Saturday, October 29, 2005

Drive-by post

Under the heading "If Only" comes the news that Shrub responded to the indictment of Lewis Libby by saying "In our system, each individual is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial."

Oh, what I would have given to have some reporter say "Mr. President, when is Jose Padilla going to get the benefit of that tradition?"

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

For all with eyes to see

The map on the left, from the BBC, shows how the provinces of Iraq voted on the new constitution. It tells the story of Iraq in the starkest terms, shows the divisions between, on the one hand, the (mostly-Sunni) central and western areas and, on the other hand, the (mostly-Shiite) south and east and the (mostly-Kurdish) north. And shows it in a way no one could rationally deny.

In fact, it seems no matter how you run the numbers, the same splits turn up. For example, the two provinces marked in red on the map - Anbar and Salahuddin - are the ones that rejected the proposed document by a greater than two-thirds majority. If you redid the map to show in red provinces that had a majority "no" vote, even if not a two-thirds majority, Nineveh in the northwest and bordering both Anbar and Salahuddin, would also be red. The overall result of about 78.5% "yes" and 21.5% "no" mirrors rather closely the population split between, again, Shiites and Kurds on the one hand and Sunnis on the other.

This is not to say, of course, that all Sunnis voted "no" and all Shiite and Kurds voted "yes." But even so, that dramatically-clear division is more than merely geographic, it is also strong and deep. Consider another map, one that would display in green those provinces where the winning side, whether "yes" or "no," got at least two-thirds of the vote; the rest would be in red. Fifteen provinces would be green; only three, all ethnically mixed, would be red, and one of those would be greenish: Diyala (51% yes), Nineveh (55% no), and Tamim (63% yes). In fact, if you raised it to provinces where the winning side got 95% of the vote or even more, you would still have 13 green provinces and only five red ones.

Back in August, I said that the vote looked like a lose-lose proposition.
The less likely possibility ... is that the constitution will be rejected and the whole process collapses and has to be started over. That would be a political disaster that would frustrate large parts of the Shiite community.... The more likely possibility ... is that the constitution will be approved over the objections of a large number of Sunnis who will then feel even more disaffected, regarding the constitution as something forced on them which is harmful to the needs of their community - and the insurgency will grow.
The prediction was hedged as "likely" because I expected it to be close in just the way that it was: If something like 10-12% of voters in one province (Nineveh) had voted differently, the proposed constitution would have been rejected. Oddly enough, reading the BBC's report on Monday about how the vote had turned into something of a cliffhanger, I began to think that despite the risks, for those who cling to the hope that maybe by some combination of strokes of sheer dumb luck something of lasting good for Iraqis could come out of all this, a defeat for the constitution might be the best thing, because it would give Sunnis a basis for believing that they did have some political power, did have a possible option beyond violence or victimization.

But it was not to be and already the resentments are appearing.
Sunni figures talked of widespread fraud after hearing the final results.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, part of a Sunni Arab team that negotiated the constitution, called the referendum a "farce" and accused government forces of stealing ballot boxes to reduce the size of the "No" vote.
But even with those I fear unbridgeable divisions, there are still some things on which the vast majority of Iraqis agree, as reported by the Sunday Telegraph (UK) for October 23: They oppose the occupation and say it's making things worse.
The poll, undertaken for the Ministry of Defence and seen by The Sunday Telegraph ... demonstrates for the first time the true strength of anti-Western feeling in Iraq after more than two and a half years of bloody occupation. ...

The survey was conducted by an Iraqi university research team that, for security reasons, was not told the data it compiled would be used by coalition forces. It reveals:

- Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;

- 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;

- less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;

- 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;

- 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;

- 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.

The opinion poll, carried out in August, also debunks claims by both the US and British governments that the general well-being of the average Iraqi is improving in post-Saddam Iraq. ...

[T]he poll show[ed] that 71 per cent of people rarely get safe clean water, 47 per cent never have enough electricity, 70 per cent say their sewerage system rarely works and 40 per cent of southern Iraqis are unemployed.
Interestingly, the area with the lowest percentage who felt that attacks are justified, 25%, was around Basra, another of the four UK-controlled provinces. However, that may have changed, as Basra, in the supposedly "peaceful" part of Iraq, has become a battleground between British forces and the very security forces whose successful buildup was supposed to provide the pretext for a withdrawal, but who now, the UK says, are heavily infiltrated by militias with ties to Iran.
Most ordinary people in Basra hate the militiamen, who enforce intolerant Islamic strictures forbidding the consumption of alcohol and the mixing of men and women in public. The militias are also accused of carrying out hundreds of executions of Sunni Arab opponents or of ordinary people who fall foul of their rules.

But the population of Basra largely turned against the British after the two [UK] soldiers were freed [in a military operation last week after having been arrested,] because of a widespread belief that they were Israeli spies.

It is feared that yesterday's arrests [of militia by UK forces] will only enrage them further.
Shrub, of course, responded to the vote by talking about "spreading freedom." In that August post, I advised him to "keep smiling - it's all you have." It still is.


Footnote: The Telegraph notes that the result of the MOD survey "differ markedly" from those of a poll commissioned by the BBC in March, 2004, indicating a sharp deterioration in the attitudes of Iraqis about the occupation and its effects on them. I referred to that BBC poll in my post on the first anniversary of the war, saying it described "some sense of hope among Iraqis," but if you want to check out the full results, to see just how much attitudes have changed in the last 18 months, they are at this link in a .pdf document.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Life, interrupted

Or, "Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Get Back to Blogging."

My best friend for the last 40 years or so dropped dead of a massive heart attack yesterday morning. He worked in wireless communications and was at a meeting to train some new customers on the equipment. He got as far as introducing himself - and then he just keeled over.

Immediate CPR didn't help; the paramedics (who arrived within about 5 minutes of being called, according to those who were there) couldn't help; attempts to revive him in the ER failed - in fact, they were pointless.

The only blood relation remaining is his wife's, his now-widow's, aged mother, who lives a few hundred miles away. She - the wife/widow - has got some good friends in the area, but the only family here are me and my ex-wife. No, we're not blood relations, but we're family all the same.

So I'm afraid I'm going to be rather distracted the next few days. My apologies in advance. I won't say that nothing will appear, but - well, just no promises. However it goes, it goes.

This is not a good day.

As time goes by

Updated Okay, so here's the deal. There was this big antiwar demonstration planned for September 24. And yeah, it was looking like "big" was going to be the right word. People were getting excited, buses were being organized, flyers were going out, it was coming together.

And what were some people worried about? Could it have been the mechanics? Negotiating the route? Lining up parade marshals? Organizing press relations? Well, yes, happily there were people concerned with the details of pulling the thing off. But others were concerned with the politics. Or, rather, what they fantasized was the politics. And they were worried, deeply worried. Because there were, you know, well, I don't like to label people but.... I mean, well, there were leftists involved! I don't mean good Democratic Party liberals, oh no, I mean actual leftists! Doggone it, I'll say it out loud, there were even socialists involved! In the actual planning! In the organizing! Can you believe it?

"Omigosh!" the cries rose. "We can't be identified with Those People! It will make us Look Bad! They will be Divisive! They will Raise Other Issues! They will Alienate The Public!"

But of course there was no way to actually prevent Those People from being involved in promoting and organizing participation in the rally even as there were those who wished Those People could be prevented from even taking part. So some among us wrung their hands and fretted about how the media would focus on "incidents" and "radicals" - you know, on Those People and What They Will Do - that the right wing would pounce on to their advantage; and indeed there were some who even fussed that the very mass demonstration itself would Discredit The Antiwar Movement, a movement which in their minds extended no further than a proposal to maybe begin to withdraw some troops from Iraq maybe, oh, I dunno, a year and a-half from now. Or so.

But the day came as days have a habit of doing and what do you know, it was astonishing. Yes, indeed, a mass turnout - the biggest single protest since the war began, as a number of people pointed out. How many were there? The chief of the DC police said that the organizers had certainly met their goal of 100,000 and added when asked that 150,000 was "as good a guess as any." Organizers estimated 200,000; some even claimed 300,000 (although that seemed to be pushing it some). By any estimate, a lot. A whole lot.

A massive, joyous, denunciation of the war and celebration of life. Press coverage was extensive and on the whole quite good. The New York "Times" piece was rather fluffy - their grim editorial determination to justify their earlier support for the war seemingly having infected their news coverage of related events (see Miller, Judith) - but the Washington "Post," AP, and Reuters all filed good stories that expressed both the size and the diversity of the crowd and were remarkably free of the snickering "reminiscent of the '60s" references that populated dispatches about earlier protests. All in all, a wonderful event that fulfilled almost all of the hopes and virtually none of the fears.

So what do I find the beginning of the next week? What do I find when I go scanning the Big Blogs to see what people are saying about the weekend? I still find people griping and grousing about the involvement of leftist groups in the organizing! I still find people saying how much better it would have been If Only Those People Had Not Been Involved.

Fuming about the involvement of groups such as ANSWER (which seemed to be the primary focus of the Sincere Concern) before the demo was bad enough (especially since United for Peace and Justice did most of the heavy lifting), doing it after a successful event during which your fears proved unwarranted is just monumentally stupid.

I was left slack-jawed, wondering my gosh, have we learned nothing in the last fifty flaming years? Are we really that lame, really that blind, really that, the only word that fits is, stupid that we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again?

Yes, the same mistakes. Consider first that when Joe McCarthy went on his rampage about "communist infiltration" of the government, his words reached a receptive public audience, receptive enough that his smears and lies are credited with defeating some Democrats in 1950 and helping elect Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. But it needs to be remembered that McCarthy didn't start the "Red Scare" atmosphere in which he thrived, he just capitalized on it enough to lend his name forevermore to the tactic of political intimidation through innuendo and lies. By the time Tailgunner Joe opened his mouth in 1950, the paranoia was well developed.

For example, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was engaging in its own form of political terrorism: Its witch hunt for "subversives" in the film industry - which directly prompted the notorious Hollywood blacklist - started in 1947, three years before McCarthy's "I have in my hand" speech.

Faced with this sort of guilt by accusation and association, what did the people who knew the truth do? What did those who were attacked for knowing someone who knew someone who once roomed with someone who was related to someone who at some point was in the Communist Party or maybe went to a party hosted by a communist, actual or "suspected," do? Did they speak out, did they condemn the destruction of lives and liberty, did they challenge it? Did they say "Take you lies and stick 'em - I'm not turning my back on my friends?" A brave few did - but their courage lay not so much in their words as in their loneliness: Most - up to and including Eisenhower, both as candidate and as president - kept silent; indeed, many went out of their way to declare their vehement hatred of anything red or even vaguely pink. It wouldn't have been surprising if some had declared the only apples they would eat were Granny Smiths and eyed suspiciously anyone foolish enough to confess a fondness for tomato soup.

Notably, the AFL had already launched an attack on "communists" in the labor movement, particularly in the rival CIO, and had opened a covert relationship with the CIA to undermine "left wing" labor groups in Europe. By the time the AFL and CIO merged on December 5, 1955, the CIO had purged communists and communist "sympathizers" - again, whether real or suspected - from leadership and organizing roles.

And did this virtuous, forceful declaration of true Americanism bring potency and protection to the labor movement? Did it insulate it from charges of being subversive? Of course not. What it did instead was to strip the movement of some of its most effective and enthusiastic supporters and organizers. Which could be a significant part of the reason why immediately thereafter, the proportion of US workers who belong to unions began to decline and has continued to do so: from 33% of the workforce in 1955 to just 12.9% in 2003. In fact, fewer people are in unions now than 50 years ago despite a much larger workforce. Yes, the "changing nature of work" has also mattered - but even in the most heavily unionized sectors the proportion has shrunk, sometimes dramatically:
Since 1978 ... the percentage of workers in manufacturing who are union members has fallen from 40 percent to 13.5 percent. ... Unions in 2002 represented 17.2 percent of construction industry workers, compared with 70 percent in 1956. Unions represented 8.5 percent of workers in the mining industry in 2002, down from 63 percent in 1956.
Meanwhile, the silence in the face of McCarthy's blustering and bullying did nothing - big shock - to contain him. He simply went beyond his list of - whatever it was, 57, 81, 205 - "communists" protected by the "treasonous actions" of those in the State Department to finding subversion in the books offered by the Voice of America and then ultimately to the Army, with a stopover insinuating Eisenhower was a communist along the way.

The Red Scare years are hard to grasp at this distance. The level of distrust, of paranoia, of fanaticism, certainly and clearly outstrips what we are living with today - which is not to say it could not become that bad, only that it hasn't yet. But the one lesson that activists should have drawn from that nightmare is that acquiescence is not an answer. Adopting the terminology, the (dare I say it) frame of the enemy - I use the word deliberately - does not protect you against attack. Most of all, slicing away your friends and supporters will not help you. Spending time and energy going "oh, no, no, no, I'm not one of them" only narrows your base, reduces your potential support, and will not satisfy your attackers.

That should have been clear (in fact, it was clear to some folks nearly 100 years earlier), but apparently it wasn't: In the early years of the opposition to the Vietnam War, the same mistakes were made. With the memories of McCarthy still ringing in their heads, many peace groups and individuals felt that they had to justify, to legitimize, their objections to the war by proving they were really, really, truly American. They not only consciously, meticulously, avoided any contact with not only the Communist Party but any other definably left-wing party as well, but were careful in all their statements to "balance" any criticism of US policy or actions with condemnations of "communism" and all its associated evils.

(Sidebar: I put the word in quotes because by this time "communism" - usually understood in the US to mean a worldwide, monolithic force defined and controlled by centralized, Soviet-style government, which was certainly a very different animal than anything Karl Marx had envisioned by the term - had mutated into a variety of forms in a variety of places. For example, the very nationalistic "communism" of Ho Chi Minh was simply not the same as the "communism" found in China or even less in the USSR. For its part, the CPUSA was regarded as something of a joke by its European counterparts for its subservience to the shifts in political winds in Moscow. They had long since come to chart their own independent courses.)

But the war dragged on and a few groups, a few people - notably some who had been radicalized by their experiences in the civil rights movement - got bolder. Some decided that they would work with any group with who they agreed on a given issue even if they disagreed on other things. Some even - and the War Resisters League deserves kudos in this regard - broke the taboo on working with the CP.

And what do you know, the world did not explode, the antiwar movement did not collapse, and the public at large did not recoil in horror at the notion of radicals involved in the peace demonstrations to which they themselves were increasingly drawn. Part of the reason is that opposition had seemed radical from the start but over time looked less and less so as the war looked less and less rational and the notion that the protestors "are on to something" began to spread. Another good part - and this will come up again - is that for most people who came to oppose the war, the issue increasingly wasn't what they were doing in Vietnam, but what we were doing in Vietnam. In early 1987, I wrote about
the most dangerous of all our cultural notions: the myth of American innocence. We as a people still tend to believe that we always act out of the highest ideals, that our motives are always pure, our intentions always honest, our honor always intact. The Monroe Doctrine still functions in American minds as "protection" of Latin America rather than domination of it. The "manifest destiny" - one of the more blatantly imperialistic doctrines in the Western world's history - is usually viewed (when it's viewed at all) through a romantic haze as the blossoming westward of a people too vibrant and energetic to be confined. Jamming Japanese-Americans into concentration camps in World War II was an "aberration," Vietnam was "a noble mistake," high-level political corruption right up through Teapot Dome, Watergate, and Gippergate always the work of "a small number of people," the invasion of Grenada a "rescue," the shelling of Lebanon an act of "peace-keeping," the bombing of Libya "to prevent further terrorism," building nuclear weapons "purely defensive." ... We continually fool ourselves into believing that each grisly episode, each new monstrosity, each new offense, is an "isolated case" the very isolation of which reaffirms the basic purity of the American political character. ...

There is just one partially-redeeming virtue to all this: perpetual innocence allows for perpetual shock. When one of these exercises in egregiousness does manage to penetrate our cultural armor, we can still feel horror and outrage....
And Vietnam did manage to do that. The reality managed to break through the facade of "resisting communist aggression" to a degree that increasing numbers of people could not avoid facing.

Certainly, the McCarthy-era tricks were still tried, there was a good deal of Red-baiting, but people paid less and less attention to it. And here's the key point: While the nature of the war was certainly one reason for that, another, significant, reason was that the movement itself paid less and less attention to it. A socially-radicalized, politically-aggressive antiwar movement did not spend a lot of time and energy trying to "prove" to the satisfaction of people who would never be convinced that it was not "anti-American" or "pro-communist." It simply went about its business of opposing the war.

Indeed, when HUAC tried to get up to its old tricks with an investigation of the so-called New Left in I think it was 1967, it discovered a much-changed set of opponents. Instead of people who defiantly declared their right to political privacy, who insisted on First and Fifth Amendment grounds that they would not answer the Committee's questions, the members confronted people who proudly embraced the very accusations made against them. Yes, they said, we are revolutionaries. Yes, we oppose the war. Yes, we support the Viet Minh and yes, we hope they drive the US out of Vietnam. In a happy blunder, the Committee demanded testimony from such folks as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin (who showed up in costume as a soldier in the American revolution), witnesses who made the Committee look foolish by their simple refusal to be intimidated. (Think George Galloway with guerrilla theater.)

(Some have argued that they could be bolder than those interrogated in the '50s because they had "less to lose" than the earlier accused, which is true enough in a certain economic sense but the examples of the conspiracy trials, e.g., the Chicago 7 - nee 8 - and the so-called "Trial of Dr. Spock," and programs such as COINTELPRO make that certainly at least an arguable assertion.)

Did any of the general rabble-rousing, the (if you will) political self-affirmation, the open defiance, the, as Dan Berrigan wrote in the context of a different sort of defiance, "fracture of good order, ... the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house," do any good? Yes. It was both the core and the expression of, as I said in 1985,
the anger and the joy, the tough determination and gentle compassion, the bitter awareness and sweet dreams that marked a movement that over a several-year span was powerful enough to end the draft, limit and finally stop a war, force one (and maybe two) Presidents from office, shake the foundations of a society's judgements about half its population, force the nuclear power industry to a virtual halt, and change - perhaps not by much but quite possibly permanently - that society's sense of its relationship to the environment.
The nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s either recalled or internalized that attitude: When accused of being "inspired by the KGB," supporters and organizers pretty much just said "Don't be ridiculous" and kept going. Now, in fairness, I have to note that those same folks were able to refer to the fact that the proposal put demands on both the US and the USSR and that balance was one big reason why it was relatively easy for even middle-of-the-road politicians to support it. But the point here, again, is that such balance did not protect the movement against being Red-baited - but the movement did not allow itself to get bogged down in "proving" its supposedly-required pro-US, non-communist, bona fides. Contrary to some notions, the movement didn't disappear as an issue because it had failed: The Reagan administration came into office in 1981 pledged to attain "nuclear superiority" over the Soviet Union and calling nuclear wars "winnable" and "a physics problem." But by 1984 it was sounding like a Ban-the-Bomb group and reached agreements with the Soviets that convinced a good number of people that the threat of nuclear war no longer loomed, with the result that other concerns took priority. The movement faded party due to cooption and partly due to its success in changing the atmosphere in which nuclear weapons were considered. That is, it became a mass movement that successfully forced the government to change its tune in order to head off further successes. Not a total success, but much further from a failure.

But if there was at least partial success there, in other ways people were stunned by Reaganism. Perhaps that's why amnesia struck the American left and we retreated into the CYA mode of earlier years. Fast forward to April, 1991. The Gulf War had ended and the peace movement was licking its wounds, wondering why it had been so impotent in the face of a war that, before it began, many wanted to stop. I gave my answer to that question:
At the very start of the efforts to head off the Gulf war, a tactical decision was made that this time around we'd prove that we "support the troops" as much as anyone. Not for us the "marginalization" of the Vietnam era. So we wrapped ourselves in yellow, carried placards declaring "We Support Our Troops," were as loudly and proudly American as anyone.

And we wound up more marginalized than ever. ...

In its eagerness to prove itself genuinely "American," the peace movement [put itself] on the defensive from the very beginning. Instead of simply assuming the legitimacy of our protest, we acted like we had to "prove" that we were really "legitimate," really "Americans," really "part of the mainstream" - and in so doing succeeded only in confirming the right wing's stance that these were proper questions to ask about us. The way a political discussion is framed determines which positions are "legitimate" and which are "not." No one in a political dispute should ever allow their opponent to frame the terms of debate - but that tactical sin is one of which the peace movement has been repeatedly, egregiously, guilty.

Buying into the yellow ribbon culture was a terrible blunder, morally, historically, and politically, one which I fear will reverberate through our political culture for years to come.

Indeed, it was more than a blunder: It was a form of intellectual cowardice. We showed ourselves more concerned with not "offending" anyone than with saying what we believed, more with sparing ourselves the embarrassment of "losing" than with advancing our ideas. We were so worried about not looking "radical," "un-American," or whatever other word it was we thought would make "middle America" gasp that we undermined our own arguments, undercut our own authority - and now we wander around, dazed, astonished at the advances of the militarists, apparently unable to draw the connection between our own lack of political courage and our failure to stop the war or even to build an effective constituency against it. ...

The buildup to the Gulf war deserved - required - a response every bit as vigorous [as that to Vietnam], with every bit as much clarity. Instead, through our own fearful and foolish failure to speak the truth as we knew it we acquiesced in our own elimination from "legitimate" debate to such an extent that George Bush was able to declare without fear of contradiction that "there is no antiwar movement in this country." ...

The bottom line is that we were so eager to be part of the "mainstream" (which, again, we let the right wing define), so eager to avoid "isolation," so eager not to be seen as "losers" that we were ready to trade real truth for rudimentary tolerance - and in so doing failed in all three goals. Former Texas Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower is fond of saying that "the only things found in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos." The US peace movement appears to bear the characteristics of both.
Put another way, acquiescence is not an answer! Slicing away your friends and supporters will not help you!

Okay, home stretch time as we make another jump, this time to the days and weeks following September 11, 2001. And again, just as during the '50s Red Scare, just as during the early days of Vietnam, just as during the Gulf War, significant voices on the left took great pains to distinguish their Loyal Opposition With Emphasis On Loyal from those who would respond to the attacks with anything other than wholehearted Americanism, hatred of terrorists (well, foreign ones, anyway), and bloodlust toward Afghanistan - that is, those who would raise questions about the roots of terrorism and wonder aloud if maybe this was in some way or another related to what we have done in and to other parts of the world over the past decades.

For some, yes, that may have been an honest, sincere response. There were many who felt a surge of patriotism that surprised them. But no, that wasn't always the reason. That October, for example, Eric Alterman argued in "The Nation" that some among us should be "rejected for reasons of honor and pragmatism" (emphasis added) as the "'Hate America' left." His argument for "honor" was hard to discern since he never actually named anyone to be read out of the ranks of "principled dissent[ers]" or said just why they should be, but he was clear about the pragmatic part: It was, I wrote at the time,
as protection against the "McCarthyite thuggishness" so amply on display in public discourse these days. ...

[But b]y decrying "the refusal to draw [a] line" between "principled dissent" and an ill-defined "'Hate America' left" Alterman effectively acknowledges that questions about our patriotism - however we individually define the word - are proper ones.... His proposed course of action does not defuse the right's attack, it legitimizes it.
That is, he repeated the "oh no, I'm not with Them!" mistakes of the Red Scare and the "I am too, patriotic!" mistakes of the Gulf War era.

Around the same time, Todd Gitlin wrote a piece called "Blaming America First" in "Mother Jones." He blasted away at "reflexive anti-Americans" consisting of a "vocal" "minority" that is "isolated on campuses...where reality checks are scarce" and who engaged in "fairy-tale oversimplification" that ignored Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Just replace those last two references with "communists" and "Viet Cong atrocities" and it's 1964 and Vietnam and the "responsible" (supposed) opponents of the war are flailing away at the "radicals" all over again.

Several months later he was still at it, expressing horror at the idea that the "hard left" was in the forefront of the developing anti-Iraq War movement, "turning the movement toward the bitter-end orthodoxy of the Old Left," marked by "a refusal to face a grotesque world." In his continuing reliving of the earliest days of Vietnam, he insisted the movement was "doomed" unless it was lead by "out-front patriots" who would condemn Saddam Hussein as strongly as - if not more strongly than - US policy. Whether this is bitterly amusing or merely bitter, coming as it does from someone who at least used to take pleasure in being identified as a former president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), is up for debate.

Alterman and Gitlin were by no means alone. As another example, a year later, the self-consciously clever and self-proclaimed liberal Michael Bérubé wrote in the Boston "Globe" that those who opposed the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq had "lost their moral compass." In a follow-up, he blasted Noam Chomsky for having said in the fall of 2001 that the US had demanded Pakistan cut off food supplies to Afghanistan, as a result of which millions could die - even though he acknowledged the statement was true based on the best available information at the time it was made! The reason, apparently, is that "it gave credence to the charge that the left had become the blame-America-first party."
So what would Bérubé have us do [I wrote at the time]? Keep silent lest we be thought "anti-American?" Wait for the right wing to set the permissible limits of debate before speaking up? How else are we to regard what amounts to a call to refrain from making politically-unpopular statements even if they're true?
(By the way, distance, as measured by a time span of four years, apparently does provide some perspective: Just few days ago, talking about the so-called liberal war hawks, Alterman said on his blog
I try never to speculate on the motives of any given individuals. [I assume he actually meant he doesn’t anymore, since he seemed quite ready to engage in such speculation in 2001.] ... The media ... pretend that turning on powerless liberals is somehow braver than standing up to the Bush administration and its entire propaganda apparatus in the conservative (and a healthy chunk of the mainstream) media. [R]ight-wingers must have a good laugh at these "principled" who take every political question on its merits but always end up finding fault with their own side.
Columnist, critique thyself?)

I thought my response to Bérubé was cogent, but events indicated it was more cogent than I thought, because keeping our mouths shut about things beyond the right wing's version of the "mainstream" seemed to be exactly what some had in mind. There were prominent "liberal" bloggers, for example, who openly opposed the demonstrations at the GOP convention in New York City a year ago on the grounds that the rightists would label them "disrespectful." There were those - and there was some overlap - who opposed the counter-inaugural demonstration last January because, and this is a quote from one, "it will make us look like sore losers."

After the election, there was a great deal of discussion, which continues even now, about how the Democrats need to "re-think their agenda." Noteworthy among the proposed "re-thinks" are eliminating support for abortion rights, gay rights, affirmative action, and gun control: responding to right wingers by trying to placate them, to be a little more like them - actually, rather more than a little more. Meanwhile, not only are such as ANSWER, Ramsey Clark, and Noam Chomsky to be sidelined and condemned as "hard left anti-Americans," but even Michael Moore and for pity's sake have been subjected to the "they're not with us" routine by some because they have been the target of right wing attacks, attacks that aim at targets further and further rightward as those to the left get picked off and filed away by the CYA liberals under the heading "unacceptably radical for public discussion."

And what has been the result? What has it achieved? What has this surrender by degrees gotten us? Do we have a strong, vibrant left? Do we have an effective movement for peace and justice? Are we gaining the attention of the public - a public that actually agrees with at least liberal positions on a large number of issues?
In a May survey published by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 65 percent of respondents said they favor providing health insurance to all Americans, even if it means raising taxes, and 86 percent said they favor raising the minimum wage. Seventy-seven percent said they believe the country "should do whatever it takes to protect the environment." A September Gallup Poll finds that 59 percent consider the Iraq War a mistake and 63 percent agree that US forces should be partially or completely withdrawn.
You know the answers to those questions as well as I do, as even an issue that commands 86% support goes down to defeat because corporate America doesn't like it and we don't have enough of a movement to make it an issue. It just shows again that acquiescence is not an answer! Slicing away your friends and supporters will not help you!

Yet we keep making the same mistakes, no matter how many times they have proved to be such.

I have said this before, I have said it so many times that I ought to have it tattooed on my forehead to save me the trouble of repeating it:
The fact is, the movement for peace and social justice in this country has been at its strongest and most influential when it has spoken the truth without giving a flying damn if anyone was "offended" or not. We didn't build a movement against the Indochina War by harping on the "shortcomings of both sides" but by blasting it for what it was, a monstrously immoral and evil enterprise which should be stopped immediately. We didn't build movements for civil rights, women’s equality, a cleaner environment, and against nuclear weapons by worrying about how we'd be received by bigots, sexists, corporate bosses, or militarists - or how we'd "look" or who we'd "turn off" if we labeled the discriminators, despoilers, and desperadoes for what they were.
It is so sad, so frustrating, to see the left keep on repeating the same old idiocy of arguing by the right wing's definitions, of trying to prove the "legitimacy" of our dissents on the right wing's terms, of meekly accepting the right wing's limits on the range of debate.

And we're still doing it. We're still doing it. Every time you see a demonstration against the Iraq War, every time you go and see the "We Support the Troops" signs there, you're seeing the same old mistakes repeated. The same old blunder of "we have to prove we're really American" - which, I say again, only serves to confirm the legitimacy of the question. In the wake of the Gulf War, after noting (as quoted above) how our attempts to wear as many yellow ribbons as anyone else left us "more marginalized than ever," I added
[t]he reasons are no harder to fathom now than they should've been last summer [i.e., the summer of 1990]. Despite our lengthy and detailed differentiations between the soldiers in Saudi Arabia and the policy that sent them there, "support the troops" in their humanity, lacking a well-established political message supporting it, translated all too easily into "support the troops" in their work - that is, support the bombing, support the destruction, support the carnage. In a political culture framed by sound bites and ideas reduced to bumper stickers, to the extent people were aware of the message, to that same extent it was trivialized.
Tell me honestly: You/we "support the troops." Just what the hell does that mean? Seriously. What does it actually mean? What can it mean when you can have a demonstration with signs reading "Support the Troops" and "End the War Now" on one side of the street and a counter-demonstration with signs reading "Support the Troops" and "Stay the Course" on the other?

Noam Chomsky calls the phrase "the perfect propaganda," and so it is - because it can be used to oppose dissent from government policy (if you oppose the war, you "don't support the troops") without actually meaning a damn thing. It is, ultimately, an empty slogan, vapid and useless for any purpose other than its designed one of undermining opposition by changing the subject. No longer does the government have to defend its war, now the peace movement has to defend its degree of "patriotism." If you doubt that, consider the contexts: When the right says "Support the Troops!" it's an imperative, a command to others; their own "support," whatever that might be taken to mean, is assumed. When we say it, it's either "We Support the Troops!" or some version of "Support the Troops - Bring Them Home!" The former constitutes an answer to the right's demand, not a call to others, and the latter, by defining our meaning of the term, again allows as how it's something we have to prove, which can't be assumed.

Once again, the right wing has set the terms of debate and once again we've swallowed them whole. They must really get a kick out of watching us dance to their tune over and over again.

Frankly, I say our position on "support the troops" should be "bring them home." Period. Not only to refuse to accept the right wing's formulation of the issue and instead attempt to keep the focus on the war policy rather than on who's "patriotic" and who isn't (Accusation: "You don't support the troops." Response: "I want them brought home. Now."), but because, bluntly, there is something we have to face, have so far refused to face in our talk about body armor and so on: Those who claim that they want to support the troops and pray for their safety should advocate getting them out. Getting them out as quickly as possible. Because in war, in combat - and let's at least not pretend what's happening in Iraq is not combat - as long as they're there, there is an unavoidable tradeoff: The more you wish for them to remain safe, the more you are wishing for them to kill others. That is what safety in combat means. The more you wish for them to return safely, the more you are wishing for Iraqis not to. The more you wish life for them, the more you are wishing death for others. The more you wish that American mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, don't suffer the loss of a family member, the more you are wishing that Iraqi mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, do. In war, there is no other way. Undoubtedly, there are those who are prepared to declare American lives are inherently more valuable than Iraqi lives. I am not among them.

To sum all this up in a few lines: In that October, 2001 column in which Eric Alterman called for ousting the "'Hate America' left," one of his "pragmatic" arguments was that right wing pundits were already reaching for "examples so tiny as to be virtually nonexistent" in order to tar "anyone with a wartime question."
In light of that[, I wrote,] does he really imagine that falling back into CYA mode, draining limited political and emotional capital in declaring "Oh no no no, they're not with us!" will make any difference? Will it stop the attacks, the accusations, the journalistic tarrings? Has it ever?
The clear answer to that is no. No. All it has ever done is encourage more attacks. Acquiescence is not an answer! Slicing away your friends and supporters will not help you!

So why the hell do we keep doing it? Are we really, at the end of the day, simply that stupid?

Oh, P.S.: It's a well-known, well-established psychological fact that people judge things in context, that is, how something is perceived is affected by what surrounds it and even political positions can seem either more moderate or more extreme depending on what related positions are being expressed. So don't bother telling me about the "real world" or about how I "don't understand politics" or about the great need to be "realistic" and "practical" unless you are prepared to list all the successes your "realism" and "practicality" have brought us in the absence of more radical demands on the same subject.

Updated with a correction: The original version of this post quoted Michael Bérubé as saying opponents of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars were "part of an 'anti-American left' that was 'mouthing pacifist platitudes.'" That was based on notes for the letter, referred to in the post, that I wrote in response to him. I have now found the actual letter and have determined that the phrases were not his, nor did they appear in my letter. Instead, they were charges laid by other people against the same sort of folks Bérubé was criticizing. While the targets were the same, the accusations were not. I regret the confusion and the phrases have been removed from the post.
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