Iraq War oppositionists packed into the Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Burke last week to hear what U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) had to say about the war.
Members of a national anti-war coalition — Americans Against Escalation in Iraq — initiated several campaigns this summer, including one asking members of Congress to participate in town hall-style meetings to answer questions about the war. While Sen. John Warner (R), Rep. Thelma Drake (R-2) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) denied the town hall request, Davis accepted, according to the coalition.
However peace activists who attended the Burke meeting, Thursday, Aug. 23, were not happy with how it went, even though an anti-war group sponsored the meeting.
"Who knows how many questions were tweaked," said Fred Millar, a former GMU instructor and an Arlington resident, who did not like the format of the "supposed town hall meeting."
The meeting began with lengthy speeches by panel members. The host asked audience members to submit their questions beforehand, to assistants that would later present the questions to the moderator. It was not a typical town hall meeting in which audience members could ask their questions directly.
But Davis had nothing to do with the format of the meeting. He said he was invited to participate, and agreed to be there for an hour. He answered questions presented to him, which by the time the panelists finished their speeches, did not leave time for many.
"[Davis] is a middle-of-the-road guy; this meeting was exactly what I anticipated," said Jack McHale, a peace advocate from Burke.
THE HOST OF the meeting, Sgt. John Bruhns, is an Iraq War veteran who now serves as the legislative representative for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. He facilitated a few questions for both Davis and Rand Beers, the national security adviser to the Kerry-Edwards campaign in 2004 and a former Bush administration counterterrorism director.
"The people killing us in Iraq, a large majority of them are the Iraqi people that President Bush says we’re liberating," Bruhns said. "Time after time, this administration has been dead wrong."
Davis and Beers fielded questions that the coalition chose out of those submitted. One man wanted to know how the cost of the war has affected services in Davis’ district, to which Davis replied that it has not really affected anything short-term, he said. America is financing the war with long-term debt.
"This is the only war that’s been financed with tax cuts," Davis
Beers said the war is failing because the U.S. is not allowing Iraqis to take responsibility for their own government and security. There is a multi-sided civil war there, and Al-Qaida is just one participant, he said.
"It became clear that Al-Qaida was not in Iraq," Beers said. "They’re only there now because we are there … Al-Qaida in Pakistan is what we should be worried about."
Davis said "we need to engage all of the neighbors in the region." When asked about how to go about resolving the civil war in Iraq, he said he does not think it is possible without giving amnesty to people.
"If you don’t give amnesty, you perpetuate the fighting," Davis said. As for the war’s political progress, Davis said our political progress has gone backwards. But, "how long do you wait?" he asked.
Panelists did not field any questions related to oil, the political motive many of the anti-war advocates at the meeting said they wanted addressed. Hamed Sami, an American citizen from Afghanistan, said Americans are only in Iraq to secure oil contracts. He said the U.S. government is robbing the American people.
"The whole point is oil," he said. "When [America] gets its oil, then it will slow the war down."
Several audience members echoed Sami’s opinion after the meeting. They found it curious that questions about oil, which several of them submitted, never made their way to the panelists.
"You’ve controlled the questions; this is not a very democratic process," shouted Millar, as Bruhns made his closing remarks.