After the War Starts

The whole world is marching.

American activists love to abuse the rhetorical device of the "International Day of Protest." On Saturday, Feb. 15, 2003, for the first time in history, there actually was one.

Bush and politicians who share his arrogance have been driving new recruits into the anti-war movement. Around the world, a generation was inspired by the dream of universal democracy that came with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. That has been followed, in many places rather quickly, by the sinking realization that the global corporate priorities that supplanted the Cold War have heralded less, not more, democracy.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration reacted to the 10 million-person focus group like very spoiled children told "no" for the very first time. Puerile taunts and bullying aside, they still have the capacity and the intent to unleash a genocidal firestorm on Baghdad: 800 cruise missiles in two days, as only the opening, Hiroshima-style salvo in a "war" that horrifies the world in large part because it will be a cold-blooded massacre killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

Here in Seattle, beyond the now-ubiquitous "No Iraq War" lawn signs, the second most popular protest placard is some version of "Impeach Bush!"

People are wistfully (or angrily) talking impeachment across the countrynot out of the belief that Bush has violated one or another law, but because they believe he is violating the very spirit of what we were all taught makes America a unique and wonderful nation. That mythologyof freedom, democracy, justice, and opportunity for allhas been turned into a mockery by an administration that just may be the most radical, venal, arrogant, and greed-motivated in history. In less than 18 months, Bush has turned the United States from a receptacle for the world's sympathy and support into the world's most feared and hated rogue statewith virtually no public debate.

Given such stakes, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are a red herring for protesters as well as for an administration that benefits enormously from the distraction. A strict focus on Iraq risks backfiring when the invasion reaches full throttle. That's exactly what happened during 1991's Gulf War: After a quick "victory" by the U.S. and its allies, the peace movement dissipated.

And pity any protester the day after Islamic terroristswho've been preparing for D-Day at least as long as the Pentagonunleash any counterattack, especially on U.S. soil. The losses of 9/11 gave Bush a free ride politically for nearly a year and a half. It's been the belligerence of the Bush administration, not any "clash of civilizations" or those inscrutable, implacable, or just plain jealous brown people, that has fueled record anti-Americanism and been an ideal recruiting tool for the world's bin Ladens. That's an intellectual argument at a time when the White House's recklessness may be putting all Americans in an unaccustomed emotional state of vulnerability, fear, and anger. This movement's best hope for remaining relevant no matter what happens lies in shifting the debate from the dubious threat posed by Saddam Hussein to the very real threat posed by Bush (and his Democratic enablers).

The Bush administration proposes nothing less than a century-long war pitting America against the world. It's completely reasonable that an anti-war movement position itself not by defending the world's behavior but by questioning Bush's.

The "Seattle model" has reflected a demographic shift across the country that probably worries Bush's crew far more than we know. These are voters, not street punks, out marching. Nationally, variations on the neighborhood model have extended the opposition far beyond the cloistered left and its reflexive protesting. It's given that movement something positivecommunity building and empowermentto offer in the face of headlines that promote powerlessness and despair. This is not Vietnamthe zeitgeist is of patriots of all stripes, alarmed that their beloved country is being visibly transformed into a country that appalls the world. The alternative is democracy itself.

Republican or Democrat, America's leader is the world's most powerful person. That power corrupts absolutely. Ultimately, it can only be checked by grassroots democracy, by an attentive public that demands, at minimum, that our own safety not be endangered by the arrogance and brutality of unaccountable leaders, that the globe not be splattered with war crimes committed in our names.

Bush's proposed invasion of Iraq, whether it happens or not, is being seen by the White House's empire builders as only one skirmish in a much longer war. Anti-war crowds need to be thinking in similar terms, lest next week's headlines render them irrelevant. Stopping an invasion of Iraq is not the end, but with any luck, it can be the beginning of an end.

gparrish@seattleweekly.com

 
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