Actors Mike Farrell, Matt Damon and Martin Sheen do not want the United States to go to war with Iraq.
Therefore, along with 97 other celebrities, they have formed a group called Artists United to Win Without War.
What the public didn't see at their Tuesday press conference is far more significant than the formation of yet another peace coalition by a bunch of left-leaning celebrities like Jessica Lange, Anjelica Huston and Elliott Gould.
What that significant development is, is the healthy dose of skepticism displayed by the mainstream press at Tuesday’s well-covered Hollywood event.
But first, the group’s statement, scheduled to appear soon in select newspapers:
"War talk in Washington is alarming and unnecessary.
"We are patriotic Americans who share the belief that Saddam Hussein cannot be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction. We support rigorous United Nations weapons inspections to assure Iraq’s effective disarmament.
"However, a preemptive military invasion of Iraq will harm American national interests. Such a war will increase human suffering, arouse animosity toward our country, increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks, damage the economy, and undermine our moral standing in the world. It will make us less, not more, secure.
"We reject the doctrine – a reversal of long-held American tradition – that our country, alone, has the right to launch first-strike attacks.
"The valid U.S. and U.N. objective of disarming Saddam Hussein can be achieved through legal diplomatic means. There is no need for war. Let us instead devote our resources to improving the security and well-being of people here at home and around the world."
Now for the significance.
An NBC reporter immediately set a skeptical tone for the spirited question and answer session, asking group co-chair Farrell if Artists United to Win Without War isn’t made up of celebrities who were also against the Gulf War a decade ago. Wouldn’t the world be an even more dangerous place if Hussein was not ousted from Kuwait and U.N inspectors weren’t brought in to Iraq back then?
The deft former star of M*A*S*H* said he would have preferred it had the elder President Bush explored "options short of war" before expelling Hussein from Kuwait.
Then Sheen was asked by a couple of reporters why it is that President Bush would threaten war against Iraq if Hussein presented little or no threat to the U.S.
"I don’t know if we’ll ever get the whole truth from this administration – about anything," he answered.
Pressed again as to the president’s motives, Sheen attributed them to mere family pride. "I think he’d like to hand his father Saddam Hussein’s head," Sheen said.
Then there was this exchange between a reporter and Sheen:
"Would you like to see Saddam Hussein overthrown?" the reporter asked.
"I don’t know what you mean," Sheen answered.
"Removed from power," said the reporter.
"I don’t even know what that means," Sheen said.
The undaunted reporter pressed on. "Regime change," he explained.
"I’d like to see that come from the Iraqis, not the Americans," Sheen finally conceded.
Not wanting the other reporters to have all the fun, I asked if, assuming our military were to overthrow Hussein quickly and with few casualties, and then Iraqi citizens were shown dancing in the streets and praising America for liberating them from a torturous dictator, would the Artists United to Win Without War rethink their position? Would they consider they might be wrong, and say so publicly?
Sheen offered, "I’m always open to the possibility that I’m wrong."
The bulk of the answer, though, came from Farrell, who made the point that, just because some Iraqis might applaud such a removal of Hussein, doesn’t make it the right thing to do.
"The idea that somehow the end justifies the means, as you’re suggesting, is exactly contrary to the principles on which this country was founded," Farrell said.
"The idea you suggest, forgive me, is an inappropriate one," he scolded.
The best bit of levity came at the close of the hour-long event. It had been suggested by some of the dozen celebrities in attendance that Artists United to Win Without War was nonpartisan.
Asked to name a Republican among the group, Farrell claimed there were some, but quipped, "I don’t want to out them."
In a room full of skeptical reporters who clearly were not there to rubber-stamp Hollywood’s latest political effort, the very revealing joke went over quite well.