Saturday, March 23, 2013

More in the Iraq War

I didn't intend to write any more on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, but there has been a lot of comment on it lately, so I do want to add one more thing.

One myth about the war that I would like to demolish right away is that the drumbeat for war was so overwhelming that opposition was completely excluded from mainstream discourse.  That is simply not true.

I limit myself here to the mainstream.  So, with a reasonably (though not extremely) narrow definition of the mainstream one might exclude the anti-war demonstrations as too riddled with the far left to count as mainstream.  Likewise one could exclude The American Conservative as Pat Buchanan's magazine.  David Corn could be dismissed as way off in left field.  And so forth.

Certainly I do not dispute that there was plenty of liberal support for the war.  The vote in Congress was 296-133 in favor in the House and 77-23 in favor in the Senate.  Many Democrats sought to compete with the Republicans in belligerent speeches.  The New Republic rather predictably came out in favor of the war, as did  Matt Yglesias, Jonathan Chait, Peter Beinart, and many others.

But it is simply false to say that there was no mainstream opposition to the Iraq War.  Being an opponent myself, I was always on the lookout for mainstream opposition to the war and never had any difficulty finding it.  My favorite columnists were Georgie Anne Geyer, a Cold War hawk who was nonetheless outraged by the doctrine of preemptive war, and the late Molly Ivins, an unabashed liberal who feared -- well, exactly what happened.  Our local paper carried Robert Scheer, who was too strident for my taste, but proved extremely prescient.  Phil Donahue, inventor of the talk show format, lost his job for opposing the Iraq War. Paul Krugman, of course, came out against it.  Knight-Ridder, the second-largest newspaper publisher in the United States published many excellent and informative stories opposing the war.  Al Gore spoke out against it.  And let's face it.  A 296-133 vote in the House and 77-23 in the Senate, though it suggests opposition to the war is a minority view in our political class, it hardly suggests that such opposition is considered outside all reasonable bounds of discourse.

Granted, there were attempts before the war to marginalize opposition to it.  Christopher Hitchens, for instance, had an infuriating habit of beginning any discussion of the merits of the war by automatically dismissing opposition was outside all reasonable limits of debate.  The Economist, also a war supporter, wrote article about the irresistible drumbeat of public opinion in favor of war in the United States.  Granted, I lived in liberal Santa Fe, so I knew I was getting a biased sample, but public opinion polls I saw generally showed a fairly even split nationally.

So why this insistence that opposition to the war was completely excluded from national discourse?  Part of it, I suspect, comes from people who supported the war at the time, trying to explain why they were misled.  Part comes from people who opposed the war, wanting to exaggerate what heroic underdogs they were, standing alone against the tide.  And part of it may have been that the forces in favor of the war really did seem overwhelming to the people who stood up to them.

Because, I will confess, although I was against the war, I did nothing to actively oppose it.  Demonstrating against the war seemed pointless to me.  It was obvious that George Bush had made up his mind, and that  nothing I could do would sway it.  So in the end, opponents of the war were right -- they were totally excluded from power and had no sway on decision making.  But that is far from saying that their voices were totally excluded from mainstream discourse.

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