Monday, March 26, 2007

Out and about

(Cross-posted to The Core 4.)

Note that in all that follows I am referring to self-declared antiwar activists of the left, particularly those hosting or commenting on political blogs. I’m not referring to members of Congress - rather, to the debate that surrounded what Congress was doing and has done.

As I expect all four of you (counting me) reading this know, there has been a lot of discussion (including this and this) about the Iraq supplemental bill just passed by the House. There was a sharp difference of opinion among antiwar folks as to the best course: Some - I was among them - urged a “no” vote on the grounds that it gives Bush too much and the “restrictions” and “timetables” are too porous. Others urged a “yes” vote on the grounds that it's a clear challenge to Bush, that the restrictions, even if they could be evaded, at least exist, and, ultimately, it was the best thing that could be passed.

Expressions of that difference frequently turned bitter. Opponents were called “idiots” who don’t understand legislative process and were only interested in “grandstanding.” And worse. Supporters were called “sellouts” and hypocrites; it was even said by some that they secretly support the war. (I can’t say “and worse” because I’m not sure what would be a worse accusation in this context.) Traces of that divide linger on in the aftermath and people on both sides continue to “explain” and defend their choices.

Some conciliatory voices are suggesting that it really was just a difference in tactics. Both camps, it’s argued, want to stop the war. They differ only in their convictions as to the best means to that end.

I expect to some extent that’s true and as much as I’m tempted to explain why my tactics were of course the superior ones, I’m going to resist except as necessary to point out a deeper, subtler disagreement that I believe really drove the difference - that is, the opposing tactical choices were the result of that deeper disagreement rather than being the disagreement themselves.

Consider that the arguments for passage specifically included that “it puts Democrats on record as opposing the war.” That’s why the compromises with the Blue Dogs that pulled the teeth from the bill were necessary, because getting something passed that declared an intent, even just a clear desire, to end the war was what was important. After all, it’s going to be vetoed anyway, the argument went, so (it was implied) the compromises were irrelevant.

That was an attitude I condemned as being
about saying you oppose the war while at the same time running away from any actual responsibility for doing anything about it. It's about, bottom line, positioning for the 2008 campaign and who gives a damn about the lives, American (and allied) and even more Iraqi, ruined in the meantime.
And indeed, in some after-passage commentary, some of the bill’s antiwar supporters pretty much came out and said exactly that. Not the not doing anything or not giving a damn parts, but the positioning for 2008 part.

And that seemed like such cold-blooded, callous, political opportunism that when switched from accusation to acknowledgment it felt - well, just too odd to be accepted at face value. Because a number of the people expressing such sentiments are folks whose desire to end the war I do not doubt, whose opposition to the war dates back to before it started, and whose reasons for their opposition are rooted in the conviction that the war is simply wrong. Not merely inconvenient or poorly executed, but wrong.

So how, then, can they justify supporting a bill that gives Bush an additional $100 billion to spend on bloodshed and carnage in an illegal war that has killed thousands of Americans (and wounded tens of thousands more), killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, worsened non-state terrorism, could easily (by accident or design) spread to Iran, and is opposed by the people it’s supposed to be helping?

I’ve come to believe that the root difference between those who opposed the supplemental and those who endorsed it was not one of tactics - it’s rather that those who supported it have given up on the idea of stopping the war so long as George Bush remains in office. Not only do they not believe that Congress can pass effective legislation against it, they also believe that Congress will not refuse to pass appropriations for it, for fear of the political fallout (that fear being an argument specifically raised against defeating the supplemental) - and most importantly, they believe that even if Congress did either or both it would make no difference. Bush would ignore what he could not evade.

Therefore, the best way to end the war the soonest is to get a Democrat pledged to stop it elected in 2008. Thus the willingness to embrace legislation they know is doomed to ultimate failure but would “make a statement” by passing the House. I imagine that in their hearts they know it’s cold - but they honestly believe it’s the best they can do.

On the other hand, I believe that those of us opposed to the supplemental, opposed to one more penny for the heinous crime of our war, are not willing to wait that long and have not given up hope that more can be done, sooner. One of my big frustrations with the bill, as I’ve said before and elsewhere, is that its very existence will be used to head off attempts to shorten the timetable or place genuine restrictions on the war - and so its defeat either in the Senate or by veto could be the best thing for it because it would open up new opportunities to limit the war by strangling the funding.

So I believe those who supported the supplemental are wrong in their despair. And I believe that we who have not despaired will continue to kick and scream and rally in the streets and demand more than symbolic action from Congress. Unhappily, it may yet prove true that our more cynical colleagues are right and all efforts will come to naught before another two years and the spring of 2009. But if that’s true it shouldn’t be for lack of trying - and if it happens even then it will be because and only because all of us on either side of this antiwar divide refused to be satisfied with anything less than “OUT!”

Footnote: I want to make clear that nothing I said here is intended to diminish or retract any of my contempt for the Democratic leadership in the House, whose cynical manipulations on this whole mess - perhaps best illustrated by persuading Barbara Lee to not even introduce her war-ending amendment by making it clear it would never come to a vote - were, I maintain, more about partisan advantage than ending the war. They dealt the cards; our argument was over the best way to play the hand we got.

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