Bush's Pastor Looks Back at Gulf
Episcopal head renews attack on president's policy, but praises current Mideast peace efforts. INTERVIEW: THE MOST REV. EDMOND BROWNING
NEW YORK — PRESIDENT BUSH, under heavy attack on the domestic front, now has come under renewed fire on foreign policy - from his own pastor.The Most Rev. Edmond Browning, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, tried unsuccessfully to dissuade Mr. Bush from launching the Persian Gulf war. Now Bishop Browning charges that the United States went to war, in part, because of a desire to "test our weaponry." He says Iraq served the Pentagon as "a good laboratory" to try out a host of "smart" weapons. Although the war was popular with most Americans, Browning says the goals achieved "were very superficial," and the problem of Iraqi occupation of Kuwait "could have been solved diplomatically, rather than by war." In a 45-minute interview, the presiding bishop expressed gratitude to Bush and to Secretary of State James Baker III for their efforts since the war to bring about a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. The president has undertaken those peace talks "in ways that have been difficult for him," Browning says. The talks may be one good thing to emerge from the Gulf war, he says. And Bush has "stuck his neck out [and] that is commendable," adds the bishop, who has conferred with the president at the White House. Browning worries, however, that Bush's "new world order," a centerpiece of White House foreign policy, needs more input from other nations, organizations, and individuals. Right now, it seems to be merely a way to keep the US on top, he says. While Bush benefited politically from the war, Browning finds that during his own frequent travels around the US, many of his parishioners are having second thoughts. The nation's euphoria is fading, he says. The bishop is particularly concerned about the attitudes of Americans toward those who are still suffering in Iraq. Although as many as 200,000 Iraqis may have been killed, and millions of others suffer deprivation, that "tragedy ... is not even felt by the American people, he maintains." Excerpts from the interview follow: Most Americans felt the war with Iraq was a 'good' war, a just war. It achieved its major purpose: the liberation of Kuwait. Why do many church people, like yourself, still have reservations? Basically ... the goals that were accomplished were very superficial. Secondly, I still believe that those problems could have been solved diplomatically, rather than by war. I just don't believe that the situation called for the kind of response that we gave to it. Certainly, there is relief in one's heart that there were not many Americans killed.... But [there were a large] number of others that were killed that we never had any sense of feeling for, mainly because of the way the war was so controlled. The news coverage, the electronic media, I think, were controlled by the Pentagon. It was just like those little [electronic games] that you play. Everything looked very cle an. I don't know what the statistics are now, but I've heard up to 200,000 people were killed. The tragedy that exists in Iraq today is not even felt by the American people.Many Americans would respond that the people of Kuwait were living under a reign of terror, and that we liberated them. Could we have allowed that sort of suffering to continue? I think it certainly should produce a challenge to our conscience. My own feeling ... is that given some time, probably [Iraq's Saddam] Hussein would have been brought to the table.... I don't think we gave [economic sanctions] enough time. We moved troops over there with the intent, first, to stabilize the situation and keep Hussein from moving any farther. Then we changed complete course and it became, rather than a protection, an aggressive move. Many people agreed with the president's action. I can understand why the president thought he had to do that.... I remember when I met with the president in December, he showed me ... the Amnesty International report on the atro- cities of Iraq against Kuwait.... [But] I don't believe two wrongs make a right. We've had Amnesty International reports about Saudi Arabia, about Syria, about the same kinds of suppression and oppression, about South Africa, and I said, "Mr. President, we've never taken that kind of action against those [countries]." I have to say, of course, that bringing the Kuwaitis out of oppression ... is a real plus. On the other hand, I don't see any of the things that we believe in as a democratic society happening in Kuwait. The kinds of treatment that the Kuwaitis have [given] the Palestinians I just find incredible. Doesn't the nuclear weapons program the United Nations discovered in Iraq also justify the war? I can't find much reason to justify what we did, [though] I understand the kind of complexity that we faced with that kind of revelation. In a speech last September, you said the war with Iraq served the purposes of unbridled Western social, cultural, and political power. Do you think we need to be on guard against a resurgence of Western colonialism? I don't think that's a resurgence! I think that has been true for a long time. If you look over the course of at least the last six years that I have been presiding bishop, there have been times when we have re-cemented that sense of trying to control outside of our own country. That's a whole lot of what our foreign policy has been [with] manipulation in Nicaragua, and so forth. If we're talking about a "new world order," I think one of the major questions is, What is the role of the United States? Is it a role of making our will the will of other places in the global village, or are we in some way needing to find a way to be in partnership, rather than in control? Is there a time when you would go to war? Maybe I should say I think I'm becoming more of a pacifist.... The technology of war has really gone beyond any sense of responsibility to the total global village.... I'm going to really reach out here: I think part of the reason we had that war in the Persian Gulf was to test our weaponry. It was a laboratory. Have the churches spoken out enough about this? We have spent so much time dealing with internal problems ... that we have not kept the priorities straight.