American Taliban

by Daniel Patrick Welch

by email


Among recent media awareness of the burgeoning antiwar movement across the country, several items stick out. has released an antiwar ad to be shown on TV stations across the country, part of a grassroots campaign gone overboard. The group asked for enough money from supporters to launch a modest print ad, and wound up with enough for a nationwide TV campaign. Based on the 'Daisy' ad which has now become a classic in political advertising circles, the new ad warns against the inherent unpredictability of conflict, and the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. It is an impressive grassroots achievement, and a compelling visual and emotional statement.

I am glad, however, that the movement is beginning to move past the timid contradiction of narrowing its focus in order to broaden its appeal. "Let the Inspections Work," the main thrust of this campaign, is a simple, direct slogan aimed at mainstream support. And the threat of nuclear escalation is indeed a scary one. But ironically, though this particular ad fears this threat coming from 'extremists taking over countries with nuclear weapons,' most of the world already sees this as a fact: the extremists being the Bush administration and their nuclear first strike policy. In short, although poor Pogo must be sick of being paraphrased, they have met  the enemy, and he is us. Moreover, momentum is building for a broader appeal to Americans beyond their own obvious self-interest, toward a broader opposition to the destructive policies of a government gone off the deep end.

The fact is that even if it does 'end quickly,' (the best case scenario alluded to in the ads) an attack on Iraq will result in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, mass murder by any reasonable standard. Aside from the sheer inhumanity of such an act, Americans need to make opposition to this horrific disregard for human life a centerpiece of the opposition campaign. This is not only because it is wrong, which would be enough, but as a measure of self-interest as well. The main lesson of Vietnam for the war complex seems to be that keeping American casualties low gives a green light for action. The result has been an enormous increase in the disproportionality of deaths in later conflicts bordering on madness.

Even on the home front we have minimized the true effects of warfare. No draft is necessary (for now) and few leader's children will suffer the inevitable consequences of war. In this vein it was perfectly correct for Charlie Rangel (D-Harlem) to insist on debating the draft, as his constituents have always borne a disproportionate burden in the so-called 'volunteer army.' If we do not resist loudly and forcefully specifically on the basis that the value of other human life is equal to that of Americans, we risk facing a hatred and a distrust engendered by other maniacal regimes in history. This is no idle threat. Even mainstream politicians like Clinton have pointed out that the Indian and Chinese economies will zoom past ours in a few decades by mere demographic force. If we feel we must adopt a nationalist perspective to appeal to Americans as Americans, it is wise to point out that bullies who can't keep ahead (an economic and demographic certainty in our future) get beat up in the long run.

Focusing too narrowly on inspections in Iraq may miss a broader opportunity that, many of us feel, is really there. It goes without saying (except in the U.S.) that 'letting the inspections work' (the emphasis of the ads) is the correct course, because that is the course agreed on by the world community. Opposition along the lines I state here is simple logic and common sense, easily grasped even by most self-interested observers. Besides, UN resolution 1441, which justifies the inspections, was itself the result of a blackmail agreement to keep the U.S. warhawks at bay. Most human rights organizations seem to agree that the U.S. and British obsession with Iraq is just that--an obsession. The sanctions regime muscled through the UN by the U.S. (not to mention the no-fly zones not recognized by the international community) is a humanitarian disaster comparable to genocide (words actually used by UN officials).

Basing world policy on one well-contained potential prolifieration hotspot is not 'doing something for world peace' any more than attacking affirmative action is 'doing something about race relations' or than giving tax breaks to rich friends is 'doing something about the economy,' or than rounding up muslims is 'doing something about terrorism.' Such charades are pure, superficial cynicism, guided by the ugly and brazen self-interest of a small cabal who benefits from them. The transparency of their thinly disguised motives would be laughable if they weren't so dangerous. The administration itself barely tries to hide its lust for Iraq's oil and political and military control over the entire region. If one were truly concerned about world peace, proliferation itself is the enemy, coupled with the rapid advance of killing technology embraced by these same warmongers.

True danger can only be averted by global disarmament, starting with the truly insane WMD stockpiles of the U.S. and former USSR. Nuclear threats abound where there really are already functioning warheads--among the other nuclear state powers: China, Israel, France, Britain, India and Pakistan. Picking on an enemy you can easily beat neither solves the problem nor wins any friends.

The sad and graphic fact is that, as ordinary Americans, our hands are already covered in blood, and getting bloodier by the minute. This is not a difficult point to argue; nor are its component facts inaccessible to any American who cares to seek out the truth from sources beyond the nightly TV news. The time is right to raise the bar and oppose with greater stridency. We are rapidly becoming an international pariah, and our leaders aren't listening. Why would they? Americans who care are waking up to the fact that these are just not a particularly sane group of people. They can hardly be called 'conservatives', nor even radicals for that matter. They are fundamentalist loons, an American Taliban who has seized control of government and policy making apparatus-for whom fighting a holy war against condom use is actually a serious part of government policy. It is just not normal to spend thousands of dollars to cover up the statue of Lady Justice. I guess John Ashcroft thought Justice needed to be more modest-and if that's not a scary metaphor, I don't know what is.

These are zealots for whom science is an inconvenience whose conclusions can be scrubbed from government websites when they are politically inexpedient, and for whom dissent can be attacked as treason. Karl Rove and the other henchmen surrounding George Bush have no concern for their mandate. They were content to do whatever it took to gain power, and only the most blind among us can ignore the obvious fact that they will do anything to keep power. Dirty tricks are the only true science of this crowd, and in opposing them we can ill afford to tread lightly. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the world depends on it.


Daniel Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School.

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