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With Friends Like These

October 20th, 2002 · No Comments

Shortly after writing that last piece, I spotted this discussion, linked by Glenn Reynolds, over on Max Sawicky’s site. It’s both interesting and gratifying that many on the moderate antiwar left feel about some of the vocal fringe more or less the way I do about Lew Rockwell or that blue LP senate candidate. That is, vaguely embarassed to share a species, let alone a political movement, with ’em.

Part of the problem is that apparently the major antiwar “coaltions” – Not In Our Name and ANSWER — are not just organized by, but quite literally front groups for, the Revolutionary Communist Party and Workers World Party. (See also Todd Gitlin’s piece.) This ends up being a massive gift to the hawks. First, because those folks are about as literate and coherent in their opposition to the war as they are the rest of the time. Which is to say, not at all. They’ve also got a pair of those its-all-connected goggles strapped to their heads, so that the antiwar position is seen as necessarily linked to the struggle against colonialism, capitalist oppression, racism, hangnails, bad hair days, consumer culture, and any other ill you care to name. The rhetoric of their speakers reflects this, making it all too easy for the armchair commandos to dismiss all those who are against invasion as “idiotarians.”

I mention this in relation to the piece below because it seems like one way to reclaim this issue from those who’ve hijacked it is for more moderate folks on the left to make common cause with libertarian and centrist war skeptics. The disagreement between those groups on just about everything else will, in this instance, be a useful feature, because it will keep all eyes on the prize, rather than letting a whole gaggle of side issues distract people. In other words, a message produced by a “core” (Sawicky’s term) who disagree pretty radically among themselves will, of necessity, be limited to the small areas of overlap, and so have the widest possible appeal. In that spirit, let me throw out some suggestions for a more reasonable opposition movement.

Abandon Psychology – I can’t read George Bush’s mind. I have no idea whether he’s “really” pushing invasion because he believes his own line about the threat Hussein poses, or because he’s trying to hook his old Texas buddies into all that tasty middle-eastern oil, or some combination of the two. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. If it were true that Iraq were on the verge of getting nukyulur, or even (perish the thought) nuclear weapons, and we didn’t think deterrence would be effective, and an invasion wouldn’t give rise to even worse threats, well, then that’d be the thing to do. It wouldn’t matter if, deep in his heart, Bush just wanted vengance for daddy or cheap fuel for his Range Rover. Similarly, if (as I think) the arguments for war are unsound, then they’re made no less sound by the purest motives on the administration’s part. So ultimately, the “oil conspiracy” argument is a sideshow: it doesn’t really speak to the question of whether invasion is justified, and gives the impression (possibly true in some cases) that hatred of Bush has more to do with opposition to war than analysis or principle. Let’s take the hawk arguments at face value, refute them as though they’re offered sincerely, and leave Freudian speculation and conspiracy theories to the historians and biographers.

Live in the Now – Yes, the Reagan administration was cuddling with Saddam and giving him bioweapons and foot massages through the 80s. So what? As typically presented, this argument has nothing to do with whether Iraq is now a threat, and gives the hawks an excuse to say antiwarriors are just grinding a more general anti-American axe. The fact that we supported a thug in the past wouldn’t preclude our acting against him now, when it became clear what a mistake that was. The valid version of this point, which usually gets obscured, is that our interventions frequently require us to support an opposition group which itself becomes a threat. If that’s the point to be made, though, we should be sure we’re making that point. So mention of our past support for Iraq, if we make it, should be quickly followed by an analogy to, say, the potential perils of empowering the country’s Shiite south, which might then align with Iran.

Play to the Audience – The hawks and (more importantly) middle America don’t give a shit what Noam Chomsky or Susan Sarandon think about the war. They will find it less easy to dismiss, for example, the CIA, which seems to agree that Hussein is not quite as dangerous and uncontrollable as Bush & co. have made him out to be. If we let ourselves be painted as rejecting any action against any threat under any circumstance, we lose. The argument has to be that this threat doesn’t rise to the level of demanding a military response. The question we should be raising for all the fencesitters is: whose assessment of a foreign threat do you find more trustworthy, the CIA’s or that of a bunch of wannabe generals at National Review? We need to have this fight on their terms, because on their terms, they lose.

Addendum: Zoe Mitchell posts on the hijacking of the opposition. She mentions a feeder march as an alternative, though unfortunately, it looks like they’re making a lot of the same mistakes, diluting the main message with an everything-but-the-kitchen sink sideshow of demands for public housing, national health care, an end to gentrification, etc., etc. Oh well. [Courtesy of Joanne McNeil]

Addendum 2: Hmm, it looks like I’m a late arrival, and this issue is well on its way to tipping… my lefty friend Mobius has a post on the same topic, and links to this article, originally from Salon.

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