“I'm tired of
waiting on a ship that won't leave shore
-- Sleater-Kinney, “Steep Air”
Go ahead and get excited about Cindy Sheehan’s overnight popularity. It really is an incredibly important development for the antiwar movement. But before we drop what we are doing and follow her lead, we better take a sobering step backward and recognize Sheehan, alone as a one-woman show, has very real limitations.
First, we should start listening to what she is actually saying, which is that this is not about her or her loss. It’s about the war. It’s about the slaughter taking place in Iraq right now. She’s also calling for troops to come home right now. Which is exactly what the antiwar movement should be calling for. But isn’t. Not yet anyway.
Liberals like Marc Cooper and Juan Cole are calling for a phased withdraw ala Senator Russ Feingold’s exit December 2006 proclamation. Writing for his blog Cole explains his lofty perspective: “I think ‘US out now’ as a simple mantra neglects to consider the full range of possible disasters that could ensue. For one thing, there would be an Iraq civil war. Iraq wasn't having a civil war in 2002. And although you could argue that what is going on now is a subterranean, unconventional civil war, it is not characterized by set piece battles and hundreds of people killed in a single battle, as was true in Lebanon in 1975-76, e.g. People often allege that the US military isn't doing any good in Iraq and there is already a civil war. These people have never actually seen a civil war and do not appreciate the lid the US military is keeping on what could be a volcano.”
Yep. Those are prolonged occupation excuses from an “antiwar” scholar. Cole’s thesis is a non sequitur. Funny how the tenured Prof’s rationale mirrors that of the Bush administration -- “stay the course” he effectively says. Keep the occupation steaming onward. Forget the mounting death count. Forget that the US does not have any intention of running Iraq justly. If we “cut and run” a “volcano” (obviously Cole isn’t a geologist) will erupt for Christ’s sake! Those damn Arabs are not smart enough to be able and figure out their future all by their lonesome! We’ve got to show them! That’s the American way dammit!
Oh, how noble of Professor Cole. If we are to accept his putrid rhetoric, however, then we are not acknowledging the voices of dissent in Iraq that have been ringing unmistakably clear these past months. They want the US out yesterday. Occupiers like Cole don’t listen, though. They impose whatever they think is best on those they occupy.
Can you imagine someone defending slavery in this manner? “No, no, no, don’t end slavery!” they’d scream. “The slaves will just turn against each other. It’d be civil war! The savages! We’ll give them their freedom in due time! When we say so!”
Well, I hate to say it, but Cole isn’t accepting democracy no matter how much he claims to believe in its principles. The Iraqis voted and the majority that did want their occupiers to leave now. They want to govern themselves. Build their own infrastructure. Run their own government. Is that too much to ask?
Prof. Cole doesn’t want that. At least not yet. He’ll let us known when. Good thing Cole has on his side the liberal huckster Marc Cooper, who has chimed in to defend Cole’s “stay the course” bullshit. As Cooper writes on his own conceited blog, “Some of the more delusional responses predictably enough come from the Idiot Right who accuse Cole of being a traitor. And, yes, also from those who want immediate, unconditional, un-thought-out withdrawal on the Unrepentant Idiot Left. One of the more prolific buffoons from that corner -- Louis Proyect the self-described ‘Unrepentant Marxist’ -- can offer no better response than to compare Cole with Dick Nixon and then further suggest I undergo a lobotomy for having linked to Cole and to cure what he diagnoses as my incipient [Christopher] Hitchens Syndrome.”
I am pretty sure I’d much rather be a buffoon than endorse the death of more innocent civilians -- which would surely happen under Cole and Cooper’s rosy “eventual withdraw” (read: prolonged occupation) scenario. Staying the course will only elicit more violence, more anti-US sentiment. This is a fact. What we do not know for a fact is how the Iraqis will deal with US exiting. There is absolutely no way to know for sure. If a civil war breaks out in Iraq after our exit -- god forbid -- that’s the course Iraqis will choose to take on their own. But we don’t have any moral authority to impose our values on them and their decisions. I’m sure Prof. Cole (and maybe even Cooper) has heard what this imperial behavior is called -- we call it ethnocentrism.
So let’s get back to Cindy Sheehan, who is calling for an immediate withdrawal of soldiers in Iraq. She doesn’t want any permanent bases in the country, which is a far better position then both Cole and Cooper combined. But Sheehan as a lone messenger has real limitations. She has been branded by the media as a mother who is motivated by her own grief. She is not thinking rationally, they say, she is just trying to make sense of her son’s death. All this, despite the fact that her message is purely political; Sheehan is articulate and media savvy, heck she even has a “progressive” publicist. Cindy lacks something important however -- she has never served in Iraq like her late son Casey.
The true leaders of the anti-war movement are going to be Casey’s fellow troops like Kelly Dougherty, Pablo Paredes and Jason Gunn who have served in Iraq and are now speaking out against the war. There are hundreds of them. Perhaps thousands. They can’t be discredited in the same manner as Cindy Sheehan. They’ve seen the blood and smelled the death first hand. These are the men and women who will become the leaders of the movement. Not Cooper and Cole, thank heavens.
Joshua Frank is the author of Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, published by Common Courage Press. You can order a copy at a discounted rate at www.brickburner.org. Joshua can be reached at Joshua@brickburner.org.
Listen to an interview with Joshua Frank about Left Out! from KUCI's (CA) Weekly Signals program.
Read an excellent review of Left Out! by Adam Engel.
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