The Blog

The Peacemongers

Peace advocates continue to shuttle in and out of Baghdad in an effort to save the children, prop up Saddam, and ensure the continued oppression of the Iraqi people.

1:50 PM, Jan 14, 2003 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

KEITH WATENPAUGH is a peace activist. He is a professor of Middle East history at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York, where he is putting together a Peace and Global Studies program. His interest "in peace and the challenges of globalization" has led him to "become involved in the movement to end the decade-long sanctions regime on Iraq." In fact, he is so committed to peace he has joined something called the "Iraq Peace Team," sponsored by a group known as Voices in the Wilderness.

For those reasons, Keith Watenpaugh is currently in Baghdad. He is on a trip with other academics from the United States. His trip, if successful, will mean that Saddam Hussein, a despot responsible for the deaths of some 200,000 Iraqis and the torture of countless others, will remain in power. Keith Watenpaugh is a peace activist.

Bianca Jagger is also peace activist, or, as she prefers it, a human rights advocate. She is in Baghdad, too. She told CNN that she believes the Iraqi government will disarm because she cares about children. "All we can expect is that the Iraqi government will understand that they have to comply with the U.N. [sic] Council resolution, and that they will do it because I am concerned about those people who have been suffering for all of those years because of the embargo that has affected children and women and we can't deny that."

Her trip is the fourth high-profile delegation to Baghdad. Scott Ritter, former inspector turned Saddam apologist, earned extensive news coverage when he addressed the Iraqi parliament. Democrats David Bonior, Jim McDermott, and Mike Thompson toured hospitals and schools in September. And Sean Penn did the same thing last month.

Penn said some pretty harsh things about the Bush administration. "Somewhere along the line, the actions of this government are the actions of me," he argued. "And if there's going to be blood on my hands, I'm not willing to have it be invisible." Saddam's propagandists weren't content to simply rebroadcast those comments. So Saddam's Iraq Daily started making up quotes. The government newspaper claimed that Penn had "confirmed that Iraq is completely clear of weapons of mass destruction" and had insisted that "the United Nations must adopt a positive stance towards Iraq."

Penn said this weekend that such misrepresentation is "preposterous," adding: "They said that I said this, they said that I said that. I think it's meaningless horse [manure]--excuse me, you know, that is the way they behave."

That appears to be a price the Baghdad Democrats were willing to pay, too, when they took their trip last fall. McDermott, in a broadcast from Iraq, told Americans that their president "would mislead the American people," but that "you have to take the Iraqis on their face value." Again, this wasn't enough for Saddam's propagandists, who put these words in McDermott's mouth for broadcast on Iraqi Satellite Television. "We are three veterans of the Vietnam War who came over here because we don't want war. We assert from here that we do not want the United States to wage war on any peace loving countries."

Penn and McDermott didn't care that they are being used by Saddam Hussein's propaganda machine.

"That's a price I was willing to pay," said Penn.

"If being used means that we're highlighting the suffering of Iraqi children, or any children, then, yes, we don't mind being used," said McDermott.

Jagger is a bit more naive. "There is no way that they can manipulate me. I haven't even spoken to the Iraqi media. . . . It is important for us that we put a human face on the people of Iraq. It has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein. It has nothing to do with his government. It has to do for my concern as a human rights advocate for the consequences for the civilian population."

Trips like the one Jagger is on "have delighted Iraqi officials," according to an article in The Washington Post. So thrilled is the Iraqi government that officials "have given some of the visitors VIP treatment, including conversations with senior government officials, banquet meals, and trips to hospitals and schools." (Get that? Activists like Keith Watenpaugh and Bianca Jagger protest the U.N. sanctions. Those sanctions are the result of Saddam Hussein's unwillingness to disarm, and they have caused widespread malnourishment among the Iraqi people. The peace activists, though, get "banquet meals.")

That same Washington Post article gives us some insight into the thinking of peace activists like Watenpaugh. The LeMoyne College professor told the Post that he's "opposed to the arrogant American position," as expressed by the Bush administration, "that we know best what's for the Iraqi people."