Brownback didn't have many questions for these experts. And as soon as the hearings were over, he split for a family vacation. When the Pitch asked for an official statement from the absent senator, his staffer consulted the transcripts and offered only the following senatorial jibber-jabber:
"I don't think there's a question but that we have got to, at some point, deal with Saddam Hussein. Many would have argued we should have done it eleven years ago. Some would have argued we should have done it five years ago. I think the question now becomes, should we do it now? And if so, how? And what impact would it have throughout the region? There is pretty strong unanimity in the Congress that at some point we are going to have to deal with Saddam. Is now the time?"
A handful of Kansas Citians aren't waiting for Brownback to figure out how he feels. At noon on August 7, five members of the Iraq Task Force unfurled a banner at the north end of Ilus W. Davis Park, across from the federal courthouse downtown.
"Let Iraq Live!" it said. It was a big banner, so they did what any shorthanded demonstrators would do and propped it up between a couple of 6-foot fiberglass teddy bears.
Even at noon on a Wednesday, though, downtown's sun-bleached corridor of power was deserted. Every once in a while, a passerby, wearing a government ID badge and clutching a paper lunch bag, would simply walk behind the banner, escaping the reach of Ira Harritt, who was handing out fliers.
One pedestrian said, "Kill 'em all!" A driver yelled out his window, "Nuke 'em 'til they glow!"
A street person stopped to fill plastic cups from a drinking fountain. The demonstrators looked excited when a car pulled up, but the driver just wanted directions to the county courthouse.
The protesters counted their successes on one hand. "Five or six people were going to write postcards [to elected officials] saying war isn't the answer," Harritt said later.
Across the street, the courthouse sidewalks were lined with fertilizer-truck-blocking concrete pylons, a reminder of the much more innocent '90s. At the top of the steps, smokers sought their own peace in the shade of the building's overhangs.
One woman understood that the protesters had chosen her workplace because Congresswoman Karen McCarthy and Senator Jean Carnahan had offices there. "But they're seldom here," she said.
Her companion seemed to agree with the protesters' cause but wasn't sure what the banner meant. "I don't understand what they're saying," she said.
That's because Kansas City's anti-war protesters are so nice. Over the past year, the Justice/Not Revenge Network has put on vigils, demonstrations, teach-ins and pot lucks. At first, these gatherings seemed as if they could spark a movement. (An October 7, 2001, rally at the J.C. Nichols fountain drew a diverse crowd of several hundred people.) Others were quiet gestures when people just had to do something. (A handful of nuns went to Whiteman Air Force Base to pray.) But the activists also had earnest discussions about how protest signs should carry positive messages. Hence "Let Iraq Live!"
What they really mean to say is that it's immoral and stupid to spend billions of dollars, kill thousands of people and piss off all our allies in a fit of aggression that will only make a martyr out of an already-doomed tyrant. At least the Iraq Task Force is saying something. The group's Brad Grabs says the United States should listen to its allies in the Middle East. "They know [Saddam Hussein] is bad," Grabs says. "They're not in favor of his ruling Iraq. But ['regime change'] can't come from this part of the globe manipulating Middle Eastern countries again. It's never worked."
More people agree with Grabs than it appeared from watching his protest.
"I'm scared to death about what Bush is going to do," said one of the smokers.
Another claimed that all of her friends "are making plans on leaving the U.S. They just want out. They're scared."
Last week's polls showed that 31 percent of Americans don't want military action against Iraq; the number grows to 46 percent if U.S. allies oppose it. Those may be losing stats in a democracy, but they reveal a healthy minority. Besides, the numbers might look different if pollsters asked, "Is an attack on Iraq simply a distraction from the fact that Bush has failed to capture Osama bin Laden, dead or alive?" or, "Should the U.S. ship kids from Fort Riley into the chemically poisoned streets of Baghdad simply to remove a ten-year-old burr in the Bush family's butt?"
"There could be a lot of dissension if people were really informed," says Grabs. But Grabs is realistic. "I don't expect to see a hundred people out here," he says of the Wednesday-noon demonstrations, which will continue until September 11. (There are also Sunday protests at the J.C. Nichols Fountain on the Plaza.) So his group wants to sit down with elected representatives, too. Grabs says they've met with staffers for Carnahan, Missouri Senator Kit Bond and Kansas Senator Pat Roberts.
But from Brownback, they keep getting the runaround. "We've tried at the local office, and they tell us to call Washington. We're not asking for a meeting with Washington," Grabs says. "It's been very clear that they're not interested."
Which is too bad, because the Senator from Kansas obviously needs a little help on the issue. While powerful Republicans all over the country are lining up against Bush's posturing, Brownback just ducks and babbles.