2003-04-19 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart Mirsky

The Fog Of Debate
The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart Mirsky The Fog Of Debate

The Rockaway Irregular By Stuart Mirsky

With the dramatic events of April in Baghdad, which saw the jubilant welcoming of U.S. troops and the destruction and defacement of monuments to the deposed dictator, Saddam Hussein, a stunned silence seemed to temporarily descend on the critics of the administration's policies. Unable to argue against the advisability of the U.S. led coalition's actions in Iraq in the face of the live shots pouring in from Baghdad of rejoicing Iraqis thumbing their noses at the symbols of Saddam's rule, rubbing the soles of their shoes on his broken visage, and shouting praises and thanks to America and Bush, many of the critics just seemed to shut up. It couldn't last of course.

By the following day, on April 10, the Wall Street Journal carried a story headlined, in part, "Anti-War Groups Still Protest". Noting a shift in the strategy of these groups, the article reported that one critic, Ghada Razuki, a British protest leader, apparently recovering nicely from the initial images of joy in Baghdad, declared that the pictures we saw had been "stage-managed by the U.S. and don't necessarily mean anything." Ms. Razuki added that the people of Iraq may now "be happy Saddam is gone, but their euphoria will disappear as soon as they realize the Americans are in charge." Apparently in her mind this is a truly damning indictment.

One has to wonder what will happen to Ms. Razuki's own state of mind if the happiness of the freed Iraqis does not "disappear" as she predicts? And what if the Americans do exactly as they have said they will do, i.e., secure the peace, assist in establishing a legitimate, democratic Iraqi government, and then go home? Would Ms. Razuki's vehement opposition to the U.S. actions itself "disappear." You can bet it won't.

"The opposition movement is not going to disappear, and it's not going to shrink," Spanish Parliament member and New Left Coalition leader Diego Lopez Garrido assured the Journal's reporters in the same article. "It's going to be reconverted into a movement that keeps a vigilant eye on things to make sure that this doesn't happen again, with Syria, with Iran." But what "this" could he have had in mind? That we don't liberate any more populations from bloody dictators? What, you have to ask yourself, are these people really against and how can they oppose the kinds of actions that brought the images we recently witnessed in Baghdad, as the realization that Saddam's horrid regime was finally gone sunk in?

"What concerns the anti-war movement seems to be a new American foreign policy which is a first-strike or preemptive doctrine by the Bush administration," Mary Lord, a leader in the American Friends Service Committee, told the Journal in the same article. But wait a moment: wasn't the anti-war movement against the President's proposed military intervention in Iraq even before his administration had crafted and announced the so-called preemptive doctrine?

"We're broadening our message," Bette Hoover, another critic, told the Journal. "Among other things we're going to be highlighting are those benefiting from the U.S.'s continued war on terrorism," Hoover is described in the article as an organizer of an upcoming Washington rally that hopes to give special attention to the Occidental Petroleum Corp. and the World Bank. A San Francisco human rights group, Global Exchange, according to the Journal article, "has begun to target companies and individuals it believes will benefit from the postwar reconstruction." Global Exchange leader Medea Benjamin emphatically told the Journal, "nobody should profit from this war." So maybe that's really what it's all about : a continuation of the now largely discredited war on capitalism that the Soviet Union once spearheaded?

Not to be outdone, on April 11, The New York Sun ran its own story on the anti-war critics, reporting that Maya Sen, a national organizer for the American peace group, Not in Our Name, noted that she was "appalled to see the footage and the coercion the U.S. and U.K. military have put on the people of Iraq. It's a little hard not to do what they tell you to do when they are armed with machine guns." One is tempted to ask Sen if she thought this past autumn's "election," orchestrated by the now departed Iraqi dictatorship, which resulted in a 100% vote for Saddam, was a better measure of the people's will?

In the same article The Sun also noted that City Councilman Charles Barron, a supporter of the Council resolution against the war said, "People died for hegemony over the Middle East area. Do you honestly believe Bush cares about the lives of Iraqi people? Please."

Sen again: "We're dealing with something else now. The language that we're going to use is that this is straight up colonization."  So what is really going on here?

There seems to be a plethora of reasons for the opposition being expressed, not all of which have very much to do with freedom for oppressed peoples. The pre-war debate raged on maddeningly for months as politicians around the globe staked out their positions and anti-war protesters bestirred themselves from a long post-Vietnam War slumber. Sure they'd recently gotten it on over the twin matters of globalization and the environment. But these issues lacked real resonance. It took the rise of Middle Eastern terrorism, prompting an assertive American response, to finally warm the blood of those who see in America everything that is wrong with this world.

But, when we strip away all the reasons these folks give, all the arguments which disregard the Iraqi population's craving for a free life, aren't we really left with just one  thing: resentment of the U.S.? So is it power envy or fear of that power that motivates? Well, even when we were bumbling about under Jimmy Carter in the seventies, the folk in the protest camp still hewed to this same line. In fact, this view has, since Vietnam, worked its way into our national psyche. Not only does a core of hard-line anti-establishment types hold to this vision but so, too, does a broad array of folk, in academia, in entertainment, in politics, in the professions, and in the media. Since Vietnam there has been a certain cachet to "protest," given that so many of today's adults cut their teeth on the anti-war movement of the sixties and seventies. It is the new received opinion. But is it right?

If you look closely at what drives the views of the protesters, you do not see rationality but rationalization. If the war was seen to be wrong because it was an infringement on the sovereign rights of an independent people, what happens when that same people rejoice at the war's results? Do the protesters stop to re-think their opposition in the face of the images of liberation beamed live from Baghdad? Hardly. Instead they scramble to cobble together new justifications for opposition, to keep the business of protest in business.

On April 9, we had a moment when the shrill cacophony of debate briefly stopped in deference to something real and memorable. We all stood still and many of us felt a flutter in our chests as freedom came to a long-oppressed people and as all the blood and sweat of the American-led coalition's efforts seemed to be vindicated. As elderly Iraqi men cried in the street and beat images of Saddam Hussein with their shoes, as crowds struggled to bring down a hideous statue of the dictator, as children pounded on the broken, Ozymandius-like head that other Iraqis drew triumphantly through the streets behind them, many of us felt tears well up in our eyes in unity with this long-suffering people.

But the critics, the carpers, the leftovers of another era could not give up their raison d'etre. No amount of good news for the Iraqi people could possibly be enough to affect a worldview that has been so deeply warped by the pain of bygone years. And so, disregarding what was right before their eyes, they began, almost immediately, the process of mental readjustment that would preserve their anti-American outrage. The debate and rancor ceased for a day as the world focused on liberation in Iraq. But soon it was again "business as usual" as the fog of debate once more replaced the fog of war.

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