Therapy or Politics?

If only the Bush administration had political strategies and policies half as smart as its high-tech weaponry. Who was not transfixed, and at some level or another horrified, by that first seven-minute shock-and-awe barrage that turned the Baghdad night into an orange-hellish glow of mini–mushroom clouds and rivers of flame? And as similar bombardments continued through the week, any reasonable spectator could likely assume that the Iraqi capital was being decimated and that nothing less than mass carnage was being carried directly into our living rooms via CNN.

And yet, this same administration that bulldozed recklessly into this unnecessary war, and whose notion of diplomacy was to plow over both foes and allies with equal abandon, was conducting one of the most tightly targeted, if not restrained, wars in modern history.

The number of civilians killed remains in the dozens — too many, but far shy of the mass graves that could be imagined on the first night of the war.

So for those of us who had argued against the war, there was some solace. At least on one crucial point, the administration was telling the truth. Its military strategy was indeed attempting to force the surrender of Saddam Hussein’s regime by scaring the wits out of it — and not, fortunately, by committing wanton destruction and indiscriminate massacres. Of course, that picture may change as the war intensifies and as more information becomes available. Outside of the tight focus of the camera lens fixed on the target of downtown government buildings, most of the rest of Baghdad was being spared, and the lights, the water, the phones, even the Internet lines, were still all up and running.

Of course, administration hopes for a three-day war were stopped cold by unexpected levels of Iraqi resistance in the southern part of the country. And as this column is being written, as American forces move northward, and Saddam Hussein concentrates his elite troops around his capital, the world prepares for the unpredictable horror of what may become the Battle of Baghdad.

Already, “progressive” anti-war Web sites like are more or less gloating over these troubles, running every report they can suggesting that George W. Bush is about to bog down in a quagmire. But this hope, if you can call it that, is radically ill-placed. Just as a dozen years of draconian American sanctions against Iraq battered everyone except Saddam Hussein, this war going off the tracks would devastate just about everyone except George Bush.

A prolonged siege of Baghdad would provoke a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions, running the Iraqi civilian population through a meat grinder of hunger and death. Military casualties on both sides would soar. And the already inflamed passions of much of the Arab world — and not only Arabs — could explode. It would be much worse even than the disaster we’re currently seeing in Basra. The consequences of a short war in Iraq are going to be bad enough. Only an idiot could hope for a prolonged conflict. That’s why the best we can now hope for is a swift and definitive conclusion of the war.

Notice I did not say we should stop the war. First of all, we simply cannot. The war will, hopefully, be over soon enough on its own. Second, and more to the point, about the only silver lining in this American misadventure for the Iraqi people is that it does the spell the end of one of the most barbaric 30-year dictatorships on the face of the Earth. To call off the tanks at this juncture, thereby saving Saddam’s skin, would be a double betrayal of the Iraqi people. With all the miscalculation, hubris, arrogance and imperial disdain that undergird this war, at least let its only saving grace be consummated by leveling Saddam’s regime.

Maybe someone in the peace movement should figure out that not only Bush could stop this war. So could Saddam — by resigning his unelected post and saving his people any further sacrifice. Yet I’ve yet to see one anti-war placard allude to Saddam’s responsibilities in securing the peace.

But talk about quagmires. The peace movement, which promises so much in its scope and energy, itself remains bogged down in a minimalist program of simply and only opposing U.S. military action. That’s hardly enough. The movement suffers a malady similar to that of the Bushies, but in reverse: smart principles but dumb — no, make that stupid — operational politics. Pure rejectionism, since the outbreak of war makes the peace movement as blind and indiscriminate as a WWII-vintage iron-cast bomb, though considerably less dangerous and infinitely less powerful.

Blocking traffic when 74 percent of the American people support the war, or endlessly whining about CNN’s coverage, or grandstanding as Michael Moore did at the Oscars telling America that a president who currently enjoys (for all the sordid reasons we know) stratospheric popularity ratings is “fictitious,” has much more to do with personal therapy than with effective politics. Continue on that tack and you can pretty much count on another four years of Bush, no matter how ugly the war turns.

Protecting the Iraqi people, as the peace movement rightfully desires, is one helluva lot more complicated than merely shielding them from the collateral damage caused by U.S. bombs. (That is, unless you really believe that America is the “greatest terrorist state in the world,” as is so often repeated on KPFK’s drive-time shows. If your world-view is that facile, then indeed we have little more to discuss.)

Those who chant “U.S. out of Iraq” ought to be prepared, then, to offer themselves as human shields to protect the Kurds against threatening Turkish troops (a task currently in the hands of U.S. special forces). Or as shields to protect the southern marsh Arabs against occupation by the theocratic armed forces of Iran. Perhaps all those human shields, idle now after fleeing Baghdad when Saddam’s government ordered them anchored to strategic military targets, could assume these new responsibilities.

The peace movement must also concern itself with humanitarian relief. The fight to directly include the U.N. in the administering of that relief (instead of the Bush administration’s proposed reliance on private pork-barrel contractors) is our fight — one infinitely more important than impotently shaking our fists at the CNN building on Sunset Boulevard.

If you don’t trust George Bush, as you should not, and you consider yourself part of the peace movement, then you also better start taking an active interest in who will populate a post-Saddam government. And accept it: Protests or not, there is going to be a new government in Iraq, and very, very soon. Better some of our friends and allies in that new regime than only those favored by Wolfowitz and Cheney. But the peace movement will have no anti-Saddam Iraqi allies if it continues to express no real solidarity with those Iraqis who stand in opposition to Saddam and who might — yes — be actively supporting the war.

For a solid week now, I’ve been arguing these points with a dear friend who says that while she very much wants to see the end of Saddam, she just cannot under any circumstances “support this war.” But this isn’t about supporting the war. It’s about accepting the unfortunate fact that the war has been imposed upon us as an irrefutable reality. We can close our eyes and stamp our feet and hope that by chanting enough it will go away. Or we can truly assume our democratic responsibilities and try to influence the situation so that the outcome is as positive as possible. That’s not much of a choice, admittedly. But it’s all we have.

The greatest threat we face is that after Iraq, the administration will spread the war elsewhere. It will be imperative to block such a move. To do so, we will need politics, not therapy. Time for the peace movement to start thinking and proposing. Merely acting out just won’t cut it.


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