Tough questions from one father to another

Feature story - October 18, 2002
As United States policy turns from deterrence to dominance, John Passacantando, director of Greenpeace in the US, is asking George W. Bush some hard questions. But the toughest question for Bush is how will he explain a war on the Iraqi people and a growing world hatred of the US to his own children?

John Passacantando, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA

Dear President Bush:

Recently your administration released a report entitled "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America," which proposes shifting the strategic priorities of the United States from deterrence to dominance. As a result, many of us are struggling to understand what this strategy might mean for our country, our soldiers, our jobs and our safety at home and abroad.

We are trying to understand why you are pushing for a war with Iraq. We are trying to understand how to raise our families if the American values of compassion, humility and understanding are to be displaced by domination, arrogance and stubborn holding forth of American needs and way of life first and foremost, despite the consequences.

Like you, I have two daughters. At some point in our lives you and I both will be held accountable to them regarding how we have fulfilled our roles as parents as well as how we have engaged and changed the world that they will inherit. I am certain that we can both agree on one thing - if we leave behind a polluted, damaged world with a legacy of conflict and suffering, we will be deeply ashamed. So I would like to focus today on the environment and the prospect of war.

I work for Greenpeace, a 30-year old organisation that is committed to non-violent direct action in order to secure a green and peaceful world. We oppose the use of violence by all nations and believe that each and every one must abide by international law if we are to avoid the massive human carnage seen in the 20th century. Sadly, both Iraq and the United States have flouted international law, and it is the infractions by the US that set the negative example for other nations that we trust and respect. The result is the undermining of collaborative efforts to isolate nations like Iraq that have threatened the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Regarding the environment, I am frustrated that your administration has ignored pleas from across the country to protect our environment. Yet I am grateful to live in a country where the president must face the voting public in democratic elections. Corporate lobbyists may make many walks down the West Wing of the White House, but we the people still get to walk into that voting booth every four years to make our voices heard.

Until then, there are a number of key questions that must be asked if we Americans, as activists, parents and engaged citizens, are to understand our collective role in the world.

I want to know why you opposed making our automobile fleet more energy efficient when doing so would give us far more energy independence from the Middle East. I want to know about the profits that Vice President Cheney's former employer, Haliburton, made during the 1990s providing oil services to Iraq. I want to know about your campaign contributors like ExxonMobil and exactly how much business they conducted with Saddam Hussein's regime in the years since the last Gulf war.

I want to know how you plan to divvy up the windfall that you expect Haliburton and the US oil companies to receive if you are able to put a friendly regime in Iraq. According to Lawrence Lindsey, one of your own top economic policy advisors, such a regime change would double or triple the amount of oil produced daily in Iraq, adding up to five million barrels a day. With profits of approximately $5 per barrel, US companies currently precluded from operating in Iraq could make up to $9 billion per year. This figure does not include profits to oil services giants like Haliburton, which would benefit greatly from the rebuilding of oil wells, pipelines and storage and shipping infrastructure in the region.

With this much money at stake, it is hard not to ask some disturbing questions. Should you decide to declare war, and Iraqi citizens and American soldiers die in the effort, will these oil profits be repatriated to the families of the victims? Will the dollars be used to develop the renewable energy and energy efficient technologies so that we will never have to fight another war for oil? If the answers to these questions are negative, then would we not be sending in troops simply to benefit the oil industry?

I want to know if you will be willing to support weapons inspections, backed by the force of the United Nations, for both Iraq and the United States. Given our own anthrax attacks at home, there seem to be worrisome quantities of biological weapons agents, and even pharmacological weapons, being created in the United States, far in excess of the quantities agreed to internationally.

But the most difficult question of all is what to tell our daughters about Us dependence upon oil and your reluctance to help us kick this deadly habit. I had a conversation in my kitchen with my two daughters - Sophie, age 7, and Mollie, age 4 - the day after the one-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks. They wanted to know why people would want to kill us.

When my daughters were born, I thought the toughest conversation I would ever have with them would be about boys. Now that conversation is lower on the list of difficult subjects. This war on terrorism is a very challenging one. It is about fanaticism and people so angry and desperate that they resort to suicide attacks. But even those topics I can handle.

What I don't know how to explain is why the United States is simultaneously so admired and so hated by people the world over.

We live in a country that prides itself on the ingenuity of its people, on our ability to create whole new industries overnight with speed, flexibility and confidence. And yet the Bush administration chooses to keep our military stationed around the world to protect oil supply lines back to the United States. We choose to drive gas guzzling cars and SUVs and to anger much of the world in the process. We choose to cede the future of super efficient vehicle manufacturing to competitors around the world. We choose to live the way we have grown accustomed to living, rather than to adapt and get smarter. And we choose to indignantly stand our ground as our 4.6 percent of the world's population emit 25 percent of the global warming pollution. These are not easy facts to explain to today's younger generation.

So in the end it comes down to hope. My daughters still believe that any situation, no matter how bad or difficult, can be fixed by an adult. As a result, I keep slogging away, keeping hope alive, believing that someday we will break through and redirect our world onto a far more peaceful path.

So, Mr. President, the crux of the issue is this.When all the pollsters, advisors and consultants have gone home, you will have to speak from your own heart and explain the mistakes of the past. What, sir, are you going to tell your daughters?

John Passacantando is the executive director of Greenpeace USA.

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