Saturday, October 01, 2005

How to make Republicans: The extremism of the anti-war movement

Last week, I wrote two posts on last weekend's anti-war rally in Washington. In the first one, I withheld commentary but declared that "it's good to see such political passion every now and then". In the second one, I noted, via Christopher Hitchens, that the rally was organized by two extremist groups, one of which, International ANSWER, has expressed support for some of the most awful regimes on the planet (including those of Kim Jong-il, Fidel Castro, and Slobodan Milosevic): "It's truly shameful," I concluded, "that what was a vocal (and perhaps justifiable) protest against a war that was more or less botched from the get-go was in fact organized by such loathsome groups."

Those of you who read The Reaction regularly (or irregularly), or those of you who are familiar with my work at The Moderate Voice, know my views on the Iraq War: Like many other liberal hawks, I was for it at the outset, given what I knew at the time, but I have since been a vocal critic of the occupation and of President Bush's leadership (or lack thereof). However, I think that the job needs to be finished -- that is, Iraq needs to be stabilized -- before any significant withdrawal of U.S. forces occurs, lest Iraq descend into chaos.

I sympathize with the concerns of many of the protesters who showed up in Washington and elsewhere last weekend. My view is that the job needs to be done better, not halted immediately, but there is indeed something to be said for the expression of such political passion -- sometimes I worry that there isn't nearly enough of it now that political activism has been largely co-opted by inside-the-beltway lobbyists and money-driven groups operating on the internet. But the problem isn't just that the demonstration in Washington was organized by sympathizers of totalitarianism, it's that the anti-war movement, such as there even is one to speak of, has been polluted by extremists far outside the mainstream of American society, many of whom seem to be using the anti-war movement as a platform for the expression of unrelated concerns.

Thus, as Lawrence Kaplan notes in The New Republic, writing about the event in Washington, "[f]ringe issues... dominate[d] the day. Where the Vietnam antiwar movement focused directly on the war, with parts of it evolving over time into a broader indictment of 'the system,' [Saturday's] march walk[ed] backward, addressing a litany of pet causes before it even [got] to Iraq." And it didn't help that those fringe issues typically anti-Israeli (and, one suspects, anti-Semitic) sentiments. To be fair, Kaplan mentions that some of the protesters found this fringe element quite disturbing... and meddlesome. How do you focus on the Iraq War when there are loud voices protesting everything America is doing around the world and right at home, indeed, when there are such voices proclaiming every left-wing cause imaginable? I can sympathize with the concerns of the genuine anti-war protesters, but not with the rabid anti-Americanism that showed up last weekend and threatened to drown out the real issue -- which, in case you've forgotten, is Iraq.

Kaplan again: "Part thirty-fifth college reunion and part flea market for the disaffected, where the sheer number of grievances on offer overwhelmed the only one that counted, what Washington endured this weekend wasn't exactly an antiwar march. It was anti-everything: Israel, the U.S. military, capitalism, colonialism, Wal-Mart. If anything, the march created the impression of a country so far removed from the war in Iraq that even the antiwar movement can't be bothered to demonstrate against it."

Which is a shame. There is something to be said against this war, and there may even be something to be said for bringing the troops home sooner rather than later, even if I myself don't agree with that. But the anti-war movement, hollow or not, doesn't do itself any favours by allowing itself to be taken over by such extremism -- one big reason why many prominent Democrats, most of whom have no love for the war or for the White House that started it, avoided the event entirely. As long as it seems to be little more than a ragtag expression of bitter anti-Americanism, it will alienate many (like me) who sympathize with it and who might actually support it. Pro-war conservatives and Republicans will always be against it, but many of the rest of us will simply be turned against it. Some of us may even be pushed into the hardened pro-war camp (or at least further away from the anti-war one) either out of spite or out of a reluctance to be associated in any way with such extremism. After all, patriotism matters to most Americans.

If you want more evidence of the extremism of last week's demonstrations, here are some photos from San Francisco. As you'll see, President Bush is characterized as Satan, a psychotic murderer, a wanker, a mad cowboy, a dictator (Hitler), a fascist, a war criminal, and a Nazi.

No, such idiocy won't turn me into a Republican, nor into a thoughtless supporter of Bush's conduct of the war/occupation, but I find myself quite repelled by such sentiments, and it wouldn't surprise me if they repelled others right into the arms of the anti-war movement's opponents. For which the anti-war movement would have nothing to blame but itself.

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