Self Defeat

The New Republic

In June, The Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson offered a mischievous explanation for why a spate of opinion polls showed Americans growing increasingly disillusioned with the Iraq war. The American people hate futile wars fueled by dishonesty, Meyerson wrote, but they really hate the culturally alien, soi disant radicals who oppose those wars. And so, he hypothesized, it took the disappearance of the antiwar movement for Americans’ true opposition to the war to rise to the surface.

As Meyerson noted, in late 1969, 49 percent of the public told Gallup the United States needed to abandon Vietnam, but a staggering 77 percent disapproved of the antiwar protests. What he termed the antiwar movement’s “large, raucous and sometimes senseless fringe,” with its gleeful indictments of America as terminally bloodthirsty and its values as decadently bourgeois, had driven conflicted Americans into the arms of Richard Nixon, who really was terminally bloodthirsty. (“Now, by all-out bombing attack, I am thinking about things that go far beyond. … I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?”)

By contrast, once the Iraq invasion began in 2003, the massive protests–several of which were organized by apologists for assorted anti-American despots and human-rights abusers–largely dissipated. With nobody for the right to demonize, and no one to alienate average Americans from their suspicion that the war was a bad idea, Meyerson wrote, “the occupation is being judged on its own merits.”

In the weeks since Meyerson’s op-ed appeared, the war has only gotten worse and the administration more craven. Within a month of Bush’s stay-the-course speech at Fort Bragg rejecting “artificial timetables” for withdrawal, General George Casey, America’s Iraq commander, publicly floated a “fairly substantial” troop cut by spring 2006–Newsweek described the cut, to be completed by the end of 2006, as totalling up to 98,000 out of a current 138,000 troops–and Zalmay Khalilzad, the new U.S. ambassador, devoted his first press conference to discussing immediate U.S. pullbacks. Given that the right spent 2004 arguing that a Kerry administration would pull off precisely such a surrender, National Review editor Rich Lowry turned to a “well-informed source” to find out what was happening. The source replied that down was, in fact, up: “It’s exactly what we have been saying within the administration for the last year and half … Gens. [John] Abizaid and Casey are more and more confident that the necessary conditions for a drawn down [sic] will be met.” That’s a lie, but whatever. As someone who’s argued that the only hope of salvaging any decent outcome of the war depends on a speedy U.S. departure, I’ll take what I can get. We went into Iraq deceitfully. Does anyone expect us to exit honestly?

But, suddenly, as what remains of the antiwar movement stands on the verge of getting at least the beginning of what it wants–an exit–it seemingly intends to put Meyerson’s thesis to the test. In what one conservative blogger aptly termed “a gift from the gods,” Jane Fonda decided last week that patriotic duty compels her to speak out against the Iraq war around the country. Not long ago, Fonda told Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes” that she “will go to my grave regretting” the infamous 1972 photograph of her seated in a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. The source of her regret is somewhat cloudy, though. She writes in My Life So Far that she carries “heavy in my heart” the appearance she gave to U.S. combat personnel that she had “become their enemy.” But she also laments the fact that “I have paid and continue to pay a heavy price” for sitting in the gun. And how she’s paid! She told the Associated Press last week, “I have not taken a stand on any war since Vietnam,” from which she carries “a lot of baggage.” Evidently, Fonda’s baggage–the fact that her name evokes images many Americans consider treasonous–has denied her the joy of protesting for too long. Of her antiwar road trip, she says, “It’s going to be pretty exciting.” Only for Karl Rove–whom another right-wing blogger gleefully speculated was behind Fonda’s newfound outspokenness. Please, ma’am, if you really care about ending the occupation, do everyone a favor and shut up.

But Fonda is merely a sybaritic narcissist. George Galloway is an evil man. In his recent book, I’m Not The Only One, Galloway, a member of Britain’s parliament, refers to the thousands of Iraqi Shia murdered by Saddam Hussein as a “fifth column” that “undermined the Iraqi war effort in the interests of their country’s enemy.” He approves of how “Saddam plotted Iraq’s own Great Leap Forward.” All this and more was too much for a reviewer in The Independent, the left-wing British daily, who wrote, “All those who denied that Galloway has mutated into a Saddamist will have to recant.” (Oh, and he may have personally profited from Saddam’s manipulation of the Oil-For-Food program, but that’s unproven.) Yet when Galloway trekked to Capitol Hill in May to deliver a rococo indictment of the Iraq war by way of personal exculpation before the Senate Oil-For-Food panel, many liberals heard all they needed to hear out of his apologist’s mouth. A column in The Nation heralded, “Mr. Galloway Goes To Washington,” as if a man who called Saddam’s 1991 slaughter of the Shia a “civil war” was Jimmy Stewart. Never mind that Galloway also attacked Senator Carl Levin, one of the most prominent antiwar Democrats.

Galloway is a disgrace in the U.K., but the leftist euphoria that greeted his testimony has afforded him a new opportunity for prestige. Next month, he’s planning a speaking tour of the United States, at which, according to The New York Times, a man who shrugs at war crimes plans on “challenging Americans to challenge their leaders more forcefully.” Fonda presents the antiwar movement with a political test, but Galloway presents it with a moral one. The moral onus is still on the supporters of the Iraq disaster. But those who oppose the war should be able to say that no solidarity is possible with someone who would defend a man who filled mass graves. I don’t believe for a minute that there are more than a handful out of the millions of war opponents who truly think kind thoughts about Saddam Hussein, and so ignoring Galloway’s vanity trip–or, better yet, telling him to get on the next plane out of the country–is an excellent opportunity to reverse the dynamic Meyerson noted. Of course, even if Fonda and Galloway are greeted by cheering hordes, it probably won’t cause a groundswell of support for the war. But why tempt fate?

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