If I’ve had few thoughts to contribute to the host of lists I’m on – mainly relaying info as it comes in, as opposed to making points of my own – it is because “everything has been said that needs to be said”. To a great extent we are all convinced. Most of the email I get is a matter of preaching to the converted. (I do hope people are sending some of this material on to relatives and friends).
But in the last week several developments lead me to feel there is, possibly, an advantage to being older. It may give one a certain perspective.
For one thing, the situation really is as dangerous as most of us think it is. Not only is the group around Bush pushing for war against Iraq, but it has failed, in ways that can prove catastrophic, to deal with North Korea through direct diplomacy. (While I am deeply opposed to the “nuclearization” of North Korea and the Korean peninsula, the Bush Administration’s record in this situation has actually, I think, caused the crisis and hope of a resolution does not lie with North Korea as much as with the US).
There is reason to hope the situation can be turned around. What Bush and his people have done (with deplorable help from the media) is to sell us on the idea that war is a done deal. The latest shift by Bush this past week, that even if Iraq disarms it isn’t enough, that Saddam must leave, shows the world that the issue of disarming Iraq was only a fig leaf, that the real objective is the power of Washington to dictate regime change at will, and to secure control over oil resources in the Gulf.
The war is NOT a done deal – though a week from now it may be. It will be hard at this point for Bush to pull back, but it is still possible. (Nothing would be more contemptible than to sacrifice Iraqi and American lives simply because Bush might lose face if he pulled back). Bush could declare that he has achieved his goals, that he had sought to disarm Saddam of his weapons of mass destruction, that this is being done, the inspectors are achieving their goal, and that all of this was achieved because of his resolve. And then pull back.
It would be seen in the rest of the world as Bush backing down, but many Americans would accept his explanation. And Bush (and the US) stands to lose far more if the peace isn’t kept.
On the one hand we see an Administration hell bent on having its war, raising the demands steadily so that Iraq can’t meet them, showing a remarkable willingness not only to distort truth but to lie (we all know by now that there is no Iraqi nuclear weapons program, and there are no ties between Iraq and Al Queda). But, on the other hand, lets list the positive developments in the past month.
The Pope has gone so far as to call for Catholics to fast for peace in Iraq. He has been clearer on his opposition to this war than on almost any occasion I can recall. Yesterday the report came that he was sending his personal representative to Washington in a final appeal to Bush.
The demonstrations around the world on February 15th exceeded anything I can recall in my 73 years. They were a profound influence on the policies of the governments of Great Britain (where 121 Labour MP’s stunned Blair by voting in opposition), of Spain (where a leading government official urged Bush to silence Rumsfeld, of Germany (were the Foreign Minister was so furious at Rumsfeld at a recent meeting that he broke into English to say no one could understand the US case for war), to the Arab states where, despite their dislike of Saddam, they have stood fast against support for the war, of Turkey, which shocked Washington by blocking deployment of US troops, and even to the Security Council, where it now seems the US may be unable to muster a majority of votes for a second resolution or, if it can coerce a majority, the resolution may be veoted. On top of all this, the AFL-CIO has come out against the war. Summing these things all up, we have a badly rattled Administration.
If Bush fails to get a second Security Council resolution it may prove impossible for Blair to take Great Britain into the war. In that case the “coalition of the willing” would end up being the US, Eastern Europe, Israel, and a very shaky Spain and Italy (overwhelming majorities of all of these countries, except for Israel, sharply oppose the war).
Bush continues to say he will, if necessary, go it alone. And of course, the rationale for the war has now shifted from charges that Iraq threatens the peace, to charges that Iraq is run by a tyrant who must be overthrown – and this shift in rationale has deeply alarmed almost every other nation, because if there was a shred of reason to support Bush when he was saying Iraq was a threat to peace, there is profound hesitation in supporting Bush when it comes to letting Washington decide which national leaders should be displaced simply because they offend Bush’s moral sense. In this situation, the courageous resignation of a top US diplomat in Greece because of the Bush war drive suggests something of the tensions within the establishment. Yesterday came the news that the former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, urged that Bush stick with inspections. The New York Times yesterday had a strong editorial deploring the haste to go to war.
The rush to war has become a kind of madness. Never I seen a world so intent on stopping a single nation as it is today on blocking Bush. The old enemies – Germany and Russia, China and Japan – are united in trying to prevent this blood bath.
In addition there is the domestic factor of our being in the midst of a severe recession which hints at turning into a depression. If Bush hadn’t made Iraq the main story, the economic bad news would be the leading item.
It is not only the outrage of his tax bill, which proposes more tax cuts for the rich, it is the extremely difficult problem of all state governments which are losing tax revenues because of the recession, and must cut social programs. What can be cut? Schools? Prisons? Medical care? Hospitals? Fire and police? Housing?
Bush’s loss of support from labor, the hesitation (and in some cases open opposition) from sectors of the establishment media, such as the New York Times, all have undercut Bush’s ability to push ahead to war.
Two other things have happened, which seem new to me. First, because Bush has waited so long to begin the war, he has also given time for those opposing the war to rebut the Bush case. It is almost as if the Vietnam peace movement was compressed in time and took place prior to the Vietnam War! Thus Bush now confronts a very strong opposition to the war. Much of this is quite openly expressed, in signs in shop windows, sometimes subtly (yesterday as I passed one shop that specialized in art prints I saw it featured in the window two of Picasso’s famous peace doves). The editorial cartoonists have been there long before the editorial writers, mocking the efforts at national security (duct tape indeed!) and the war.
Finally, I sense in the flood of email something new – a sense of humor about Bush. A President who is not only dropping in ratings, but becoming a joke. In the event that he does go to war it is not likely to result in a sudden national unity but rather a deepening of the opposition. And, of course, under the Charter of the United Nations, if Bush leads the US into war, he will be guilty of a war crime, as will every member of his cabinet.
What can be done in the next ten days to two weeks?
First, obviously, continue to pressure members of Congress. All members of the House of Representatives face elections in November of next year. A third of the Senate will be up for election. Personal letters make a difference. Second, continue letters to the press – they count. Third, where possible, when the media has been giving distorted views, try to meet with the newspaper or radio or TV managers. (Yesterday I heard of people going to the Metropolitan Museum here in New York with paper and pencil to stand in front of art works from Iraq, drawing them – when asked what they were doing, they are saying “these are things Bush will soon destroy forever – we want to make copies now”).
But we need also to escalate our actions. I understand there is a plan for a demonstration in Washington on March 15th. That is fine, but I think it would be more important to consider responsible civil disobedience, not “the day after” but “the day before”. Not to protest a war that has begun, but to prevent a war from beginning.
Remembering always that the police are not our enemy, not the target for our anger, that our protests need to be responsible, peaceful, and compassionate, they need to take place at military bases, government buildings, Congressional offices, etc.
There is a wonderful and spontaneous ability of people to act without central direction. It is over a year before we can go to the ballot and vote against the political leaders who have been silent or complicit. But we can “vote with our bodies” this week and next. Vote early, vote often. The war is not inevitable.
David McReynolds New York City