Opposing the Iraq War: Heroes of Resistance

As we mark the fourth anniversary of Bush's catastrophic war in Iraq, a round of blaming is sure to ensue along with counts of U.S. soldiers killed and wounded, money spent, dreams dashed, and the like.

What we should also do is celebrate the people who opposed the war from the beginning. In the face of severe opprobrium and intimidation, a sizable number of Americans saw the charade for what it was and rued the oncoming disaster. They should be cheered, time and again.

It is easy to forget how brutally coercive the conventional wisdom was in the autumn of 2002 and winter of 2003. Even today, the supporters of the war, especially liberal hawks, insist that "no one" doubted that Saddam had nuclear or biological weapons, or that "no one" could have anticipated the chaos and mayhem to come. This is dead wrong. Many people warned of exactly such consequences. The predictions came from a broad spectrum of Americans, no less, from the old-fashioned conservatives of Papa Bush's circle to New Left veterans.

They were, of course, marginalized and in many cases accused of treason. Nowadays, those who were cheerleaders for the war want to join the ranks of the resisters, saying they were against this debacle all along.

Fortunately for us, there were many who genuinely opposed the war before it began, seeing clearly that war has unintended consequences, that it would involve enormous casualties, and that America would be widely loathed as a result. They took risks to do say these things, to organize protests and write Congress and attempt to get their voices heard. And they were absolutely correct in their vision. The invasion and occupation of Iraq may be the most colossal foreign policy disaster in American history.

There were too many, really, to fit into one article. Here are the ones I believe deserving. Readers should offer up their nominees, too.

1. The members of Congress who voted against the war resolution included 31 senators and 133 representatives. Six of those senators no longer serve, including the late Paul Wellstone. Among the notable Senate leaders who did cast a "nay" were Richard Durbin, Ted Kennedy, Patrick Leahy, and Carl Levin.

In the House, only six Republicans voted with the wise. Among the notables in opposition were Nancy Pelosi, Sherrod Brown (now a senator from Ohio), and Bernie Sanders (now a senator from Vermont).

2. The public intellectuals and activists who took a strong stand: Medea Benjamin, Howard Zinn, Tom Hayden, Jesse Jackson, Noam Chomsky, Leslie Cagan, John Cavannagh, Michael Klare, Scott Ritter, Ben Cohen, Jessica T. Mathews, Tom Andrews, James Carroll, and Jonathan Schell, just to start the list of honorees. Throw in the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference and nearly every major religious organization to the left of the Christian Right.

3. Journalists who stood up: Molly Ivins, Katrina vanden Huevel, Don Hazen, Eric Alterman, Mark Danner, Paul Krugman, Katha Pollitt, Robert Scheer, and Colman McCarthy.

4. Academics: many in our universities spoke out, but, notably, the "neorealist" school of international relations scholars -- Steve Walt, Barry Posen, John Mersheimer, Steve Van Evera, and several others -- were prominent early in the debate. The highest accolades should go to Juan Cole, professor of history at Michigan, not only for his insightful opposition but the amazing blog he has kept up throughout -- as informative as anything we have.

5. Other prominent politicians and political advisers: Howard Dean, Al Gore, Brent Scowcroft, James Webb, Ralph Nader, Barack Obama, and Wesley Clark. This should be a litmus test for '08.

I know I'm leaving many deserving names out of this roster, but this brief reckoning is meant to begin a tribute of good judgment and values that were attuned to the enormous challenges of that long winter of deception.

This is not just idle self-congratulation. We need to understand why this fiasco occurred, and listening to the voices of those who opposed it for ethical and strategic reasons from the outset helps to unravel this puzzle. It is not that the war was prosecuted incompetently. The intelligent and courageous opposition to the war prior to its many misdeeds saw that the Iraq invasion would be wrong no matter how it proceeded.

So join in this little celebration. Maybe by doing so, these voices and others will be heard more clearly the next time around.


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