War is the people’s decision

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(Host) Commentator Ellen David Friedman thinks that we need more time and more voices in the debate over possible war with Iraq.

(Friedman) The question of democratic decision-making lies at the heart of our national struggle over President Bush’s war plan. Our democracy requires debate that is both deep and broad. And this president, elected as he was without the popular vote, should be especially cautious when speaking for the American people. I was somewhat relieved, therefore, to see him forced back from taking unilateral action in these last weeks.

But I am far from sanguine. One month ago, many voices from both the left and the right were insisting that President Bush get broader authorization for his war. Now it looks as if both Congress and the UN may fall in line. But it feels to me like the victory of a bully, reliant on threats and unproven assertions. At the UN, the nations who may give way are those who wish to do their own bullying: Russia in Chechnya and China in Tibet. Among the other countries of the world, we have gained no new allies beyond Great Britain – and the four hundred thousand protestors who turned out in London last weekend signal a pretty serious problem for even the steadfast Tony Blair.

I believe that the hearts and minds of Americans are not yet made up. And how can Congress act as a representative body, when they’ve had no time to consult with those they represent? It must be our decision first – before it becomes theirs. Congress should delay action on the war powers resolution until the democratic process has time to work – through grass-roots debate and action in our churches, and schools, and community organizations, and labor unions. We must grapple with profound issues here that will effect our lives, the lives of our children and those of many peoples throughout the world. We need proof, not merely threats, that our country is at risk from Iraq. We need to consider what our aggression could provoke in a region already boiling over with anti-American feeling. We need to anticipate what could happen if a war with Iraq should broaden, or we couldn’t get out. All this must be thoroughly thought-through before we can think of sending Americans to die in combat, in this combat, specifically.

Our national conversation has not matured on the question of war. Since it has not, the practice of democratic decision-making cannot yet be fulfilled. And the stakes are much too high to settle for anything less.

I’m Ellen David Friedman.

Ellen David Friedman is vice chair of the Vermont Progressive Party and has been active in the labor movement for 25 years.

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