Having talked to him on the phone a day or two
before, I knew that former Ambassador to Iraq (well,
actually, chief-of-mission, for obscure legislative and
civil service reasons that he explained to me at some
length, though they don't make a functional difference)
Edward Peck would be provocative at the World Affairs
Council last Thursday. He was.
Peck, a UCLA grad who spent 32 years as a diplomat,
was careful to preface his remarks with the information
that he had served two hitches in the U.S. Army as a
paratrooper and had faced war, disease and riots as a
diplomat, so he takes a back seat to none in facing
danger for his country. He was in Iraq from 1977 to
1980, served in other Middle East posts, was coordinator
of covert intelligence in the State Department and
deputy director of the Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism
in the Reagan White House.
Not exactly a wimp or a pacifist.
He also peppered his talk with humor - a good
diplomat is "somebody who can convince his wife she
looks terrible in diamonds" - to leaven what for many
had to be an unpleasant message.
Noting that George W. Bush's approval rating was 52
percent on Sept. 10, 2001, and 90 percent on Sept. 12
when he was a president under foreign attack, Peck
suggested a similar phenomenon might be at work for
Saddam Hussein, as despicable as he is. He said that
when you invade a foreign country, the people there just
might view you as invaders rather than liberators.
Peck thinks the United States will probably win this
war eventually, but it will be harder than our leaders
anticipated and will cost us dearly in national morale,
solidarity and international prestige. And we'll be
paying a high price for a long time to come in increased
Middle Eastern instability and acts of terrorism.
The notion that Islamists hate us because of our
freedom or "because Britney Spears has a bellybutton" is
"terribly stupid," Peck believes.
Most Americans don't want to face the fact that we've
been killing Iraqis for 12 years, through sanctions and
bombing, and that we're constantly in the world's face.
But if we don't stop to consider honestly what really
drives the terrorists of the world we'll have to deal
with them for a long time to come.
The idea that attacking Iraq will end terrorism is a
little hard to square with the fact that we've called up
25,000 reservists to protect the homeland, and Colin
Powell has asked for $6 billion to turn every American
embassy into a fortress, all to coincide with the
beginning of the war.
"I hope to the depths of my being I am wrong," Peck
said. "But I'm afraid we will pay a terrible, bloody
price for this miscalculation in Iraq."
How did the World Affairs Council audience in
conservative Orange County respond to this message? By
my count, he got four hostile questions, three friendly
ones and a couple simply seeking more information, all
quite thoughtfully put. A few people, obviously upset,
walked out toward the end of the talk, but most people
Former World Affairs Council president Sir Eldon
Griffiths made it clear that he agreed with much of what
Ambassador Peck had said but disagreed with parts of the
talk. He believes the evidence on dangerous weapons and
intention to use them is strong enough to justify this
Whatever you think about the war, there's little
doubt that it's stirring provocative and thoughtful
discussion here in Orange County.
In a Guest Column ["Davis should heed
history"] in Sunday's Commentary section, author
Veronique de Rugy incorrectly wrote that Gov. Gray Davis
wants to increase state taxes on cigarettes in addition
to his plan to raise California sales and income taxes
by $8.3 billion. The cigarette-tax increase is actually
part of the overall $8.3 billion plan. The Register
regrets the error.