Antiwar Movement Scores Victory on Battlefront

The Pew Research Center's latest poll on Iraq war sentiment found that fewer people want to hear from antiwar protestors. The backlash against war opponents came from Republicans and Democrats. At first glance, this seems like yet another stinging defeat for the antiwar movement. It failed miserably to sell the notion that the war is a naked grab by Bush for global domination and Iraq's oil. It failed to stop the attack. Then when the fighting started, it saw Bush's popularity surge skyward again. Polls taken the day the bombing started found that a big majority of Americans backed the attack and took pride in the American military. But even if more Americans than before say that now that the fighting has started antiwar critics should shut up and get on board the war effort, antiwar activists did score a big victory. They forced Bush to fight the kind of war that most military planners hate, namely a political war. The millions that marched against the war put Bush on notice that he could not launch a steamroller, demolition campaign against Iraq.

Bush's kinder, gentler, kid-glove war strategy has stirred much hand wringing, second guessing, and flat out criticism by military analysts and retired generals. But to wage an Iraq war without fatal political repercussions, there must be low casualties, no big bloody battles, the skirting of major population centers, and limited surgical strikes that try to avoid hitting residential areas and civilian targets. Piles of body bags, thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths, and the wholesale destruction of cities and towns would have stirred public fear of the Vietnam syndrome all over again.

This would have further inflamed anti-American rage in the Middle East, reenergized the antiwar movement, and this time driven to their ranks the thousands who have qualms about the war but have been content sit on the protest sidelines. It would have hopelessly alienated France, Russia, China and the other European allies, and reinforced the widespread world-wide belief that the U.S. is a brute and bully that will trample on smaller nations in a raw grab for dominance and their resources.

Since the war began, Bush has uttered few words about oil, said almost nothing about a conducting a massive search and destroy hunt for Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and has dropped hints that he may even welcome a U.N. role in a post war Iraq reconstruction. Bush casts the fight as a crusade to free the Iraqi people from tyranny and dictatorship, and to install democratic rule. The bulk of the nearly $75 billion war fund that Bush is seeking will go to cover the initial military costs of the war with Iraq and U.S. operations in Afghanistan, aid to Israel, Turkey and other American allies, and for domestic security; but Bush is careful to publicly tout the funds as money earmarked for humanitarian relief and reconstruction.

Bush, and other presidents, have long known that fighting a successful foreign war can boost their personal popularity, increase their party's political dominance, and propel their agenda through Congress with as little debate and opposition as possible. It can also do much to assure their reelection. A ham-fisted full-blown military assault in Iraq could deal a potentially mortal blow to these prospects. It could give the pack of Democratic presidential contenders much ammunition to attack Bush as a heartless president who played fast and loose with American and Iraqi lives.

It could embolden Congressional Democrats, who have been loath to say or do anything that could seen as critical of Bush's war policy for fear of being tarred as traitors, to dig their heels in and fight Bush tooth and nail on everything from his controversial judicial appointments to his slash and burn of social programs.

It would also bring the legions of Bush critics back out of the closet. They would again criticize him on his failure to back electoral reforms to prevent another Florida type vote debacle in the 2004 national elections, his refusal to back expanded hate crimes legislation, to speak out on police and corporate abuses, to sign the Kyoto global warming treaty, his support of school vouchers, Alaska drilling, the elimination of abortion funding, and his meat axe of civil liberties protections in the anti-terrorism bill. It could also spur a fierce fight against a rumored new anti-terrorism bill that will hammer civil liberties even harder.

So far, Americans have been spared the gruesome and grotesque scenes of the mass carnage and destruction that make warfare odious and reprehensible. While many revile war opponents as noisy nuisances and wish that they'd disappear, they can thank them for that damage control. And antiwar protestors can and should thank themselves for that, too.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. Visit his news and opinion website: . He is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" (Middle Passage Press).

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