Thursday, March 20, 2003

Winning the peace

Tim Dunlop has an interesting post up about Eric Alterman's claim that the anti-war movement was a failure.
To the extent that the anti-war movement was about stopping the war, then Alterman is right. We lost; we were probably always going to lose, and now that the war is on, we can only hope that it finishes as quickly as possible. However, the basic premise in his comment is too reductionist. Those who argued against war were arguing about more than simply no war. The anti-war case was also about the nature of public debate, public policy and the repercussions of war on the lives of ordinary citizens in the West, especially in terms of threats to the very liberties for which we are told we are fighting.
For the last several months my estimates for the likelihood of war never dropped below 95%. Yet I marched anyway because I felt it was important to let the world know that there were people who opposed this action. In that sense, I don't agree with the conclusion that the anti-war movement was a failure. Yes, we didn't stop the war. But I don't think many of those who went to the rallies expected that they would be able to stop it. Most of the people I talked to were even more skeptical than I was. But we did get the word out that there is a significant number of people in this country who are vehemently opposed to the direction Bush is leading this country. He does not have the mandate his supporters and sycophants in the media say he does. We have sent a message to the rest of the people who are also uncomfortable with our present course of action that their discomfort is not isolated and they are not unpatriotic for feeling it. The number of honks, thumbs up and claps I saw from bystanders during the marches far outnumbered the one-finger salutes. These actions can give courage to those who might not otherwise have it, especially the leaders of the nominal opposition. Would Tom Daschle have felt comfortable making his recent comments about Bush's diplomatic failures and standing by them in the face of withering criticism if he had NOT seen the huge crowds of protesters in the streets? Alterman's comment annoyed me because it seemed so dismissive of what has happened already. Far from being a failure, I consider the fact that we mobilized millions of people to get off their butts and publicly protest Bush's war even before a single shot was fired to be an extraordinary achievement. Remember that the Vietnam War had raged for years before the protest levels reached the kind we have seen in recent months. Alterman's comment was insulting at a time when the anti-war movement needs to be applauded.
The antiwar movement was never just about stopping war, though that will rightly be seen as its biggest failure. It was also about holding those in office to account and ensuring those rights to dissent that the hawks were so glad to remind us we had actually meant something. And this is something that can’t just stop because the war has started. Alterman’s call to focus on “building a better future”, he should remember, relies on more of the same, an ongoing willingness to tell the truth and cop the abuse that will inevitably come. The antiwar movement is dead. Long live the antiwar movement.
Here here! The long-term success of the anti-war movement will not be measured simply by the fact that we didn't stop the war. It must now transform itself into a watchdog of the Bush administration that demands that it stay true to its professed reasons for this action AND works to bring them down if they do not. Mr. Bush, Killing Saddam will prove nothing other than the fact that you have a really big gun(penis). You can win the war. We will win the peace.


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