We are on the eve of a controversial war in the Middle East. So you’d think that opponents of the war could bring to the fore principled arguments, both moral and practical — ones that would enrich the national debate and raise important issues of general concern.
Instead — if yet another of the recent protests in Washington is any indication — there is little offered but the old hypocrisy, shrillness, and carnival absurdity. Signs proclaimed “Evil Over Good.” Ramsey Clark was still screaming on cue for the impeachment of the president; the provocateur Al Sharpton was presented as an exemplar of racial harmony. Support was again asked for the cop-killers H. Rap Brown and Mumia Abu-Jamal (honorary citizen of Paris). A vociferous minister reprimanded demonstrators for putting a few coins, not many bills, in his tithe buckets — while affluent suburbanites nodded as Imam Mousa, the Islamist, called for “revolution” throughout the United States, which in theory might even reach their outer boroughs of Maryland and Virginia. Honorable antiwar protestors showing up at a rally sponsored by such leaders would be like critics of racial quotas allowing David Duke to organize their protests.
What, then, exactly is the problem with the opposition to the war? Why is there not an idea to be found? Is it because the protestations of the present antiwar movement rest on dead-end logic.
No Blood for Oil? Under a favorable scenario of a new reform government in Iraq, oil production will rise to over three million barrels. That would help to allow the world price to decline — or at least stabilize. Such price continuity will help billions worldwide beyond our shores — as well as earning revenues for the people of Iraq. Does Exxon really want lower prices and a state-run oil company under civic audit at last controlling the vast petroleum reserves of Iraq? Are Texas oil-company executives clamoring for consensual government in the Gulf or are they big supporters of Israel?
Those most worried about American military force used to remove Saddam Hussein may well be not D.C. protesters, but international oil companies who apparently are jittery that in a postbellum climate there will be too much Iraqi oil under a stable peace — or contrarily scared that their joint-venture infrastructure and investment abroad will be endangered when the shooting starts. Only the continued existence of Saddam Hussein means that none of his oil revenue goes to the people — as the world’s oil supply remains tight, wells are relatively safe, and energy-corporation profits stay ample.
Despite the rhetoric that the United States never intervenes for principled or even illogical reasons, America lately has not been using its military power for clearly demarcated economic self-interest. Indeed, if there were one constant that characterizes American policy in the last two decades, it surely was not greed for oil — which was not anywhere to be found in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, or Afghanistan. Thirty-seven thousand Americans are not in Korea for gasoline; the strike of Venezuelan conservative elites might draw sympathy from their kindred souls in Washington, but it is sending gas prices through the roof.
No War? It is hard to know whether the current war protesters are simply anti-Bush or genuine pacifists. But in either case, if they sincerely wish the United States to renounce force in both Iraq and Korea, then they must accept the moral — and most immediate — corollary of such a position: calls for the immediate withdrawal from the no-fly zones and South Korea. Signs should read: “Let the Kurds Be” or “Leave the DMZ.” Under such pacifist logic, without gun-toting American imperialists, the Kurdish republicans would be safe from Saddam’s resumption of gassing and bombing, and the Korean democrats secure from 10,000 artillery pieces to the north.
Our Enemies Are Victims? Throughout the Cold War the resonance of the anti-American and antiwar movements was predicated on the utopian pretensions of communism. Commissars were usually savvy enough to masquerade dictatorships as mass liberation movements professing fraternity, egalitarianism, and social justice.
But North Korea is truly a satanic place, where two million starve in order to build and maintain 3,000 tanks, 600 guided missiles, and 2,000 warplanes. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is a simulacrum of the Third Reich. Antiwar activists are thus confronted with the reductionist fact that their opposition to the United States finds resonance with unsavory characters who likewise oppose Washington — whether fascists in Iraq or Stalinists in Korea. The contradictions get worse if we throw in the hot-button issues of sexism, racism, and homophobia. The Taliban and Saddam Hussein, not elites in suits and ties in DuPont Circle, are guilty of those transgressions — at least if burqas, genocide, and summary executions are any indications.
And who are those “brothers and sisters” abroad expressing solidarity with the protesters in Washington? In fact, there were kindred, simultaneous demonstrations on the same day by paid lackeys in Baghdad (organized by Oday, Saddam Hussein’s son and renowned pacifist), old-style Soviet Stalinists waving the hammer-and-sickle in front of the American embassy in Moscow, and Islamic fundamentalists in Cairo.
Arab sensitivity? The Arab street can be characterized by two general principles — anti-Americanism and unhappiness with the Middle East’s failed and dictatorial governments. Fair enough. But what happens when those twin targets of popular discontent are themselves at variance?
If the United States — albeit sometimes belatedly — is committed to remove fascists like those in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is increasingly pressuring the Saudis, Kuwaitis, and the Egyptians to initiate domestic reforms, will the Arab street evolve in its thinking or instead demonstrate for no future elections in Riyadh, more torture in Baghdad, and the status quo in Cairo? If $3 billion of annual aid to Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine, help for Kosovars, Somalis, Kuwaitis, and Afghans, and open American borders for immigrants from the Middle East earn us such hostility, then what would the opposite policies do? And should we find out?
Empire? Are we really a hegemon that must intrude into countries all over the word? In a post-Cold War age of 12 mobile carrier battle groups, hundreds of submarines that are being reoriented to a variety of new tactical missions, missile defense, and the spread of democracies, the American military — as we learned from its expulsion from the Philippines — will not dissolve if it is asked to leave from various conventional bases abroad. Gone is the habitual American worry of the 1970s about the need for anti-Soviet homeports. It is replaced by a sort of resignation that host countries should do what they wish — and in response we will adapt and continue as we can.
So instead of European elites constantly hectoring the United States about its imperial Roman aspirations, their governments should simply match their rhetoric by asking us to vacate Western Europe. Pronto! The United States is not holding back Germans from its “German way.” There are places for American ships besides Crete — and the Aegean can be patrolled well enough by joint Greek-Turkish NATO fleets.
Thousands of Americans on the tip of the spear in South Korea, if asked to depart by Seoul, will be only too happy to get out of the way of nukes across the DMZ. The American public will be delighted by the subsequent savings — and relieved even more that they are not pledging San Francisco for the security of Seoul. Anti-Americanism apparently has resonance in German and South Korean elections, but when such nationalist administrations have power, they strangely are not so ready to follow through on their campaign rhetoric.
9/11. The new Bush administration began 2001 promising not to emulate the near yearly interventions abroad of the Clinton idealists — no more nation-building in Somalia, no more human-rights watching in Haiti, no more peacemaking in the former Yugoslavia, and comprehensive reexamination of the expensive and thankless policing of Iraq. Indeed, the standard pre-9/11 critique of the Bushites was their lapse into the old-style Republican neo-isolationism — not a propensity for utopian interventionism or imperial overstretch.
So take away 9/11 and there would be no U.S. troops poised to go to Baghdad and Mullah Omar would still be pontificating on al Jazeera. Neither the American government nor the American people had any desire to send troops overseas had not 3,000 been slaughtered. The truth is that the Left’s failure to note the importance of 9/11 in the present crisis, or, worse, to say that it is a mere pretext for American fighting abroad does a disservice to the memory of the dead.
The fact is that we have been fighting Middle Eastern terrorists and fascists all along — al Qaeda, the Taliban, Saddam Hussein — who want weapons that can do far more than kill 3,000 Americans and level the World Trade Center. Real costs now — not oil profits later — are the elements of our own fiscal reckoning. Rather than killing “millions of innocent Iraqis,” millions of innocent Iraqis in Kurdistan — as well as millions more in Korea — are alive only because of the continued presence of American troops. Arab dictatorships hate us even as “friendly” Arab dictatorships increasingly fear our calls for reform.
I suppose to protest against all that you really do have to carry signs that proclaim EVIL OVER GOOD.