A day after Congress authorized the use of force in the Persian Gulf, more than 100 Cambridge citizens gathered in Harvard Square's First Unitarian Church to hear three speakers say that the United States should not immediately resort to war.
In the televised event sponsored by the First Parish Social Responsibility Committee, a three-member panel of Gulf watchers spoke and answered questions for two hours yesterday afternoon about the possibility of war and the chance for diplomatic resolution.
Robert Ricigliano, assistant director of the Harvard Negotiations Project; the Rev. Jeffrey Brown of Cambridge's Union Baptist Church; and Souad Dajani of Harvard's Program on Nonviolent Sanctions in Conflict and Defense, emphasized the importance of individual involvement in convincing the government to make another attempt for a peaceful solution to the crisis.
"It's like an old James Dean movie with two cars speeding towards each other and the loser is the one who veers away first," Ricigliano said. "We have to provide [President] Bush with a pretext for diplomacy."
Public outcry and communication with members of Congress could provide the honorable out Bush needs, Ricigliano said. "This is a moment for reasoned thinking and careful action. But it is a moment for action, not for detached mourning."
Ricigliano distributed copies of a letter for participants to send to Congress, which stated in part: "You voted to stand by the President by authorizing force. You now should stand by the American people by allowing the President time to give diplomacy the chance to produce the peace we all desire."
However, Dajani, a Palestinian who said she has traveled extensively in the Middle East, responded pessimistically to questions about the possibility of avoiding war. She called U.S.-Iraqi talks "a discussion of the deaf," with neither side understanding the position of the other.
"It's like George Bush and [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein are calling each others' bluff, and I don't know who's going to blink first before this crisis," Dajani said. But she added that international pressure and increased sanctions, without resort to armed conflict, could probably have convinced Hussein to pull out of Iraq.
Dajani also questioned Bush's contention that U.S. troops provide a stabilizing force in the Gulf. "If the U.S. is pitting all these Arabs against each other, I don't think there's going to be stability," she said.
Brown said he thought that although war has become a virtual certainty, "there are people who feel that not every means was used to bring a peaceful resolution to this crisis."
However, he urged continued support for American troops stationed in the Gulf. "You need to embrace...those who are over there in the Persian Gulf no matter what happens," he said.