Flames of the Torch

The freezing temperatures were no deterrent to the hundreds of thousands of protesters who gathered in New York last Saturday; neither was the Orange Alert or the city’s refusal to grant them a permit to march. On Feb. 15, the New York protesters joined more than 6 million people across the globe to say, “No war with Iraq.”

It was a moving scene. Over a mile of people were crowded behind police barricades on First Avenue. And when those corrals had been filled, the rally spilled over onto Second, then to Third. And although there was no love lost between protestors and the Bush administration, which was mocked in hand-held signs, plastic masks and paper mache puppets, when an affluent woman strode down the sidewalk waving a pro-Bush sign, the only audible heckler was immediately shouted down as the protesters cried out, “She has a right to her opinion.”

This was not just a group of off-beat political radicals. Though there was no shortage of bizarre, costumed demonstrators or fringe political groups, they were easily matched in numbers by soccer moms from Vermont, students from Long Island and people who simply do not trust the Bush administration to lead a war. Young idealists, grizzled hippies, radical socialists and left-leaning yuppies cheered on a cadre of speakers that ranged from musician Harry Belefonte to Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu.

Though Bush has said he will not be swayed by demonstrations, regardless of the size, this is a political constituency with views that should not be so readily discounted.

Some oppose war for pragmatic reasons: there is no clear exit strategy and no clear battle plan. The U.N. Security Council has not given its support and significant domestic and international opposition exists, as the protests made clear.

Others questioned the United State’s authority for nation-building. Our dismal record of supporting or installing oppressive regimes is shown by thousands of civilian deaths brought about by the Shah in Iran, Pinochet in Chile and Noriega in Panama. That people are suspicious of our foreign policy should come as no surprise. It was, after all, not long ago that we supported Saddam Hussein.

The Bush administration’s eagerness to use force and its continued insistence for a free hand to do so does little to convince anyone that all other options have been exhausted. This is borne out in the fact that the prospect of war has been condemned across national, political, cultural and religious lines. Saddam Hussein may be an international problem, but George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld do not have the solution.

Like so many others, we must say, “No war with Iraq.”