Urban Politics #146: Municipal Concerns & An Iraq War


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

With assistance from Lisa Herbold, Legislative Assistant

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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Why Cities Should Oppose An Iraq War

Last week I was in Washington D.C. along with dozens of other city council members and mayors representing over ninety cities and counties that have passed resolutions, or, as in Seattle’s case unanimously signed a letter, stating our opposition to the imminent invasion of Iraq.

The gathering was sponsored by Cities for Peace and a complete list of cities is listed on their website: http://www.citiesforpeace.org/ The resolution passed by the Chicago council, which passed 46 to 1, best summed up our collective position when it resolved that we “oppose a unilateral pre-emptive U.S. military on Iraq unless it is demonstrated that Iraq poses a real and imminent threat to the security and safety of the U.S., and that we reaffirm our nation’s commitment to the rule of law in all international relationships.”

Some have criticized local governments for speaking up on this critical national issue because it is “none of our business.” Rather our business should be strictly limited to local concerns. I believe to do so fails to recognize that the welfare of our cities is significantly impacted by national policies. And in the case of a war with Iraq, it is most significant and immediate.

Let me give some reasons why it is critical that local governments not become isolated and mute on this and other federal actions that impact their citizens.

First of all cities have been lobbying Congress since the first municipal employee was hired over two hundred years ago. There is a long tradition of lobbying for federal dollars from everything from road projects to cultural facilities. Every major city in the nation pays lobbyists in Washington D.C. to ensure that they get their fair share of federal dollars.

The retort is that traditional lobbying concerns domestic spending and not foreign policy. But the reality is that a war in Iraq will dramatically divert funding from our traditional domestic programs. As citizens elected to local office, we have an obligation to let our national leaders know of our concerns.

Councils from major cities such as Seattle, Des Moines, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Providence, and smaller ones including Kalamazoo MI, San Luis Obispo CA, Jersey City NJ and Santa Fe NM have passed anti-war resolutions.

The message is being sent that our municipalities want tax dollars to go toward building a strong national economy that can provide opportunities for economic and social advancement for all of our citizens; spending hundreds of billions of dollars to fight a war against a country that has not attacked us does not strengthen our nation.

Seattle has immediate needs that the federal government could be addressing. For instance HUD is reducing funds for low-income housing even though our Seattle Housing Authority has 2,000 people on the waiting list for. Hunger is not unknown in Seattle, as we have 1,500 families in north Seattle alone signed up for our food banks.

Meanwhile Bush administration officials are predicting over 2 million refugees from Iraq if we invade and they are allocating over $50 million to feed them. Congress’ top budget analyst estimated that the cost of U.S. peacekeeping troops occupying Iraq would run from $1 billion to $4 billion a month, excluding costs for humanitarian aid, or re-building the country.

Seattle, like dozens of other major American cities, does engage in “foreign policy” issues through encouraging relations with foreign cities. We have developed a network of “sister cities” to promote cultural understanding and foreign trade. And we go beyond just inviting foreign dignitaries to our city. We also spend local public dollars to promote peaceful and productive economic development with other nations with Seattle Council Members traveling overseas on trade and study missions. So if we can actively promote peaceful trade, should we not also encourage peaceful diplomatic relations with other countries if they can produce similar fiscal results?

But my concern as a locally elected official with the impact of our nation making a pre-emptive war on Iraq extends beyond fiscal matters. I am concerned about the ability of our municipalities to protect our citizens from terrorist attacks and from attacks on our constitutional democracy.

I do not want to place our residents and the residents of American cities in greater danger. Nothing provided by the Bush administration has demonstrated that toppling this one dictator will make the international network of terrorists any less effective. No evidence has been produced showing that Al Qaeda used Iraq as a base and they have not been linked in any material or religious way to Saddam Hussein. But as the latest statement attributed to Osama bin Laden makes clear, he is using our potential attack on Iraq to stir up hatred to our nation among religious fanatics. The consequence of our impending war with Iraq clearly appears to put Seattle residents and all American citizens in greater not lesser danger from terrorist attacks.

The greatest danger however may not lie in the immediate threat to our citizens from terrorists but rather lies in the corruption of our democracy and the long-term negative consequences of that degradation. I believe that we have the world’s greatest democracy and perhaps in the history of the world. We have our faults but in comparison to those of other nations, we can be proud of our accomplishments. But if Congress acquiesces to President Bush and does not exercise their constitutional prerogative that only they can “declare war” I fear we will be moving this nation further away from our founding democratic principals. And in that process, I believe we will weaken the trust we must secure from our citizens for all levels of government.

Mass demonstrations within the other democratic, industrialized nations also recognize that break from our past as they highlight President Bush’s refusal to acknowledge the United Nations’ lead in resolving international conflicts through diplomacy not war. In a Gallup International poll of ten European countries released this past weekend in USA Today, all showed opposition of 90% or greater to the U.S. unilaterally going to war with its allies without the U.N.’s sanction.

I hope I have shown how the above trends do impact our residents and why we should be concerned with a war in Iraq. As elected representatives of our communities, local politicians have an obligation to speak out. If we do not, then our silence will replace an open public dialogue which is the basis of our democratic society.

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