Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Antiwar correspondence

I've written some emails in the past couple of days that deal with issues that, for whatever reason, I've had trouble putting into words on the blog. It's about the nature of the resistance to the Iraq war, and also anger at the folks who probably could have done something to stop it, but didn't.

I thought I'd post them here because although I would like to write something that sums all this up and that's designed specifially for blogorific consumption, I doubt that will ever happen. So here are the emails; see what you can get from them.

The first one is to Josh Micah Marshall, and in copying it over I noticed some editing errors. The version here makes more sense than the one he actually received.

The second is an email to Ethridge in response to a link he sent me to this Rolling Stone article about the peace movement.

Dear TPM:

If I really did materially misstate your position, I apologize. I consider that a very serious charge and I hope you believe me when I say that is not and was not my intention. It's a hard accusation for me to deal with because I don't have anything concrete from you. As I said I know you don't have a lot of time to devote to this and I'm truly not simply trying to demand your attention; I know you must deal with that almost constantly.

I don't expect you to look at this today, but even though it's long I'd respectfully ask that you find some time in the near future to at least look at it and consider my attempt to provide you some background on why I wrote what I did, and why this means so much to me, both on a personal level and because of the very real and destructive division in the Democratic party of which this dispute is symbolic.

First of all, I said I'm a longtime reader of TPM and I am. It's not because I like to torture myself; I think you're one of the great young minds in the Democratic party and if the Washington Post swapped you out for absolutely anybody on their Op/Ed page I would consider it one of the great moves in the modern history of opinion journalism. That probably comes across as flattery, and I guess it is, but to mitigate that I'll tell you I have a real low opinion of the Post's Op/Ed page. :-p

Back to February 2003...

I was supposed to attend the Valentine's weekend protest in New York, but I had a German national staying with me who was nervous about getting arrested (and he had a back injury, or claimed to), so we stayed in the District. I remember you posted a
picture of the snow in Dupont Circle and I felt a real kinship with you because not only had you posted something vaguely laudatory of the protests (focusing mostly on the international protests, which were very large) I was out there walking around Dupont in the snow that day, and I had this feeling that we really were going to stop the war. It seems silly now, with things so far along at that point we were going to war no matter what, but I felt like it might really happen, the war might really be averted. I remember that Sunday night it was so quiet and you could look out into the blackness of Rock Creek and see the boughs heavy with snow, all the way back to the vanishing point. War felt so far away, so crazily wrong that it could never come to pass. I had just gotten engaged the previous weekend and I felt indestructible.

About a week later you ran I think the second piece of your Ken Pollack interview where the two of you were sitting around worrying about whether things had gone a little pear-shaped and maybe this wasn't such a good idea. You didn't express any reservations about the positions the two of you had taken in the interview, particularly Pollack's assertion (hard to square with the actual document) that the Blix report was a "smoking gun" proving Saddam was hiding a major weapons program.

I remember reading this and actually getting teary. It took a while for me to really place what hurt so much about reading this and realizing that you weren't going to change your position on the war, that at best you would concede not that it was wrong for the world's hyperpower to launch an aggressive war on a defenseless, poor country, but that maybe it might cost too much or something.

The reason I felt all this betrayal at the writings of someone I didn't know was because it became clear in that moment not only that yes, we really are going to do this, to make this horrible mistake, but also that it wasn't going to be solely because of the right's control of all three branches of government, their essentially unchecked power to do whatever they want. We were going to war in Iraq at least in part because the people that I considered my allies had spent months pushing the storyline that the only serious position on US/Iraqi relations was supportive of some sort of war aimed at deposing Saddam Hussein, and that no one had ever made a convincing case for any reasonable alternative, despite the fact that I'd spent the past six months reading about seven hundred versions of exactly that, all of which made a hell of a lot more sense to me than Ken Pollack's book, which I had read on your recommendation. I felt like someone dying in a room full of doctors, trying to scream and no one can hear him.

Again, let me make it clear this isn't just you. It's dozens of liberals at Slate, The New Republic, the Washington Post, the New York Times, everywhere. And now there's this tension in the Democratic party between people like me and those we count on to be our voice in the mass-media discourse (not to mention our elected officials, but I'm still naive enough to believe they basically go where we lead them.)

It's very hard for us to square our respect for our opinion leaders with the fact that we were let down on what is without any question the defining issue of our generation. And it's been even harder to watch as they've all found numerous creative ways to avoid admitting what is so obvious to anyone who will look at what they wrote from June 2002 to March 2003, that despite some whimpers at the end about how badly Bush was blowing the runup to the war, they spent that critical time mostly carrying water for the bad guys.

I completely understand your protestations that you have to call them like you see them. That's the piece of all of this that's very hard to articulate. I'm glad you call them like you see them. I don't want you crafting analysis of real-world policy questions based on what you think will be good for the Democrats, and bad for the Republicans. Leave that kind of crap to Instapundit.

What I need you to hear from me is that you saw this one wrong, and for reasons that go deeper than just a simple error in judgment. A tie goes to the runner, and a shaky case for war, even a very slightly shaky case for war, is no case at all. It is much worse to get it wrong when you're wrong in calling for the destruction of another country. I want to understand that you understand the gravity of that reality.

Now as I conceded in an earlier email, it's possible you actually have come clean on this and I just missed it. But the tone of the recent writing that I have read from you on the matter certainly suggests otherwise.

Again let me reiterate that I am only writing you this because I respect you, and I want to understand with clarity what your feelings really are on this subject. But this is bigger than just you and me having an argument over email. Obviously I'm a very small fish, and you're a very big one. The steel cage match between What I Think and What You Think is moot, because what you think actually has an influence over people with power, whereas What I Think influences the 50 people who read my blog and the Democratic Underground front page articles, a grand total of probably five hundred people.

This exchange is emblematic of a tension, though, that is strangling the Democratic party. Intraparty animosity over Iraq remains the biggest obstacle to Democrats coming together to sweep the 2006 elections, which by all rights we ought to do. But how can I stand beside my Democratic allies and really do the work that's necessary for this election cycle when there's this horrible unresolved conflict just festering between us?

The bottom line is that if you and all the others who supported this war still don't think you did anything wrong, not only can't we work together, we SHOULDN'T be working together, because we aren't working for the same things. We need to come to terms with this and part ways.

I don't think that's reality, however. I think it's just really hard to be the first guy to stand up and say "I was totally, dead wrong. I gave critical support to a war I should have unequivocally opposed. I'd do anything to go back in time and do it over again, but I can't, and I'm sorry."

Again, I don't expect a response. You're probably deaing with 50 of these right now. I just want you to hear me. I'm not some crazy person, as I hope you can tell. I'm just a guy who's been waiting all my life for that moment when I understand what the hell the grownups are thinking, and I'm almost thirty with a baby daughter, and I'm starting to think I'm never going to get it.

It would be excellent, I think, if you found time in the next couple of weeks to deal with some of these issues and the others that have no doubt been raised by other loyal antiwar TPM readers in response to your post.

Thanks for your time and your attention to my words.

Sincerely

AP Short
apshort.blogspot.com

-------------
Ethridge

Very good treatment of this; one of the better
articles I've seen. The situation is very complex.
I've written about it, but not at great length or
depth.

On the surface, here's the main issue. The full-time
antiwar movement (meaning people who are antiwar
generally as opposed to people who are anti-Iraq war
only) is a lot of very different people, academics,
writers, labor organizers, community organizers, etc.
They do a ton of great work at a local level that no
one ever hears about, and they are really the backbone
of the antiwar movement.

The public face of the antiwar movement is street
protests. They are the only thing the antiwar
movement really does that anybody who isn't part of
the antiwar movement or directly involved with some
aspect of their activities ever sees.

Now here's the part that very few people understand,
because they haven't been part of the movement at a
high level, a planning level. Putting on an antiwar
protest is basically event planning. It's no
different than putting on a convention or a county
fair or any other large public gathering of people.

Event planning for large numbers, especially large,
unpredictable numbers, is a really difficult task.
You have to have permits. You have to have trash
cans. You have to have Port-a-potties. You have to
get the word out. You have to get buses. You have to
do a thousand things. There are a couple of groups
that have it down, United for Peace with Justice and
International ANSWER.

UFPJ is an organization I have a lot of respect for.
Their core politics are a little different from mine,
but not fundamentally so. They're socialists, mostly,
but it's a broad, grassroots coalition of bona fide
activists who built the organization from the ground
up.

International ANSWER is basically a Maoist cult. It's
a couple of megalomaniacs and their loyal horde of
weirdos. They have a huge amount of money and nobody
really knows where they get it.

So what used to happen back in the post-September 11th
days when the core antiwar movement was trying to
distance itself from ANSWER was that UFPJ and the rest
of these disparate groups would sit down and form a
steering committee and say "We're going to have a
protest."

And so you go to the calendar and you pick a date.
Then you form subcommittees like the logistics
committee, the outreach committee, the media
committee, etc. You apply for permits. You print
flyers. You go "wheatpasting" (wheatpaste is the glue
you use to put up posters.)

Then, about two months out, ANSWER decides they are
going to have a protest the same day. They have a big
stage and a bunch of speakers people have actually
heard of, musical acts, etc. They've printed 50,000
full-color signs. They have posters up everywhere.

So now the problem becomes, what do you do about this
if you're UFPJ? Back on April 20, 2002 (I was on the
logistics committee for that one) what we did was just
to say "well, there's not much we can do. We'll have
ours and they'll have theirs and it's OK."

And then you show up to the march and it looks like an
ANSWER march. The speakers on the stage are there at
ANSWER's invitation. The nice-looking signs all say
ANSWER on them. As far as actual numbers, ANSWER
probably put five thousand people in the street, but
it looks like they planned the whole thing because
their shit is everywhere.

After the April 20th experience, antiwar groups
decided that in the future, it would be better to
allow ANSWER to be part of the coalition from the
beginning because then at least we could exercise some
control over their message. So a provision was put in
place for the next march that if any of the three
major groups involved in the coalition objected to a
given speaker, that speaker would not be invited.

Well, the result of that was that ANSWER blocked an
antiwar rabbi from speaking at the march. This became
a big distraction and it was the big story of the
protest, made worse by the fact that ANSWER has a very
well-earned reputation for anti-semitism. So the
effort to reign in ANSWER actually winds up allowing
them to flaunt probably their worst feature, from a
Public Relations perspective.

For the most recent protest, the solution that was
tried was simply to prevail upon ANSWER to enforce
some message discipline. From my perspective, I would
say it worked really well, better than it ever has
before.

But in the end it's still an ANSWER rally, and at
ANSWER rallies there are going to be people chanting
"Death to Israel" and other crazy shit (though I did
notice that for the most part they were chanting this
in Arabic, which I guess is a step in the right
direction from a PR standpoint.) That's just reality.


So you have this big swath of the population that
looks at street protests and says "this antiwar thing
isn't for me." And you can understand where they are
coming from because I don't want to be part of a
Maoist cult chanting "death to israel" either. If I
hadn't been involved in the movement I wouldn't have
the understanding that I do, that this actually
represents a small fringe element in the movement that
happens to have a ton of money and manpower that it
uses almost exclusively on protests.

The problem is, even if you are able to completely
purge ANSWER from the movement, at great expense in
terms of effort and focus, where does that leave you?
As you see in the article, even UFPJ is considered
way, way outside the mainstream. What people who
aren't involved in the movement don't understand is
that if you take away UFPJ and you take away ANSWER,
there are no protests. They simply don't exist. A
protest has to be planned, organized and executed, it
doesn't just spontaneously happen because people
oppose the war.

And so the question of whether to "forge ahead in the
mainstream" doesn't really exist for the antiwar
movement. We can highlight the antiwar piece as we
did at the September march, but we can't just make the
socialists and the "anti-globalization" people
disappear. Those people ARE the antiwar movement.
They print the fliers, book the speakers, file the
permits, pack the buses, and pay for the sound system.
You can't kick them out of the club - it's their
club.

So Russ Feingold wants the antiwar movement to adopt
as our core platform that the Iraq war is bad because
it undermines the War on Terror. Well, that isn't
going to happen, because 100% of the leadership in the
antiwar movement, right down to the guys who design
the fliers, thinks that the War on Terror is a fraud.


This is very emotional for people who have opposed the
war all along, too, because it hurts for all these
people to show up two years into it and say "well, the
war is bad, but you people are never going to be able
to stop it with all this jibber-jabber, you need to be
more like us." Well, we tried to stop this war before
it started, and you guys were all supporting it. I
didn't have a vote in the Senate and I did what I
could. You had a vote and you pissed it away because
you were afraid if you voted against the war your chin
wouldn't look sharp enough when you ran for President
later.

So it's complicated, emotional stuff. Hard to
overcome. But we're doing our best.

7 comments:

Herr Gokmop said...

Your Rolling Stone article link is dead, and only points back to the blog. Can you correct? I'd like to see it.

Adam P. Short said...

Thanks for the tip. It's fixed now.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sarachkah said...

Wow, I really liked everything you had to say about the antiwar movement. Nice blog. I have a website about Non Sequiters. Please let me know what you think.

Uncle Kevin said...

It would seem the article is about 3 different groups that are being lumped together. 1) people against THIS war. 2) People
against war. 3) People against a whole bunch of things of which war is perceived to be part of the process.

These people all collide in politics which presents the apparent lack of an organized message. It's not uncommon. SNCC and SCLC had conflicts and they both felt at various times that the whole Black Panther movement, as well as the Black Muslim movement were counter productive. Gay rights activists are forever dealing with extreme organizations like NAMBLA. Even environmental activists have to deal with PITA and radical elements of Green Peace.

But I would point out that these are the same basic complaints that the DLC makes and the constant argument for being GOP lite. I'm just not buying. The issue, and I think Dean showed this, that one just needs to distinctly define ones self. That will run off people who don't agree with you, but will attract those that do. What this article describes, and what you seem to be discussing, is a movement that wants to exercise inclusiveness. Don't be inclusive, be distinct. To me, that's the key.

Adam P. Short said...

Well, I think that definitely is A problem. But THE problem that's being brought up in the article is not a problem with the movement itself, but with street protests specifically. The failure to make that distinction is one of the big things that afflicts the mainstream discussion about the movement.

There is actually a lot of ideological differentiation in the antiwar movement and among liberals generally. The inability to "define ourselves" is certainly not limited to politicians, but it's much more pronounced among those guys.

The problem, specifically, with street protests is that the very nature of the event is inclusive. If I show up with a sign that says "Katrina is God's revenge for our participation in the East Timor massacre," 90% of people at the protest won't know what the hell I mean, and the other 10% will just think I'm an idiot.

But no one is going to stop me carrying the sign, because no one has that authority. And if I have a group with a lot of money and we print up 5,000 of those signs, it creates a big problem for the people trying to use the event to get favorable or at least open-minded media coverage.

So the question of how to deal with that is always hounding the movement. I was extremely impressed with how it was handled at the most recent march. Liberal hawks generally pounded the protests using their usual laundry list of complaints, but if they'd been there they'd have seen that in large part their "advice" was well taken.

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