this is an endgame, a situation where the soup is already burned.
There were many choice points in the past where this outcome could have been
avoided. In addition, if a morally consistent policy had been pursued from
the beginning, other nations would be much more willing now to trust our
intentions and to join a military coalition if that was still necessary.

Then with the threat of a U.S., or better, U.N.-led invasion on one side,
and enticements like an immediate end to sanctions and a multi-billion
dollar aid program on the other, this formula for non-violent change would
be difficult for the Iraqis to refuse. Giving Saddam a respectful way out,
while unpalatable to some, must be balanced against the danger to thousands
of innocent people if he stays and war breaks out.

Until options like these are given a try, the U.S. and Britain cannot claim
that "all other means" have been exhausted. If they are tried and they fail,
then the community of nations could launch an invasion of Iraq if they
decide that's the wisest course at the time. But not until.