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Michael Neumann: Now What?

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  • ummyakoub
    Now what, by Michael Neumann Where Does the Anti-War Movement Go From Here? http://www.counterpunch.org/neumann04112003.html April 11, 2003 Where Does the
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 17, 2003
      Now what, by Michael Neumann
      Where Does the Anti-War Movement Go From Here?


      April 11, 2003

      Where Does the Anti-War Movement Go From Here?

      Now What?


      When the antiwar movement didn't prevent the war, it failed. The
      movement's talking heads will deny it. Like the CEO of a chronically
      unprofitable company, defeat incites them to recycle the same old
      wishful thinking. They will talk about how the struggle has just
      begun, how you, you out there, built an incredible movement, how they
      had personally witnessed this or that inspiring or heartwarming scene.
      More than likely, they will tweak Dubya with some Bush/bush joke.
      Earnest plans will be made to stop this war in its tracks, and yet
      again we will hear about the web of lobbies, oil interests and
      Christian fundamentalists who run things. Yet again we will be told
      that these people are very bad in an astounding number of ways.

      But we're not attending a children's birthday party: it doesn't
      behoove us to think we're all winners. If I try to prevent a murder,
      and the murder occurs, I'm not supposed to congratulate myself on
      giving it the old college try. The same goes for multiple murders
      conducted by nation states. Guilt and shame, not pride in my
      'achievement', would be a more appropriate response. Yet on the left
      such responses, and even the notion that you ought to attain your
      objectives, are almost unknown.

      Like many people, I half-thought the protests just might turn the
      tide. Now, on reflection, I wonder whether the protest movement was
      really trying to succeed. It did try, very hard, to oppose the war,
      but that's not the same thing.

      This isn't splitting hairs. To their organizers and participants, the
      antiwar protests were not part of some imagined sequence of events
      leading to a reversal of US policy. It was merely imagined that there
      might be such a sequence. The protests, however inspiring, always
      looked more plausible as mere opposition to war--"we say no"--than as
      some phase of a strategy to prevent it. Bush was set on his course, no
      one expected Congress or the Republican party to revolt, and it wasn't
      as if the left would bring America to a standstill. No one saw a road
      to victory. No one had in mind some sequence of actions beginning with
      the protests and ending with an order to send the troops home.

      Now that the troops are actually fighting, the left faces problems it
      barely recognizes. They have to do with patriotism. This ain't the
      sixties. During the Vietnam war, thousands of leftists openly wished
      for a communist victory and an American defeat. The idea that we were
      all somehow good Americans, guided by bittersweet passions through a
      tragic collective drama, is a recent invention. And while there was
      sympathy on the left for America's conscript cannon fodder, this
      certainly did not extend to the volunteer special forces, or to the
      American pilots to whom the North Vietnamese were so inexplicably
      unkind. The left, frankly, looked on these people as murderous creeps.

      These sentiments, if they exist today, are murmurs. We have come a
      long way from the sixties in another sense. We may be kinder, gentler
      leftists now, but we are also cowed. We talked a lot of treason back
      then. Now, we wouldn't dare. We do not expect to be indulged like the
      college kids of yore; we expect to be imprisoned.

      The left responds to this changed environment with a vaguely plausible
      pretense to patriotism. It is said we support the troops; we want to
      bring them home. And we are careful. We crow about US 'setbacks' or
      'miscalculations', but not about US fatalities. We spare a tear for
      our dead and captured professional soldiers; we tremble for the MIAs.

      Or do we? The problem isn't just that we're operating in a more
      repressive climate; it's also that, with the start of fighting, a
      serious gap has opened up between ourselves and the rest of America,
      one which we do not acknowledge. Yes, we want to bring the troops
      home; so did the anti-Vietnam war protestors. But this is a phoney
      objective. We know damn well that one or both of two things will end
      the war: victory or heavy US casualties. For all the sound and fury of
      the sixties, it was the Vietnamese who brought 'our' troops home by
      killing 50,000 of them. If anyone will bring the troops home before
      the US government is good and ready to do so, it will be the Iraqis,
      not the protestors.

      As well as a phoney objective, we have phoney attitudes. Suppose we do
      prefer, like most Americans, that all American troops return from Iraq
      without a scratch. Does that mean we 'support' the troops? Let's see,
      which do you prefer: the death of a hundred Iraqi civilians, or the
      death of ten American soldiers? If you say you 'can't weigh one death
      against another', that means you don't prefer one alternative to the
      other, and vice versa. But that fits the classic definition of
      indifference between the alternatives. No matter how you reject
      weighing lives, the fact is that you do not prefer sparing the
      American ones. And the questions have just begun. What if it were 50
      Iraqi civilians? or Iraqi soldiers? Or ten, or five or one? Difficult
      questions, because we believe, don't we, that the invading troops have
      no right to be there, that they are violating international
      conventions and standards of justice? that they serve a bad cause? We
      may tell ourselves that we are basically on the same wavelength as the
      American people, but we're wrong.

      What are the strategic implications of this? We seem to have a choice
      between dishonesty and suicidal frankness. But our dishonesty is too
      obvious to be a viable option; we will be found out. What the left
      needs is something to offer. Since we can't in fact succeed in
      bringing the troops home, we have nothing, unless you can keep a
      straight face when you hear that we're going to build a just society.
      Sorry, I just don't think we will. If we couldn't even stop a really
      quite unpopular rush to war, how the hell are we going to accomplish
      this much harder task?

      So where are we? We had no concrete strategy for preventing the war,
      and now we are its pawns. The anti-war movement will grow and shrink
      in proportion to Iraqi victory and defeat; we have become a mere
      effect rather than a cause. Many people will be quite content with
      this status. It fits that very popular leftist ethos according to
      which our task is to talk and gesticulate. We protest, proclaim our
      opposition, bear witness, stand up and be counted, denounce, speak
      out, send a message, express solidarity, support, say no, but never
      actually try to do something. But really, this is not good enough: the
      purpose of having a conscience is not simply to tell the world that
      you have one. Whether or not preventing the war was the real goal, it
      ought to have been. And while stopping the war is not a genuine
      objective, we can do better than trying to sell painting-on-velvet
      visions of world peace and social justice. It is still possible to
      turn US foreign policy around, just as it was possible to do so before
      the war started.

      This ambitious goal calls for an ambitious strategy, and one hears the
      sarcasm rumbling just over the horizon: are we to seize important
      highway junctions, airports and power stations? do some suicide
      bombing, American style? smash the state in a workers' revolution? But
      the left does not need dramatic tactics; it needs a dramatic
      alternative. The left needs to propose a way for America to achieve
      its basic objectives without incurring hatred.

      To come up with a proposal, the left would have to get beyond its
      obsessive moralizing. No real change, and therefore no good, can come
      of calling for moral redemption. Americans do not lust to become
      morally good. They want instead to be secure. To them, a left that
      distinguishes itself by incessant sermons and disquisitions on
      international jurisprudence doesn't quite seem to be the answer.
      Americans, being rational if not very moral, would rather hear of
      something that will address their concerns.

      By now it could hardly be more obvious what that something is. Before
      the war, it seemed as if international pressure might deter the US
      from policies that lead to ever more insecurity. This has proven a
      false hope. Only one fundamental shift in US policy can both undo the
      damage being done, and rapidly address America's security concerns.
      Proposing this shift is the only way the left can address the real
      concerns of the American people. The left needs to demand, as it
      should have demanded a long time ago, that the US switch sides in the
      Israel/Palestine conflict. This means that the US should ally itself
      with the Palestinians and with the Muslim world, against Israel, to
      secure prompt, unconditional and complete Israeli withdrawal from the
      occupied territories.

      "Against" means "against", not "not with". It implies a commitment to
      meet Israeli intransigence with increasingly severe responses, as
      severe as the United Nations will endorse. A posture of benign
      neutrality would hardly, in the post-911 sense, 'change everything',
      but switching sides would undoubtedly do so. No one needs shout "no
      war for oil": changing sides would bring no war *and* oil. It would
      also instantly reconcile the US with the UN and with its estranged
      European allies. The war on terror would fight itself;
      anti-Americanism would go out of fashion in Islam. The civil rights of
      Arabs and Muslims in America would no longer be an issue. There would
      be no problem with the US having an inconsistent position on weapons
      of mass destruction. Even without pure intentions, even without
      consciousness-raising, the US would recoup everything it has lost
      since 9-11. Last and least, the clash of civilizations would become an
      illusion: suddenly it would transpire that Muslims are not really that
      much more upset about skin on MTV than half the American population.

      It is not that the Israel-Palestine conflict is the only important
      issue in the world; it is just that it is the crucial one. Until the
      US reconciles with the Islamic world on Palestine, it can never
      demonstrate a commitment to international conventions, or change the
      tenor of its self-destructive war on terror, or overcome the petulant
      bitterness that now poisons any attempt to develop a fruitful foreign
      policy. Get on the right side of this issue, and there is still much
      to do, but the way is open to doing it.

      How would such a proposal be received by the American public? We don't
      know; it's never been tried. But what would block its acceptance? This
      doesn't require sacrifices. No one who wants America to be powerful,
      no one who wants America protected against terrorism, no one who wants
      cheap gas for SUVs, will find anything unpalatable here. Sure, there
      is the obstacle of prejudice anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice, but
      this prejudice does not run very deep. It has not prevented the US
      from allying itself with the Gulf States, Pakistan, and Indonesia: why
      should it prevent the US from forging more and stauncher alliances
      with other Muslim societies? Americans are used to thinking of Israel
      as their dear friend, but they are also used to thinking of Syria as
      their mortal enemy. That didn't prevent the US and Syria from forming
      a military alliance hardly more than ten years ago. Of course there
      would be tremendous opposition from Jewish organizations,
      neo-conservatives and others, but this would be a real fight for a
      real objective, with a real chance of victory. At worst it would
      greatly increase the pressure for peace in the Middle East.

      The biggest obstacle to the proposal, however, is the left itself.
      Many leftists, with admirable moral courage, have indeed put the
      Palestinian issue front and center. But as what? One of those
      never-ending charitable campaigns? Yet another example of US perfidy?
      The problem here is not insufficient concern but, once again, a lack
      of ambition, an inability to conceive of any strategy that could
      actually put an end to the Israel/Palestine conflict. In the name of
      political realism, the pro-Palestinian left promotes the most
      dangerous of illusions: that the US could stop the killing merely by
      toying with the Israel aid spigot.

      Cutting off the aid will do nothing: Israel is determined to stand
      pat. It will occasionally make noises about a Palestinian state and
      negotiations, but we know very well that its 'generous offers'
      consistently exclude vital chunks of the West Bank and many of the
      settlements. We also know that Israel's current notion of adequate
      security guarantees includes retaining control over every
      strategically important feature of the occupied territories, including
      the borders, major roads, and airports. And we know that even this
      'generosity' would almost certainly be rejected by the Israeli electorate.

      In other words, Israel has not the slightest intention of making peace
      or agreeing to a Palestinian state. It is not about to cave in when
      someone talks about cutting off aid. It doesn't need the aid: it is
      already one of the world's leading arms exporters, and it would make
      up for any aid shortfalls by expanding that business to now-prohibited
      items. Should the US make timid noises about reducing support, Israel
      will threaten to sell cutting-edge weapons to US enemies and rattle a
      nuclear sabre: keep arming us or the Arabs will attack, and we'll have
      to nuke 'em. Israel could be restrained and isolated only by what
      would form instantly were the US to switch sides: a coalition of the
      whole world determined to call Israel's bluff. Not coincidentally, a
      coalition of the whole world is just what the US needs right now.

      Meanwhile, as the left knows all too well, the killing goes on. While
      leftists agonize about the problem, they apparently cannot embrace the
      solution. Like the US itself, they can't bring themselves to switch
      sides, to embrace the very objective that would also solve America's
      security problems. They can't manage to say: "I want the US to ally
      itself with the Palestinians and the Muslim world. I want the US to
      see Israel, not as a naughty child to be deprived of military goodies,
      but as an adversary. Like the majority of people in the Muslim world,
      perhaps in the world at large, I applaud, without qualification, the
      resistance of the Palestinian people." Whatever the causes of this
      reluctance to take sides, its effects are fatal. It is fiddling while
      Palestinians burn, it is abandoning the best chance to prevent more
      Iraqs, and it is a refusal to bridge the gap between the left and the
      American people.

      Morality aside, the left has a choice. It can go on demonstrating in
      an atmosphere increasingly hostile to dissent. This essentially
      reduces to waiting until rising US casualties or world outrage does
      our work for us.(*) The alternative is give Americans an actual
      alternative to current policy, and that means working to turn the US
      against Israel. To promote this, you don't have to scold or moralize,
      and you can offer genuine hope for genuine change in the post 9-11
      world. Opposing Israel is no longer just a moral obligation; it is the
      only realistic way to deflect America from its destructive and
      self-destructive path. It was something not considered worthy of
      consideration before the failure to stop the war. Perhaps that failure
      will open minds to new ideas.

      Michael Neumann is a professor of philosophy at Trent University in
      Ontario, Canada. Professor Neumann's views are not to be taken as
      those of his university. His book What's Left: Radical Politics and
      the Radical Psyche has just been republished by Broadview Press. He
      can be reached at: mneumann@....

      (*) A perfect sample of the pathetic arm-waving that comes from
      refusing to deal with the Israel issue can be found in a letter,
      signed by everyone who's anyone on the left from Michael Albert to
      Howard Zinn, which contains the following profession of faith:

      "I stand for peace and justice.

      I stand for democracy and autonomy. I don't think the U.S. or any
      other country should ignore the popular will and violate and weaken
      international law, seeking to bully and bribe votes in the Security

      I stand for internationalism. I oppose any nation spreading an ever
      expanding network of military bases around the world and producing an
      arsenal unparalleled in the world.

      I stand for equity. I don't think the U.S. or any other country should
      seek empire. I don't think the U.S. ought to control Middle Eastern
      oil on behalf of U.S. corporations and as a wedge to gain political
      control over other countries. I stand for freedom. I oppose brutal
      regimes in Iraq and elsewhere but I also oppose the new doctrine of
      "preventive war," which guarantees permanent and very dangerous
      conflict, and is the reason why the U.S. is now regarded as the major
      threat to peace in much of the world. I stand for a democratic foreign
      policy that supports popular opposition to imperialism, dictatorship,
      and political fundamentalism in all its forms.

      I stand for solidarity. I stand for and with all the poor and the
      excluded. Despite massive disinformation millions oppose unjust,
      illegal, immoral war, and I want to add my voice to theirs. I stand
      with moral leaders all over the world, with world labor, and with the
      huge majority of the populations of countries throughout the world.

      I stand for diversity. I stand for an end to racism directed against
      immigrants and people of color. I stand for an end to repression at
      home and abroad.

      I stand for peace. I stand against this war and against the
      conditions, mentalities, and institutions that breed and nurture war
      and injustice.

      I stand for sustainability. I stand against the destruction of
      forests, soil, water, environmental resources, and biodiversity on
      which all life depends.

      I stand for justice. I stand against economic, political, and cultural
      institutions that promote a rat race mentality, huge economic and
      power inequalities, corporate domination even unto sweatshop and slave
      labor, racism, and gender and sexual hierarchies.

      I stand for a policy which redirects the money used for war and
      military spending to provide healthcare, education, housing, and jobs.

      I stand for a world whose political, economic, and social institutions
      foster solidarity, promote equity, maximize participation, celebrate
      diversity, and encourage full democracy.

      I stand for peace and justice and, more, I pledge to work for peace
      and justice."

      Iraqis and Palestinians will doubtless thank the left for reciting
      this pious mantra over their dead.

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