The Loyal Opposition: March 19 US Antiwar Protests
by Amer Jubran
March 20, 2005
Against all odds, George W. Bush secured a victory in the US presidential elections in November, 2004. Bad news about the US economy, the military situation in Iraq, the greater-than- ever worldwide resentment of America, atrocious human rights abuses in Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo, and the debut of the US as an emerging police state – all of that did not prevent Bush winning his second term in the White House. Bush was not even obliged to put on the usual campaign of deception empty promises to defeat his opponents. He spoke clearly and without reservation about going further to the right of his current agenda of murder for profit.
So why did George Bush win? The simple answer is that the influence of longstanding indoctrination about what the US is and what its standing is in the world outweighed opposition to Bush himself. The “opposition” in the US rejected Bush on the surface but gave his racist, exceptionalist underlying policies vital support. They rejected the liar, but accepted the lie.
On the weekend of March 19, to mark the second anniversary of the beginning of the US war against Iraq, many well-meaning Americans responded to various calls, by various groups, for various reasons, to show opposition to Bush by protesting the war. The organizing and the protest followed a familiar pattern: battles to win permits to assemble, the drama of permits being finally granted at the last minute, mobilization for a “march” (implying militancy and aggressiveness), fiery speeches of support for the oppressed, songs about revolution, confrontations with pro-government supporters, possible voluntary arrests, zero media coverage, food vendors capitalizing on the crowds, police capitalizing on donuts and overtime pay, a pathetic number of protesters, and everyone going home with a feeling of self righteousness.
None of this has succeeded in moving the world’s mightiest war machine a single centimeter.
The effect of such demonstrations is to send a statement about how insignificant the US antiwar movement actually is. If anything, these protests present Bush and the US system as democratic, as having tolerance and room for dissent. And afterward, how does the leadership follow up? It announces that the powerful have had a good thrashing and rolls out plans for another national demonstration to thrash them again two months down the road.
When the protest ended that day and the protesters went home, Bush and his henchmen, the members of Congress, the bankers and corporate heads, were just easing into leather chairs at the golf club for cocktails. If they heard of the demonstrations at all they did so with the confidence that they and the war they created will have the next day and every day of the rest of the year to carry on. In fact, the day itself wasn’t a loss either – the world had seen democracy in action, General Motors would sell more buses to transport more demonstrators.
The military machine in the US, despite disagreeing with Bush as to who takes the blame for the war’s toll of US soldiers, understand s what’s at stake if it loses. It is not possible to quit when the whole world, including competing military machines in Russia and China, is waiting for the news of the US – the high-tech, undefeatable power – being humiliated by “insurgents” wearing sandals and head scarves. The US military has decided that the thousands of u.s. soldiers killed is an acceptable sacrifice, even to achieve nothing. They are, afterall, in the business of death, and their losses are not as large when compared to losses in other business ventures in the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and Korea. It is not time to “wimp out.”
A lack of proper opposition actions similar to protests in the 60’s against the war in Vietnam, such as blocking military recruitment centers, or entrances to military bases, strengthened the image and recruitment efforts of the US military machine. The movement failed in demonstrating alternatives to enlistment by providing widespread political education and support for potential recruits – the same people the Army pays people for full time to entice into careers as killers. Enlistment in the US only began to suffer as a result of the efforts of members of the resistance in Iraq thousands of miles away. It was they who provided US high school students evidence of enough damage and injury that prospective recruits among them are now aware of what might come with the package they’re signing up for. And that evidence had to be strong enough to get past many barriers in how the news is told in the US.
Usually, oppositions publicize and support soldiers and their families in order to influence a change in the military and public opinion. This helps to undermine the government system by encouraging other soldiers and their families to defect. But, the US antiwar movement has used parents of soldiers who were killed in Iraq to advertise their own personal loss and the injustice of the harsh economic system which led their sons to join the military in the first place, not the crime of the war itself, and certainly not the crime their sons were involved in perpetrating.
Bush and his war generals could not have asked for a better slogan from the antiwar movement than “Bring the troops home now.” The message here is “end the war, but support the soldier, “ as if a war could be wrong and the people fighting it somehow innocent. This is a political slogan that has confused a long list of people, including Iraqis, worldwide political onlookers, Americans on the fence about the war, and even US soldiers torn between loyalty to the machine versus loyalty their own humanity. No doubt the Pentagon appreciated this ambiguous message and used it effectively to make it look like, yes, there might be political disagreement over the war in Iraq, but patriotic support for “the troops” was universal, even on the left.
The “opposition” in the US helped Bush by making personal dislike for the man more important than disagreement with his policies. Weaker elements of the opposition were thus siphoned off to support John Kerry, whose policies were no different. A large constituency who were undecided about who they should vote for were provided with no options – another accomplishment. Although many were not comfortable with Bush as a person or as President, Kerry, the undertaker, was but the other face of the same coin. Liberals in the US knew that Kerry agreed with Bush on issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, the Israeli war on Palestine, the domestic targeting of Arabs and immigrants, the gutting of the US economy, general corporate rule, and the Patriot Act, but they nevertheless stuck to their message of “anybody but Bush.” The trick that Bush’s handlers pulled of is that they got so many people to focus on the puppet that they weren’t aware of the deception of the ventriloquist. The message went neatly under the table.
The failure of the US antiwar movement to make a political campaign in support, not of the troops, but of the Iraqi people, also helped to strengthen the position of Bush. Iraqis fighting for their survival are confused about why this wealthy movement failed to provide the them with funds, volunteers, medicine, food, and political support for their right to resist. The pacifist majority of the movement limited its recognition of the Iraqis to their being “victims of violence.” The Iraqi resistance should have been considered an ally of the US antiwar movement, but it is almost never mentioned or praised. Loud cries condemning the violence of both sides – both the US occupation and the Iraqi resistance, unthinkingly using the words “terrorist” or “insurgent” or “suicide bomber” for people in the resistance, and remaining quiet about mainstream media propaganda denying that the Iraqi resistance even exists, has all been very helpful to Bush. What leader in the US antiwar movement is willing to be photographed in Iraq about to fire a loaded RPG at a US Abrams tank as it spreads terror on the streets of Fallujah? No, at this point the opposition is too busy apologizing and mincing words about outright murder to actually do anything to stop it.
Bush had behind him in the 2004 elections the most organized, powerful, and disciplined political group in the US: the Christian Zionists. Operating quietly and with high efficiency, right wing fundamentalists in the US have a solid infrastructure and a huge, dedicated membership. Bush and the Republicans are only a front for them. There are three reasons behind their strength – they are politically ambitious, they have no opposition to work against them or to warn others of their control of the political will in Washington DC, and they are out of their minds, believing that they have been personally chosen to implement Biblical prophecy and be saved.
Targeting this bloc should be the role of any grassroots movement that is serious about changing the policies of global destruction now reigning in Washington. A force is needed with a clear political agenda to represent growing sectors of US society who oppose the ongoing imperialist and Zionist rampage. This force should have been the antiwar movement, but it is not so. People who claim to be working for peace and justice in the US don’t even use the words “imperialist” and “Zionist” – a symptom not only of their inability to do anything about the causes of the war, but of their own very unseemly involvement in those causes.
Instead of working to build and lead a serious political force, the antiwar movement sits back as if in a state of paralysis. Occasionally, for a single day, it reacts. Its function in US society is to serve the master by arguing with him in a great show of objection while tacitly accepting the premise behind his brutality – that he is right, and the proof that he is right is that he has the power. Indeed, the more audacious his use of power, the more the movement cowers. Its function is also to air out the dissident community by providing a pageant of marches and speeches every few months, making sure not to displease the master by choosing a business day to take to the streets, lest business and car traffic be disrupted in any way. It also does a good job at policing itself, both to keep the permits coming in, to aggrandize its own power, and to prevent manifestations of rage commensurate with the crimes of the master’s horrible apparatus – crimes such as the recent gassing and genocide in Fallujah.
When Iraqis and Arabs look at the US, they see an opposition that plays into the hands of the hated Bush and makes him appear to represent the whole spectrum of US public opinion. The protests of March 19th show that practically nothing is being done in the one place that the rest of the world knows it is needed most, and where resistance carries the least risk. Instead the burden lies on the shoulders of the Iraqi, the Palestinian, the indigenist resister who has already spent a lifetime under US punishment and torture.