For all the twists and turns of the conflict in Iraq, it’s comforting to reflect that one thing hasn’t changed: The antiwar “movement” -- that motley aggregation of Hollywood glitterati, bullhorn radicals and leftist Democrats -- remains as irresponsible and unserious as ever.
As evidence, consider this weekend’s much-hyped antiwar protest in the nation’s capital. Coming on the heels of last Wednesday’s nonbinding anti-surge resolution, a cynical stunt engineered by the Democrat-dominated Senate Foreign Relations Committee to oppose the 21,500 troop increase in Iraq, the protest was a transparent attempt by a political fringe to capitalize on popular discontent over the war’s conduct.
To wit: The star of the demonstration was none other than Jane Fonda. As she told it, the 69-year-old actress had come out of protest retirement -- this was her first anti-war demonstration in 34 years, Fonda solemnly explained -- in order to break her silence about, well, the need to break her silence. “Silence is no longer an option,” Fonda announced, thus dealing a certain blow to public discourse. Fonda also delivered a historical lecture. Likening Iraq to the war in Vietnam, Fonda condemned what she called America’s “blindness to realities on the ground.”
This is richly ironic. It was Fonda after all who distinguished herself in the Vietnam War by glad-handing communists in Hanoi and making propaganda broadcasts for their cause, only to look on as the real destruction commenced once South Vietnam fell to her former hosts. That a similarly destructive fate awaits Iraq in the absence of American troops is a thought that seems never to have disturbed Fonda’s famous conscience.
Or of any of Tinseltown’s premiere peaceniks. Sharing top-billing with Fonda at the protest was the usual contingent of actor activists, including Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Together they succeeded in reaffirming the widespread wisdom that film stars depart from scripts at their peril. Directing himself to Congressional Democrats, a coherence-challenged Sean Penn burbled, “If they don't stand up and make a resolution as binding as the death toll, we're not going to be behind those politicians.” Whether Penn really intended to suggest that the Bush administration be put to death -- the only logical interpretation of his statement -- is anyone’s guess.
Not to be upstaged for the part of leading dunce was protest rally mainstay Tim Robbins. Robbins, whose 2003 antiwar play “Embedded,” portraying embedded journalists as mindless mouthpieces for a warmongering White House, was dismissed as “artless propaganda” by the liberal New Republic on its way to flopping spectacularly, used the occasion of the protest to urge the president’s immediate impeachment.
All of this may seem merely laughable. What makes it worrisome is the fact that impeachment -- and worse -- ranks highly on the agenda of several Democrats who appeared at the protest. Of no one is that more true than Rep. John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who has repeatedly signaled his intention to impeach the president. In 2003, Conyers presided over a meeting to draft articles of impeachment against President Bush for the alleged crime of invading Iraq. When impeachment invited well-grounded charges of extremism and became a political liability for the Democrats, Conyers took to the pages of the Washington Post to reassure voters that, were he to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he would limit himself to investigating “potentially impeachable offenses.”
No doubt because of the fragility of the Democratic mandate, Conyers has pushed aside impeachment to pursue an equally extreme course: cutting off funds for the war. It was this cause that Conyers preached at this weekend’s rally, where he was joined by Rep. Dennis Kucinich and California’s Maxine Waters, who have likewise called on their colleagues to close the national purse to the troops. Although Democrats have been at pains to insist that they would never refuse funding for the war effort -- “Absolutely not,” stressed Nancy Pelosi last month -- Conyers and his ilk have been working overtime to undermine the party’s credibility.
Their supporters, meanwhile, prefer more forceful measures. Accordingly, this weekend’s rally featured an attempt by 300 protestors to storm the Capitol building, followed by a predicable clash with police. Those puzzled by the incongruity of violence at “peace” rally need only consider the groups behind the protest. The principal sponsor of the demonstration was United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of 1,400 antiwar groups led by the veteran Communist operative Leslie Cagan. Marching alongside the UFJP were representatives of World Can’t Wait, a scarcely disguised front for the Revolutionary Communist Party. No stranger to militant tactics, the WCW in 2005 staged a day of “society-wide resistance” aimed at toppling the Bush administration but succeeding largely in stalling traffic in select cities.
Also present at this weekend’s rally was Medea Benjamin, the founder of antiwar group Code Pink and one of the main architects of the 1999 protests in Seattle wherein rampaging anti-globalization activists burned cars, smashed windows and generally sowed disorder in a failed bid to shut down a conference of the World Trade Organization. For her part, Benjamin hailed the riots, which caused millions of dollars in property damage, as “a battle cry.” In this company, it’s little wonder that some demonstrators felt free to mount their charge.
And what antiwar demonstration would be complete without the stirring sight of ideologue parents shamelessly parading their children to score a political point? Press accounts of the rally doted on the story of one Moriah Arnold, a 12-year old from Massachusetts who “stood on her toes to reach the microphone” so that she could call the president a liar and the country he leads
“a bully and a liar.” (Isn’t that adorable?) It was duly noted that Arnold became interested in the antiwar movement after clicking onto the website of United for Peace and Justice. No one bothered to record the fact that the young activist had actually been instructed to read the website by her mother.
Young Moriah, to be sure, faced stiff competition. For instance, there was Annie Yanowitz, the “housewife from Amherst, Mass.,” who moved photographers with the picture-perfect image of her two-year-old daughter slumbering in a backpack labeled: “Money for Schools Not for War.” Never mind that her Amherst school district spends more per pupil than almost any other district in the state. What are facts, or even basic parental dignity, next to the moral frisson of sticking it to the Bush administration?
Here, in a nutshell, is your “antiwar movement.” Critics will doubtless point out that the American public is itself deeply dissatisfied with the war. That’s true, but it obscures a larger truth: What mainly galls the public is the lack of observable progress, especially the inability to improve security in Iraq and beat back the insurgency. Such concerns are of a different order altogether from the protest posturing, softheaded moralizing and not-so-latent anti-Americanism that has animated much of the antiwar rank and file.
In other words, the antiwar movement remains hopelessly adrift from the American mainstream. When so much in foreign affairs seems unpredictable, that’s one constant to be thankful for.
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