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Stopping the Drive to War

BY James Weinstein

Bush and his managers have totally ignored the protesters and polls that indicate maximum concern and minimal support for the war.

Opposition to war against Iraq has grown steadily in recent weeks, both at home and abroad. The January 18 demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco attracted hundreds of thousands of people, more than even the biggest anti-Vietnam War marches in the ’60s. The polls show that more than two-thirds of Americans oppose the Bush administration’s plans to unilaterally attack Iraq.

Still, the media all but ignore the unprecedented activity against the war. In Chicago, for example, the City Council passed a resolution opposing unilateral action by the United States by a vote of 46 to 1. Something like this was inconceivable in the ’60s, yet the Chicago Tribune buried this news in a paragraph hidden in a more general story, and the New York Times gave it three inches in a column of short items. Since then, the number of city councils that have passed similar resolutions has risen to 50 (with Cleveland being the most recent at this writing). This is truly amazing, yet it has produced not even a ripple on the pages of the country’s leading newspapers.

Not surprisingly, the media have preferred to play up the in-fighting among a small number of former student protesters who are appalled by the fact that a few sectarian groups have been the most active organizers of the big marches in recent months. Yes, it is unfortunate that speakers at some of the big demonstrations often talk about matters not directly related to the Bush administration’s plans and rationale for war.

Intelligent organizers against the war would stick to the point in order to gain maximum support. But the more important point is that the hundreds of thousands of people who attend these protests totally ignore the sectarian distractions. Meanwhile, the carpers, instead of being thankful for the dedicated organizing by the sectarians, contribute nothing but cold water to the movement against the war.

It is difficult to tell how effective the opposition to war will be. The Bush administration already claims that international opposition is of little concern, and so far Bush and his managers have totally ignored the protesters and polls that indicate maximum concern and minimal support for war.

In his State of the Union address, Bush simply repeated unproven claims that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction which threaten the United States. He did not explain how this could be so when his own experts admit that Iraq’s armed forces and military hardware are now at less than one-third the strength they were in 1991, when they were easily beaten. Nor did he explain how Iraq had become an ally of al-Qaeda, when Saddam’s secular regime has been a sworn and consistent enemy of the Islamic fundamentalism of Osama bin Laden and his followers.

Of course, Bush dwelled on the evil acts committed by Saddam, while neglecting to admit that the United States was supporting Iraq at the time many of these crimes were being perpetrated. Nor did he mention that, according to Amnesty International, at least a dozen other nations have been guilty of the same or similar crimes, and that most of these nations are considered friendly by the administration.

We don’t know if the drive to war can be stopped. But we do know that the movement to prevent it—and especially the opportunity to educate the public about the administration’s imperial ideology—must be encouraged in every way.

Those who attempt to use this movement for some narrow sectarian end are no threat. Their efforts against the war should be appreciated, their distractions ignored. Our energies should be directed at gaining the attention of political forces too timid to oppose the administration by demonstrating that we represent majority opinion on this issue.

James Weinstein founded In These Times in 1976. He also founded the journal Socialist Review and the Modern Times bookstore in San Francisco. Weinstein is the author of several books, including The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, 1900-1918 and The Decline of Socialism in America, 1912-1925. His final book, published in 2003, was The Long Detour: The History and Future of the American Left. He died in 2005.

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