18 August 2007

The War? Whatever

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 3:50 pm

The last two antiwar marches I attended were in Nice. The first one, a couple months before the war began, totaled maybe ten thousand people; the second, shortly after the war started, was a little smaller, significantly less optimistic, and more politically radical. Today, more than four years later and for the first time since Vietnam, I went to a peace rally in America.

The march began with maybe fifty people; when it ended an hour and a half later the crowd had swelled to maybe eighty. Quite a few people carried signs; one guy played a snare drum. At the head of the parade was a college-aged girl with a bullhorn leading the chants: “What do we want?” “Peace!” — that sort of thing. “One two three four, we don’t want your bloody war!” What happened to ‘we don’t want your fucking war,’ I asked the woman in front of me. I told her not to say it, she replied. Why not? She’s my daughter. Well I’ll say it then. The mom smiled. Mostly I stuck with ‘bloody.’

The parade route started at the public library and wound its way through downtown Boulder, the pedestrian mall, the outdoor market, then back to the library. Quite a few people applauded as we passed by; only two or three expressed prowar sentiments. No heckling, no police, no tear gas. Mostly I noticed the expressions on people’s faces: a half-smile that avoided eye contact, expressing not so much cynicism as embarrassment.

Back in front of the library a few participants made brief speeches and a couple of musicians sang antiwar folk songs. When the last chorus had been sung there were maybe twenty people still hanging around.

Meanwhile, last week the American administration declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. The Guard is an official branch of the Iranian military numbering some 125,00o strong. By categorizing them as a terrorist organization, Bush can presumably authorize the invasion of Iran in accord with existing anti-terrorist powers already authorized by the Congress. The majority of the American public believes that we are losing the war but that we can still win it. The Democrats are expecting the war to fail so that, when the next elections roll around, the Democratic Party can solidify its hold on the Congress and take the Presidency. But if Bush invades Iran, this passive-aggressive move by the Democrats will fail. Next month the vote for continued funding of the war goes before Congress. With the threat of an invasion of Iran in front of them, will the Democrats actually do what they were elected to do and pull the plug on the war? I’m betting no.



  1. John,

    what do you put the small turnout down to?


    Comment by Ivan — 18 August 2007 @ 7:31 pm

  2. I honestly don’t know, Ivan. The Democratic Congress, elected because of antiwar sentiments, can’t make themselves pull the plug. Even Obama and Clinton are talking like it’s going to take years to wind down. It’s hard to reconcile ourselves to losing, but I think people really believe that if America pulls out now all hell will break loose. So even though the majority now agree we should never have gone in, the antiwar Democrats believe it’s some sort of humanitarian mission to wind things down in an orderly fashion. I believe this is delusional and that the American presence is the single greatest source of disorder in Iraq. But not many seem to believe that to be the case.


    Comment by ktismatics — 18 August 2007 @ 8:48 pm

  3. John,

    Opec puts the middle east oil supply at some 717 billion barrels more sober predictions such as the Campbell report have it around 379 billion. China is purchasing actual oil fields in Iran. In other words tying the oil directly to them.

    Is this really the US reluctance to get out of Iraq? It has the only other undeveloped fields of consequence in the world it may not have a choice?


    Comment by Ivan — 18 August 2007 @ 10:41 pm

  4. While oil may have been a significant reason to invade Iraq and may also be a major reason not to leave, I don’t think oil has anything to do with why the American public remains so passive. A majority think the war was a bad idea, that America is losing, and that Bush is doing a bad job managing the war. The main public disagreement is how to get out. One, it’s hard to accept defeat, which means acknowledging that all those hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of American war dead/injured were for nothing. Two, even antiwar Americans generally agreed that Iraq was better off without the genocidal Saddam. Now, with sectarian violence exposing the threat of further genocide, Americans feel that leaving now would be a crime against humanity, and that we’d just have to go right back in there once the bloodbath got started in earnest. So if we can stabilize the political situation before we leave, we’ll have done the good deed — and essentially won the war besides. It’s just hard to face the possibility that the American occupation is the main source of the internal disorder in Iraq, and that as soon as we leave things are more likely to get better than worse. Bush remains completely unresponsive to public opinion in pursuit of his mission, while the Democratic congress and presidential candidates are reluctant to take any action. So the get-out-of-Iraq-now sector of the public has no clear agenda for exerting influence. And so not many people turn out for the demonstrations.


    Comment by ktismatics — 19 August 2007 @ 6:26 am

  5. I see that the Bush administration has clarified its position on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, specifying that so far only the elite Al-Qudz special forces have been identified as a terrorist organization. A final decision hasn’t yet been announced as to whether the terrorist label will be extended to the entire Guard. Boy, is that a load off my mind!

    If the U.S. is going to attack Iran, it’ll almost have to be by air strikes. The military is already too stretched in Iraq to extend into Iran. And air strikes on Iraq have been rapidly increasing lately…


    Comment by ktismatics — 19 August 2007 @ 1:45 pm

  6. DES MOINES, Aug. 19 — Several Democratic presidential candidates said today that it would be difficult to mount a swift withdrawal of troops from Iraq, declaring that a strategy for a hasty exit would be dangerous for American forces and civilians. “This is going to take a while,” said Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. “It is so important that we not oversell this.”

    “This is the equivalent of George Bush drove the bus into the ditch, and there are only so many ways you can pull that bus out of the ditch,” Mr. Obama said. “That doesn’t mean you don’t fire the driver, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t evaluate how we avoid getting in these same problems in the future.”


    Comment by ktismatics — 19 August 2007 @ 2:43 pm

  7. It feels like the US has reached a tipping point, but the population is unaware, maybe that there could even be one.

    How does a country ‘come clean’ about the devil’s deals over the past 50 years that allowed cheap and abundant oil through support for repressive and inhumane regimes when it hasn’t really come clean to its own populace?

    Casting aside the farce of WMD, there may have been merit in the idea of overthrowing Hussein and establishing a government by the people in Iraq for its own sake and hopefully as a catalyst for change in many other countries in and out of the region (posing questions of “What right to intevene in affairs of a sovereign state” vs. an “obligation” to seek to rectify the horrible results of US foreign policy since at least WWII.)

    To pull that off properly would have required the genuine commitment of the entire country, akin to the WWII war efforts, so instead we are where we are today.

    What to do now? Bail quickly and watch the atrocities of civil war decimate the country with the participation of proxy armies from Iran and the Sunni world? Continue to muddle along at the expense of thousands of US soldiers and 100 times their number of Iraqi civilians to what outcome?

    Thomas Friedman recently suggested a “date certain” withdrawal would cause the forces inside Iraq and on its borders to confront the possibility of a significant Sunni vs. Shia war backed by the coffers and zealotry of the oil regimes in the region, possibly inducing all those parties to act overtly towards resolution instead of covertly towards subversion. These are the same bad actors we have caused to be in power by our foreign policy, so certainly not a good outcome for the populace of the region if those guys are in the driver seat, but we get our troops out with their tail between their legs.

    So is this the end of “have it our way” foreign policy? While all this is happening in Iraq several regimes (Bolivia, Venezuela…Argentina?) in South America are declaring “no mas” and beginning to change the terms of commerce with the US to be more favorable for their populace and less so for multinational companies.

    In response to a question from Maureen Dowd, Jon Stewart (or Stephen Colbert?) suggested that the best way to have US citizens pay attention to what is happening around them would be to reinstitute the draft. Then you’d have a few more antiwar protesters.


    Comment by Pykoman — 20 August 2007 @ 12:23 pm

  8. From the beginning Thomas Friedman, that purported spokesman for the left, supported the war and sold the Democrats on complicity with this fiasco. So I listen to nothing he says.

    There’s a tragic irony in America protecting Iraq from genocide, given that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are now dead that wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t intervened. Asserting that the Iraqis’ tribalism will lead them to chaos strikes me as a racist position. In Bush’s pre-first-term campaign rhetoric he opposed “nation building.” Why not retrieve that stance and assert that the Iraqis CAN achieve self-governance? I honestly don’t believe that atrocities are going to decimate the place, as if it’s solely a humanitarian concern. I do believe that regional political strife will play itself out, but the results will be no worse than what we’ve managed to impose on them through our own political agenda.

    I wish I knew more about South American politics. Though Chavez of Venezuela seems bent on suppressing dissent and extending his term indefinitely, the hemisphere seems to regard him as a hero, not least because he thumbs his nose at Uncle Sam, but also because he’s got a lot of oil money to pass around as aid. He even sends aid to Palestine, I believe.

    Certainly the draft made the Vietnam war a more salient fact to college-aged kids and prompted more dissent. But why should the protesting remain a college responsibility? The middle-aged demographic has more wisdom about stupid wars to draw on, and more power in society. College protesters has become a kind of stereotypic rite of passage. Most of the people at the Boulder march were middle-aged. Also interestingly, most of the placards condemned not just Iraq but American support of Israel in Palestine.


    Comment by ktismatics — 20 August 2007 @ 1:40 pm

  9. John,

    Is that anti-war Mother I think her name was Sheehan, still protesting? She had made a lot of quiet noise. Iran is not going to be attacked. I am sure of that. That would really cut off ME crude.



    Comment by Ivan — 20 August 2007 @ 3:52 pm

  10. Sheehan has stopped protesting. I think she wants to run for congress in California against Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader. I tend to agree with you about Iran.


    Comment by ktismatics — 20 August 2007 @ 4:06 pm

  11. John,

    Its the more I read about peak oil, and the “wake up” call the USA got in World War 2,pretty much all of modern world politics seems to get around to this. Its a HUGE problem looming on the worlds horizon and according to may analysts in the industry its going to bite inside 40 years. I think they are beginning to realise the ramifications with food production alone. I guess this is why so much attention is being directed at the Artic by a number of countries right now.

    I have finished reading “blood for oil” “The long emergency” and “The last oil shock” its scary stuff John, particulary with a Middle East with bigger oil customers than the USA willing to pay more for it.



    Comment by Ivan — 21 August 2007 @ 2:55 am

  12. I had a recent email exchange with an expatriate Iranian friend, a non-Islamist who does not support the current Iranian regime. Here’s what he has to say:

    I was hoping to be wrong, but everything is pointing to another stupid and meaningless war that will cause death and destruction for so many innocent people all over the world.

    Judging by the media in Iran, the government has learned it’s lesson from Yugoslavia and Iraq and they are preparing for a long and probably slow reaction to the incoming attack by the US, I don’t think they will do as they say in the western media and attack US in the Persian Gulf, but instead they will work toward long term plan of hurting the US and anyone who helped them attacking the Islamic Republic.

    It is really sad to read the news these days, both the reporters and politicians are acting even dumber and crazier than before Saddam’s time. Yesterday, one Pentagon official said that “if we remove Iranian Revolutionary Guards from the complex problem in Iran, people will take care of the government themselves”. No one asked the guy how you can remove an organization with 250 000 active members and 1.7 million off-duty reservists? By bombing a few installations?

    Anyway, I rally don’t think the problem is only the republicans, the problem is the extremely strong Israeli right-wing lobby in the US who are pushing to escalate this conflict, by lies, half truths and selective information about both Iran and Iraq in this conflict.

    I really hope that there are enough people in the US who can see the danger of such act that will bring instability and economical problem to the Middle east and the rest of the world for decades to come.

    As some Iranian activists in the US said on their anti-war poster “If you like the War in Iraq, you will love the War in Iran”, the magnitude of the problem is 10-20 times the one in Iraq and I am sure both the US military and the public will be surprised by the outcome of this war that may sink the world economy to a long term recession.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 August 2007 @ 3:32 am

  13. Backing up a few posts:

    Yes, nothing could be more ironic than staying in Iraq to prevent genocide several hundred thousand lives later. I think what I meant to say is that the US needs to come clean on its past behavior and motivations with respect to foreign policy that exploits the general populace of a given country for the benefit of corporations – I guess that is just another form of colonialism. It would be necessary to bring the US citizenry along in such a change, but most of us are ignorant of the context for such a problem and unconcerned with events beyond the sports or entertainment sections of the media. This seems completely unlikely absent significant catalyzing events.

    Assuming some change of motivation (or not), what is the “right thing” to do? Whatever his past transgressions, I am willing to consider the ideas of Thomas Friedman for their own merit. As I understood his proposal for a date certain withdrawal (sooner than later), it was a mechanism to induce the parties inside Iraq and their regional supporters to get serious about self determination to some end other than chaos. Call me racist, but there seems to be little of that behavior on display today- would our absence cause the parties to come to an accord on their own? Maybe the best thing to do is get the heck out of Dodge and let the Iraqi Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, Syrians, Saudis, Turks and Iranians fight out whatever borders and agreements they like. For the US, we let the Jinn out of the bottle and pay the consequences.

    My point about South America is that there is a movement to insist on changing the contract with US Inc. to retain more benefit for the home country. Chavez is no saint or role model, but he has demonstrated the ability to stand up to Uncle Sam in ways other than rhetoric, and has influenced others to resist or change policies that disproportionately favor US/Group of Seven interests. Given the track record, it is dubious whether the bulk of those benefits go to needy populations or just to new oligarchs.

    The Bolivian model will be interesting to watch – can a government of common people with limited experience in governing overcome the opposition of the multinationals and the historical Bolivian elite desperate for its failure? It seems unlikely, but Chavez has at least offered to send oil and gas expertise to offset the threats of multinationals to withdraw theirs, albeit the quid-pro-quos likely run in his favor.

    My take on the Colbert/Stewart comment about the draft is that the war doesn’t really impact most of the US, so nobody pays attention other than in an abstract sense. The effects of the war are all second order or less, hence the complacency. I don’t know anyone that desires the return of the draft.

    On Iran – it seems unlikely the current administration could muster a war or attack on Iran in the throes of its own demise. A new war would almost certainly mean the draft for the next administration – hard to see how the case is made for that by Republican or Democrat. Despite their lack of specifics, none of the leading candidates other than McCain are talking about anything other than a withdrawal. The mentioned actions feel more like a “change the conversation” action by the current administration to draw attention away from the Iraq debacle or somehow justify further activity there.


    Comment by Pykoman — 21 August 2007 @ 9:52 am

  14. “I think what I meant to say is that the US needs to come clean on its past behavior and motivations with respect to foreign policy”

    I agree, and also with your characterizing our actions as colonial. I’m wondering whether our humanitarian concerns might not also be characterized as colonial. Only we can save the poor third worlders from their own barbarism, that sort of thing. So even if we persuade ourselves, as apparently the Democratic party has, that we can stay purely as protectors of the Iraqis, we’re still asserting our the superiority of our advanced culture over theirs. So maybe we also have to come clean about this sense of moral superiority by which we assert the right to go in and help people “for their own good.”

    So if we set a date certain for withdrawal and violence in Iraq continues or escalates, do we leave anyway? I say yes. This whole business of using the date as a “message” smacks of parent-child power games: “now I’m going to give you fifteen minutes to work this out among yourselves; DON’T MAKE ME HAVE TO COME BACK IN THERE.” So yes, set the date certain, the sooner the better, and stick to it no matter what.

    I hear you on the draft. Did you read my post about enrolling Kenzie at Fairview, and the form we had to sign so that the school would NOT send information about her to the army recruiting office? It’s surprising that there remains a significant percentage of Americans who still want to duke it out in Iraq and to volunteer. The size of the military was much bigger during Vietnam, so the volunteers weren’t enough to fill the ranks. It’s probably a balancing act in the Pentagon: how to do what you want with money, technology and propaganda but without overwhelming manpower so you don’t have to draft anybody.

    I think with withdrawal the only apparent option among the candidates, the Republicans are doomed in the next election. So yes, changing the conversation might be the only way to snatch “victory” from the jaws of defeat.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 August 2007 @ 1:02 pm

  15. Yep, saw your post on registration for high school. Just like signing up for so many “services”, it is annoying at best that the default position is to include you in something that you probably don’t want, it takes affirmative action to opt out.

    On the actions of government in academia, I remember an incident in college that offended me in the time just prior to the overthrow of the Shah. Being a well regarded US technical school, there were many foreign students attending undergraduate and graduate programs there, including many Iranian men and women (or “Persians”, as some insisted on being called). I was not close to the conversations, but I expect there was a great deal of debate among them about the events back home and probably different viewpoints on the proper outcome, although most of the students were probably from the Iranian elite. I imagine the role of the Iranian secret police (SAVAK?) and the well known complicity of the US and the Shah’s governments naturally led to caution among this group – who was an informer for SAVAK or the CIA, who was connected to which faction by family…

    In any case, there were crude posters placed around campus one week announcing a meeting of some sort to be held in the large atrium of one of the school’s buildings. (As at all colleges, there were always many posters about something up at any time.) I think in retrospect it was held there because one’s very presence at a private meeting could have been cause for suspicion, and you didn’t know if you were being watched.

    On the day of the meeting, I happened to walk through that atrium on the way from classes at the time of the meeting, associating the meeting with the posters through recognition of some of the students as Iranian. I walked out one of the front doors and while descending the few steps to the street, I observed a white man crouching beside a newspaper vending machine with a camera and very long lens pointed at the entrance I had just exited, clearly snapping pictures of the meeting and its participants entering and leaving the building

    I was sure he was some member of a government agency and at first a little taken aback and then angry. Here in the land of freedoms the right to assembly was being compromised for these foreign guests. Perhaps some of them were subsequently marked for recruitment or coercion by the cabal. I bet the meeting was recorded and maybe photographed from other vantages as well. I had a brief impulse to confront the man and block his line of sight, but caution/fear for consequences quickly extinguished the impulse and I walked on, glaring at him. I wish I had stopped.


    Comment by Pykoman — 21 August 2007 @ 2:24 pm

  16. Fascinating tale, Pykoman. Nowadays our foreign guests are under just as intensive scrutiny by long lenses and wiretaps, thanks to the continued intrusion of “anti-terrorist” measures signed into law by the Democrat-controlled congress. My Iranian friend is married to an American (they live in France), so he’s probably being spied on by the Iranians and the Americans — like Spy Versus Spy cartoons in Mad Magazine.

    And now our high schools are surveilling our kids at school! Our daughter tells us that for freshman gym class every kid is outfitted with a pedometer. At the end of each class the teacher reads off each kid’s mileage to make sure they were being active enough participants. Why not just implant a subdermal microchip and track their movements 24/7?


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 August 2007 @ 3:17 pm

  17. Here’s Hillary Clinton on the latest American surge in Iraq: “It’s working. We’re just years too late in changing our tactics,” she said. “We can’t ever let that happen again.”


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 August 2007 @ 3:40 pm

  18. Pykoman, yesterday on the car radio I was listening to a guy talking about the South American political scene. Presumably the idea is to develop a unified continent that establishes an economic autonomy to compete with American globalization. Whether it takes shape as free market on the American model, something closer to the Chinese, or some other variant, the idea is to build a multinational critical mass substantial enough to counterbalance American hegemony. Arguably that was the West’s agenda with Yugoslavia — to break up a unified alternative capital base in Central Europe, then pick off the fragments and absorb them into the West. Also Iraq: splinter the Arab-Islamic world so as to absorb the pieces into the American Borg.


    Comment by ktismatics — 23 August 2007 @ 12:31 pm

  19. Yep, Although I think since the days of the United Fruit Company or before they have been under the thumb of Western/mostly US interests, illustrated by the history of ‘accidental’ deaths of heads of state, backing of proxy factions leading to coups, and outright invastions. In South America the momentum is heading towards changing the equation. Given the historical paradigm of elites and others, one has doubts whether there will be widespread benefit, or simply a changing of the guard.

    Again, no apologies for Chavez, his negatives are significant to overwhelming. However, the notion of keeping more of the value of resources extracted for the natives is appealing. His policies of more nationalized industry haven’t succeeded elsewhere when they have had to stand on their own. You can only employ so much of the populace in inefficient endeavor – Even Saudi Arabia ran out of welfare/employment programs to keep the youth happy. Ultimately it’s a question of whether oil revenues can sustain the economy enough to keep the general public content. I think there must be a massive brain drain underway (or already complete?) in the upper and middle classes there. Outside of Singapore, its hard to think of many “benign dictatorships” that have achieved any kind of general uplift for all (in the economic, food on the table sense).

    In some fantasy world or feel good movie, Evo Morales’ government of commoners in Bolivia would be successful. It’s just hard to imagine that you could manage a country with a cast of rookies and not have many or most things crater, leading to dissatisfaction and a coup. Maybe the spooky guys are expecting that to happen. If he is too successful and can’t be coopted by the traditional Swiss bank accounts I would bet we will start to see media accounts of questionable practices by him or his government, maybe related to coca cultivation, and reports of curious acts of “opposition” (that’s terrorism by the “good guys”), the traditional preludes to an abrupt end to his life or flight to another country. 30 years later redacted accounts of our government’s role in this will be released to the collective yawns of US citizens.

    Well, despite a natural tendency to cynicism I am hopeful for a change in the MO of the US for the sake of the lives of my children and theirs, not to mention the citizens of the world. South America and the “Non-Aligned Nations” offer some hope, but there is no leader apparent yet that even faintly resembles a Gandhi.


    Comment by Pykoman — 23 August 2007 @ 9:21 pm

  20. People do seem to love Chavez though, in various parts of the world as well as in Venezuela. Apparently Brazil was a disappointment to Chavez and Morales because they didn’t ally. The guy on the radio talking about South America concluded with a brief look at the Middle East. Hee said there was one question on everyone’s mind: when will the Islamic world produce a Chavez? The sheikhdoms have so much money they could eradicate poverty in their countries, but instead they build skyscrapers in the desert, emulating the West’s most glamorous excesses.


    Comment by ktismatics — 23 August 2007 @ 10:45 pm

  21. John,

    Have you read Philip Zimbardo’s book “The Lucifer Effect”? I got it on the weekend am about half way through, its extremely interesting.



    Comment by Ivan — 24 August 2007 @ 11:56 pm

  22. No. I’ve seen Zimbardo’s film of his experiment back in I think the sixties, when he had a group of college kids play prisoners and jailers for a week. It didn’t take long for them to settle into their roles, or for the jailers to turn sadistic. At the time it was an argument that anybody could have become a Nazi if the situation was right. I presume that’s still Zimbardo’s argument with respect to the Iraqi occupation and Guantanamo.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 August 2007 @ 3:47 pm

  23. Yes that’s right John. I think he was called in on the trial of some of the Guards at Guantanamo. I have not gone that far into the book but it covers WW2 atrocities also. Its really a very interesting book and thought provoking for me.I did know of the Stanford experiment before but he really gives it detail in the book.

    Did you finish the Davies book? if so did you like it?



    Comment by Ivan — 25 August 2007 @ 6:51 pm

  24. I’m ashamed to admit it, Ivan, but I haven’t even started the Davies book. But I do hear your voice in my head from time to time reminding me to get on with it. Kind of like the voice of God, but your reminders actually appear in print from time to time without my having to write them to myself.


    Comment by ktismatics — 27 August 2007 @ 8:25 am

  25. Oh John.. the shame.. the shame.

    Its not like you moved country or something?

    You will get around to it, drop me your thoughts when you do!



    Comment by Ivan — 28 August 2007 @ 3:08 am

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