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Long and winding road

In March 2003, US diplomat and former army colonel Ann Wright resigned in protest at the Bush administration's policies on Iraq, North Korea, Israel-Palestine and at the curtailment of civil liberties in the US after 11 September 2001. PN caught up with her in London and we talked about her journey from career diplomat to joining Code Pink actions. 

PN: OK, so tell us a bit aboutyour background -- how and why you got into the military and about your personal journey.

AW: Well I joined the military right after I graduated from college, mainly because I wanted out of the state of Arkansas--where I grew up. Like so many young people I didn't want to stay where my roots were, I wanted to go out and see the world.

Lo and behold the military came through the university just as I was graduating and showed movies of "join the army see the world". I had never thought about it before and, even though these were in the days of the war in Vietnam, I didn't really consciously connect my being in the military with having to do things like kill people. I stayed with it [the army] for three years and then got out. But stayed in the reserves. For the next ten years I was in and out of various graduate schools and law schools and went into oceanography and marine biography for a while. But then I decided that I wanted to have something more permanent, so I started making applications to a variety of organisations, I put one in to the army and they recalled me to active duty because I had been working in the areas of civic action and humanitarian assistance in the reserves, and they needed people with those skills.

So I went back into the active component, and then some very interesting and controversial things started happening with US foreign policy.

I stayed with the military[...] and was in Panama. The military side of US policy under the Reagan administration, particularly against the Sandanistas in Nicaragua, I mean some of these things you look back on and its like "Yeuch...".

In 1987 I requested a release from active duty from the army and went to work in the State Department. Low and behold my first assignment was to Nicaragua. My job as a political officer was to be a point of contact for the 20 or so opposition political parties. Of course I was very well known to the Sandinistas. They definitely let you know that "you the blonde-haired political officer of the US embassy, working with the opposition, we know you are there". They had pretty sharp elbows.

In 2001 I completed a short tour with the office of the governor of the state of Hawaii -- helping with an international conference. During that period 9/11 happened and in November 2001 I ended up being in the first team of US diplomats to go into Afghanistan. I then went on to what was ultimately my last assignment, which was in Mongolia as the Deputy Chief of Mission. It was there that I decided that I could no longer represent the Bush Administration on most of its policies.

PN: Was the decision to go to war in Iraq without Security Council backing something that just pushed you--was that the key moment for you?

AW: Yes. For the United States ever to go into an oil-rich Arab country, to me that had the biggest probability of failure no matter what the rationale for it.

For us to go in unilaterally and with a small number of allies, the "coalition of the willing", and with no Arab country participating in it, you knew it was going to be a disaster. Anybody that's done any work with the Middle East and the Arab world knew that we would be creating more people who would hate US policies even more by invading.

It was just not good enough for us to be going in and saying, "we think he has got these weapons". The probability of massive reaction and retaliation against us, in the form of the insurgence, was so predictable.

PN: Do you think that if the UN had backed for some form of military action against Iraq that you may not have made your decision to resign?

AW: I think it would have been much harder for me because although I'm well on my way to greater enlightenment on peace issues, I still believe that probably the threat of military action is a necessary evil and sometimes the use of necessary action when all other avenues have been tried, I mean honestly tried and tried diligently, then sometimes there may be the necessity for military action.

I felt that the UN security council was always a good barometer for what's possible.

PN: How public was your resignation and what were the reactions and consequences?

AW: My resignation letter was published in newspapers around the world the day after I resigned. Although it was given just a little bit of coverage because it was right at the time the war started. Knowing full well that my resignation was not going to stop the big military machine of the United States [...] I still wanted it on record for historic reasons that I was going to give up my job, my career, in opposition to the war in Iraq--and the other issues.

When I resigned, 400 emails came in solidarity with the idea of resignation. [Many from colleagues in the diplomatic service.]

I took the important parts of these emails, removed the names, and put them all together in one big document -- 18 pages of comments from all over the world. I felt that it was important that people like Colin Powell know what members of the diplomatic world were saying, so I emailed them to his Chief of Staff, and got back a very interesting email which essentially said, "I've been with Colin Powell for many, many years and this is the worst mess we've ever gotten in to." 

Powell's resignation was probably the only thing that could have possibly deterred the administration from going to war. But I suspect that even if he had resigned, the hawks would have just said good riddance.

PN: How did you get involved with Code Pink?

AW: Last summer, when I went to Boston for the Veterans for Peace con vention, I ran into Code Pink organisers for the first time. I had never even heard of the organisation but, as they were explaining what they do--all nonviolent but highly visible and with the colour pink prominently displayed in their actions--it seemed like a great organisation. To be involved in a nonviolent, visible group just seemed very natural.

Then, at all the actions at the counter-convention to the republicans in August 2004 in NYC, the events were just world class. They were so good, they got so much attention and so much interest.

PN: Do you feel that what you have done since resignation has reinforced what you already believed, or are these new things for you?

AW: I had not been involved, but I had seen protest movements before, because tragically, some of the programmes that I had worked on--within both the military and the State Department--had generated lots of protests. So I had seen some of the way people organised and worked against US government policies before.

I was already a bit sympathetic with several of them, for example [groups working in opposition to] the US support for the Contras. When I was in the US Embassy in Nicaragua in the late `80s I would be the one that, every Wednesday afternoon, listened to Witness for Peace, or the other groups that were in Nicaragua. I had some sympathy for groups that were travelling long distances and staying in small villages and working with people on a grassroots level.

So it has been very exciting and meaningful to be able to work directly with groups that are so dedicated to human rights and to the whole concept of peace and not war, the use of diplomacy and not military force.

PN: So, what's next for you?

AW: Well, I don' t want to get a full-time job because I don't want to be circumscribed in what I think or say, or the actions I take, by some organisation. Until we can get this Iraq thing resolved, and in my view the resolution is the US troops getting out of Iraq, I intend to just keep speaking and writing and being a part of groups of people that are working in that direction.