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People and Their Ideas
On celebrity dissent, the American antiwar movement, and disapproval within this government and from foreign powers.
You are probably aware, there are such things as American human shields; people who have flown to Iraq in order to strategically place themselves at pivotal points of allied attack, the idea being that perhaps the presence of fellow countrymen will dissuade the American bombing of those sites. I saw footage on Tuesday’s Abrams Report (MSNBC) of a young shield balancing himself on the balls of his feet, writing something on concrete with a piece of chalk. It was a peace sign, with the word “no” on top of the symbol, and “war” below it. A lovely sentiment, in that no one really wants war, except that the peace sign was drawn incorrectly; the line meant to connect the top of the circle to the bottom broke at the middle – he had drawn a Mercedes Benz logo. That sort of intellectual foible seems to represent a fair enough percentage of the antiwar movement as to warrant further examination.
There are those who have innate thirsts for war, and they are just as irrational as those with blind marriages to the idea of peace through any means, regardless of the potential consequences. The logical man is the one who can consider such things as individual circumstance and consequence, and decides from there. This essay is about those on the antiwar side who cannot draw necessary distinctions, written with the knowledge that extremists on the other end of the spectrum have been covered at substantive enough length. (And not to forget there is much to be said of the Homeland Security’s plans for citizen preparedness sometime in the near future.)
Analysis is broken down into three sections: the first on celebrity dissent, the third is on disapproval within this government and from foreign powers, namely France. The second section, clearly the longest, is on certain parts of the American antiwar movement, some of its ignorance and a few of the organizations that have come to the fore since things with Iraq became serious. The length disparity between sections is due to the fact the topics in the first and third sections have been touched on before in this space, while the topics in the second section have been generally passed over.
Section One: Celebrities, the Movementeers
Blender, the music magazine, has named Shakira the sexiest woman in the business. For those unaware, Shakira is a pop singer – what’s more, a smoking hot pop singer. (Not speaking of her popularity, but her physical appearance. She looks precisely how a woman should look, except she is blonde.) Now, whether or not she has actual talent is beyond me (there is simply no getting past the belly dancing in her videos), but if all else fails, she has … opinions. Of course; and what wisdom does this particular 25-year-old superstar have to impart?
“It may sound old-fashioned, but I desperately want for world peace.” Ah-ha! “So yes, I do want to see Iraq disarmed, but also China disarmed, Korea disarmed, America disarmed. We should strive toward the day when every country is disarmed.” And how should we go about doing that? “We need a resolution: All weapons of mass destruction should be destroyed, as well as biological warfare. The only guarantee we have to see that the world survives another millennium is to do this.” Well! I do believe we can forego the Constitution’s 35-year-old age requirement for the presidency and get to work on the “Shakira in 2004” campaign; though I do not believe she is a citizen, we all know something could be worked out.
All right, all right; we all understand the inherent problems here: No one is buying Blender for its superior political commentary, and in keeping with this unspoken tradition, Shakira fails to offer any. (Judging by the naivety displayed here, she won’t anytime soon.) Countries like Iraq, China and Korea don’t obey the treaties they do sign – nonproliferation treaties, peace treaties, et cetera – and values the mere appearance of power more than any sort of regional, let alone world, peace. Whatever her actual intelligence or ability to reason cognitively, it’s lost when things this foolish come out of her mouth. But she’s not alone.
Celebrities have things to say; unfortunately for them, most people cannot fathom the moral superiority assumed by the celebrities who are the most visible of the Movementeers (I am speaking here about the likes of Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen, the latter having amazingly moved from pretending to be president to actually believing he is president). To this end, Melik Kaylan wrote a spectacular piece for the Wall Street Journal (Tuesday the 19th, page D16) entitled “Demonstrating Irrelevance: Celebrity Activists.”
Among the grander points made in the column: 1) “The French poet Paul Valéry once observed that intellectuals, when they run out of serious things to say, end up by flashing their genitals to get attention. With the coming launch of her new antiwar music video, one could argue that Madonna has reversed the process.” 2) “The fact is, this is a different time. The homeland was attacked. The draft is gone. Saddam is, manifestly, a monster growing in size. Yet you’d never know it from the simple [an important term] antiwar certainties of so many big name entertainers – from Sean Penn … (‘the German and French governments should be commended’) and Edward Norton (‘I almost forgot what it’s like to be proud of our government’), both at the Berlin Film Festival.” 3) “One senses that the average American is disgusted with these solipsists-turned-activists and that he doesn’t … feel the same way about the unknown marching beside the stars …. And right now, the public does not want to hear from celebs on serious issues.” 4) “Besides, [the Movementeers] are no good at it. On the scale of historically maladroit gestures, Sean Penn’s visit to Iraq evokes something more fatuous and vain even than Chamberlain’s return from Munich.” And so forth. (Oh, but for the glorious return of the Black List!)
With the column came printed the parody cover of a fictitious magazine called Hollywood Foreign Policy Review (taken from a website called flashbunny.org), fronting headlines such as: “Our Special Alec Baldwin Sweepstakes: ‘I Want You to Help Me Move to France!’ Win a Trip to Europe and Help Alec Pack!”, “Activism: How to Speak Out Without Upsetting the Rubes in Mainstream America” and my personal favorite, “History Lesson: Why Clinton Attacking Iraq was OK, and Why It’s Wrong For Bush Now.”
These headlines, along with the column, make instructive points, but a little more should be said. Many pundits, including this columnist, never had a fundamental basis upon which to base their opinions on military and warfare, other than those things they researched and learned for themselves, combined with the logic and considerations of history that follow. This is not to say that some of the Movementeers have no relevant knowledge – Janeane Garofalo, for example, is particularly well informed, and knows it – but that those who have no idea what they’re saying are particularly boisterous about it, and a lot of those who do possess some knowledge fail to consider it reasonably.
The problem is not that the Movementeers are speaking out – if you have managed even the smallest opposition to a Movementeer’s language, you have no doubt been informed that there are such things as 1) a First Amendment, and 2) a right to an opinion (even a bad one). The problem is that so many of them are speaking out in complete ignorance, collateral intellectual damage is done to those who actually gave the matter some thought before framing and publicly outlining their opposition.
Section Two: Your Common Peaceniks
In Dearborn, Michigan there lives a 16-year-old high school student named Bretton Barber, who has been pulled into the center of a free speech debate, fully equipped with the American Civil Liberties Union. The debate is whether or not a t-shirt (when they’re in high school, it’s always a t-shirt) that shows a picture of President Bush and reads “International Terrorist” defies a school dress code policy. The problem is not necessarily that a high school kid feels compelled to wear such a t-shirt (what is high school if not youthful ignorance, towering inferiority complexes and self-conscious attention seeking?), or even that the ACLU has taken up Barber’s cause (they are, after all, the ACLU, and genetically predisposed as a legal entity to take the wrong side in most issues). The problem is that a democratically elected president – a distinction, by the way, that cannot be shared with the Arab community at large – who has never set into motion a device that has rammed four jet airliners into buildings (or earth) killing thousands, or written $25,000 checks to families of suicide bombers, or run a boat loaded with explosives into the Cole, or bomb discos filled with teenagers (et cetera, ad infinitum) can be called a terrorist at all. Then what the hell are Hussein, Arafat and bin Laden to these people?
The antiwar movement as undertaken by regular people (i.e., not Movementeers) is so varied and complex in organization and tone, one struggles to put his arms around it for the purposes of concise comment (if you can call an essay of this length concise). The grand point is that there shouldn’t be an Iraqi war – as mentioned at the outset, those people who wake with innate thirsts for war probably have something wrong with them – but the means by which they reach the point are often equally as odd and varied, philosophically and intellectually.
Daniel J. Flynn reports arriving at the New York City rally (on 15 January) and seeing signs directed against the Bush administration (probably along the line of “International Terrorist”), “No War for Oil” signs (we’ll get to that in a bit), pro-Communist banners and Soviet flags, but nothing speaking to Hussein’s role in the current affair. That does seem to be the one common denominator; Hussein is being rolled by a fragmented force (it’s 35 countries, as fragmented forces go, but you’d be hard pressed to know it’s anyone other than America and, here and there when it suits the opposition, Britain) working with ulterior motives. It can be agreed upon that Hussein is a madman, and should be despised, but …
A rather complete examination of several antiwar platforms uncovered not the slightest mention of the chemical and biological weapons we know Hussein possesses, what exactly should happen if some of them were to make their way from Iraqi hands into terrorist hands, and under what circumstances, if any, they believe war is ever justified. MoveOn Peace (formerly 9-11 Peace) announces, “We believe that a non-military response is the best strategy for a permanent end to terror.” Funny, I believe (and history seems to support this fact) that it’s hard for someone to repeatedly strike you if you have your foot on their throat, but for the purposes of examination, I kept reading.
“Why Peace? Because we want justice for our dead, and because we want our safety back. Because we want a world in which the events of September 11 can never be repeated.” Fantastic so far. “We support President Bush’s resolve to end terrorism, but not his military agenda for doing it. We recognize that we are now in a world where indiscriminate military actions can make us less safe, rather than more, and we believe that the best security for the U.S. and the world is peace – peace, particularly, in the Middle East.” Well, sure. “The world has an opportunity to unite for one goal. We call upon our leaders and our neighbors to demand loud and clear that the U.S. join the globe in forging a response to this terrorism that does not escalate the cycle of world violence, and cost more human life. We call on our leaders to promote a far braver discourse than war. We call on them to say that world peace is what September 11’s martyrs truly deserve to have enacted in their name.” One trusts they are talking of the victims, not the hijackers, but the distinction is never made. “Let President Bush seize this extraordinary moment in world history …”
Notice anything? In a message drafted soon after the Tragedies, President Bush is mentioned twice within the first 60 seconds worth of reading, but not once (and nowhere in the piece) is it suggested that, oh, Arab men shouldn’t take it upon themselves to even whatever score they have with the West by planning and carrying out acts that end three thousand innocent lives, just that President Bush should show moderation and patience. Nowhere is it said that, for moderation to be a virtue, it is to be exercised everywhere. If you were to ask me (and in a way you have, because you’re still reading), our president showed remarkable restraint in the time that immediately followed the Tragedies; he had at his right hand a nation that, in all practical ways, finally understood the goals and motivations of Islamism in the Arab States, and would have literally followed him into Hell so long as it involved a swift, one-armed clearing away of all Arab leadership, not just the Taliban – our problems were not (and are not) just limited to Afghanistan.
Not in Our Name takes a different approach with their Pledge of Resistance: “We believe that as people living in the United States it is our responsibility to resist the injustices done by our government, in our names.” In this, we take it to mean war or military action in general. “Not in our name will you wage endless war[;] there can be no more deaths[;] no more transfusions of blood for oil. Not in our name will you invade countries[,] bomb civilians, kill more children[,] letting history take its course over the graves of the nameless. Not in our name will you erode the very freedoms you have claimed to fight for. Not by our hands will we supply weapons and funding for the annihilation of families on foreign soil.” There follows a long list of things they will not stand for: Fear will not silence them; they will not allow entire populations to be considered evil; they will not let those who stand opposed to the upcoming war be silenced; they pledge to help bring about justice, freedom and peace; they pledge there is another, presumably better, world possible, and that they will make it real.
Some of those things are admirable, of course – fear should silence no one, for example, not even in Arab States, and entire populations should not be considered evil, just their leadership. People do not generally oppress themselves. What is amazing is that, for every consideration of President Bush’s movements and motives, there is absolutely nothing said of the Arab leaders who have either stood by while their people have carried out attacks on civilians and children, but of those ruling parties who have supported the same movements. The families of Palestinian suicide bombers have received reward checks from Saddam Hussein; nowhere on any antiwar website, or in any other similar literature, have I seen a condemnation of this or any similar activity, though I confess to not having read them all.
Nor has there been much mainstream condemnation of the ideological forces financially supporting Not in Our Name (isolated here for the purposes of this essay, but certainly not unique in its roots). Not in Our Name consists of two parts, one being the Not in Our Name Statement (the one so notably signed and printed in the New York Times at the end of January, which referred to America as a terrorist State) and the Not in Our Name Project. In the 24 February National Review, Byron York quotes one Clark Kissinger (he has been pivotal in organizing Not in Our Name): “For the statement to succeed, we thought it should be separate from any form of political actions. We wanted people to be able to sign the statement without having their names used to endorse other actions.” What is meant by “other actions”? Well, Kissinger in particular belongs to the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party, and Not in Our Name in particular “includes representatives from” not only the Maoist Party, but “the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party, Refuse and Resist!, The International League of Peoples’ Struggle, and the National Lawyers Guild, among others.”
So what? “Still, both parts of Not in Our Name need to raise money.” Yes. “Rather than creating foundations to collect cash, they form alliances with so-called ‘fiscal sponsors’ …” Okay, and? “The Not in Our Name statement … included a small box asking that donations be sent to … the Bill of Rights Foundation. Last year, the foundation agreed to serve as Not in Our Name Statement’s fiscal sponsor, but a look at the group’s Internal Revenue Service records shows that until recently, it has had nothing to do with the peace movement.” How so? “[A]lmost every dollar raised by the group for several years went to the legal defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” who – though it is not said in the article – is on death row for shooting a Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner, in the head. There follows a breakdown of the foundation’s expenses: 2001 - $102,152 spent, $95,737 for the Abu-Jamal cause; 2000 - $75,956 spent, $57,722 for the cause; 1999 - $155,547 spent, $139,126 for the cause. (It is noted that Abu-Jamal abandoned the foundation’s legal services at the end of 2001.)
Not in Our Name is also connected with the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFOC). “In recent years,” continues York, “IFOC served as fiscal sponsor for an organization called the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom,” which should sound very familiar: until very recently it’s president was Sami Amin Al-Arian, the University of South Florida professor, who was slapped around by Bill O’Reilly in September 2001 for wishing death to Israel and recently arrested for his ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“Today, IFOC sponsors Refuse and Resist!, an antiwar group with ties to the Revolutionary Communist Party, and also devotes substantial energy to supporting the Castro regime in Cuba …. Both IFOC and the Bill of Rights Foundation are tax-exempt 501 (c) (3) charities, which means that all contributions made to them – whether for antiwar protests, Cuban solidarity or the defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal – are fully tax deductible.” It’s this sort of bad money after bad money that should raise the particular ire of those whose protesting comes from something other than simpleminded, backward anti-intellectualism.
Dissent manifests itself in different ways; in the case of antiwar protestors, it comes in the form of marches. Your average protestor, of course, has no idea that many of these marches are being organized by groups with dubious financial and intellectual ties. They have examined the evidence and have concluded that the war is whatever they think it is, wanting nothing more than to have their voices heard. They believe enough to take to the streets and peaceably assemble for a common cause … except in those cases, and they are numerous, where the common cause changes from person to person, as does their level of awareness, and completeness of thought.
No one has made a better display of this than Evan Maloney, who took a camera and microphone to the last New York City protest and interviewed some of the marchers. The result, a short film entitled “Devil’s Advocate,” is available at www.brain-terminal.com. The following excerpts are being used with Mr. Maloney’s kind permission.
Maloney (voiceover): I discovered quickly that war isn’t the answer to disarming Saddam. But the answer itself was a little more elusive. (Then to a young woman) How do you solve the problem, what do you think would work?
Young Woman #1: I don’t know, but I know that going in and bombing them and threatening the lives of civilians is not the answer.
Young Woman #2: How do I think …? You know, I don’t really, I mean, to me it seems, there, I don’t know.
Young Man #1: Why not send somebody in and do it, like, another way? Maybe somebody like James Bond and kill the guy, you know? (laughter) Maybe not just to kill the guy, maybe just talking, you know, like through communication, there’s got to be a way.
Young Man #2: Patience is a virtue. I think we could, for lack of a better word, kill him with kindness.
Young Man #3: How to go about it, I don’t know, but I mean, that’s the government’s job to figure out. (Female voice off screen says, “War is not the answer.”) Thank you, war is not the answer.
Maloney (voiceover): Generally, the protestors argued that we should rely on the United Nations to disarm Iraq. (And then to Young Woman # 3) Why do you think it was that between 1991 and 1998, when the UN was inspecting Iraq, they were unable to disarm Iraq?
Young Woman #3: It’s a horrible, huge question.
Maloney: How long do you think the inspectors should be given?
Man #1: That’s a ridiculous question, I don’t know.
Young Man # 4: I mean … I cannot tell …
Maloney: Do you think that in the past the world community has lived up to its responsibility to deal effectively with Saddam Hussein?
Guy in Skull Mask: No.
Maloney: But you think that they would do it now.
Guy in Skull Mask: (long pause) I don’t think Saddam Hussein is the enemy …
Maloney: What is the real reason [for fighting the war]?
Man #2: It’s about harming Iraqis and stealing the oil.
Young Man #5: So that we can drive SUV’s that get 12 miles a gallon.
Man #1: I suspect that it is oil, but also I think that it’s also closely connected to control of water in the Middle East.
Young Woman #2: Bush, he wants to be in charge of Iraq, he wants to basically dominate everything …
Man #3: Oil.
Guy in Skull Mask: To distract us from the economy.
Man #4: World global domination.
Which is opposed to the non-global world domination, one could suppose.
The winner is: We are going to war in Iraq because of the oil there. Goes a certain reasoning, the United States (because its leader, and his father / former president are oil men themselves) cannot suggest or advance any military remedy that is principled, or in America’s best interests, so long as there is oil involved anywhere. It must have been this same thirst for unobstructed oil that lead the administration to offer absolutely no remedy to the two month oil production strike in Venezuela, which until early last December had been the fifth largest oil exporter on the planet (a large portion of those exports, by the way, came to America). Well, surely we continue to support Israel because of its vast oil reserves … except that there is no oil is Israel. Surely we continue our oil embargo against Iran because we don’t care where oil comes from, so long as we get it. Surely it was France, and not the United States, that suggested Iraq no longer be allowed to sell its own oil after Hussein booted the United Nations inspectors in 1998.
The necessity of protecting the Iraqi oil fields from sabotage as Hussein-lead forces flea the country shouldn’t be mistaken for an oil grab, instead considered a correct response to recent history. Had not the Kuwaiti fields been set afire at the conclusion of the Gulf War, perhaps one could raise his eyebrows and wonder what was behind the talk of securing the Iraqi fields at the onset of the next war. It is not as though Iraq has a wealth of other resources and products it can rely upon to support its economy once Hussein is gone – in order for the country to support itself, equipment is going to have to modernized, and oil is going to have to be sold. Simply put, a freer Iraq has nothing else to offer, and must take advantage of its assets. (And not for nothing, but had the United States stood by and allowed the oil field destruction, it would have been chastised for the environmental damage done.) When the war is over, and lengthy searching uncovers stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, you will know why we fought this war. Oil may be a fortunate byproduct, but not the reason.
Section Three: Government Opposition, Ours and Theirs
Read one report, “Missouri Representative Dick Gephardt got a tepid reaction [at the first Democratic National Committee meeting for the 2004 election] … from a party looking for a new face. He even got a handful of boos for supporting the president’s Iraq policy.” I beg to differ; Joe Lieberman by and large supports the Bush policy but managed to carry through his presentation (and stay awake) without there being either booing or hissing. Gephardt was booed because he’s an awful candidate, an intellectual barbarian and an ineffective politician. Fill a room with Democrats, odds are a few of them have long seen Gephardt for what he is – even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Let us begin with a simple premise: Every presidential administration is going to have its military events; each and every event can and should be weighed on their own merits without the burden of political alliances. The Afghan War, for example, would have been equally as just had it been fought at the direction of President Gore as it was with President Bush, because we were drawn into an unavoidable conflict. But in matters of military conjecture there is always miles worth of room for debate; as mentioned above in regards to the logical man (this was about 4,000 words ago), he is the one who can consider events by their individual circumstances and consequences – there is so little logic in politics it hardly bares mentioning, especially when it comes to presidential politics. So the rarity is not that there are Democrat candidates who can stand in a room filled with liberals and espouse the party line (there is no palpable danger 21 months before election day), it is that a few of them can be honest enough to stand and support a Republican’s military objective and still be physically able to leave.
Democrats want United Nations weapons inspections, and they want peace to be given a chance. Well, okay, but rarely is it said that inspectors wouldn’t be a debate today had their presence been forced down Hussein’s throat when he first said “no” in 1998. The proper response to being turned away from an Iraqi inspection site was not, as it turned out, to leave the country entirely, allowing the regime to continue along its merry way. The proper response was to return with a tank and let yourself in to inspect the premises without asking. Dictators cannot understand niceties, but they can understand a firm pimp slapping. (That would mean, for the 12 of you hip enough to understand the reference, that President Bush’s prerogative is to keep his pimp hand strong.)
Even still, the inspectors were being rope-a-doped by Hussein from the beginning; there are pictures of various weapons literally being moved out of the back doors of various sites while the inspectors were being let in the front doors. And whatever became of those weapons? Who knows? That’s the large part of the problem; no one knows, and inspectors aren’t going to find them. The entire process reminds me of the old Jack Benny bit, where the great comedian is cornered by a thief and given the option of surrendering either his money or his life. There follows a longer than rational silence before the thief once again makes his demand; “I’m thinking,” says Benny. The joke is that when Saddam Hussein has been given the obvious choice – between surrendering his weapons programs or surrendering his regime, and maybe his life, entirely – we have seen one of modern history’s longest and most irrational pauses, and we have stood for it.
If worse comes to worse, one assumes Hussein could set up a nice place somewhere in France, which never seems to tire of irritating little men and their very bad ideas. The exaggeration (his going to France, not that it enjoys those types of little men) helps to clarify a greater point: Secretary of State Powell’s 90 minute presentation to the United Nations had barely been completed before the French delegate suggested 1) further inspections were necessary, but what’s more, 2) Iraq should just promise not to make any further biological or chemical weapons. Well! Now why didn’t we think of that? Because it’s an idea so goddamn backward it can only be French. The best thing about that godforsaken country is that it’s very far away, and that a lot of awful writers, poets and thinkers reward their home countries by going there to live (most especially America, Saints be praised).
But they also have a chair at the United Nations, which has lately lead to various problems. We Americans have devised a unique way to combat the French antiwar initiatives … reminding them about the Second World War. “Well you know, Pierre, two million American soldiers fought in France during the war, and 29,000 died in the French liberation.” Please. Bailing France out of the World Wars doesn’t give them a permanent pass on independent thought, but neither does a $60 billion oil project with Saddam Hussein. (Yet, not one mention of how France’s thirst for oil is clouding its judgment.)
There is absolutely no harm in saying, “Listen, France. The United Nations has passed 17 resolutions in 12 years; peace has been given a chance. The United States has a very legitimate concern about Saddam Hussein’s biological and chemical weapons, and whether or not they will one day be sold to terrorist entities. Yes, it seems an unreasonable fear, just like planes being hijacked and flown into our buildings once seemed an unreasonable fear, but to live under the impression these things cannot happen is foolish, and something must be done. Whatever deals you had with Hussein for oil will remain intact, provided they are legal. The United States and its 35 allies in this are going forward. We don’t ask you to support us, just to get out of the way.” Come to think of it, it’s not unwise to deliver that message, in any one of a number of variables, to any country who disagrees; we don’t need your approval, just stand aside.
Nearly 18 months have passed since the Tragedies, and every day since the attacks someone has wondered aloud how the American intelligence community failed to connect the dots and prevent a unique horror. I am telling you that we are looking at the beginning of another, similar set of dots, and something must be done. That thing is regime change. We would prefer Hussein march out of Baghdad without fanfare or bloodshed – and since this standoff began, I have hoped such a walk-off would be the end result. Absent that, a removal by force. The entire world will never agree … but ours is a moral mandate, and what is right does not become right by consensus.