Lutheran Peace Fellowship

President Bush, as a parent . . .
by Glen Gersmehl

I have been trying to teach my four-year-old about I money and responsibility. Every few weeks we visit a toy store or thrift shop where his budget is a dollar.

It took weeks for my son to grasp without fuss that he best ignore those eye-catching toys in the boxes the size of Rhode Island. He is also beginning to understand the mysteries of "Buy toy A, and you cannot also get toy B."

Mr. President, my parenting efforts recently came to mind with your 75 billion dollar Supplemental Budget Request to cover the initial costs of the war (to which Congress with little debate voted to add billions more).

But isn't waiting until now to consider the costs of the war a bit like my son handing me my empty wallet after the toy he wants is rung up?

It's not like we haven't asked, Mr. President. In your press conference nearly two weeks before the war began, a journalist reminded you of your frequent comments on respecting American citizens' ability to make their own choices about how to spend their money --- and since your advisors had surely estimated the cost of various Iraq War scenarios, when was that information going to be shared with the American public? You said "wait for the supplemental."

Didn't the journalist mean respecting American citizens enough to discuss potential costs beforehand, to help us make an informed decision about war? And while $75 billion is an enormous figure, that covers just 30 days of war and six months of reconstruction.

That's not all. Members of Congress report being told regularly that there isn't money for anything anymore --- like help for states about to eliminate crucial education and social programs. They're told the war with Iraq and tax cuts make such help impossible. We get the same story regarding assistance to address even basic needs of the environment, our economy, or such root causes of conflict in the world as extreme poverty and hunger.

I must tell you that my son has long since picked up the concept, "That's not fair!" He already grasps the rudiments of "We citizens have a right to know if war A means No to services B, C, D, E, and F." He'll soon have the math to comprehend what it means that A is a hundred times larger than B, C, and D combined.
Two months ago, David Corn observed: "If a doctor handed you a strong medication --- saying you had no choice but to swallow it --- but didn't talk to you about the host of new ailments and problems that might be caused by the medication, that would be irresponsible. Well, meet George Bush, M.D. He has been claiming the United States must take the most extreme measure --- war --- to keep itself safe and healthy. Yet he has refused to address the knotty post-op complications that will follow in the wake of war."

Corn's Nation magazine article concludes: "informed consent is not part of Bush's prewar plan . . . and that's dereliction of duty --- presidential malpractice."

There's more, Mr. President. What about the costs of a war considered to be unjust by leaders of nearly every major religious denomination in the U.S.? And don't forget the cost to our safety as war is likely to spark more terrorism and encourage prejudice and hostility.

And what about the costs to our soldiers and the Iraqi people of starting a war opposed by the great majority of people in all but one Arab country? In Gulf War I, tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers surrendered without a shot to a coalition that included many Arab countries. Now, many Iraqis see themselves as defending their homeland against the U.S. invader. Images of civilian casualties in the world's media are shocking to all who see them. Half the population of Iraq is under 18 --- like much of the world, I can't help but see my son in their eyes.

Now that war has started is it unpatriotic or too late to ask questions? Let me remind you of one of your heroes, Mr. President. In the mid-1840s, Abraham Lincoln, among other members of Congress, spoke out against the War with Mexico while it was in progress. Lincoln called the War with Mexico "unnecessary" and "unconstitutional."

Newspapers coined the term "Spot Resolution" for Lincoln's frequent challenge that President Polk show him the spot on US soil where American blood was shed by Mexico that would make it a war of self defense and not aggression.

Mr. President, for citizens in a democracy these are urgent questions. Based on their implications we need to reopen the discussion about the costs of this war --- all the costs. We need to re-examine our options --- all our options --- including the option of going back to the UN to craft the remainder of our Iraq strategy to gain broad international support . . . . In other words, I'm talking about a discussion that respects the American public at least as much as a conscientious parent respects a four-year-old.

Glen Gersmehl is national coordinator of Lutheran Peace Fellowship where he directs LPF's Leadership Training in Peacemaking program funded in part by Wheat Ridge Ministries. His peacemaking and security expertise led to his being selected as the US delegate to the meetings held in India to plan the UN Decade for Peace. Glen's articles have appeared in publications across the nation from NY Newsday to the Seattle Times.

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