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Challenging Bush, Challenging Ourselves

The Editorial Board
May 1, 2003

There’s a Yiddish proverb (found in Nathan Ausubel’s A Treasury of Jewish Folklore) that applies well to the blanket news coverage of the war in Iraq: “When there’s too much of something, something is missing.” The “too much” in this case is the close-up, overwhelming military reporting, which has flooded America’s senses and emotions. What’s missing is historical, political, and moral evaluation of this deeply disturbing war.

  • Missing is the history of U.S. complicity with Saddam back in the 1980s, when Iraq was warring with the newly fundamentalist state of Iran — one instance among many from a history that makes it hard to take the U.S. seriously as a crusader for democracy in the Middle East.
  • Missing is the moral concept of war being only a last resort. Donald Rumsfeld did rhetorical violence to this ideal by enunciating a doctrine of preemptive war following 9/11, but his words were foreshadowed some five years earlier by the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) — a group that included Rumsfeld as well as Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, and other major figures in the Bush Administration today. In the middle of the Clinton presidency (as veteran journalist Jesse Zel Lurie reminded us in the April 8th Jewish Journal of Palm Beach and Dade Counties, Florida),
  • Also missing from the discussion is the undermining of United Nations authority by the Bush administration, in fulfillment of the American conservative movement’s long-standing animosity for international accountability and rule of law. On a planet that faces enormous global and regional challenges to its political well-being and environmental sustainability, the weakening of the UN will create even more vulnerability to war, epidemic disease, poverty, deluges of refugees, and exploitation by multinational corporations.
  • Missing, too, is a sense of danger and tragedy for America itself, as Bush and his cohorts pursue a hubristic vision of a country so powerful, idealistic and Divinely sanctioned that it can ignore treaties, insult allies, belittle diplomacy, withstand economic boycotts, violate its own Constitutional principles and protections, and transgress international law, all in pursuit of a Pax Americana. Such rogue behavior has a wicked resemblance to the aggressions of fascist Italy and Germany in the 1930s, and of the USSR against its satellite countries in the ’50s and ’60s. Historically minded Americans will be chilled by the analogy, given the fate of these imperial and imperious countries.

Also obscured by the smoke over Baghdad is the degradation of the U.S. economy, which has lost some 2.4 million jobs during the past two years. More than 32 million Americans are now living in deep poverty, 43 million have no medical insurance, 23 million resort to emergency food assistance, millions more totter at the brink of economic wipe-out while working full time, and foreign investment is starting to withdraw — yet Bush seems to recognize none of these economic woes as threats to homeland security. Indeed, were it not for such principled prosecutors as New York District Attorney Eliot Spitzer, the economic conspirators of Enron and other corporations and investment banks would now be less visible than Al Qaeda.
Criticism, however, is easy to dish out. Now people in the worldwide anti-war movement need also to take seriously that Yiddish proverb and reckon with what’s missing in our own analysis of the challenges being posed by America’s unilateral militarism and liberatory rhetoric. If, for example, war is to be the last resort, how do we propose to use “people power” to prevent or reckon with such violent regimes as Saddam Hussein’s? If the United Nations is to be entrusted with responsibility for international security, peace and justice, how do we reckon with its historical bias against Israel, which was the focus of more than 50% of condemnatory resolutions passed by the UN in the second half of the 20th If anguish about wasted human life is bringing us out to the streets, why aren’t we massing, as well, over genocidal slaughters in the Congo, terrorist attacks in Kashmir, suicide bombings in Israel, the constant toll of Palestinian dead in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the mutilated children of Sierra Leone, the wholesale destruction of Chechnya, and other “collateral damage” caused by political and military struggles around the world?
Although fifty percent of Americans now seem to believe that Iraq had a major role in the 9/11 attacks, it is misguided patriotism as much as misinformation that has led a large majority to support this war. As long as Bush has missionary rhetoric, the support of most corporate media outlets, and military firepower to offer in response to wickedness in the world, while peace forces seem limited to demonstrating and protesting, American idealism will be Bush’s to exploit. The left, including this magazine, must now deepen the conversation.