While Clinton waxed eloquent about America’s booming economy to the Economic Club of Detroit’s 2,000 guests, demonstrators protested outside Cobo Hall where he spoke. They charged that U.S. sanctions against Iraq not only debilitated its economy but have caused more than a million deaths.
Clinton rattled off statistics that seemed to put him in favor with the applauding crowd. Unemployment is 4.3 percent today, he said, the lowest it has been since 1970. Home ownership is higher than ever, with 7 million Americans purchasing homes in 1998. Welfare rolls are at a 19-year low, said the president proudly.
"In a word," he said, "America is working again … a lot of social problems are receding."
After declarations of prosperity, Clinton advised that it was time to tackle other challenges. These included strengthening Social Security and Medicare, and improving public schools.
"We must maintain prosperity and spread it to places that have not felt it," Clinton said.
But according to the 40 or so demonstrators, spreading prosperity — particularly to Iraq — is not part of the president’s agenda.
"I think that is the last place we are spreading prosperity. I think we are spreading disaster there," said Neal Abunab, a member of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, who joined the protest. "The policy has not been working and the U.S. does not want to admit that. What they say is saving those people is actually killing those people."
For two hours Abunab and others chanted and waived banners condemning the recent bombing of Iraq and the eight-year-old economic sanctions against it.
"While the whole country is focused on Clinton’s sexual escapades no one is talking about 1.5 million Iraqis, mostly children, who have died because of the sanctions," said David Sole, a member of the International Action Center in Detroit, which organized the event. " No foreign policy can justify this."
Sole visited Iraq last May with 83 other delegates, including Auxilliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the Detroit Archdiocese. The delegation distributed antibiotics and $4 million to hospitals in violation of U.S. law.
"If Americans saw what I saw, this policy wouldn’t last another day," said Sole. "Some women lost two and three children."
According to UNICEF, approximately 250 children die in Iraq each day because of malnutrition and a dearth of medical supplies due to the United States sanctions. "Young children are the most vulnerable because of poor nutrition and infrastructure has not been rebuilt," said Brad van Guilder, who also attended the demonstration. "The children get simple water-borne diseases and they just cannot resist those things without proper medication." He says that the protest was held to make it "clear that there is not unanimous support for this policy," explained van Guilder, "despite what the mainstream media may tell us."