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June 2003

AFTER THE WAR, AGAINST THE WAR 

by Alexander Swartwout

 

It is too much to bear, even for a sensibility as asympathetic as mine, to see the erstwhile opponents of the late War now moping around with their heads hung shamefully on their shoulders.  Victory has been declared, the tyrant Mr. Hussein publicly routed, and the museums of civilization safely emptied, but it is impossible not to notice the formerly vocal peace advocates by their absence. Does no-one know how to reconcile the bellicose boasts of the Administration with the heartfelt humanitarian ethic that brought them out into the streets three months ago?  Is there no-one with the depth of insight and a moral certainty to match Mr. Bush’s, who is still willing to present arguments against belligerence, and even to call his victory a defeat? Who will stand above the void of ridicule and announce to History that this short War is no success at all, but exactly the catastrophe of global politics that millions warned of in February and March? Typical of the generation, nobody will; and so, with sure knowledge that my name is already prominent upon the long list of traitors kept deep in the basements of the Pentagon and the Justice Department, I will go ahead and do it myself. The War in Iraq is a failure, and one as spectacular as the peace movement itself.

     A pragmatist, I am ordinarily averse to discussions of things that have already happened, but two circumstances require me to address this agéd matter. One is the appalling condition of the left branch of opinion in this country (I am reluctant to even call it a Wing, as it is featherless), which has all but been silenced by the adolescent braggadocio of the hawks; and which in several cases has even been turned entirely to making admissions of its own wrong-headedness – advocates of peace and common sense conceding the error of their ways, like diminutive siblings begging for mercy from big brother. The other is the preposterous stance of victory assumed by the President’s administration, and the concomitant assumption of a Mandate for Anything now circulating among the wielders of power. This makes the matter a contemporary one – along with the continuing conflict in that country ostensibly Liberated and At Peace. Even while American soldiers come steaming home, their fellows are being ambushed and overrun at the gates of the hospitals and museums. The job, simply, is unfinished; and nothing galls this author more than shoddy work left incomplete.

     The genii of Al Qaeda only last week went and blew up three buildings in Saudi Arabia with impunity and impeccable timing, to demonstrate with what futility Iraq was conquered. The twin prongs of the Bush administration’s claim against Mr. Hussein – his alliance with Islamic militants (absurd to anyone who did not doze through his entire high school history course) and his accumulation of Armageddon-inducing spores – are both proving to be tines on a pewter fork. Two weeks after the flabby American conscience grows complacent with its heavily advertised Victory, here are the lunatics again, leveling Riyadh, proving that we have bombed the wrong asylum. Now, long-placid Morocco has been attacked by similarly renewed militants.

     And four, six, eight weeks after Iraq was freed from its lethal autocracy, in deference to lethal anarchy, somehow there still remains to be found the vast stockpiles of illegal weapons. The documentation of Iraq’s nuclear capability had already been discovered to be the fabrication of an as-yet unidentified Western intelligence service; and most of us cynics simply expected Mr. Rumsfeld of the War Department to invent the other weapons of mass destruction, if they could not find them in the ruins of Iraq. Even this has not happened. And so, without even a proper cover-up in place, it is all too evident that nobody upon nobody had a plan for actually winning this war. Instead, the newspaper editorial pages are heavy with apologetic rationales, the general sentiment being that even if no weapons are ever found, the war will have been worth it anyway, just to have got rid of Saddam Hussein. Remember this strategy in your own homicide defense – if you can find a gross enough flaw in the character of your victim, then your annihilation of that person can be forgiven, even if your initial complaint against him is fallacious or fantastic.  As Kennedy has proven to be a rogue, let us also pardon Mr. Oswald.

    

The terrorists are at large, and indeed, incensed. Mr. Hussein is unaccounted for, and the entire premise of the conflict seems dubious. Iraqi citizens have turned on one another, clamoring for political power and priceless artifacts, and every peacock in the Middle East has his tail on display, ready to peck out the eyes of the next fellow over, who wishes to keep him from enjoying the prize. Remember those hooded anarchists at the anti-war rallies; it turns out they have got what they wanted after all. Who knew Mr. Bush was a member of the Black Bloc?

     And in the meantime, the most dire predictions of the war’s effect on these United States have come perfectly into being.  Tens of thousands of jobs have evaporated since Ted Koppel first awoke on the wrong side of the Kuwaiti border.  The Congress has approved a tax break only valid for millionaires, hoping everybody else has forgotten how gravely Mr. Reagan’s trickle-down policy failed us twenty years ago.  And the Situation Room is abuzz with new war plans, for new countries, waiting for the moment when the elections loom, and the Democrats cower once again from their obligation of opposition.  Yet the very foot-soldiers of that opposition seem to be shrugging off the last year’s worth of effort as a youthful folly, and quietly searching for other faults in the polished monolith of Compassionate Conservatism.

     The faults of the incumbent powers are obvious, and too numerous to list for the reams of paper which would be required, and the amount of pessimism such a project would engender in this author’s weary heart.  The nepotism and corruption continue, the inhumane climate of fear is carefully maintained, and the nation is continually and brutally mishandled.  But the greater crime is the impotence of the opposition in the midst of all this fodder for it.  The apologetic tone of the editorialists; the prompt silence of the people, generally, who had just recently made such a marvelous clamor for the first time in a generation; and the cowardly campaign platform of the nascent Democratic candidates (Senators Kerry and Lieberman, particularly, who are both basing their hopes of nomination on the degree to which they have agreed with Mr. Bush and the conservatives throughout this entire ordeal).

     If the invertebrates in the leadership of the Democratic party have their way, and lead the party on another campaign of indistinction, they are sure to be extinct by 2005, and rightly so.  Yet we already know of the scarcity of grey matter in such offices, so we must realize first that without loud, sustained shouting in their numb ears, the pols will never figure a thing out for themselves.  The opposition must insist that there be an opposition party, and that this party would be better off simply taking up every contrary stance they can, regardless of its content.  If Mr. Bush says po-tay-toh, let the Ass behind the other podium say po-tah-toh, in spite of what the polls indicate, and give the people a reasonable choice.

It will dismay many of my more fervid readers to hear that this author remains at all in favor of the two-party system. Against their rabid calls for the blood of the politicians and the communization of the health-food shops, I argue that government is a necessary evil among us, and it is the frustrating but necessary purpose of the social animal to keep his government in order. Of course this  includes Mr. Paine’s sensible alternative of replacement by force, when circumstances demand it, and indeed I do not think such drastic measures are in the province of history, alone.  Yet it has been my good fortune to tour a score of nations more poorly governed than our own, and to learn the difficult lesson that our squabbles against the boors who now govern us are in truth an invaluable thing, which millions of the world’s citizens only hope to someday participate in.  I relish, more than the reader can know, my right to lambaste our governors in print, and to inflict even the most miniscule wound upon their warty hides.  If I ever grow too jaded to even aim my barbs upward, and become content to while away my time in a stew of unrealized frustration, I think I will betray too many people who have no other choice.

As to the controversial bipartisan nature of our political discourse, I suggest that ever since the failure of the 1860 rebellion, our country is simply too large to accommodate consensus enough among more general ideologies than two; and I think the skeptic must only spend a few days in any of these parliamentary backwaters the world over where there are a hundred factions in a House of a hundred members, and nothing is ever done, to agree on practical grounds.  Naturally, none of the half-wits whose aspirations have made them politicians even approximates the marvelous complexity of my own political outlook; and it is paltry consolation that nobody approximates that of my nemesis, either.  Only a broad brush is suited for such a vast canvas.

I am inclined, however - especially after the weak-kneed displays of the senators from Massachusetts and Connecticut - to say that no party deserves consideration if it is not sensible enough to campaign against the principles of its opponent.  I consider myself a partially intelligent sort and an enthusiastic participant in this crippled system, and yet if next November I am not able to distinguish between Mr. Bush and his as yet undetermined foe, then I will join the Disenfranchised Party and write in for the candidacy of the King of England.  In the heat of the loathing so widely felt for the fanatical Right, I dare to offer that there is a worse fate than their prevalence: their prevalence over an impotent opposition.  Let the agitators return to their soap-boxes, and work some doubt into the Truth as declared by the executive branch, when there is no evidence in the world which supports it.

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