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A Fractured Anti-War Movement
The polls leave no doubt that the sentiment against the war in the U.S. is overwhelming. Fully 60% of Americans want some or all troops withdrawn from Iraq at once; military recruitment is down and it is clear to all but the most hidebound Bush loyalists that the country was lied into war. And yet the war goes on with little sign that top Republicans or Democrats are feeling sufficient heat to call it quits. Many Dems are willing to say Bush lied, but aside from Teddy Kennedy, no major figure in either party is willing to call for immediate and total withdrawal as opposed to exit strategies, exit discussions, etc. The Dems like the Republicans are for "staying the course."
Why is this? I have posed this question a number of times in CounterPunch over the last year, and it seems that now we must seriously analyze this gap. Why is the anti-war movement not having a greater effect? Why does the war go on with no end in sight? There are a number of reasons, not least the perfidy of the Dem establishment, but among the most important and least recognized reasons, I believe, is that we have a badly divided anti-war movement now. And I am not talking about past squabbles on the Left between United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER). These are minor differences, and much to the credit of both UFPJ and ANSWER, they worked together in a wonderful way during the September 25 mobilization in Washington, D.C. For this both groups deserve enormous credit, in my view, for keeping the Left wing of the anti-war movement together and for their prodigious work. (Full disclosure, I have contributed to both groups and have attended every major UFPJ demonstration.)
But in the end there is more similarity than difference between UFPJ and ANSWER, so the unity between them is not surprising; these coalitions represent only the Left wing of the antiwar movement. And unbeknownst to many, if not most, on the Left including the activist Left (an in the general population), is the fact that there is another wing or perhaps wings of the drive to end the war. These "wing(s)" are the traditional conservatives who often identify themselves as Republicans or Libertarians. I have found that even peace activists working on the staff of organizations like Peace Action are blissfully unaware of this part of the antiwar sentiment. The extent of their knowledge seems to be a glimmer that Pat Buchanan is against the war. But the fact that Buchanan is an editor for a magazine, called The American Conservative, the voice of the older or traditional conservative movement, and that its entire editorial board is against the war, is news to many. (In fact Buchanan may be the weakest antiwar voice there since he was the only editor to endorse Bush, the others, normally loyal Republicans, refusing to do so because of the war.) The intense hatred for the neocons fairly jumps off the pages of this paleocon magazine, grabs you by the throat and demands that you listen. The timid rejection of the war in The Nation, all too much under the sway of the Dems, pales by comparison with the cover headline of The American Conservative some months ago which blared: "We do not need an exit strategy. We need an exit."
Even more striking is the Libertarian opposition to the war to be found most notably in the online publication Antiwar.com, one of the best places to go on a daily basis to keep up with antiwar news and opinion. The site, afire with the writings of its founder, Justin Raimondo, who gives no quarter to the neocons or their lies, was started in 1996. Raimondo and others felt that the U.S. as the sole superpower, to coin a phrase, was likely to be tempted into ever wilder imperial adventures. And so it has proved to be. Both Paleoconservatives and Libertarians share the belief that empire is not compatible with a Republic and so their opposition to wars in the post-Cold War era has some rather deep roots.
To the best of my knowledge, the only place on the Left where a similar spectrum of opinion is offered is right here at CounterPunch where the writings of anti-war Libertarian Paul Craig Roberts and Republican Congressman Ron Paul appear regularly. Alex Cockburn, CP’s co-editor, has been urging a Left-Libertarian alliance for at least a decade and even spoke at a convention of Antiwar.com some years ago. (Such foresight is but one of many reasons to subscribe and contribute to CP.) But unfortunately, CP has been more or less lone a voice crying in the wilderness on the Left.
Lefties would do well to recognize that they share more with Libertarians than with the Democratic establishment. Go to the Libertarian web site and take the test telling you whether you are a libertarian. There are ten question and most Lefties will give a Libertarian’s answer to at least six of them. The Libertarians are staunchly against the war, much more so than the Democrats and about the same as the Greens and Naderites.
I first became acutely aware of the failure to include the Libertarians in the antiwar forces at the UFPJ demonstration in Fayetteville, NC, last March when speaker after speaker, including a lone Democrat, spoke of the war and the agenda of the Left, notably trade unionism and the struggles of those in poverty. At the fringes of the demonstration were a small number of Libertarians, passionately against the war and the patriot act, but feeling that it was not their agenda being articulated by the speakers. Also at the September demonstration in Washington, D.C., it would have been great to hear the Republican/Independent Congressman Ron Paul whose writings against the war appear on CounterPunch and Antiwar.com. Limited attempts to accomplish this inclusion on the part of a number of different parties came to nothing, perhaps because of disorganization and confusion. Nevertheless, the Libertarian, Justin Raimondo, writing on Antiwar.com endorsed the D.C. mobilization and urged attendance.
One may argue that the Libertarians, traditional Right and the Left do not need to come together, that each can fight against the war in its own way. But this is not adequate for several reasons. First, such separation is a set-up for a divide-and-conquer approach, at which the two War Parties are very adept. The Republicans can appeal to the Libertarians and traditional conservatives to support them as a lesser evil;and the Democrats can appeal to the Left to support them as the lesser evil. The net result is the dominance of the War Parties and the continuation of war, empire and the suppression of liberties embodied in the Patriot Act. And this tactic has worked well for the War Parties who have alternated in the making of war and supervision of the empire while the anti-war forces are left without a real political home. And without contact, each side is left with the stereotypes of the other, stereotypes that only reinforce their separation.
Second, at times the Left cannot reach people with an anti-war message, because of cultural factors or different philosophical outlooks. But very often these same people can be reached by others, especially by the Libertarians.
There is in my mind a very deep reason why Libertarians and the Left have more in common than we suspect when compared with the neocons. The reason is that we have our roots in the Enlightenment and modernity. But Leo Strauss, philospher of the neocons rejects the Enlightenment and calls for a return to the tyranies found in antiquity.
In the end, a Leftist might reject the unity I am proposing, saying we need to be united not just for peace but United for Peace and Justice, the latter as the Left sees it. But this is not only bad politics but immoral to boot. Politics is not theology and we must be able to unite in the face of a grave danger as happened with the anti-colonial struggles like the one in South Africa or the anti-fascist struggles before and during WWII. The neoconservatives and their wars pose a danger to democracy every bit as threatening as fascism which neoconservatism closely resembles in many ways. And such disunity is immoral because it permits the threat to our liberty, our democratic republic to grow and the killing of innocent Americans and Iraqis to continue.
So it is time to unite. In the near future I hope we can discuss how to do this in this space and elsewhere. If all the different persuasions have confidence in their views, they will welcome the chance for discussion with those of a differing outlook. There are already grassroots groups like the Antiwar League in Massachusetts taking this approach. No one need hide his philosophical views for the sake of this unity merely work together in the struggle against this damned war. In the process we may all learn a lot.
JOHN WALSH can be reached at email@example.com.
He welcomes discussion on this article and concrete suggestions on how to implement the unity suggested here.