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March 19, 2003

Eric Alterman:
For me, the antiwar movement such as it was, is over. We lost. It’s time to wish the best for our soldiers and the victims of this war and focus on building a better future.
That sounds like the new liberal project to me. Alternately, of course, there’s always being consumed by bitterness. Far be it from me to deny the fun potential there. But on balance I tend to think that working with the world as it is offers the greatest opportunity to do good for actual living humans. What do you think? [11:37 PM]
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Comments on Eric Alterman::

Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 11:51 PM:

Yes. But may I first feel sad for all the people who are going to die? And then may I go reread _A Deepness in the Sky_ to escape from war, terror, biocontrol, nuclear war, and betrayal?

Atrios ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 11:51 PM:

personally I get tired of being called a traitor.

Damien Warman ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 12:11 AM:

Yes indeed, support the quietly professional troops, hope for a speedy resolution with a minimum of deaths, and then work like hell towards reconstruction, holding governments to promises of aid and restoration, and GET OUT THE VOTE.
This is as true for Australia, whence I came and to which I shall return, as it is for the US.

Work hard to prevent the succesful waging of a short limited war being used as electioneering capital for a mendacious and awful goverrment.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 12:33 AM:

Anybody who calls the American patriot who writes as "Atrios" a "traitor" had better be ready to justify themselves.

robert west ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 12:51 AM:

Absolutely. Continuing to fight the last battle is pointless; it is far better to move on. But that knowledge won't keep me from watching in horror while the scene unfolds.

Mr Ripley ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 01:37 AM:

I've been a little uneasy for a while with Alterman's statements on this issue; hence I'm glad he put "the antiwar movement, such as it was" in there and made it clear that he was talking about the project to prevent the war from happening as it has/is. I didn't see the movement as resting only on the possibility of preventing the war, however hopefully and intensely we tried. The project of continuing to oppose the conduct of the war (particularly if it's conducted as horribly as we were promised it would be) and to expose its consequences is central to the construction of that better future: as people on threads herein have been remarking, it has to be done with the goal of persuading and informing people, rather than celebrating our outrage and bitterness (although there are discussion fora where one can do that too, I think; and creative celebrations are always exciting to read). So I'll try to resist the temptation just to watch, and instead to share my horror in an informed manner when I can. I think we can count on the liberal blogosphere to do the same.

I guess I'm stating the obvious here, but that's one of your readers' answers to "What do you think?" at this tense moment.

Oh, I also think that anyone who flames Atrios is beneath contempt.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 02:00 AM:

But on balance I tend to think that working with the world as it is offers the greatest opportunity to do good for actual living humans. What do you think?

I have always said you don't get anywhere in this world by denying the facts. (One former boyfriend said I had the most iron grip on reality he'd ever seen. He didn't mean it as a compliment, but...) However much you hate them, facts are facts. When you lose, you evaluate what happened, where you went wrong, or perhaps whether you ever had a chance, and move on.

I think we need a 2 pronged attack from here: watch-dogging the conduct of the war and reconstruction and getting people we trust and believe in elected next year. If things go really well for the Bushies in Iraq, that could be a very uphill battle, but it's one we've got to wage. We musn't let them take our country and keep it. I intend to donate both money and time to that particular war.


will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 02:09 AM:

I confess, I don't understand what Alterman means. The war has begun. The need for peace has not gone away. We haven't prevented this war. But we can still try to lessen it. We can still let the world know that not all Americans believe that if you can't solve a problem before the weather turns warm, you should begin bombing. Should the war protesters in '63 all have gone home to wait for the Vietnam War to end?

Bitterness is entirely beside the point. If you're tired, rest. But don't give up.

I'll be out protesting tomorrow.

And my apologies if I'm being really thick and missing Alterman's joke.

N in Seattle ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 02:13 AM:

In one of my fits of ennui during the long buildup, I suggested that they should go to war right away, in order to get it over and done with. Then Dubya and his minions could no longer hide behind the flagwaving, leaving the complete mess they've made of all things domestic, judicial, economic, environmental, etc. plainly visible for all to see. In the light of day, perhaps, the disastrous policies and fundamentalist ideology being pursued by the Bushmen might finally make their way into the consciousness of the voters of 2004.

will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 02:21 AM:

Oh, I should probably say what I meant by "protesting." I'll be standing in a public place with a black armband. I may have a candle, or maybe a sign with a message that's not humorous or mean-spirited, something simple like "Peace on Earth." I don't know exactly. If there are other protesters who get angry or violent, I'll point out to them that this is a time to be solemn, not a time to rage, that violence is what we're opposing. All we need to say now is that we don't approve of this war, no matter how well or badly it goes.

Alantex ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 02:29 AM:

One of the points we have been making about the idiocy of Bush's warmongering has been the possibility, perhaps even likelihood, of America's unprovoked invasion of Iraq causing de-stabilization of one or more middle-eastern governments. The scariest is, of course, Pakistan which has nuclear weapons and missiles capable of delivering them over considerable distances. Much may happen there and in other nations while the world's attention is focused on Iraq. If militant fundamentalists should seize power there, a whole new ball game commences.

However brief and hopefully bloodless the U.S. attack on Iraq may be, that war may only be the beginning of the bloodshed.

--k. ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 02:47 AM:

There's this and that to quibble with in what Dr. Robert Muller said (and I'm sure this has made the rounds, but it bears repeating in light of what Eric Alterman has said), but the core truth of what he said obtains, and is something to keep in mind tonight and on into tomorrow and here on out:

"'We are not at war,' he kept saying. We, the world community, are waging peace. It is difficult, hard work. It is constant and we must not let up. It is working and it is an historic milestone of immense proportions.. It has never happened before--never in human history--and it is happening now--every day every hour--waging peace through a global conversation. He pointed out that the conversation questioning the validity of going to war has gone on for hours, days, weeks, months and now more than a year, and it may go on and on."

To say we have lost because the bombs have started falling is to mistake the fight we were in. (The war had been going for days already, or weeks, or months, or years, depending on how you want to count it. Decades, but we're stretching things there.) And it is to risk losing our hold on the marvellously strange and powerful thing that's flopping about in its birth throes in the world right now. We've just gotten started, dammit.

(And of course there's a bitter edge to it, as I sit here typing this into a tangerine iBook on a quiet Wednesday night after watching a moderately okay episode of Angel, sipping my bourbon; there's a bitter edge as I wonder how Raed and Salaam are doing, and where they are, and I go and click on the link and find out there's been nothing new posted since 6:40 AM local time. It's easy to say "Fight on" and "We have only just begun" and "Never again" from here, and natter about emergent this and self-organizing revolutionary that. Bitter buzzwords and bitter promises, but they're what's going to help me sleep tonight.

(Well, them, and the bourbon.)

"It has never happened before--never in human history." Okay. It's our job now to make sure it always happens again. Here on out. Always.

That's a struggle I'm up for.

Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 10:19 AM:

Something I noticed this morning: our local Clear Channel gungho Clinton-hating Bush-loving rock DJs called last night's bombing a "non-event". You should have heard the disappointment in their voices. Bush's drumbeaters were looking forward to a movie with lots of cool FX. If he fails to deliver guts and glory now, he's toast. They won't give a damn if it is sandstorms keeping our choppers on the ground. The weather never stops the good guys in the movies.

If the weather refuses to cooperate, this will be what Bush/Rummy feared all along and why they fought so hard to destroy the diplomacy. They knew time was running out. Perhaps time already ran out. Bush is probably on the phone right now, screaming for them to crank up the HAARP waves over Iraq.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 10:27 AM:

Y'know, if you're expecting the Bush administration to admit it's made a mess of domestic policy, it could be you'll have a very long wait indeed, since so far as can be told from a distance, their own view of their domestic policy is that they've made a good start.

Never lose track of self interest; in what way is it in the self interest of your interlocutor to oppose war in Iraq? (Or a kleptocratic reconstruction, or anything else you oppose.)

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 11:09 AM:

I oppose on principle waging an aggressive war against a sovereign nation without true provocation; it's my line in the sand, if you will, regardless of context. I feel we did something fundamentally immoral by invading Iraq, and I feel the need to continue to be outspoken about that. I'm gravely concerned at how we are abandoning multilateralism in so many ways.

But I agree that this is a time not to rage but to light a candle for peace, to pray for our soldiers, our people and theirs, and to adapt to conditions as they are. Let's get out the vote for a president who will play by the rules of international law.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 12:46 PM:

Will Shetterly's puzzlement is also mine. Alterman's post reads to me as if he's saying it's a waste of time to protest now, but his headline on the post is "Peace Never Had a Chance," which suggests he realizes what I also believe to be true, that Bush had already made up his mind irrevocably, and no protesters were going to stop him at any point. Never mind Chirac, if his "good buddy" Putin couldn't persuade him to stop, how could we?

I'm not going to wish our troops ill: if nothing else, that would only prolong the war and increase suffering for the Iraqis too.

But that will not prevent me from objecting to the war with great vehemence. It may be inevitable, but it's been inevitable for some time. And nothing says I have to like it, and nothing says I have to shut up about it.

But I also agree with Howard Dean that we should focus on what happens afterwards - which indeed we've been doing before. One of the main anti-war arguments is that Afghanistan shows that the administration has no interest in the necessary follow-up.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 01:13 PM:

Man, a lot of people seem to have taken Alterman's remark as a call for quietism, and an occasion to insist they WILL TOO keep protesting this war, SO THERE.

Gee, me too.

I thought Alterman was making a perfectly sensible point about where the ball is now, not urging people to shut up and stay home. Exactly how plausible is that latter interpretation?

Alex Steffen ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 01:49 PM:

I think we need a 2 pronged attack from here: watch-dogging the conduct of the war and reconstruction and getting people we trust and believe in elected next year.

Yes. Exactly. Don't mourn, organize. We need not just a victory in 2004, but a fundamental shift in direction. There's plenty still to be done, even if we couldn't stop the war.

Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 02:28 PM:

I guess I don't see the point of holding candlelight vigils to protest the war anymore. It's here already. I am too damn practical, my time is limited, and I won't flog a dead horse. Too many other things to do.

I see the point in praying, and demanding that all our soldiers get decent treatment (including disability and medical treatment when appropriate, unlike some other wars), and in preparing for a hard campaign for 2004. I realize this may sound callous, but the budget is something the conscientous can still affect, if we act quickly. Congress, for those who don't know, may not include the war in the budget *at all* (see, for example, yesterday's "Fantasy Budget" editorial on the Washington post webiste). I think this kind of madness will further sink our beleagured economy, hurt the poor and middle class, limit our options for dealing with N Korea, ad infinitum.

Am I furious about the war in Iraq? Yes.

But my options to affect the war's outcome are limited. So I intend to put my actions where they will do the most good. I will praise the military for being more sane than the presidency (so far, they seem to be truly making an effort to limit civilian casualties and generally be guys in white hats). I will vote (and campaign) for people who might get elected (i.e., a R or D) who will limit the patriot act, who will pursue diplomacy, who will remember that the economy isn't perfect right right now, who believes in things like habeus corpus, and so on.


David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 03:18 PM:

I agree with Alterman. If you want something to protest, protest the under-the-table doling-out of the postwar reconstruction contracts to the likes of Brown & Root. Protest the Administration's decision to negotiate the postwar cost of invading Iraq with their business buddies and major donors when they won't even give an estimate to Congress. Protest the way we're allowing military contractors to behave in Bosnia, and insist that it doesn't happen in Iraq. Protest the Administration's ridiculous estimates of how long reconstruction will take and how much it will cost. It's too late to stop the Administration from going to war, but it may not be too late to stop them from mismanaging the peace.

--k. ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 03:55 PM:

Well, I wasn't quibbling so much with what it was he was trying to say as how he went about saying it: "For me, the antiwar movement such as it was, is over. We lost. It’s time to wish the best for our soldiers and the victims of this war and focus on building a better future." --It's a good sentiment, a fine sentiment, wishing the best for our soldiers and victims and working to build the best we can with what we've got, but it's kicked off with a punchy line, a dose of rhetoric intended to act like a splash of cold water to wake you up and get your attention, but to me one that misses what I'd thought at any rate was the point of all of this hullaballoo: if it was only ever to stop this particular war, right here, right now, then we lost 12 years ago; we lost last year; we lost last month; we're going to keep losing. If the point was to demonstrate who we are and how many we are and what we know to be true, to climb behind the wheel of this weird new contraption made up of samizdata and instant world-wide communication and photos of defiance from Antarctica and butterfly-wing rhetoric ripped from the seat of one's pants on a coffee break and tossed out into the echo chamber and figure out how it all might best work to our advantage, to flex new muscles and see what good we can do with them, well, I think we're off to something of a start. We slowed them down. We surprised them. Even when it seemed like no one was listening we kept calling them on their shit and if in the end we couldn't avert--the bombing, the invasion, the madness--it's because we were up against madmen, people whose grasp on reality is far more tenuous than mine. (And I'm a woolly-headed dreamer and a starry-eyed idealist. So.)

--All of which, of course, is a dose of a different sort of rhetoric. None of this is to say Alterman is wrong, or that I intended whatever it was I said to be in defiance of him or reality or something. Nor is it intended to imply that there aren't plenty of people in the anti-war movement who maybe thought it was indeed about stopping this war, here and now, and because we didn't it's time to stop and fall back and wait until next time. (Or that I myself had a hard time spotting the ball sometimes.) --Which isn't what Alterman's saying either, no; he's saying don't stop, don't fall back, don't wait until next time even though we lost. I'm quibbling over airy nonsense here. Words, just words, and there's stuff that needs doing. (Of course, sometimes all I have are my words...)

"We lost. It's over." That just doesn't ring true to me. Call me woolly-headed and starry-eyed in the face of shocking and awful reality, but that's not the point and that's not how I feel and that's not what I want to go out into the world doing and saying. We're just getting started. There's a lot of next steps to take (as evidenced throughout this thread). --I should maybe go find one.

Bill Higgins ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 07:15 PM:


Will Shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 08:42 PM:

I found a quote from Cesar Chavez that helps me understand why I was so baffled by Alterman. Chavez said, "There is no such thing as defeat in nonviolence."

Peace isn't for wimps. I realize that if I was to talk with Alterman, I'd probably find that we don't disagree essentially. But I'd ask him to rethink saying we lost. To borrow a phrase from someone who was no pacifist, we have not yet begun to struggle.

I was at a vigil today. Carried a sign saying "Peace on Earth." About 35 people participated, but maybe 200 drove or walked by, flashing the peace sign, honking, smiling like idiots. I was expecting solemnity. But the casualities have not begun to mount. Tomorrow is Bisbee's weekly vigil; It will probably be much quieter in tone.

Oh, I think the smiles came from relief that they were not alone, that it's okay to call for peace even now. I know that's why I was smiling.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 08:43 PM:

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see a significant difference in *opinion* here. What I see is a difference in *emotion*.

Some are feeling -- while not happy about events -- in general pragmatic, and ready to move on to the next phase. Others need to acknowledge a sense of loss or anger before moving on.

I agree that it will affect strategy in the short term. In the long term... probably not.


M. ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 07:43 AM:

You know that metaphoric scene in Godfather II where the "businessmen" and corporate reps are at a get-together in Havana and someone brings out a cake shaped like Cuba and gives them all a slice?

Does anyone NOT expect that sort of thing to happen in Iraq?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 01:45 PM:

I have a lot of respect for Cesar Chavez, but "there is no such thing as defeat in nonviolence" is not really a very useful guide to tactics.

It's a nice call to personal virtue, but it doesn't do much to protect those around us, who may well feel, and with reason, that there are lots of forms of defeat in nonviolence, some of which are extremely unpleasant and won't be recovered from.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 01:48 PM:

Patrick wrote, "Man, a lot of people seem to have taken Alterman's remark as a call for quietism."

Add to our number Tom Tomorrow, who posted the same Alterman quote on his weblog with the comment, "Eric Alterman has tossed in the towel."