Hearts and Minds and Americans

Somebody kicked-over a rock at The Nation the other day.  An important but otherwise hidden issue lay beneath it.  A hearts-and-minds issue.  One of Alexander Cockburn’s friends wondered about the "grand taboo" of the anti-war movement in the States.  (By the way, I’m posting the CounterPunch version of Cockburn’s commentary because The Nation‘s is sequestered behind a $$$$$ curtain.)  Why are the fighters of the armed resistance to the occupying forces inside Iraq "never mentioned as people for whom we should show concern, much less admiration"?  Cockburn wondered too.  After all, they are fighting against a colonial occupation.  Indeed.  Against a neocolonial occupation, wherein some of the world’s major multilateral organizations — first and foremost the United Nations — have been brought in to provide a cover of legitimacy and to serve as administrators.  To let Cockburn explain it:  

It looked as though just such a vibrant left antiwar movement was flaring into life in 2003. But many of its troops have either veered into 9/11 kookdom, or whining about global warming or nourished an often unspoken resolve to vest all hopes in a Democratic presidency after 2008. The bulk of the antiwar movement has become subservient to the Democratic Party and to the agenda of its prime candidates for the presidency in 2008, with Hillary Clinton in the lead.

(Or, we might add, been channeled, diverted – as in canalized — into "Crisis in Darfur" activism.)

Katha Pollitt, another of The Nation‘s long-time columnists, wondered about this too.  But she also wondered about what possessed Cockburn to raise the question, which she regards as fucked-up. "Why is the anti-war movement so lacklustre when 71% of Americans want to bring the troops home by spring and George W. Bush is the least popular president in history?"  And why is Cockburn proffering such crazy answers to this question?   

To quote Pollitt’s response at length:

  Where to begin? Let’s start with those murky contours and secular objections. With whom, exactly, are we supposed to be showing solidarity? Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia? Shiites massacring their Sunni neighbors? Sunnis killing Shiites? Religious reactionaries who have murdered doctors, professors, working women, Christians, students, hand-holding couples? "Ignorance about the Iraqi resistance is somewhat forgivable," Alex concedes, given the lack of first-hand sympathetic reporting–not that he deigns to enlighten the reader.
So, okay, call me ignorant: The Iraqi resistance isn’t dominated by theocrats, ethnic nationalists, die-hard Baathists, jihadis, kidnappers, beheaders and thugs? Who haven’t tortured and killed trade union leaders, feminists, aid workers, schoolteachers and such? We would like to live–Iraqis would like to live — in the society they want to create?
  Why Alex thinks embracing the Iraqi resistance would strengthen the US antiwar movement is beyond me. On the contrary, the nature of the resistance is a major reason why the antiwar movement is so weak. No matter how intensely you oppose the war, it is hard to feel good about an Iraq in which the resistance calls the shots. That was not how anti-war Americans saw Central America, or even Vietnam. It’s not just that the iraqi insurgents are killing our soldiers–which, let’s remember, was not an issue in Central America. It’s that they’re killing each other.

My own view is that, for whatever reason, Pollitt doesn’t get it.  For example, the Camp Casey Peace Institute currently is sponsoring a "Summer of Love ’07 – Journey for Humanity" that is passing through something like 17 different U.S. cities this month, and includes on its itinerary Arlington National Cemetery as well as the White House.  The last time I checked, the U.S. military’s men and women were Americans who took up arms and participated in wars of aggression and occupation against foreign countries for no cause other than domination, and used those arms to kill and wound countless numbers of peoples inside these countries. Yet, I can’t recall the last time I found in the writings of Katha Pollitt or the rest of the U.S. establishment any principled objection to embracing these U.S. military personnel the way that so many of the organized groups inside the United States do.  And with whom, exactly, are these U.S.-based groups showing their solidarity?  True, the resistance inside places like Afghanistan and Iraq (and elsewhere, too) do indeed practice beheadings, and kill and maim innocent people.  Also, the majority of them appear to profess beliefs about this world that I do not share.  But unless a Pollitt-type injunction to embracing the resistance to the U.S. wars and occupations applies with equal force to embracing the footsoldiers of these same U.S. wars and occupations — and if not, why not? — there is something fundamentally wrong with Katha Pollitt’s thinking.  And, in short, I smell a homer.      

Across the States, there are lots of movements animated by the general dislike for the fact that the enemy in Iraq began shooting back ("resistance") at the occupation forces around August, 2003.  But I wouldn’t call the spirit of these movements peace or antiwar.  Instead, theirs is what I’d call a we-don’t-like-the-enemy-shooting-back-at-us movement.  Understood for what they are, I don’t believe we ought to be impressed by their ethics. 

Likewise, there are lots of movements in the States driven by Americans who dislike U.S. casualties — especially loved ones.  Yet, again, I wouldn’t call these peace or antiwar movements.   I’d call them we-don’t-like-U.S.-casualties movements.  I certainly know where they’re coming from.  But at the same time I don’t believe their root ethic ought to impress us one bit.

Notice that not a single one of the architects of U.S. warmaking, the CEOs at ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, the talking heads at prowar venues such as the FOX News Channel and the editors at the Weekly Standard would hesitate for one moment before lining up with either of these groups.  Surely their cost-benefit calculations include a column for tabulating the tears shed over U.S. casualties.  Why any of us should be impressed by these homers is beyond me.   

But there are tragically and contemptibly fewer movements in the States that oppose the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq because, being wars, they give birth to the "most noxious complex of all the evils that afflict men."

And the smallest movement of them all — and therefore the one on behalf of which the consciousness of Americans deserves to be raised – is the one organized around the simplicity of non-violence and the elegance of peace

Something like seven-in-ten Americans say they oppose continuing the U.S. war in Iraq and want to see the troops withdrawn. — So what?  What I’d really like to know is why they now oppose this one war.  Do they support the war in Afghanistan but not Iraq?  Support something called the "War on Terror" instead?  Do they oppose only those wars in which the other side fights back?  In which U.S. casualties begin to tick-upwards relative to the casualties inflicted upon the enemy (as in Iraq)?  If an American opposes the Iraq war for purely pragmatic reasons — because he’s concluded that the "costs" of the war have grown too burdensome, either to him personally or to the economy or to the "nation" — should we lump him in the same basket as those who oppose the Iraq war in the same way as they oppose the Afghanistan war and the non-existent "War on Terror" – because, ultimately, they oppose all wars? 

Sift through the beliefs of those seven-in-ten Americans who now tell pollsters that they oppose the Iraq war, and tell me what you really find.  

For starters, I’d avoid questions of the kind "Do you approve or disapprove of…" as well as "Do you favor or oppose the…," where typically one or another form of the United States‘ war in Iraq is used to complete the question.  Since seven-in-ten now respond to questions like these in the negative, more probing questions about what, exactly, it really means for an individual American to disapprove of or to oppose the U.S. war in Iraq desperately need to be asked.  

Out of the eight recent polls you’ll find reproduced at Summary of Eight Recent Polls on Iraq, the single most interesting question of them all was this one from a CNN – Opinion Research Corporation poll (June 22-24):

"Do you think the United States’ action in Iraq is morally justified, or not?"

                               Is        Is Not     Unsure              
June 22-24, 2007      42%      54%         4%   
June 8-11, 2006        45%      47%         8%

Notice the longitudinal aspect of this: In June 2006, 47% said the "United States’ action" was not "morally justified," while twelve months later, 54% said it wasn’t.

Although none of the eight surveys asked it, another interesting question would be: Do you think the United States’ action (or war, aggression) in Iraq is criminal, or not?  And: Do you think the United States’ action (or war, aggression) in Afghanistan is criminal, or not? — Of course, the relevant follow-up question would be: If you believe that the war is criminal (or: wasn’t morally justified), then what do you believe the repercussions for this criminal (or: morally not justified) war should be?  A range of options could be listed, including (a) an investigation into the criminal aspects of the war, (b) an impeachment inquiry, (c) nothing, and (d) whatever other reasonable options deserve to be aired.

Another interesting question was asked by a CBS News poll (June 26-28):

"Right now, is the U.S. involvement in Iraq creating more terrorists who are planning to attack the U.S., eliminating terrorists who were planning to attack the U.S., or is the U.S. involvement in Iraq not affecting the number of terrorists planning to attack the U.S.?"

                                         Creating    Eliminating    Effecting    Unsure

June 26-28, 2007             51%          17%             24%          8%
July, 2005                       52%          17%             22%          9%
June 23-27, 2004             55%          17%             21%          7%

On the other hand, here is a very disappointing question, asked by a USA Today – Gallup poll (July 6-8) — though at least they’ve been asking the same question for a long time, so we can see how American have been responding to it as far back as the first week after the war on Iraq was launched, in late March 2003:

"In view of the developments since we first sent our troops to Iraq, do you think the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, or not?"

                                Made a       Did Not
                                      Mistake      Make a Mistake      Unsure

July 6-8, 2007              62%            36%                    2%
April 7-9, 2006             57%            42%                    1%
April 29-May 1, 2005    49%            48%                     3%
May 7-9, 2004             44%            54%                     2%
March 24-25, 2003       23%            75%                     2%

Consider how individual Americans might approach a question about whether the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, or not. — How might somebody evaluate whether this war was a quote-unquote mistake?  Because there were no "weapons of mass destruction" and pre-war ties between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 conspirators?  Because the war against Iraq diverted U.S. military resources away from the "War on Terror"?  Because the war against Iraq inspired a determined resistance inside Iraq, and they can shoot back?  This "mistake"-question really gives me the creeps. 

Or, to take the most current Newsweek – Princeton Survey Research Associates International poll (July 11-12), imagine asking a bunch of Americans this question:

"Right now, which of the following do you think is the BIGGEST threat to achieving peace and stability in Iraq: [see below]?" [Options rotated]

                               Al Qaeda    Shiite      Sunni             Same/All
                                      in Iraq         Militias   Nationalists    Equal           Unsure

July 11-12, 2007        34%             14%          9%             13%              30%

As we should have expected, the Princeton Survey group listed three, and only three, potential BIGGEST threats to achieving peace and stability in Iraq — and they’re all Iraqi.  (Though among what’s now called "Al Qaeda in Iraq," many clearly are "foreign fighters," in the official sense of this phrase.)  

But the Princeton Survey group provided not a single column for the Americans themselves.  Not even for the "Multinational Forces."  Instead, the American pollsters gave the American forces a pass.

The Americans simply can’t be the BIGGEST threat to achieving peace and stability in Iraq.

Can they?      

"Support Their Troops?" Alexander Cockburn, CounterPunch, July 14/15, 2007
"2,4,6,8! This beheading is really great!" Katha Pollitt, The Nation blog, July 13, 2007 

Summary of Eight Recent Polls on Iraq, PollingReport.com, June 1-3 through July 11-12, 2007

Muslims Believe US Seeks to Undermine Islam, Steven Kull et al., PIPA, April 24, 2007.  (Also see the Questionnaire.  And the accompanying News Release.)

"The Politics of Naming," Mahmood Mamdani, London Review of Books, March 8, 2007
"A Tale of Two Genocides, Congo and Darfur: The Blatantly Inconsistent U.S. Position," Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report, July 18, 2007 

"Phyllis Bennis and the post-modern anti-war movement," Gabriele Zamparini, The Cat’s Blog, July 31, 2007
"The Mamma Mia Anti-War Movement," Gabriele Zamparini, The Cat’s Blog, August 5, 2007


David Peterson
Chicago, USA


Leave a comment