Bad Shakespeare

I do not have many degrees, just one actually, and none in international relations (a measly B.A. in journalism from NYU is all). Nor have I ever been part of a think tank. But I do read (and listen and see), and what's clear to me is this: a war against Iraq is shortsighted, myopic, misguided and irrational. In a word: unconscionable.

I also know this, which is even more disconcerting: That two of the principles that have made this country exceptional--the free press and the idea of representational government--have inexplicably, impossibly, been, if not quelled, then stifled. Or bullied. None of this has felt very healthy.

First the media. There have been a few voices of dissent: Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, has been nothing short of heroic in her thoughtful articulation against this war; Harper's Magazine has had back-to-back cover stories that point out the holes in U.S. intentions; Charlie Rose has had both sides represented, more hawks perhaps, but still he'll have a Stanley Hoffman, eloquent, measured, able to see the big picture. In the mainstream media, Chris Matthews, in his guy-at-the end-of-the bar way, has asked pertinent questions--'Who's gonna pay for this?' 'What happens when we leave?' 'What about an occupation?'--and he's asked them again and again. But how many Americans read the Nation or Harper's or watch Charlie Rose, or even Chris Matthews? Sadly, with all our education and degrees (advanced ones, too), not very many it would appear.

Many of the all-news cable channels (their hosts and their guests) have been disturbingly jingoistic, no doubt to keep up with the America-Love-It-Or-Leave-It Fox News Channel. Let's not forget the ubiquitous, hysterical Code Orange icon that sat in the lower-righthand corner of our screens for most of February. (CNN, once a beacon, has become just another pretty face.) The most powerful media outlet of all of all, The New York Times, had played it in the middle, until recently, its March 9th no-war-without-international-support editorial inspired. Its op-ed page has covered every conceivable angle--the Iranian question, how Iraqis would suffer, the Kurds and the Turks, etc.--with its columnists and guest pieces by thinkers such as Jose Ramos-Horta and Amos Oz. But it all seems too little too late. (And we won't talk about last week's "Thank You, Mr. President press conference," already becoming infamous, as pointed out in a front-page editorial in the smart, feisty, independent New York Observer, among others.) We can keep score on the media forever--and if we are I'd say it's been 65-35 pro--so let's move on to the second point.

Where are our politicians? My congresswoman is Carolyn Maloney, whom I've voted for. Where is she? She is supposed to be representing me in Washington, and she's not. I feel betrayed. This is democracy? Some have spoken up, but not enough. Charles Rangel, who I rarely agree with, is right: A draft should be reinstituted. Would the media and political elite be banging the drum if their kids were in the 101st Airborne? Or even as peacekeepers? (And by the way, who are most of the peacekeepers in Afghanistan--remember Afghanistan? Yes, Germans, Belgians, French, the Axis of Pansies.) The answer is no, absolutely not. Who will go? A disproportionate number of blacks and Hispanics and poor and working-class whites, all of whom enlisted, yes, but in peace time and often with hopes of getting money for college. Congress, with a few noble exceptions, have behaved like scared rabbits, talking about Freedom Fries and French Toast. Can this be? Seemingly intelligent, thinking elected officials, elected by the citizenry to represent them in Washington? Is that the best they can do?

But the apathy is palpable among us, too. In Carolyn Maloney's district on Sunday, just hours after the Azores charade, at a coffee bar where everyone looked as if they had advanced degrees, no one was talking about it. Outside, sure, it was 6o degrees and sunny, but all you could hear was talk of so-and-so's boyfriend and see bars decorating for St. Patrick's Day.

I wanted to grab a megaphone, stand up on one of those ladders pasting up four-leaf clovers, and say: You know, it's not about oil. It isn't. That's naive and where the anti-war protestors fall back on the hackneyed. The same when they say innocent civilians will be killed. That goes without saying. No, oil is only a small part of it. Our president finishing his father's business is a bigger part of it, but the Bad Shakespeare bit is still not the reason to protest this war. It's about us invading. The United States hasn't done that, without being provoked, since the Mexican-American war, over 150 years ago. (Whoops, I forgot about that little Cambodia thing.) The notion of a preventive war is horribly misguided. Right from the start, we'll be wrong. We will have lost the high ground. We will be perceived as a thoughtless bully run amok.

To borrow from Jonathan Schell's epigraph in the March 3 issue of The Nation, here are the words of President Eisenhower in 1953, who was presented with a plan to disarm Stalin's Soviet Union. He said: "All of us have heard this term 'preventive war' since the earliest days of Hitler. I recall that is about the first time I heard it. In this day and time...I don't believe there is such a thing; and frankly, I wouldn't even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing." That's Ike speaking, a hero of heroes. As Nicholas Kristof pointed out on Feb. 25, Ike, in 1956, was encouraged by a British, French and Israeli coalition to invade a Nasser-led Egypt. He refused and the Suez crisis was solved peacefully.

A few have asked, but it should be asked again and again and again: How will we build a democracy in a country that's never had one in its short 83-year history? Can you do that over night? Or by November 2004? Or ever? Will we install a puppet (another Shah, a Pinochet, a Mobutu?) What if they elect, legitimately, an Islamic government, as the Algerians were expected to do in 1992 before the election was canceled (and which led to a vicious civil war)?

Who will keep the peace? Will we stay? And for how long? At the Azores (and hey forget Bulgarian wine, we're forgetting willing Rioja and Port!), President Bush implied that the U.N. might regain its footing by acting as peacekeepers; so that's to say that we actually expect the same nations who are opposed to this war to send peacekeepers? (Why should they?)

Will the U.N. have a future? And NATO? What about Turkey's admittance into the EU? Turkey's a friend (who, as of now, won't let us use its border as a launching pad) and we want them admitted in to Europe but God only knows what they'll do to the Kurds (our other supposed friends--see we have plenty of friends.) And what about the Kurds in Iran, or Syria for that matter? Speaking of Iran, its brilliant filmmakers notwithstanding, that country is perhaps the most virulently anti-Semitic country in the region, a lot closer to developing nuclear weapons then Iraq, and is a proven sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah. And it was just been charged with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Or is Iran next? North Korea after that? Then Syria? Libya? A tiny renegade outpost island in Indonesia? Or Malaysia?

And Sunni and Shiites--do we care if they slaughter one another? Or is that what we secretly want? And refugees? Do we realize that the only response to shock and awe (shockn'awe) is terrorism? And then if we're hit again, who will feel the brunt of shockn'awe? Tehran? (Even though the young population is our best hope of reform, if we'd just stay out of it.) Tripoli, back to the Bad Shakespeare part? Or maybe Hamburg? Or a flight school in Oklahoma? Or Brooklyn? Shockn'awe only goes so far. And who is going to pay for this war? In my city, New York, unemployment is at 8.6 percent.

The thing to do is stay the course picking apart al Qaeda. The administration has done a commendable job with that. There haven't been any firework shows or chase scenes live on CNN, but it's been a stealthy, surgical success with the capture of Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others.

There's been no proven link between Iraq and al Qaeda. If there was why isn't there a mujahaddin-like force gathering on the Iraqi border? They've had months to gather and fight for the cause, but for the most part, they haven't. It's because the Arab world doesn't care very much for Saddam, which is very different from the Arab world wanting the United States to invade and occupy. Our president and his administration (an insidious, brilliant lot, it must be said) suffers from hubris. And the ancient Greeks taught us the price of hubris, didn't they? We don't, for instance, treat our allies as allies. We want toadies. The media has largely become one. Countries like Mexico (and what happened to that special bond with Vicente Fox?), Chile, Cameroon, Angola, and Guinea should be commended for sticking to their guns. They're all desperate to be on the only super power's good side, but we couldn't buy them off.

Pacifism is silly (although Germany has its good reasons.) War is sometimes a necessity. An ongoing, unseen war against international terror networks is a necessity, one that needs the cooperation of real allies. War against Iraq is not a necessity. It might be at some point, but I doubt even that. Sorry, but 1441 isn't enough to risk a destabilization of a region that is already distrustful of us. It will do far more harm than good, despite a quickie capture of Baghdad (before the Oscars, God willing). All of the questions above have been posed--many not until the last few days--but they've never been adequately answered. That's because there are no good answers. If the media hammered away at the holes in this preemptive vision earlier, maybe more would've used the tools of our special democracy and written their congressman--how quaint--and taken to the streets. Maybe I'm the naive one. It's 4:23 in the morning right now, but I haven't been able to sleep for days. Doesn't matter. This also is too little, too late. We've been duped, we as Americans and we in the media. And we should be ashamed of ourselves.

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