" 'Harry, what the hell are you doing campaigning for that crippled son-of-a-bitch that killed my son Joe?' [Joseph P.] Kennedy said, referring to his oldest son, who had died in the war. Kennedy went on, saying Roosevelt had caused the war. Truman, by his later account, stood all he could, then told Kennedy to keep quiet or he would throw him out the window."
-- "Truman," by David McCullough, Page 328.
A large number of Americans feel deep and understandable unease about the war in Iraq and want nothing more than to pull out. But the antiwar movement is singularly disserved by its leadership, such as it is. Its de facto leader is Cindy Sheehan, who catapulted herself into that role by quite brilliantly exploiting the media's hunger for political news during the August recess and by wrapping herself in the courage of her son Casey, who died in Iraq.
Her loss and grief deserve sympathy and respect. However, Sheehan believes that they entitle her to special standing in opposing a war in which her son served, about which he (as far as we know) expressed no misgivings, and for which he indeed reenlisted.
Maureen Dowd of the New York Times claims that Sheehan's "moral authority" on the war is "absolute." This is obtuse. Sheehan's diatribes against George Bush -- "lying bastard"; "filth-spewer and warmonger"; "biggest terrorist in the world" -- have no more moral standing than Joseph Kennedy's vilification of Franklin Roosevelt. And if Sheehan speaks with absolute moral authority, then so does Diane Ibbotson -- and the other mothers who have lost sons in Iraq yet continue to support the mission their sons died for and bitterly oppose Sheehan for discrediting it.
The antiwar movement has found itself ill served by endowing absolute moral authority on a political radical who demanded that American troops leave not just Iraq but "occupied New Orleans." Who blames Israel for her son's death. Who complained that the news media went "100 percent rita" -- "a little wind and a little rain" -- rather than covering other things in the world, meaning her.
Most tellingly, Sheehan demands withdrawal not just from Iraq but also from Afghanistan, a war that is not only just by every possible measure but also remarkably successful. The mainstream opposition view of Iraq is that, while deposing the murderous Saddam Hussein was a moral and even worthy cause, the enterprise was misconceived and/or bungled, too ambitious and unwinnable, and therefore not worth expending more American lives. That is not Sheehan's view. Like the hard left in the Vietnam War, she declares the mission itself corrupt and evil: The good guys are the "freedom fighters" -- the very ones who, besides killing thousands of Iraqi innocents, killed her son, too.
You don't build a mass movement on that. Nor on antiwar rallies like the one last weekend in Washington, organized and run by a front group for the Workers World Party. The WWP is descended from Cold War Stalinists who found other communists insufficiently rigorous for refusing to support the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Thus a rally ostensibly against war is run by a group that supported the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, the massacre in Tiananmen Square, and a litany of the very worst mass murderers of our time, including Slobodan Milosevic, Hussein and Kim Jong Il. You don't seize the moral high ground in America with fellow travelers such as these.
For all the Vietnam nostalgia at the Washington march, things are different today. In Vietnam it could never be plausibly argued that Ho Chi Minh was training commandos to bring down skyscrapers in New York. Today, however, Americans know that this is precisely what our jihadist enemies have pledged to do.
Moreover, Vietnam offered a seeming middle way between immediate withdrawal on the one hand and staying the course on the other: negotiations, which in the end did take place. Today there is no one to negotiate with, no middle ground, not even an apparent plausible compromise. The only choices are to succeed in establishing a self-sufficient, democratic Iraq or to call an abject retreat that not only gives Iraq over to the tender mercies of people who specialize in blowing up innocents but also makes it a base of operations for worldwide jihad.
The very fact that Cindy Sheehan and her WWP comrades are so enthusiastic for the latter outcome tells you how difficult it will be to turn widespread discontent about the war into a mainstream antiwar movement.
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