What I’ve seen of public events, demonstrations, and protests of the latest U.S. war — just like the larger and more immediately effective public resistance 12 months ago — has been aimed, remarkably enough, at ending the war and opposing the policies of those engaging in it, and first among them the U.S. President.
What I’ve seen of inside-the-Beltway-style peace lobby groups’ strategy has been aimed, predictably enough, at setting a good end date for the new war and barring the use of U.S. ground troops.
Both approaches are represented by voluminous discussions on listserves, so I feel like I know a good sample of each far more intimately than I might ideally wish. They parallel rejection and support of lesser-evil voting, and are largely made by those who reject and accept the importance of lesser-evil voting. However, many who accept lesser-evilism in the polling booth do not accept it here. And I think they have a point.
If you vote for a decent candidate and he or she loses, an argument can be made that you’ve “wasted” your vote. But if you advocate for an immediate end to a war, and a Congress that is hearing from the President that the war should last three years, bans continuation of the war beyond a year-and-a-half, then an argument can be made that you helped frame the compromise. In any case, it would be difficult to make a persuasive case that your activism was wasted. If, on the other hand, you found out that some Congress members were interested in a 1-year limit, and you lobbied for just that, and then Congress enacted a 2-year limit, what could you be said to have accomplished?
Here’s my basic contention: Congress knows how to compromise. We don’t have to pre-compromise for them. (How’d that work out on healthcare?) (How’d that ever work out?) And when we do pre-compromise for them (such as the time AFSCME banned “single-payer” signs from “public option” rallies, so as to simulate public demand for what “progressive” Congress members were pretending to already want) we give significant support and respectability to some serious outrages (such as privatized for-profit health insurance, but also such as bombing Iraq yet again and bombing the opposite side in Syria that was to be bombed a year ago and while arming that same side, which — if we’re honest about it — is madness.
How many years of madness will be best, is an insane question. It’s not a question around which to organize protests, demonstrations, nonviolent actions, lobbying, education, communication, or any other sort of movement building.
But isn’t 2 years of war better than 3? And how are you going to get Congress members to limit it to 2 years if you’ve called them lunatics?
Of course 2 years is better than 3. But less than 2 is even better, and Congress is going to compromise as far as it dares, and knows perfectly well how to do so without help from us. Is there really evidence to imagine that Senators and Congress members shape their policies around who’s most polite to them? Certainly they determine who’s invited to meetings on Capitol Hill on that basis, but is being in those meetings our top priority? Does it do the most for us? And can’t we still get some people into those meetings by calling mass murder “mass murder” while keeping open every opportunity for the funders and sanctioners of mass murder to oppose and stop it?
We need sit-ins in Congressional offices and protests on Capitol Hill. To a much lesser extent, we need discussions with Congress members and staffers. To the extent that different people must pursue those two tactics, the question will always remain whether mass public organizing should be guided by people who think like the former group or like the latter.
My position comes from the expectation that “support the troops” propaganda and the inevitably worsened situation after a year or two will make the struggle to then end a previously time-limited war harder, rather than easier — easier only if the public has come to its sense in the meantime. My position comes from the fact that there are already U.S. troops in Iraq and the belief that we’re going to get them home sooner if we don’t play along with the pretense that they aren’t there or aren’t there for combat. My concern is for human life, and when you prioritize an air war over a ground war — and when the “anti-war” movement does that — you risk creating a great, rather than a smaller, number of deaths, albeit non-U.S. deaths.
Now, the lobbyists’ need to be polite to Congress can be a helpful guide to all protesters. While moral condemnation and humorous mockery can be useful tools, so can Gandhian respect for those who must be won over. But the demand of a peace movement must be for peace and alternatives to war. When the missile strikes were stopped a year ago, the arming of ISIS-and-friends proceeded anyway, and no useful policy was pursued instead of the missiles. The U.S. had decided to do nothing, as if that were the only other option. Effectively we’d put an end date on the U.S. staying out, as doing nothing was guaranteed not to resolve the problem.
A good end-date for this war is today. A good date to begin useful aid and diplomacy and arms embargoes and reparations is tomorrow. We have to change the conversation to those topics, instead of focusing on the question of how much mass-murdering madness is the appropriate amount. Not because we want it to continue for eternity if it can’t be ended now, but because it will end sooner and be less likely to be repeated if we confront it for what it is.
We’ve been so strategic over the past decade that everybody in the United States knows the war on Iraq cost U.S. lives and money, but most have only the vaguest idea of how it destroyed Iraq and how many people it killed. As a direct result, nobody knows where ISIS came from, and not enough people are fully aware of the high probability that the bombing will strengthen ISIS — which may be why ISIS openly asks for it in its 1-hour film.
How much insanity should we demand on our posters and signs and online petitions and letters to editors: not another drop.