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War, Peace and Tourism

By Frank Gruber

When people ask me if I'm against the oncoming war in Iraq, I have to ask first, which war?

A unilateral, preemptive strike by the United States, without having persuaded anyone that Iraq has weapons that threaten us or its neighbors, with no plan for what to do with Iraq afterwards? (War #1.)

Or a war under the auspices of the United Nations, against a proven international outlaw, with an international commitment to follow through with Iraq's reconstruction, after having exhausted all peaceful alternatives? (War #2.)

I'm absolutely against War #1, but would I be in favor of War #2? Probably, although it doesn't look like I'll get a chance to support War #2, since War #1 is looking so likely.

Last week, a five member majority of the Santa Monica City Council passed a resolution opposing a war in Iraq, but they were not exact about which one. Or, rather, they were clear that they were against War #1, but they were vague about War #2.

The title of the resolution was "Resolution of the City Council of Santa Monica Opposing United States Preemptive Military Action Against Iraq," implying that the City Council might support other than preemptive military action, and some of the council-members who voted for the resolution made it clear that they were only, at this time, opposing a unilateral war.

However, when it came to the substance of the resolution, the "Be It Resolved" part, the council specifically declared its support for something called "House Concurrent Resolution 473." Council-member Pam O'Connor, who ultimately dissented from the resolution, asked that someone tell her what HCR 473 was, before she voted, but no one did.

In fact, HCR 473 was an alternative Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland proposed last September to the resolution Congress ultimately adopted authorizing President Bush's war-making powers.

The operative language of HCR 473 called on the U.S. to "work through the United Nations to seek to resolve the matter of ensuring that Iraq is not developing weapons of mass destruction, through mechanisms such as the resumption of weapons inspections, negotiation, enquiry, mediation, regional arrangements, and other peaceful means." See http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c107:H.CON.RES.473:

HCR 473, if it had passed, would have directed the administration to work through the U.N., but would not have authorized any alternatives that involved military force -- U.N. authorized or not.

Ironically, the Bush administration did go to the U.N. as Rep. Lee had suggested, "to seek to resolve the matter of ensuring that Iraq is not developing weapons of mass destruction." As a result, in November, two months after HCR 473 was buried in committee, the Security Council passed Resolution 1441, under which weapons inspections did indeed resume.

In other words, the City Council was so conscientious about opposing the war that it passed a resolution in support of a "House Concurrent Resolution" that was long out of date. (If council members had kept up with Rep. Lee, they might have known that on Feb. 5 she co-sponsored legislation to repeal Congress's authorization of the war. See http://www.house.gov/lee/releases/03Feb05.htm

But the City Council's conscientiousness doesn't end there. The Council resolution, which Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown brought to the table, goes on to misstate HCR 473. According to the resolution, HCR 473 calls "for the United States to work through the United Nations to renew arms inspection, assure Iraqi compliance with United Nations Resolutions, [and] oppose unprovoked unilateral first-strike military action."

That's not what HCR 473 says. Compared to Rep. Lee's original, the HCR 473 described in City Council's resolution is more "hawkish," as according to City Council, HCR 473 expresses the desire that the U.N. assure Iraqi compliance, and only opposes "unprovoked unilateral" military action. The real HCR 473 contains no military option.

Perhaps this mischaracterization of HCR 473 means the City Council would support a War #2 after all. We may never know.

* * *

Although they were not serious enough about what they were doing to learn the meaning of the words of the resolution they were voting on, the five council-members who supported the no war resolution, as well as most of the members of the public who spoke on it, spent considerable time on the question whether the resolution had local relevance.

This was an unseemly trivialization of the issue. It was also unnecessary

Notwithstanding its usual hesitancy in taking positions on foreign policy, the majority of five justified taking a vote on the war because the "community," including, most importantly for Herb Katz, high school students, brought the issue to the Council, and because, according to the language of the resolution and testimony of many members of the public, "war would likely result in a loss of visitor and tourist dollars, an important source of Santa Monica City revenue."

Gee. What if you couldn't end slavery or defend civilization in Europe or get the Japanese out of China or stop ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo without hurting tourism?

Alternatively, if Santa Monica were still the arsenal of democracy it was 60 years ago -- should we favor a war because it would be good for the local economy?

It's not that the war isn't relevant to Santa Monica, it's that Santa Monica's local concerns are irrelevant to the war.

But then one knew the issue wasn't really local, because there was no "process." It may take three years and countless meetings for the City to approve construction of an apartment building, but it takes only about an hour's debate at midnight -- on a council member's item without even a staff report -- to tell the world what to do about war and peace.

This bootstrapping was unnecessary. Attorney Chris Harding had it right. He supported the resolution, but admitted that the issue is not local. But sometimes, he said, you have to make an exception. I agree. The war is a big issue -- bigger than other foreign policy issues the City has in the past properly declined to address.

We don't need to stretch to find a local connection to discuss an issue vital to all Americans -- we are Americans, and local government has a natural role to help organize the expression of public opinion and make sure we act as and remain a community in bad times as well as good.

I don't object to the vote, but if you're going to participate in the national debate, be serious about it. There was nothing "progressive" about the City Council's cavalier actions Tuesday night -- instead, they contributed to the impression that people who call themselves progressive are incapable of articulating a foreign policy beyond wishful thinking. Even Ken Genser admitted he felt a "little silly" -- as well he should have.

Memo to Herb Katz: we don't let high school students vote for a reason.

The City Council's role would have been better served by holding a real town meeting, and if after that meeting the council felt that it could craft a resolution -- rather than mangle one from Rep. Lee -- that reflected the sense of opinion in Santa Monica, then, great, go ahead and do it.

* * *

A week or so ago there was a flap because someone at the U.N., so as not to have distasteful background images of wartime suffering embarrass the American diplomats arguing for war, covered the reproduction of Picasso's "Guernica" that hangs in the lobby of the Security Council.

To me, nothing showed the emptiness of the Bush strategy more than this, although not for the reasons you might expect.

I grew up in a left-wing, anti-Fascist household, in which the guiding principle for foreign policy was that in 1936 the western democracies failed when Hitler and Mussolini battle tested their weapons in Guernica. How many times did I hear my father say, "If we had gone to war in 1936 in Spain, then ..."

If the administration has proof that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, or that Saddam Hussein is conspiring with Al Qaeda to attack us, then Colin Powell should be shining a searchlight on Picasso's painting, not covering it up.

Yet if the Security Council finds that Iraq has not disarmed, and if the Security Council has no peaceful means of ensuring compliance with its resolutions, and if the Security Council then authorizes military action, then there will be nothing immoral, or imperialistic, or racist in the world community joining together to rid itself and the Iraqis of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein, who has wantonly attacked the sovereign nations of Iran, Kuwait, and Israel; as well as Iraq's own populations of Kurds, Shi'ites, and the so-called "marsh people."

And if that happens, I hope someone brings a resolution to the Santa Monica City Council in support.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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