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Keeping Hope Alive (The Nation, March 25)
War In Iraq Special Report
War In Iraq Transcripts
Talk: World News message boards
Live Online Transcripts

NEW! Subscribe to the weekly Live Online E-Mail Newsletter and receive the weekly schedule, highlights and breaking news event alerts in your mailbox.


War In Iraq: Antiwar Movement
With William D. Hartung
World Policy Institute at The New School

Friday, March 28, 2003; 11 a.m. ET

William D. Hartung, president's fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School, recently wrote that "antiwar voices may be muted in the mainstream media as our loyal press corps covers the Iraq war as if it were a sporting event, focusing solely on tactical issues and 'who's winning,' not on whether it was necessary to go to war to disarm Iraq in the first place."

Hartung was online Friday, March 28 at 11 a.m. ET, to discuss the future of the antiwar movement.

Hartung, an expert on the arms trade and military spending, is the director of the Institute's Arms Trade Project. His articles on the arms trade and the economics of defense spending have appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, The Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, World Policy Journal and numerous other publications.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.



Washinton, D.C.: How do you compare the current antiwar movement with past antiwar movements?

William D. Hartung: I'm going to start early, because there are some questions lined up already.

I'm not a historian of anti-war movements, although some of my colleagues are. I was around for the end of the anti-Vietnam war movement, the anti-apartheid and Central America solidarity movements of the 1970s and 1980s, and the "movements" (if you can call them that -- they were more like "networks") of people concerned about the first Gulf War, the wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and so forth.
So I have some personal perspectives to draw upon.

The key feature of the new anti-war movement is that it has gotten quite large AND gone global in a very short time. I was at a demonstration of high school students in Manhattan last fall, sponsored by Not In Our Name. One thousand kids showed up, from all kinds of schools -- public, private, from all neighborhoods, and all major ethnic/racial backgrounds. That was my first inkling that something new and exciting might be happening.

The second thing that has heartened me about this new movement is that although it grew rather quickly -- via internet organizing the excellent work of United For Peace and Justice (www.uniteforpeace.org), moveon.org, and the Win Without War coalition -- it is not a "short-term" phenomenon. My friends and I calculate that there were on the order of 300,000 to 500,000 people marching in Manhattan last week-end, just a few days after the bombing started. That didn't happen in the first Gulf War, and there's a reason for that: last time, it was about driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, with full United Nations backing and ample financial help from allies. This time, it's about the dubious concept of "preemptive" regime change (it's not REALLY preemptive, since no one maintains that Saddam Hussein had imminent plans to attack the United States), which is a Pandora's box. If the strongest countries get to decide which regimes get "changed" and which ones get aid and comfort, we could quickly degenerate into a Hobbesian, "all against all" version of global politics. THAT's why the global opposition to this war is so strong, NOT because anybody has one iota of sympathy for Saddam Hussein.


Wheaton, Md.: Thank you for using the term "antiwar activists" instead of "peace activists." I'm always bothered when the media labels the supporters of Saddam Hussein and his genocide and terror as "peace activists." Anyone who truly believes in peace supports the removal of this tyrant.

William D. Hartung: My choice of terms wasn't as careful as you imply, but I like the distinction you make. I gave a talk yesterday to a group of students from the London School of Economics. They were in New York for their spring break. One of the students (a very BRIGHT bunch of kids, most of whom are far better educated than I am), an Israel-American woman studying in London at the moment, said something like the following: how can you have a peace movement when the world isn't at peace? How can you talk about the war "destabilizing" the region when LEAVING SADDAM HUSSEIN IN POWER is also destabilizing? And why don't any of the peace marchers have realistic alternatives for dealing with Saddam Hussein and other dangerous leaders? Her point was well taken, although I think her view of the anti-war movement is a bit of a caricature. Organizations like Win Without War, chaired by former Maine Congressman Tom Andrews, have articulated very clear, workable alternatives to war. So has the Fourth Freedom Forum (www.fourthfreedom.org). But I accept the student's larger point. In my view, the anti-war movement needs to be a "big tent," that includes essentially the entire political spectrum from moderate Republicans of the Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker mold, to progressive Democrats, Greens, and independents. And a good part of that movement will be folks who are NOT pacifists, who believe in "humanitarian intervention" and the use of force against tyrants, but who object to the WAY the Bush administration is going about this -- unilaterally, leaving a trail of damaged relationships in their tracks like a bunch of high school frat boys out on a joy ride. To see a more detailed sense of my view on this you can check out an op-ed I did just before the war started, on the "High Cost of Going It Alone." It was published in Newsday, and you can find it on our web site at www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms, if you click on "recent news coverage."


Palm Springs, Calif.: When I turn on the TV, it seems that every network is wrapping itself in the flag, and I see the polls that say that most Americans support this campaign. But when I ask the mostly conservative Senior Citizens who are my neighbors here, not one of them is openly supporting this war. Most are skeptical and don't believe this war is worth the risks, or the loss of lives.

They are not antiwar activists, but they are against the war. They don't believe Saddam represented any imminent threat to world or the region. With each day that seems more and more obvious, as we see what little they have in the manner of even conventional weapons let alone this hyped bugaboo of WMD.

With each day, I can see more and more people turning against this war. But I do not see any of this sentiment expressed on TV. May growing antiwar sentiment catch the networks unawares?

William D. Hartung: The networks are being caught a bit off guard. History has speeded up, the American people aren't the same complacent folks who shrugged off the Florida election fiasco just a few years ago. There are also commercial and ideological currents that impact on coverage. First, we have the Fox News effect. Rupert Murdoch has managed to package a very entertaining, very conservative set of pundits (Bill O'Reilly being the "best" or "worst" example, depending on how you view him) that has put CNN and MSNBC on the run. Rather than try to build a progressive niche, MSNBC has dumped Phil Donahue and gone for Michael Savage, a rabid nationalist of the worst sort. And you may recall that CNN had a brief dalliance with Rush Limbaugh (yikes!). These "trends" are not irreversible, if people take responsibility for their own media intake. With the internet, we can read papers and independent analyses from all over the world, so we really can't just "blame the media" for not knowing more about war and peace issues. I regularly visit www.commondreams.org, www.TomPaine.com, and www.alternet.org for alternative news and commentary. The trick is going to be how to get a "critical mass" of voters who will take the time and make the effort to educate themselves on these issues, and not just accept what the TV "spews out."


Glenmont, Md.: Why is it that so many in the media side with Saddam Hussein over George Bush as if Bush is Hitler and Hussein is Gandi? Do these so-called liberals really not know the difference between good and evil?

William D. Hartung: I know of very few liberals who are "siding" with Saddam Hussein. They are questioning whether a unilateral war, without explicit UN authorization, without many allies to share the costs and the risks, and without having given the inspections process time to work, is the best way to deal with Saddam Hussein. Search for "Win Without War" on the web, and you will find a clear, tough progressive position on how to deal with Saddam Hussein.


Portland, Maine: Mr. Hartung, thank you for being here this morning. What are your thoughts about the anti-semitic undertones in many recent antiwar rallies?

William D. Hartung: Anything that divides us will undermine the anti-war movement. However, I think you need to distinguish between anti-Semitism, which certainly exists in the anti-war movement and throughout our society (even, may I dare say it, at high levels in our own government), and sentiments favoring a Palestinian state, which have been in evidence at many anti-war rallies. If you want a thoughtful explication of how it is possible to be pro-Israel, pro-Jewish, and anti- the war with Iraq, take a look at the work of Rabbi Michael Lerner and his magazine, Tikkun. He has tangled with some of the ultra-left elements of the anti-war movement, but he remains active against the war because he thinks a unilateral war against Hussein is bad for Israel, bad for the Jewish diaspora, and bad for prospects of building a better world that conforms to the best traditions of Judaism.


Laramie, Wy.: Hi Mr. Hartung,

Until recently, I lived in Washington D.C., and witnessed many of the anti-globalization tactics. Although many of my friends and colleagues were sympathetic to issues associated with the anti-globalization movement, they were turned off by the tactics of the movement. For instance, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence had plans to form chains around metro stations, preventing people from getting to work.

The shutting-down-the-city tactic seems to have been taken up by the antiwar movement; for instance, the recent protest in San Francisco seemed to have this goal.

I'm against the war and the new U.S unilataralism. But I believe the antiwar is at risk of annoying people so much that they will not oppose the war. I can't see how someone who is stuck in traffic for several hours or can't make it to work will suddenly have a revelation and oppose the war; instead, I imagine this would make them dislike the antiwar movement.

What do you think the antiwar movement should do?

William D. Hartung: The issue of tactics -- resistance versus "revolution," as some folks might have said in the "1960s"(which, according to Abbie Hoffman, lasted from 1968 to 192=72), or civil disobedience versus community building and public education as the debate may be framed now -- is always tough when you have a diverse, growing movement. There's no Central Committee to say "thou shalt not do civil disobedience." People just need to have honest arguments about what will be most effective. My own view is that civil disobedience is NOT going to shut down this country, so it should just be one tactic among many. As long as it is done thoughtfully, like the folks who were arrested at the US Mission to the UN on St. Patrick's Day, I think civil disobedience can "inspire the faithful" and help build a movement. If you end up with kids scuffling with the cops, like we had after the March 22nd march in New York, that can detract from the larger message of the movement. The watchword should be tactical creativity -- vigils, house meetings, teach-ins, pushing resolutions through professional and business groups, mustering our VOTING POWER to make sure that this unilateral war will be the last one inflicted on us by the Bush administration -- these are the kinds of tactics that make sense to me. But if you're friends are into civil disobedience, you're probably not going to change their minds -- just find an outlet for activism and "speaking truth to power" that makes sense to you, and fits with your values and your judgment of what will be effective.


New York, N.Y.: Are there any new methods for protest being used now?

William D. Hartung: I don't know if anything is truly new under the sun, but there are a number of things being done now that wouldn't have been possible without the internet. The coordinated demonstrations where millions of folks in scores of countries turn out on the same day with the same thematic messages certainly wouldn't have been possible so readily pre-Internet. The ability of groups like Moveon.org to raise tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars from small contributors to support peace candidates and peace ads would not have been possible; nor would their ability to get hundreds of thousands of people around the world to sign petitions urging the members of the UN Security Council to give the inspections a chance to work.


Oklahoma: Good morning. My local paper was a great example of media bias yesterday.

Yesterday, they showed a photo of a young boy with a thumbs up sign using his left hand. What the paper failed to mention is that in the Arabian culture, the thumbs up sign is equivalent to the middle finger in our culture. One look at the boy's facial expression would tell you he was NOT a happy camper.

Also, the editorial page was another example of media bias. They bemoaned the way American POWs have been treated. While I agree they should be treated humanely, the editors seemed to forget Iraqi prisoners were treated poorly as well. In fact, one CNN reporter grabbed a prisoner's MRE and displayed it on camera like zoo food. Also, let's not forget the POW's at Guantanamo.

Finally, Rumsfeld said last year that the Geneva Convention was outdated. Now, that it's American prisoners, he says he expects it to be obeyed. However, Iraq is declaring the POW's "illegal combatants" (where I have heard that term before?) and not POWs. This war does violate international law. Could Iraq be right? Did Bush realize what awaited our troops?

Thank you, and I'm sorry to have been so long.

William D. Hartung: Yes, there is no question that our media can show considerable cultural and political bias. The main corrective to that is to supplement the headlines from other sources on the web, from people like yourself who have knowledge of other cultures, from religious, business, and educational leaders with experience of other cultures, and so forth. And, as frustrating as it can be when letters aren't printed, you should write to your local paper and call them if you think they're giving biased coverage.


Cumberland, Md.: I remember WW II and I can't help but view these anti-war types as similar to 5th Columnist in WW II -- also there seems to be credible evidence that terrorist groups such as al Qaeda have infiltrated the movement -- to say nothing of anarchists, etc.

William D. Hartung: We are clearly operating in parallel universes here. I agree with Arthur Schlesinger, the distinguished historian and former top aide to JFK, who calls this war America's act of "infamy." Just as President Roosevelt called Japan's sneak attack on Japan as a day that would "live in infamy," Schlesinger suggested in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times that by acting in a "preventive" fashion, without an imminent threat to our country from Iraq, WE were now playing the role of the aggressor. There are other ways to deal with Saddam Hussein and other tyrants short of unilateral war. There IS no demonstrable Al Qaeda link to Saddam Hussein. As CIA Director George Tenet noted last fall, the only credible scenario under which Hussein might either use weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or share them with a terrorist group is if he's about to go down inflames in a U.S. intervention, at which point he might lash out and try to do as much damage as possible on his way out of this world. Wanting to have inspections, to do everything we can to clean out Hussein's weapons of mass destruction BEFORE we send our troops into harms way, is NOT equivalent to being a "Fifth columnist." Dissent is at the root of our democracy -- it's the most important thing that distinguishes our society from the Saddam Hussein's and Osama Bin Laden's of the world.


Annandale, Va.: The antiwar protests, at least the ones in this country and Europe, come across to me as being somewhat hypocritical. After all, where were these people when the Kurds were being murdered by Hussein's forces? What exactly do they want us to do -- rollover and wait for Hussein to nuke Israel (and maybe some neighbors as well)? These protesters remind me of the 1940 isolationist who said "who cares if Hitler kills Jews and dominates Europe, it's not our problem."

William D. Hartung: Many of the people who now oppose this war -- or at least have serious questions about how it is being conducted. One of the key Middle East experts at the International Crisis Group, which has done, among other things, a recent report called "The Mouse That Roared," questioning the intimations of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link via a fundamentalist group based in an enclave in Northern Iraq -- is Joost Hilterman. When Joost was at Human Rights Watch, he and his colleagues were the ones who DOCUMENTED the chemical attacks and their consequences. AND WHEN THEY ASKED THE REAGAN AND GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH ADMINISTRATIONS TO ACT THEN TO STOP THE SLAUGHTER, THEIR PLEAS FELL ON DEAF EARS. If you watched Tim Russert's show last week-end, you may have seen the famous photograph of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein back in the mid-1980s, when Rumsfeld was a special envoy to Saddam on behalf of the Reagan administration. Hussein already had his chemical weapons then, was already starting to use them on Iranians and Iraqis. Rumsfeld apparently said a discouraging word or two, but in essence Saddam got off scot free. Not only did they not take meaningful diplomatic or military action to stop the slaughter, BUT THE REAGAN AND BUSH THE ELDER ADMINISTRATIONS HAD A DE FACTO ALLIANCE WITH SADDAM HUSSEIN. They transferred $500 million worth of militarily useful technology to Iraq between 1985 and 1989, including bio and chemical weapons precursors, technology for the SAAD 16 missile plant south of Baghdad, equipment for the Iraqi Atomic Energy Agency, and so forth. THEY ALSO SUPPLIED TACTICAL INTELLIGENCE TO SADDAM TO HELP HIM TARGET THE IRANIANS. If you want to ask questions about "where were they then" I would start by asking Mr. Rumsfeld. Just don't expect a straight answer. If you want a good synopsis of some of this search for a piece that Michael Dobbs did for the Washington Post in late December of 2002.


Boston, Mass.: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."

Theodore Roosevelt on Sedition, a Free Press, and Personal Rule - The Kansas City Star (May 7, 1918)

William D. Hartung: So much for George W. Bush being a "Teddy Roosevelt Republican." Instead of "talk softly, but carry a big stick" -- which essentially means diplomacy backed by the threat of force -- George W. Bush's motto seems to be "talk loudly and arrogantly and carry a big stick." And that's why a recent Pew poll shows pro-American and pro-Bush administration sentiments plummeting by 30, 40, 50 percent and more among most nations of the world, just over the last nine months! Michael Moore was right at the Oscars -- when the Pope and the Dixie Chicks are both against you, you're history. And when you add to that large parts of the professional foreign service, the uniformed military, the professional intelligence services, Republican moderates, and the business community, then you're REALLY history. But of course, Bush won't run against an "unnamed Democrat" -- if he did, he'd lose, according to one recent poll -- he'll run against a real, live, "smearable" Democrat. That's why I think the strongest Democratic ticket would be something like Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and Gen. Wesley Clark (former NATO commander), in either order. That kind of ticket, saying we don't need 'wars without end' we need to restore our focus on a multi-faceted campaign against terrorism, would indeed send George W. Bush on a fast flight back to Texas. Whether the primary process could produce such a ticket is another matter.


Worthington, Minn.: Thank you for taking my question. How concerned should we be that extremists among the antiwar protestors would materially support terrorists in America? Why is this question often dismissed as a non-starter?

William D. Hartung: If we're worried about "extremists in the antiwar movement who might support terrorists in America," I would make two suggestions. First, let's look at where support for "terrorism" within America has come from in recent years -- it has come overwhelmingly from hard-line right-wing militias (the Timothy McVeigh crowd), from anti-abortion zealots (like the guy that murder the abortion provider up in Buffalo) and so forth. So, if I was looking for "terrorist sympathizers," I would start there. As for "terrorists" among the anti-war protesters, I've been to the protests, I've met a lot of the folks involved, and frankly, this is NOT a scary bunch. Sure, somebody could use the cover of the anti-war movement to do something, but we would have no way of knowing if they were truly "anti-war," or just a provocateur trying to discredit the anti-war movement. The answer to domestic terror threats is better monitoring of our ports, bridges, tunnels and airports; beefing up the communications abilities of our public health providers and our fire, police, and "first-line" responders and so forth. Yet here we are, about to take responsibility for rebuilding Iraq, AND FOR PAYING THE SALARIES OF UP TO 2 MILLION IRAQI CIVIL SERVANTS FOR YEARS TO COME, EVEN AS THERE IS NO REAL MONEY IN THE CURRENT BUDGET FOR FISCAL RELIEF TO STATES AND LOCALITIES FACING RECORD DEFICITS. If domestic terror is the issue, let's stop undermining cops and firefighters while we go overseas looking for "monsters" to slay.


Silver Spring, Md.: Re: anti-semitism at demonstrations

No. It often is anti-semitism dressed in the clothing of "anti-imperialism," "anti-occupation," "anti-Zionism." It's the same venom heard in demonstrations against the Vietnam War 30 years ago. Unlike Lerner, many no longer choose to tolerate it for the sake of opposing a war. (And many do support a two-state solution to the Mideast crisis). Comments?

William D. Hartung: Yes, there is a current of that, and it should be denounced. But as the movement has grown, that faction has become a much smaller component of a much larger, more diverse movement. If you're not comfortable being at the same demo with folks like that, express your views in other ways -- to your member of Congress, letters-to-the-editor, and so forth. As I said earlier, there's no "Central Committee" telling people they can or can't be part of the anti-war movement, so people of good will just need to out- organize the folks who rally people through appeals to hate.


Fairfax, Va.: You say that inspections were working. Do you think they would be working if there was no threat of war? That threat is only meaningful if the U.S. has 200,000 troops ready to invade. How long does the world expect us to maintain that kind of expense before we actually act? And in light of Iraq's refusal to comply with 1441 (plus earlier ejection of inspectors) how can you reasonably believe that they would ever disarm?

William D. Hartung: Good question. I highly recommend that you read the series of reports on this subject done by the Fourth Freedom Forum, at www.fourthfreedom.org. In the 1990s, sanctions and inspections did far more than bombing to eliminate Iraq's chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. As of 1998, it was widely accepted that Iraq no longer had a viable nuclear program, and that it's major chem-bio weapons PRODUCTION facilities had been dismantled. Then, in 1998, the Clinton administration opted to pull out inspectors in favor of air strikes when Saddam Hussein was jerking the inspectors around, and they couldn't generate the political will at the UN to get the inspectors back in. It probably didn't help that UN inspectors were caught sharing intelligence with the U.S. and the UK that was used to pick bombing targets in Iraq, thereby compromising the integrity of the inspections process.

That being said, YES, the Bush administration deserves credit for forcing the issue, and getting the inspectors back in. Unfortunately, they didn't follow the advice of officials of former administrations who had served in that part of the world, like Joe Wilson. These folks -- along with people like Joseph Cirincione at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -- were basically saying, "look, you've got Saddam Hussein in a box. He's surrounded by a quarter of a million troops, he's starting to disarm, and the whole world is watching." I believe that if the Bush adminstration had shown some flexibility and offered a few months instead of a few days for Hussein to disarm, it could have been accomplished without sending our troops into Iraq, to face an uncertain military response, and POSSIBLY to be subjected to attacks with any remnants of chemical or biological weapons possessed by Saddam Hussein.


Fairfax, Va.: I read the "Win Without War" site's approach to disarming Iraq. My earlier question stands -- how do inspections work without a large military presence in the region? And the sanctions approach -- isn't that what France and Russia are trying to eliminate due to the suffering sanctions are causing on Iraqi civilians? Saddam and his minions feed themselves first and could care less if Iraqis starve, so how are sanctions going to work?

William D. Hartung: You don't need a LARGE military presence. If we had "more Powell, and less Rumsfeld," as one our European allies put it, we could have a real coalition that could combine monitoring, smart sanctions, and the threat of force if needed to keep Hussein from threatening his neighbors or the world.


New York, N.Y.: Bonjour --

Assuming that we can dislodge the Bush junta in 2004 and return to a democratic form of government, do you think that a legitimately elected president and his administration can undo the enormous political and diplomatic damage already wrought and restore our relations with the other nations of the globe?

William D. Hartung: My short answer is 'yes.' If a new administration committed to a new American multilateralism took power in 2004, they could undo much of the damage of these past nine months or so. There are STRUCTURAL issues that may divide the U.S. and key allies, but that's why we need persistent, unapologetic diplomacy that distinguishes long-term interests from shorter term concerns.


Norway: Seen from Norway, I am really sorry for the developments in Iraq. The human suffering is meaningless. For each day of war, it will be more difficult to make a return. The Arabic world will never forgive the U.S. for this meaningless war, and I understand them. This war will also hurt the relations between U.S. and friendly people in Europe. I hope the US citizens will turn their present president and government down before it is too late!

Regards

William D. Hartung: As someone who is 25% Norwegian (my Mom's mothers family name was Jensen), I'm happy to get your note. Yes, I think it is quite possible to have a different administration in 2004. In fact, I think one of the reasons some of the smaller nations at the Security Council stood up to the Bush administration's pressure is because there's sense that this may be a one-term presidency. So, why go against 80 or 90% of your own domestic public opinion to cut a deal with an administration that could be history 20 months from now?


Silver Spring, Md.: Many an antiwar demonstrator has been quoted in the press as saying, "I don't know anyone who's for the war!" Do antiwar protestors even speak to people with different opinions than their own? Perhaps if they expanded their universe and actually listened to people with contrary views, they would recognize that other people beyond their little lockstep community support this war.

William D. Hartung: There's a lot of insularity on both sides. It appears that the country is split one-third, one-third and one-third, give or take. One-third of the country supports the war in Iraq without reservation; one third is strongly opposed; and one-third (the "swing vote," if you will) supports it with reservations (they'd prefer that we not "go it alone," or pay all the cost ourselves, or lose too many of our men and women in uniform). The party and/or candidate that can unite that "swing group" with its natural base will win the 2004 elections. Those in the peace movement who think the whole country is already with them are making a huge strategic miscalculation.


San Francisco, Calif.: What's the background of the current leadership of the American antiwar movement?

William D. Hartung: I'll ask them to send you their resumes. More seriously, the leadership is as diverse as the country -- religious leaders, trade unionists, Gulf War veterans, business groups, and so forth. It can always use to be broader, but it is already extraordinarily diverse and resilient.

This is my last answer. My apologies to anyone who didn't get their question answered. I started early, around 10:15/10:20, and I'm running out of steam!


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