We are now clearly on the path to war, and neither side is blinking. The momentum toward destruction is gaining speed, and dangerous brinkmanship seems to be the operative policy of the conflicting parties as deadly deadlines draw near. George Bush and Saddam Hussein may well be seriously miscalculating each other's resolve and intentions in a high-stakes game of "chicken" to see who will back down first.
I returned from a weeklong visit to the Middle East, including time in Iraq, with both an ominous sense of impending confrontation and an even clearer picture of what a peaceful resolution of this conflict could look like. But during the time of our pilgrimage for peace, undertaken by 18 U.S. church leaders just before Christmas, it was readily apparent that neither Washington nor Baghdad was much interested in talking. Haggling over dates for meeting dominated the news, while the growing prospect of catastrophic war hung over the world like the Sword of Damocles.
The irony and promise of Christmas carols over the radio accompanied us throughout our ecumenical journey, which took members of our delegation first to Cyprus and then, in smaller groups, to Jerusalem, Beirut and Damascus, Amman and Baghdad. Our invitation came from the Middle East Council of Churches, whose members served as our gracious hosts in each place, and was coordinated by the National Council of Churches in the United States.
I was a member of the group that went first to Amman, Jordan, and then to Iraq. The sword of war hanging over us became frighteningly visual one day in Baghdad.
We were taken to a huge parade grounds, with stadium-like reviewing stands overlooking an expanse wide enough for more than 100 vehicles across, and at least half a mile long. At each end is an identical "gate" of enormous crossed swords, extending 100 feet toward the sky. Each sword is held in a giant hand -- the hands of Saddam," explained our young interpreter.