The anti-war protesters: what are they for?

December 7, 2002

A recent incident at University of Texas is indicative of the nature of the pacifists opposing a war with Iraq.  After the student government of the University of Texas passed a resolution condemning a U.S. attack on Iraq, the Young Conservatives attempted to engage them in a debate with the "Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice."  However, as CNN later reported, "Most listeners in the audience seemed to agree with the Campus Coalition, or at least people on that side seemed more vocal about their feelings When an antiwar advocate began heckling a student in the pro-war camp, other supporters of the President's policies stood up, and a fistfight almost broke out."  One can easily imagine what "more vocal" means when reverse-translated through the filter of CNN's liberal bias. Apparently, the "peace protesters" are not so peaceful.  All over the world, they have been rioting against aggression.  What is the true nature of the anti-war sentiment in America then?  Much insight about the nature of the "anti-war" protest can be found in their "Statement of Conscience," which has been endorsed by thousands of professors and students across America.

The Statement begins with seemingly noble remarks:  "peoples and nations have the right to determine their own destiny questioning, criticism, and dissent must be valued and protected. such rights and values are always contested and must be fought for."

It is unclear to me however, who's "rights" the protesters support . Is it Saddam's "right" to violently suppress dissent by gassing thousands of his own people, and attacking Iran, Kuwait, and Israel? If the protesters are truly concerned about dissenters, why aren't they showing any support for the opposition groups that seek to establish a democratic government in Iraq? Do they believe that the bloody coup in which Saddam Hussein became dictator gives him a "right" to do as he pleases with anyone who crosses his path?

The resolution goes on to claim: "Dissident artists, intellectuals, and professors find their views distorted, attacked, and suppressed." When one considers the behavior of the anti-war protesters in America's universities, this statement seems especially misleading. At my own Texas A&M, stands of the "The Examiner," a local conservative student paper were vandalized and the newspapers stolen by an unknown culprit.  It is unclear whether he was offended by the article titled "[Condoleezza] Rice: Iraqis cannot eat their oil reserves" or "Conservative student publications plagued by theft."  In universities like Berkeley, "pro-peace" students have vandalized opposing newspaper offices, and claimed "aggression" when they were arrested for trespassing.† Clearly, when supporters of America's right to self-defense find their newspapers vandalized and are labeled racists and bigots, it is not they who are suppressing speech.

The most common claims of the antiwar protesters is that Iraq is President Bush's excuse to promote oil interests and cover up the faltering economy.  But is there any truth to either of these claims?

"A Crude View of the Crisis in Iraq," a Washington Post story, reports that the outcome of regime change in Iraq is far from clear: American companies may be denied access to Iraq as they were in Kuwait, and a new Iraqi government may develop oil production on it's own, taking a significant time to do so without any major influence on oil prices. On the other hand, it is also likely that Saddam will attempt to destroy as much infrastructure as possible on his way out, so that it will take many years to put out the fires and rebuild Iraq's oil production capability.  In any case, the effect of a war on American oil interests is far from certain and has not even been brought up in discussion with Iraqi opposition. 

The second claim -- that Bush is pushing for a war to distract Americans from the economy is equally ridiculous.  Liberals who are bitter about the GOP win claim that the Republicans blew the terrorist threat out of proportion to avoid focusing on the economy.  However, a recent Gallup poll shows that fully 57 percent of Americans believe that the economy is better off in republican hands and 67 percent believe that the war against terrorism would be better handled by republicans.  While I would dispute that either party has handled terrorism or the economy very well, it is clear that most Americans support the Republicans in both of these areas.

The resolution attacks immigration procedures for singling out certain nationalities ignoring the fact that a Saudi national is, oh about 100% more likely to be a terrorist than someone from Sweden or Japan. The peaceniks oppose the racist policy of giving 18 to 40 year old Arab men more scrutiny in airports than a grandma going to see her grandkids while supporting race-based admission policies in universities.

The protesters' claim that the war on terrorism has given "police sweeping new powers of search and seizure" and "brought down a pall of repression over society."  However, when one considers how vocal the protesters have been in the media, a "pall of repression" is nowhere to be found.  On the other hand, when my own "conservative" university banned students from hanging American flags outside their windows, so as "not to offend international students," the true direction of repression became clear.  If indeed the government is holding American citizens without trial or due process, there is cause for concern, but it is only an evasion of the real threat to our security to claim that we should ignore legitimate national interests because of the potential for abuse. 

But the protesters' real agenda has little to do with Iraq. Suppose that after a thorough and unhampered search, the inspectors discover that all those hidden bunkers and presidential palaces are actually full of unanimous ballots from his last election. (Which, according to Saddam, was an 11,445,638 to 0 "Yes" vote.) Suppose that the chemical weapons and arms sales to Iraq that Yugoslavian officials have recently admitted to were actually fireworks for the celebration of Saddamís election victory. Would I change my mind and oppose going to war with Iraq? Sure.

But suppose that despite Hans Blix's negotiations with Saddam on the restrictions of our unrestricted access to Iraq, we find evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Will the anti-war protesters change their minds?  The answer can be found in their Statement: "What kind of world will this become if the U.S. government has a blank check to drop commandos, assassins, and bombs wherever it wants?" -- and this is their reply.  Their objection is not so much to Bush's policy towards Iraq, but in the fact that he may engage in it unilaterally -- without the permission of the rest of the world.  Robert Jehnsen, author of inspiring articles such as "U.S. just as guilty [as the terrorists] of committing own violent acts" claims to represent the "No-war Collective," and this is just how he sees the world -- as a collective in which the United States must ask for permission to defend itself against terrorism. 

The pacifists cannot honestly object to the fact a war may lead to the death of Iraqi civilians -- they do not protest the civilians Saddam kills every day. Neither can they complain that "dissent is being silenced" -- they have no problem silencing dissent here in America, or to Saddamís silencing dissent in Iraq. The Statement accuses the government of "putting out a simplistic script of 'good vs. evil'" -- but what the antiwar crowd opposes is any declaration of moral legitimacy in fighting the war on terrorism.  They ask "What kind of world will this become if the U.S. government has a blank check to drop commandos, assassins, and bombs wherever it wants?" but they donít oppose a world where terrorists and dictators have a blank check to the same. Despite their rhetoric, to the peaceniks, there is no difference between a barbaric dictatorship and a free democracy fighting for its very existence (as Israel is) or freedom from terrorism (as the United States is). As their "Statement of Conscience" shows, their primary objection is not that America may go to war with Iraq, but that it may do so unilaterally without the permission of the rest of the world. What the protesters in fact claim, is that any evaluation that a democratic regime is morally superior to a bloody dictatorship is evil, and any difference between the U.S. and Iraq is a probably result of "western imperialism."

A recent CNN photomontage shows young Palestinian kids with automatic weapons and war-paint on their faces screaming furiously at the camera protesting against a war in Iraq. The next slide shows a protest in America, with an unshaven man in a crowd of angry faces with banners proclaiming "no bombing of children for oil." Despite the fact that the Palestinians live in an oppressive, violent, and primitive society and the American protesters grew up in the wealthiest, freest, and most successful nation on earth, the differences almost seem lost in the two photos. Perhaps this is what the pacifists are truly after.