Making nothing happen


The "Poets Against the War" movement is part of a long-standing tradition of the American intellectual community in resisting the hegemonic tendencies of the federal administration, particularly in military matters -- think Vietnam.

The intellectual movement has failed to connect the US populace with global culture

Frankly I doubt if many of the poets really care about the Iraqi people per se: their main concern is with an ascendent hawkish Republican administration who is prepared to push through its right-leaning agenda (which includes anti-abortion policies, tax cuts for the wealthy, scaling down on environmental efforts and what its own intellectuals see as neo-imperialist ambitions of replacing one regime with another in order to gain territorial, economic and geopolitical benefits in the Middle East). It's more about "Hell no we won't go" than about saving the poor Iraqi people, whom they see as backward uncivilised pagans without Harvard PhDs (and I was shocked to find that this viewpoint was not hyperbole but a deeply held assumption of several liberal intellectuals I encountered). It's more about not being able to say their piece, really.

When I was in the US last year the community of global writers were all wondering why no one was speaking up or doing anything about stopping the nascent war effort (no mention of UN inspectors then, just war and finding a place to hit first). The assumption was that if it came down to it, something would be done by some academic or else campuses would stage sit-ins and strikes and "that would really teach them". The naivete we encountered was appalling.

Accordingly, the intellectual community is predictably resorting to tired old methods of protest -- letters. Petitions. Ads in newspapers. None of it has worked or is going to work. The White House is prepared to send millions in military spending and the lives of its own men and women into war. What's a few thousand signatures going to do? None of these writers or intellectuals are going to jump ship; which of them are going to leave their grants and comfortable tenures and publishing deals to move to Baghdad anytime soon?

The liberal intellectual movement in the US has failed; locked as it is into a university system which derives its funding from the forces it seeks to subvert. It has failed to stop the administration from making preparations for war all the way since Sep 11 till today. The present "Showdown on Iraq" crisis is a TV network invention; in truth, the buildup has been taking place over the past year or so with the US paying no heed to UN resolutions until it suited their purposes to call the moral card.

The intellectual movement has failed to connect the US populace with global culture in a way that would make it impossible to demonise or ignore the middle east or any other culture to the extent that it has (case in point, the comic book polemic, WWF quality of the terminology in public currency: "Axis of evil"; "Showdown in Iraq"). Unfortunately, they have woken up too late (if at all) to the fact that they have allowed the US to gaze at its own navel for too long, and the entire culture has drifted so far right of the rest of the world that it is losing its most important allies and markets. China seems moderate in relation to the US now.

It's really not about disarmament -- Israel is known to probably have weapons of mass destruction; North Korea is further along the line than Iraq and has oppressed its people for decades -- and the wave of terrorism world-wide has clearly demonstrated that those bent on mass destruction do NOT rely on sophisticated weaponry but instead on cunning, resourceful planning and low-tech materials, turning the world's technology against itself. Al-Qaeda with a plastic knife has done far more damage than Saddam's proto-nukes, imagined or otherwise.

In such an environment, where malignant forces are underground and pervasive, surely the sensible counter-measure is increased, not decreased global corporation and co-operation; not to mention a climate of enhanced transparency and resolute camaraderie between civilised nations, rather than the hawkish instinct for war that for better or worse can only lead to greater resentment and a spiral of hatred. If the US had clear evidence (and Powell admits they have been watching for at least a dozen years), then how come this was not made available to UN inspectors ahead of time so that they can complete their duly appointed tasks?

It's clear they could have raised the red flag of Iraq at ANY TIME, probably in the past decade or so. The White House wants war NOW because (1) it has no idea how (else) to fix the economy (2) it would benefit the military-industrial establishment that keeps the Republican war chest filled (3) It's a convenient and very effective distraction from domestic woes (4) Americans vote the incumbent when there's a war going on and the presidential race for 2004 of course has already begun. (5) Oil.

It may be pertinent to remember that there's really only been one nation in history who has used the power of a nuclear weapon on another and that nation is not disarming anytime soon, I'm afraid.

No evidence has been presented of a clear and present (ie. immediate) danger even if Saddam does have weapons (and he is no doubt keen to acquire or build them if he could, as with many regimes around the world). No evidence has been presented to the effect that Saddam intends to use any weapon of mass destruction it has or may come to possess in a direct, hostile attack on the US or its allies within the immediate future.

Sure, we don't want to hand a gangster a gun; but there are others out there in the meanwhile who already have guns and are not afraid to use them: The struggle in Afghanistan is still ongoing, as recent casulties indicate, yet little has been done to stabilise the new regime there nor to sustain the rebuilding of a genuine potential ally in the region. There is no push towards a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which causes real and frequent hardships to all involved. Saudi Arabia has been suggested as a seminal export source of the intellectual and financial framework necessary for fundamentalist terrorism. Humanitarian aid to the region remains poorly maintained, and it doesn't help that the US is willing to spend tons on guns but not on paying its UN dues, nor accede to the War Crimes tribunal's jurisdiction over its troops.

Nevertheless, the US has made it clear that it will pursue war with Iraq even if it has to "go it alone". Naturally it is politic for it to at least pay lip service to world opinion vis a vis the UN, a move predicted months ago. World opinion, and I'm afraid the opinion of the American people, mean very little to this White House's intentions.

On a more sombre note, the notion of "anticipatory self-defence" is problematic. It has come to be taken as potential justification for sanctions and military intervention against any state which is unwilling or unable to root out and disarm all real and suspected agents of terror within their borders beyond the shadow of the US's doubt. It could mean bombing the hell out of Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta and Mindanao as plausible (even probable) stopover points and supply line nodes for Al-Qaeda and its associates. I don't think we'd hesitate to sign a petition to stop that military action. Not that it would do much good.

© alvin pang
clm : rvw : esy : rfl