America’s “cakewalk” theory of a quick war with lots of love from Iraqi villagers has gone into the shredder. They’re changing their game, digging in and preparing to sort everyday Iraqis into lists of “evil” or “good.” There’s also the inevitable third list: “dead.”
It’s a shift for the peace movement as well. The fight against the bloodletting is essentially over. The fight over the meaning of this conflict — its myth, its place in history — has just begun. We’ve entered the long war.
What a chilling time to see the emergence of the pro-war activists, both in America and here at home. The CanWest News Service reports that Canada’s recent pro-war rallies were organized largely by a group called Free Dominion, which the papers describe as “anti-Liberal.” Well, not quite. In fact, they’re anti-liberal, which is to say, they’re right-wingnuts in the mold of Free Republic, an American network of Rush Limbaugh dittos and sophomore Ayn Rand reading clubs. Put it this way: Free Dominion’s most visible spokesperson, Connie Wilkins, is a bible-toting, proudly unilingual “integrationist” who wrote her online bio in the format of the “I Am Canadian” beer commercial.
Yes, an easy target.
Still, it’s important to know what worldview is being served by rallies for or against the war. At anti-war marches, I stand in solidarity with unions, social democrats, women’s groups, communists, anarchists and a refreshing assortment of full-blown freaks. I do so as a radical democrat; no one could support even half these groups or individuals without serious cognitive dissonance. Every allegiance, at least, is out in the open.
But what about the pro-war crowd? Did the 4,000 marching in Ottawa (organizers claim 15,000, blaming the dastardly liberal media for reporting the police estimate) understand that they were rallied beneath the banner of Canadian neoconservatism? When they repeated the organizers’ empirically false claim of a pro-war “silent majority,” were they aware that they were parroting the rhetoric of the Canadian Alliance? Would a majority of pro-war marchers have agreed with the following quote, highlighted on the Free Dominion website last week: “I believe in good gun control . . . the ability to hit a target nine times out of ten with the selector on full automatic”?
I doubt it. I think the pro-war rank and file are people who have reasonably — if wrongly, in my opinion — decided this war is worth its risks and costs. Moreover, they are people who seriously believe that the fundamental question in the Iraq war is how to deal with Saddam Hussein. On this point, their quiet leaders within neoconservatism’s special-interest groups (hey, language co-optation is fun) are at least honest enough to disagree.
I’ve spent several days exposing myself to Canadian pro-war boosterism (not difficult, given that Canada’s largest media conglomerate, CanWest Global, compelled its dailies to run identical pro-war editorials). What I’ve learned is this: the right wants to have this war both ways. It wants to be able to say, like Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper, that this is a war about a “fundamental vision of civilization and human values.” It wants to be able to say, like Vancouver Board of Trade chair Peter Legge, that the rights and freedoms we enjoy were not won by a democratically robust citizenry, but by soldiers at war. It wants to be able to say, like so many pundits, that economic self-interest should trump morality, even in decisions where thousands of lives hang in the balance.
The right wants to be able to say all of these things, while at the same time claiming that any resistance to this war amounts to nothing more than the coddling of a dictatorship in Baghdad.
In other words, the right wants to bring the entire freight of neoconservatism — its fondness for police-state “liberty,” its dedication to economic empire, its lockstep patriotism, its revolting culture of fear — to the war effort, all the while rejecting the idea that anyone could resist the war on exactly the same terms.
It would be nice — charming, even — if things were not so politically enmeshed; if every war could be measured as just or unjust according to its aims and its dangers. Such is not the case. It isn’t possible to separate corporate interests from the Bush administration, or the right’s economic agenda from its military endgames. This is why, when Western power is involved, every war is a world war.
Stephen Harper, in a recent speech, warned of what he called his “great fear.” It is, he says, “a country that does not embrace its friends and allies in a dangerous world but thinks it can use them and reject them at will.” From the neocon perspective, that rogue nation is Canada, snubbing its wealthy neighbour to the south. Of course, Harper’s statement far more credibly describes many decades’ worth of American foreign policy, and the Bush doctrine in particular.
As the war goes on, its horizon expands. We begin to see that it is, once again, part of a larger conflict that preceded this war, that cannot be separated from it and that will decide the kind of symbol this war becomes in time. A heroic victory on the road to “economic liberty”? A brutal act of empire-building? A groundshift in global democracy?
There’s more than one way to have a clash of civilizations.