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An Ordinary Citizen Calls a Press Conference . . .

Some thoughts on Iraq from a non-celebrity.

11:00 PM, Mar 17, 2003 • By JOEL ENGEL
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THIS MORNING I called a press conference to announce where I stand on the issue of the impending war in Iraq. After holding my tongue lo these many months, I decided to stop pretending that the world does not need to know my thoughts, and indeed, that I do not have the moral obligation to reveal them. If, God forbid, something terrible happens, my silence on the matter would make me culpable--and my conscience will choke me dead.

How, you may be wondering, did I finally muster the courage to speak up? Frankly, I was shamed into it by the impassioned remarks of people identifying themselves as ordinary Americans--men and women like you and me--who bravely face cameras and reporters in order to exercise their constitutional requirement to tell us what they think.

Among the observations they've shared over the past weeks are that President Bush is a racist (Danny Glover); that the war is about, money, power, oil, and hegemony (Dustin Hoffman); that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction (Sean Penn); that we need not believe the war on terrorism is related to war in Iraq (Spike Lee); that the United States is the world's bully (Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, et al); that America has never paid attention to other people (Richard Gere); that there is never a justification for war and that President Bush is a moron (Martin Sheen); that said president is also a jerk (George Clooney); and that criticizing a film when you've never made one makes you, like our president, a jerk (Clooney again). I've saved the newspapers which reported these remarks, because someday I'll want to show my grandchildren that, in a time of crisis, the spirit of Winston Churchill lived on in those with the guts to stand up and be counted.

Which was precisely why I called the press conference. You see, the kind of man I want my grandchildren's grandfather to be speaks his mind--and damn the consequences.

So there I stood behind the podium in the hotel ballroom, waiting for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and Daily Variety and CNN and ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox to show up and broadcast my thoughts for posterity. For some reason, though, the hours passed without any of them arriving.

More astounded than disappointed, I immediately checked to see whether another ordinary citizen--say, Catherine Zeta-Jones--had called a press conference to offer her own sophisticated exegesis on the war. That would explain the no-shows; after all, there are only a finite number of reporters and camera crews available to go around on any given day. But no, Ms. Zeta-Jones happened to be in England, testifying in court as to the poor quality of her wedding photos. So there had to be another explanation for the fact that not a single news organization was interested in my pronouncements.


Well, some things are just not knowable. So rather than let embarrassment paralyze me, I used the remaining time for which I'd already paid the hotel by pretending that my Olympus DM-1 digital voice recorder was a rapt press corps. What follows are a few selected sound bites from my unprepared, off-the-cuff remarks. (Apologies in advance for any incorrect grammar or clumsy syntax. Like a good reporter, I transcribed the words exactly as spoken.)

I've noticed that the people who believe most strongly in the authority of the United Nations to determine how America should act are the people who least want the U.N. to exercise that authority by enforcing its resolutions regarding Iraq. Don't they realize that the U.N.'s fecklessness only hastens its obsolescence? Not that I'd mind if it disappeared entirely, considering how it unwittingly legitimizes brutal tyrannies like Syria and Libya and, yes, Iraq. I refer you, ladies and gentlemen, to the League of Nations.

Those who continue to insist that President Bush stole the election tend to be those who cry loudest that he's only going to war in order to steal Iraq's oil for his oil buddies. But wait a second: All this war talk and preparation has really put a strain on our economy, and unless things pick up soon, I wouldn't bet against even Al Sharpton beating Bush next time out. So it doesn't really make sense that a man who's gone to all the trouble of stealing an election would essentially volunteer to get himself voted out after only one term just so some oil guys can get even richer. But let's say it is about oil. Then why doesn't the president just turn off the sanctions and turn on Iraq's oil spigot? That would make everyone happy, including the French and the Germans, who have billions in Iraqi contracts at stake. The Dow Jones would hit 15,000 in a month, the Democrats wouldn't even bother putting up a candidate, and the president could be elected king.