I’m not here to report on the protest today. The pictures, word-of-mouth, and, no doubt, other posts will offer you a clue as to what went on. It was a remarkably well-organized event and encouragingly well-attended. Still, some of my confusions about the anti-war movement were made clearer.
An open-floor discussion is perhaps not a fair way to evaluate an event, as there was no central message meant to be relayed. However, some central themes came through and the enthusiastic results of the crowd suggest to me none of them were anathema.
In order, then.
The Protestant Chaplain made some curious, if telling remarks. He said it is the responsibility of those who “broke it”, Iraq, “not to fix it,…but to end it.” He also said he would end the peace vigil he co-runs “when U.S. led hostilities end”. So which is it – a peace vigil, or a U.S. led hostilities vigil? Is his duty to save the lives of American soldiers who volunteered to serve their country, or to save the lives of innocent Iraqis? Was there a solidarity vigil when Saddam was butchering civilians unopposed? Perhaps I misunderstood the chaplain’s intentions or remarks on this point. I am not going to win many people over by beginning with criticizing a well-respected and well-meaning religious figure, but I thought these comments provided a good introductory framework.
In a sgeringly surreal moment, David Emer quoted with approval comments made by Dick Cheney from 1994. A version of these comments, or what I believe David was referring to, can be seen below: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YENbElb5-xY&feature=related[/youtube]The former Secretary of Defense and future Vice President did indeed make some eerily prescient about the sgering difficulties an invasion and occupation of Iraq would entail. He concludes by saying the main question was “if we went on to Baghdad, how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? Our judgment is not very many, and I think we got it right.” Now perhaps Saddam himself was not worth many dead Americans, but this is a bit callous when one considers the hundreds of thousands of lives Saddam was free to take by our decision to leave him in power.
To use, and, yes, abuse the words of a famous protest chant, didn’t Dick Cheney “give peace a chance”? Didn’t aggressive American imperialist foreign power restrain itself, at the expense of hundreds of thousands of lives of Kurds and other persecuted groups in Saddam’s Stalinesque reign?
A later speaker spoke of ideals, and how we must be proud of our ideals. But is this appeal to non-violence and pacifism really so ideal? If one finds oneself at an ostensibly liberal rally quoting Dick Cheney, even the Dick Cheney of 1994, something must be wrong with our ideals! This is not idealism, but calculated foreign policy realism.
One can argue, as I do, on the grounds of effectiveness, or cost/benefit, or risk analysis (as well as the shocking corruption and ineptness of the occupation). These are not the terms of idealists. The question I think every anti-war activist (or person with strong anti-war feelings, no matter how active) must ask themselves is this: if the invasion of Iraq had gone flawlessly, with no American profiteering or extended occupation, and minimal Iraqi casualties, can it seriously be denied that a replacement of Saddam Hussein with a stable government would be a better thing for Iraqis and the world? Again, one can argue, as I might, that this was not essentially possible, or that the cost was too great. But one must acknowledge how this, at some level, involves a flirtation with isolationist impulses and with the often implicit assumption that American lives are more important than Iraqi ones. Indeed, we had a touching outpouring of support for the men and women of our volunteer army. However, I could not help but wonder why nothing was offered in support of the victims of violence in Iraq?
To frame the question slightly differently, Sahar, a friend of mine who I must stress I respect and admire, spoke, quite courageously I believe, of his initial support of the war. He writes about his whole process quite movingly in an earlier post on this very website. Sahar, I have to ask you the same question: do you oppose the Iraq war in theory or in practice? You decry the degradation of civil liberties that has occurred in this country as a key to your erosion of the war’s support. I could not possibly disagree with your disgust at the current state of civil liberties, although I feel this clouds the issue. The United States, in the 1940’s, could have undoubtedly won the war just as easily without interning its Japanese citizens. This disgusting policy, however, did not undermine America’s moral case against Nazism and fascism. Would you, by your logic, have supported the war if George Bush didn’t want to tap your phones? This intellectual game of moral equivalency is a troubling tendency the left would be better off reconsidering. Indeed, when one of the speakers asked the group if we were more afraid of terrorists or our government’s war on civil liberties, I could not help but answer “terrorists!” Perhaps others wished to answer with me, but refrained out of politeness. But such an argument should be offensive to anyone with any honest sense of moral judgment. This is not to say 1) that I believe Saddam represented the forces of terrorism (key to my opposition of the war) or 2) that I support the erosion of civil liberties.
I want to make myself clear that I do not believe this administration was capable of carrying out this war correctly or responsibly. This does not make me anti-war or pacifistic. This also does not, however, mean that I theoretically oppose the liberation of Iraq from Saddam, by force if necessary. I do not. It would have been a benefit to Iraq and to the world. Whether it was possible or in our vital interest in the often zero-sum world of military appropriations and deployment (and, I argue, it wasn’t) is a different argument, but not one routed in idealism.