Topple a Tyrant, Protect the Innocent

In November, once again, Iraq responded to a military threat and signaled that it would allow U.N. weapons inspectors to resume their work. This was heartening news. But we've been down this road before. The possibility remains that sooner or later Saddam Hussein will resume his games of hide-and-seek, leading us to threaten more massive air strikes against Iraq.

We know from past experience that cruise missiles and smart bombs will never destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, nor will they remove Saddam from power. And let's be honest: There is no such thing as a "safe" war or a "clean" military strike. Civilians, often children, usually pay the biggest price for war, and they will again. Isn't it time for a new way of thinking about how to deal with Saddam?

I remember traveling to Baghdad on the eve of the 1991 Gulf war as part of a delegation of American religious leaders who challenged Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait before the bombs began to fall. We had hoped that the Iraqi tyrant might make some concessions to religious leaders that he was unwilling to make to NATO or to George Bush. Make a gesture of peace to religious leaders to prevent untold suffering for your people—that's the way our argument went.

Our delegation met with several of Saddam's cabinet members, who privately told us they wished their leader would make such concessions and forestall the war. But Saddam Hussein would have no part of it. He wanted to call America's bluff. I think he wanted the war. The result was 100,000 Iraqi casualties, many of them civilians.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1999
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