In 1972, after many years of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers
whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg wrote: "In that time, I have seen it first
as a problem; then as a stalemate; then as a crime."
That aptly describes three key American perspectives now brought to bear on
US involvement in Iraq.
The moral clarity and political impacts of Cindy Sheehan’s vigil in Crawford
are greatly enhanced by a position that she is taking: US troops should not
be in Iraq.
Sheehan’s position does not only clash directly with President Bush’s policy,
which he reiterated on Thursday: "Pulling the troops out would send a terrible
signal to the enemy." Her call for complete withdrawal of US troops from
Iraq also amounts to a firm rejection of the ongoing stance from Howard Dean,
the head of the national Democratic Party, who told a Minneapolis audience on
April 20: "Now that we’re there, we’re there and we can’t get out."
Loyal supporters of the Bush policy in Iraq may express misgivings, but they
have an outlook that views the faraway war as a fixable "problem."
Dean, the Democratic National Committee chair, has opted to stick to a calibrated
partisan line of attack that endorses the essence of the war in real time. "The
president has created an enormous security problem for the US where none existed
before," Dean said in Minneapolis. "But I hope the president is incredibly
successful with his policy now that he’s there."
Of course, the idea that Bush could be "incredibly successful with his
policy now" in Iraq is the stuff of fantasy. But it’s the kind of politician-speak
that makes a preposterous statement because it seems like a good media tactic.
That’s what most Democratic Party officials on the national stage, and some
activists who should know better, are still doing. They’re the rough equivalent
of those who, like Ellsberg for a time four decades ago, mainly regretted that
the war was "a stalemate." Objections to the war along that line depict
it as a quagmire.
But the US war effort in Iraq is not a quagmire. It is what Daniel Ellsberg
came to realize the Vietnam War was: "a crime."
Cindy Sheehan – and many other people who have joined her outside the presidential
gates in Crawford, and millions of other Americans – understand that. And they’re
willing to say so. They have rejected not only the rabid militarism of the Bush
administration but also the hollowed-out pseudo-strategic abdication of moral
responsibility so well articulated by Howard Dean.
On Thursday, in his transparent attempt to halt the momentum of the vigil led
by Cindy Sheehan, the president spoke to journalists and repeated his usual
rationales. Along the way, Bush provided a singsong catchphrase of the sort
that political consultants are paid big bucks to script: "As Iraqis stand
up, we will stand down." It all added up to insistence on war and more
war. "Pulling troops out prematurely," he said, "will betray
the Iraqis." But Bush got his scripted syntax inverted when he made the
mistake of saying something that rang true: "Obviously, the conditions
on the ground depend upon our capacity to bring troops home."
While Bush sees the war as a problem and Dean bemoans it as a stalemate, Sheehan
refuses to evade the truth that it is a crime. And the analysis that came from
Daniel Ellsberg in 1972, while the Vietnam War continued, offers vital clarity
today: "Each of these perspectives called for a different mode of personal
commitment: a problem, to help solve it; a stalemate, to help extricate ourselves
with grace; a crime, to expose and resist it, to try to stop it immediately,
to seek moral and political change."
Norman Solomon is the author of the new book War Made Easy: How Presidents
and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. For information, go to: www.WarMadeEasy.com.