Tuesday, October 18. 2005
Tim Dickinson has a piece in Rolling Stone called "The War Over Peace," where he asks the question: "While vets march against the war and gold-star mothers mourn their sons killed in action, leftists rant about global colonialism. Is the anti-war movement too fractured to be effective?" He then spends the whole article dumping on the left for tainting the antiwar movement. In a highlight box, he declares, "Bashing Bush is hardly a blueprint for bringing the troops home quickly." Evidently we're not supposed to acknowledge that Bush was the one who put them there, and that Bush is the one who keeps them there. Dickinson quotes one antiwar veteran complaing that groups like ANSWER "hijacked" the antiwar protest, then quotes Todd Gitlin on how ANSWER spells "easy marginalization."
The truth is that the left got to the antiwar movement before anyone else. And the reason that happened is that the left had already made the connections to see how badly the war would turn out. ANSWER's edge was that they had already organized to oppose neoliberal globalization, so they were ready when the Iraq war leaped to the top of their priority list. Same thing can be said for the pacifists (not the same as the left), who again got the the right connections before the wheels fell off. One really should credit both groups for their prescience and at least consider what else they have to offer. But more often than not, even those who came around to oppose the war insist on reasserting their anti-left, anti-pacifist prejudices.
The net effect of this carping about the peace movement is to turn the tables, accepting some or all of war movement's premises. Dickinson illustrates this when he writes:
The first faulty assumption here is the notion that only "serious politicians" count. If that were true Bush's people could afford to be blasé about public opinion on the war, but most evidence suggests that they suffer from periodic panic attacks, especially as polls show a majority of voters concluding that the whole war was a big, stupid mistake. Even if the war defenders score points attacking the antiwar movement as leftist and/or pacifist, the erosion of popular support for the war tracks the war itself, not the spin.
The second faulty assumption is the assertion that lack of "a pragmatic exit strategy" disqualifies the antiwar movement from serious consideration. This weasel wording seeks to obscure the real issue, which is that the war defenders have no exit strategy (pragmatic or otherwise). "Out Now" may not be an optimal solution, but it's a clear alternative to their "Out Never" -- perhaps the point of disagreement would be clearer if we just said "Out!" But there are two main problems with trying to articulate an alternate strategy: one is that we don't have the power to implement it; the other is that it divides the movement, since war opponents range from pacifists and isolationists to internationalists and flat-out anti-imperialist revolution symps. To do as Dickinson suggests and purge the antiwar movement of its non-mainstream elements doesn't cut our numbers so much as it deflects the focus away from where it should be: the war, and the people who led us into it and keep us there.
The unwillingness of the Democrats to oppose the war just shows how effective people like Rove have been at shaping the mainstream political dialogue in America. The only conclusion we can draw from that fact is that the political system in America, as practiced by both parties, is based not on popular will but on the ability of the partisan elites to manipulate elections. As such, one thing the antiwar movement does is to show up the undemocratic nature of the system. That doesn't guarantee change, but it focuses attention, and we know from experience that without attention change will never come.
We should thank God for the antiwar movement. Without it, we would be lost.
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