The Multinational Monitor



Waging Peace

An Interview With
Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Maxine Waters is a first-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Los Angeles. She serves on the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Development and the Committee on Veteran's Affairs. Waters served from 1976 to 1990 in the California State Assembly where she became the first woman in the state's history to be elected by her colleagues to chair the Assembly Democratic Caucus.

The Bush administration is more interested in influence, control and domination than it i in peaceful co-existence and self-determination... [The conflict has been] about power. Multinational Monitor: Do you think the ceasefire is going to be permanent or that hostilities may resume?

Maxine Waters: I think that it is unclear at this point. The president has indicated that he will initiate a ceasefire and there are a lot of conditions that appear to go along with it-- that Saddam has to do some other kinds of things. This is not the kind of situation where it should be simply between Bush and Saddam Hussein [to determine] what is going to happen. I think the United Nations and the Third World must be involved in the future of that entire region.

While certainly I am pleased about the fact that it appears that this madness is coming to an end for the time being, I am not at all sure about the future of the Persian Gulf or the Middle East. It seems to me that if we really wanted to do something for the Middle East and for the world, we would convene a world conference to talk about the future of the Middle East, and peace and disarmament.

MM: How do you think the Bush administration is going to try to "shape the peace?"

Waters: It appears the Bush administration is basically basking in its victory and trying to send a signal not only to Saddam but to the rest of the world that we are powerful and we can prevail whenever we want to, and is thus [hoping] to gain more influence in the world and in the Persian Gulf. I think the Bush administration ... is more interested in influence, control and domination than it is in peaceful coexistence, self- determination and trying to create an environment of peace in the world. I think it is interested in having influence with the oil-producing countries in the region and using [control over oil] as an opportunity to leverage because of our inability to compete in world markets. So I think it is about power.

MM: Do you expect there to be an ongoing occupation of southern Iraq?

Waters: If I had to guess at this period, I would say that is a real possibility, given the way this administration thinks. I don't think there will be a clean break. I think this administration sees itself as occupying or having some presence there. But I would think if this administration has anything to do with it, it would be a United States presence rather than a United Nations presence.

MM: Do you expect the United States to establish a permanent military base in the region?

Waters: That is too much for me to predict, that kind of permanency. But I think that the atmosphere is such that it could happen.

MM: You have called attention to the over-representation of blacks and Latinos in the U.S. troops in the Middle East.

Waters: First of all, I talked about it a lot because I thought it was important to note, to at least have people recognize that it was the case. That is important because of polls that say blacks are unpatriotic [and news accounts that] marginalize minority participation to the point where history would not record it.

Secondly, I thought it would be a time to join the issue of disproportionate numbers of blacks serving to liberate Kuwait and put an emir back on the throne and then possibly come home to an America that does not provide opportunity by way of jobs and housing. We have many Vietnam veterans who are homeless on the streets; a disproportionate number of those are black. We have African-Americans in this war who are managing missiles and other kinds of equipment but who can't get trained for new possibilities and new jobs in this country.

We have a president who vetoed a civil rights bill that would guarantee some permanency in the workplace and ability for upward mobility; a president whose administration issues a decision that minorities can't get scholarships in the public sector in the way that we have done in the past; a president that started with Willie Horton ads and a president that went down and campaigned alongside of Jesse Helms with racist ads in order to win an election. As we look at African-Americans and minorities involved in the conflict and a president who claims to love the soldiers, we cannot help but ask: How much do you love them? Do you love them enough to right some of the wrongs that have taken place as it relates to their ability to realize their full potential as human beings in this country?

MM: What is your opinion of the draft as a means to address these concerns?

Waters: Well, first of all, let's talk about my basic belief: I don't believe in war. I don't believe that you resolve conflict with war. I believe that war is obsolete as a means of resolving conflict and that it should not be about who is going to fight the war but rather about how do we stop fighting the wars. It is about how do we get to the peace table rather than war.

Second, privileged people have the opportunity to escape war. With the Vietnam War, people were able to utilize their status, money and wherewithal to avoid the draft--by being in school or getting good draft counselling or being able to flee. This makes the idea of whether there is fairness even in a draft questionable.

I would not, even in this war, in the discussions that I had, allow anyone to pit young folks against each other or communities against each other over that question. Yes, the people who were in the army volunteered, many of them looking for a better way of life, many of them looking for a job that they couldn't find on the streets, many of them looking to escape the mean streets. No, they did not anticipate that they would be fighting anything or anybody.... For people who did not make that decision because they did not feel that they had to, I don't begrudge them that, and I don't feel that you equalize the situation with a draft.

I am glad that we did not get to a draft. I don't like the draft. Whether or not a draft would be fair is not a question I really want to debate. It is unfair for anybody, whether it be voluntary or with a draft, to have to kill somebody else. Period.

MM: Do you think there will be any moves in Congress after the war to reinstate a draft?

Waters: I don't think so. Congress, pretty much like the President, is gloating about this great victory that they have had bombing people into submission. It is pretty heady right now and they think that they literally conquered without a draft; they conquered with all these young men and women who wanted to be there fighting for their country. I don't think that the draft is on their minds at all.

MM: Congress' view of the war changed substantially. Before the war started, there was substantial opposition, and days after it had started, the opposition had totally eroded. What happened?

Waters: One thing that I have learned during this crisis is that our socialization and indoctrination is much more thorough than I ever thought it to be. Whatever happens from the time you are born in this country until the time you are supposed to be able to think on your own, you have been infused so much with "my country right or wrong," and the idea that it is unpatriotic to question that, even though we have two political parties, in the final analysis, they are both supposed to act just alike. The greatest example of the indoctrination was the vote that you saw, where people felt that they would be considered unpatriotic if they went against the president and that they could not challenge. It helped me to understand that we really don't have very much debate in this country, that we really don't have very much in the way of two political parties.

In the final analysis, politicians in their own selfish interests refused to stand up even when they didn't believe we should be at war. They thought about their hides first and whether or not they would get reelected based on the polls.

MM: Do you think there were some who were genuinely opposed to the war, but went along to avoid controversy?

Waters: Yes, I do. I absolutely do. I don't think the numbers-- the six [who voted against the resolution supporting the war after it started] was really the total number of people opposed to the war. I saw people who were opposed to the war, who took the vote, who felt very guilty, who couldn't look people in the eye very well, who knew they did not do the correct thing, who felt that they had betrayed those that they had been involved with in the peace movement. But, when the moment came to test their courage, they did not have enough.

MM: Do you think more substantial Congressional opposition would have affected the course of the war?

Waters: I think so. I think that the president, despite the fact that he was preparing for war, really wanted a vote of support, in order not only to comply with what some people thought the law is, but just politically in terms of his own hide, to say that he had the support of the Congress. And I also think that if some members of Congress had been willing to stand up against the president, that people who were opposed the war or people who had questions about whether it was right or wrong would have come forward in greater numbers.

I think some people did not have much information about it. They never heard the word "Kuwait" before, they did not know very much about the history of the Middle East, they did not know very much about Saddam Hussein and Iraq, they did not know very much about the war between Iraq and Iran, where we were and what we had supplied, they did not have an opportunity to evaluate a lot of [information].

What they were told was that there was another Hitler, and Hitler was Saddam Hussein and he had nuclear weapons and he was going to bomb America from Iraq--that is literally what they were told. Some people in their innocence, just took what they heard. There was no real debate created. And I think one of the responsibilities of leadership is to create a debate. And if members of Congress really create a debate, and they talk about it at all the town meetings, then I think that you would not see people just siding with the president based on lack of information.

MM: Did Congress know anything more about what was going on than the general public?

Waters: Not really. I went to a few briefings and most of what I heard I had read in the papers or seen on television. I did not find that [the administration] talked about strategy or gave information that could somehow support the urgency of bombing people into submission. They never told us how many children they killed, how many people were dead under that rubble.

MM: What do you think the main things the public--and apparently you--were not told that the military people did know?

Waters: A lot of things. I think that we were certainly not told about the number of deaths as a result of the bombing. I don't think that we were really told that [the administration] was always prepared to go to a ground war.

I think, by the way, that there was just enough public opinion and debate on the question of a ground war to slow them down. A lot of people [in Congress] who felt very guilty even about supporting the president, found a way to come back, at least a little bit, by saying the president should wait and not go to ground war. But that even became a silly debate. I don't think that it is any better to say, "no ground war, just bomb the hell out of them."

I don't think we were told the cost of the war. I don't think we know that yet. They are going to come in for some supplemental appropriations, which will begin to tell the story of the hard costs. I think a lot of the support that the so-called allies are supposed to give is going to be calculated in all kinds of funny ways because America made all kinds of deals to get this coalition forged. The administration wanted a country's name more than they wanted its money. And if they had to pay off some, like Egypt, they just paid them off and forgave their debt.

You never saw any stories of soldiers saying, "I hate this place, I want out of here, this is idiotic, this is crazy." All you saw was: "Well I am here to defend my country. And we need to go out and get that guy and the sooner we get him the better." That is all you heard. You never heard any dissent from soldiers or people who were really unhappy in the Gulf.

We got a glimmer of some hardships that were imposed on families. But I don't think we know the stories of the hardships of a lot of the families that were involved, with mothers and fathers both in the Gulf and their babies dropped with grandmothers and relatives at the last minute.

And I don't think we really understand what deals were cut with Israel about the war. It was clear that there was a great effort to keep Israel out of the war even after the Scud missiles. But I really think that somewhere down the line, because of Israel's fear of Saddam, that there may be a deal that the real solution is to kill him, and that might be what the commitment is.

MM: What was the effect of the Pentagon maintaining such tight control over war-related information?

Waters: Well, the interesting thing was the public bought into it. People were angry with the reporter from CNN, Peter Arnett, because he stayed [in Iraq] and tried to disseminate information. All of a sudden he was a tool of Saddam Hussein's, a traitor. We heard a lot of pronouncements that we shouldn't be provided with information, because if they tell us Saddam Hussein is going to find out.

They made Saddam Hussein bigger than life in all of this. And, it turns out, here is a man who is pretty much cut off from the real world, from reality. Here is a man who had amassed something and had built some bunkers, but I think he appeared to lack any real understanding of what he was up against.

I am not impressed with the victory. I fully expected that if the United States decided to take Kuwait back they could do it. It was easy, that was not a big deal. We have spent billions of dollars to do that kind of thing. So we took a country the size of New Jersey--big deal. This business about we are so wonderful and we are so great because we have this massive and terrific military victory escapes me.

In the final analysis, what did they keep from us? They kept from us the real reason they did it. That is still a question in my mind.

MM: What do you think was the real reason for the war?

Waters: I don't know. I have lots of views on that, and they are not thought out to the point where I can be absolutely certain. I really do think it is about a lasting influence in the Middle East. The oil is so very important. We have invested so much money in defense that we have not invested in R & D and people. Japan has no oil and has to go to the Middle East; it would be nice if we could stand at the gate and say, "Give me the tip. We are not so sure we are going to let you have it, Japan; we are really mad at you because you have outdone us in research and development and you are just amassing so much power that we have to knock you down a peg or two." It seems to have something to do with having an extra lever of power to be able to negotiate in order to maintain our so-called dominance in the world. I am suspicious [about the U.S. purpose in the war] and I am suspicious in ways that lead me to believe that it is more about dominance and world power than it is about simply creating an environment where people can have peaceful coexistence.

I do think that Saddam was a problem, I do believe that [Syrian President] Assad is a problem, I do believe that [Iranian President] Rafsanjani is a problem. I do believe that there is a lot going on in the Middle East that we don't understand so well, but it is Saddam today and Assad tomorrow. I don't think the way to deal with those particular countries is to arm them and then go to war with them. I think that we can't run to war every time these problems arise. But we wouldn't have to if they didn't have weapons of war. We arm them. They don't really manufacture weapons. They buy them. And not only do they buy them from the United States, they buy them from the other members of that coalition, our allies in this crisis: Germany, the Soviet Union, France. We could all stop doing that, and then we wouldn't have to worry about whether Saddam has chemical warfare capabilities--we sold him that.

MM: How will domestic affairs and budget allocations be affected in the aftermath of the war?

Waters: We don't have a domestic agenda around here. I do think we have the opportunity, even after the war, to make people feel badly about the fact that we can't get universal health care but we can spend all this money on weapons and war, even with the support for the war. I intend to try to help do that. If we have the will, I think we can organize and make an issue out of the lack of a domestic agenda and the fact that we are unwilling to pay for domestic programs even as we're spending money to not only pay for this war, but to build our reserves back up-- that's [the administration's] next step: to get new F15s or 16s, to perfect the Patriot, to go forward with Star Wars because the Patriot "proved" that Star Wars works ... I think we can make the case for a domestic agenda. If the Democrats want to do it they can do it. Do they have the will? I don't know.

I am not impressed with the victory. I fully expected that if the United States decided to take Kuwait back they could do it. So we took a country the size of New Jersey - big deal.

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