Readers continue to debate whether the American political left is "Dazed and Confused About Iraq."

Published October 29, 2003 5:11PM (EST)

[Read "Dazed and Confused About Iraq," by Michelle Goldberg.]

You know, if I wanted to hear these garden-variety criticisms of the war protests in D.C. this weekend, I could have just headed over to the National Review and not bothered with Michelle Goldberg's dazed and confused article. To be sure, the demands of tens of thousands of protesters are inevitably going to vary, unless of course they have been coached Republican-style to stay "on message." Why does Goldberg write off this diverse group of people, from military families to the admittedly radical ANSWER, as being confused? If anything, it shows that the current Iraq policy has a broad range of problems and no easy "slogan" solution. For that, we ought to be criticizing the administration and the ranking Democrats who have, so far, failed to put forth a viable alternative.

I also think it is a little hypocritical to criticize the "Bring the Troops Home Now" message for not being thought-out and for disregarding Iraqis. After all, it seems that both of these accusations would be more appropriately leveled at the Bush administration's course of action. I just wish members of the apologetic left would consider proposing a sound solution to the current quagmire in Iraq before going off and snidely criticizing the protesters for not having one.

-- Gretchen Blase

Hurrah for Michelle Goldberg's article on Sunday's demonstration in Washington. She summed up exactly why I refused to march in the rally.

I was opposed to the war in Iraq from the start and marched in New York on Feb. 15 along with a dozen of my fellow Maryland Green Party members and 200,000 other activists from around the country, to make my opposition known. But now that we've bombed and invaded the country, dismantled its governing institutions, dissolved its army, and shut down its economy, we can't possibly just pack up and abandon that shattered nation and her people to their fate. And the cynicism and demagoguery of congressional Democrats who initially voted for the war, but now propose that we saddle Iraq with billions of dollars in new debt to pay Halliburton for filling in the craters that our bombers left behind reminds me why I bolted the Democrats for the Greens last November.

Iraq is a mess, but it's a mess we made, and now it's our responsibility to clean it up. The only relevant question these days is who's going to be made to pay for it. Will the American people reelect George W. Bush and ensure that our children and our grandchildren foot the bill, a few decades down the road, when our debt-saddled nation finally reaches the point where it can no longer put off dealing with its dire financial situation? Or will the American people elect a new leader who will ensure that wealthy Americans and corporations pay their fair share of taxes and help avert the looming fiscal train wreck that the cost of Iraqi reconstruction is making more and more inevitable as each day goes by?

-- David Flores

Perhaps one day an antiwar protest movement will appear that is completely rational and consistent. Picture it: no Alan Ginsbergs, no pot-banging anarchists unable to formulate alternative policy positions. I'm imagining a march on Washington in 2050 made up entirely of clones of George Packer and David Gergen.

Until then, it's worth remembering the example of union leader John L. Lewis, who, when asked why he hired so many communist organizers in the 1930s, famously responded, "Who gets the bird, the hunter or the dog?" This openness to building alliances on the left helped spark the biggest union drive in U.S. history through the C.I.O., improving wages and working conditions for all Americans.

And it's easy to guess what Lewis would advise left-liberals today about protesting the Bush administration on Iraq: Unleash the best organizers, even if you disagree with their long-term goals. Just make sure those barking for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq don't become your hunters.

-- David Hyde

Those of us old enough to remember the Vietnam War era can find much that's familiar in Michelle Goldberg's smear against those who oppose the Iraq War. Goldberg, following the time-honored tactics of propagandists from the Vietnam era and before, focuses on tiny far-left fringe groups and attempts to associate them with mainstream war opponents, by virtue of the fact that both are found at the same demonstration, and cherry-picks quotations from various participants there to fit the picture of asinine confusion she hopes to promote. Yep, seen it before.

It's quite clear to me, from the many people I've spoken to on the subject, that the mainstream of the opposition to the Iraq War, as well as that of many people who are still sitting on the fence, is that the invasion and occupation have been a mistake, and that we were deceitfully dragged into this mission for very different reasons than those that were put before us by the administration and its army of whores in the news media. The best way to extricate ourselves from this quagmire is, for many who feel strongly that we need to find a way out, an unanswered question -- but that's kind of in keeping with the nature of a quagmire, now, isn't it?

Another clear memory of the Vietnam era is the old rhetoric about how "withdrawal is totally unrealistic and would be a catastrophe!" (words spoken by Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey at the time of the 1968 Democratic convention). However, the only difference between a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in 1968 and the historical outcome of that tragically ill-conceived mission would have been a whole lot fewer casualties, among both Americans and Vietnamese.

It may be noble to hope that something good for the Iraqi people might somehow come out of this disastrous mess that the Bush administration and its allies have created. That hope may also turn out to be quixotic or worse. What we need to find the right solution is honest and responsible leadership, which we have no reason to believe will ever come from the current administration.

-- Peter Risley

I was surprised to learn that the Berlin airlift was an example of a "U.S. military intervention" morally equivalent to the invasion of the Philippines or the war in Vietnam. But, by golly, it's on a list I found on the International ANSWER (hereafter called "IA") Web site called "A Century of U.S. Military Intervention."

I infer that IA didn't compile this list for the benefit of history buffs. The document is presented as part of their "struggle against war and racism." So we might reasonably assume that the purpose of the document is to show that the United States has a proclivity to foment unnecessary wars. The word "intervention" in this context is synonymous with "adventurism" -- "Involvement in risky enterprises without regard to proper procedures and possible consequences, especially the reckless intervention by a nation in the affairs of another nation or region" (American Heritage Dictionary). It is not a value-neutral word.

So now that we're clear what an "intervention" is ... IA distributes this long list of U.S. military "interventions" going back to 1890 for the purpose of showing the U.S. as a warmongering nation. And frankly, I agree that most of the items on the list are indeed examples of military adventurism and even atrocity, starting with the massacre at Wounded Knee.

But the Berlin airlift?

In 1948, the Soviet occupiers of East Germany blockaded West Berlin in order to bring it under Soviet control. Rather than go to war to take back Berlin, President Truman decided to airlift food, medicine, coal and other supplies to confound the blockade. Over a period of 321 days, 272,000 flights into West Berlin delivered thousands of tons of supplies every day. And in December 1948, the U.S. initiated "Operation Santa Claus," to airlift toys and other gifts for children. In 1949, the Soviets ended the blockade and reopened the borders.

Please visit the home page of the Berlin Airlift Veterans Association to learn about the airmen who risked life and limb flying supplies to Berlin. The airmen are getting on in years, and it would be good to remember what they did while some of them are still around. It makes me so sad to see them dishonored in this way, the great humanitarian deed of their youth listed on a propaganda sheet about "U.S. Military Intervention." IA should be ashamed.

IA's objection to the airlift is that it constituted a "nuclear threat." The IA list says atomic-capable bombers flew guard. What this means is that a B29 Superfortress squadron took part in the airlift, although the planes carried no atomic bombs. The Enola Gay, the plane that delivered the bomb to Hiroshima, was a B29 Superfortress. Therefore, to IA, any use of a B29 Superfortress, no matter how it was armed, must have constituted a "nuclear threat." I have no doubt that a few B29s in the air would have discouraged the Soviets from shooting down the supply planes. But a nuclear threat?

By the way, the IA also lists "World War II" as a "U.S. Military Intervention."

My greater point is this: I was disturbed by Michelle Goldberg's article about the anti-Iraq War movement and IA's part in it.

My first concern is that IA will (if it hasn't already) poison the anti-Iraq War movement and thereby help George W. Bush win another term in the White House, just as Nixon won reelection in 1972 by running against the anti-Vietnam War movement. The best thing that could happen for Bush right now is a big, active, noisy antiwar movement demanding "unconditional support" for "resisters" who are killing American soldiers.

Dear IA: I want to take back my flag and my country, not trash them.

Second, I fear that the young and soft-headed are being seduced by IA's simplistic, bumper sticker, black-and-white appeal. I bump into people on the Web who have no patience with the details of an exit strategy. Who needs an exit strategy? Just dump the mess on the U.N. and go home. Or, even better, just go home. Anyone who is not in favor of an immediate withdrawal is presumed to be in favor of the occupation and must be resisted!

I'm seeing more and more of this nonsense. And it scares the hell out of me. Maybe I'm making too much of a fringe movement, but I think this trend must be watched very closely. I don't know what can be done about it. I don't have a lot of patience with dogmatists, either left wing or right wing. Right now, I just wanted to tell somebody about the Berlin airlift. It really was a grand, humanitarian thing. Please don't forget.

-- Barbara O'Brien

The teacher's shock at the sign he was given to wave at the rally described in the article speaks volumes about the antiwar/leftist cabal: "Just give me something -- anything -- to protest!" As for the alleged higher concentration of goofy leftists at the smaller antiwar rally, I grew up in town that prided itself on being goofy and leftist. Trust me, all people that go to these rallies are nuts, and the ones who couldn't make it were home listening to "Harvest Moon" while smoking a big fattie, or were down at the bank making a withdrawal from the trust fund Daddy set up for them so they can live free while they go to college (if the parents only knew that Billy was using the money for patchouli oil and ganja -- take a shower, for God's sake!) Lastly, fighting to establish democracy does not equal colonialism. If we leave now, a new dictator will take our place, and Iraqis will wonder (again) why the Americans abandoned them.

-- Cecil Franklin

The theme of the protests should be "Impeach Bush" because we can't just pull out after creating a mess. But we must have a real leader who will act responsibly.

Republicans say government should be run like a business. Well, any CEO who had so badly misjudged the market (Iraqi welcome), the costs and the schedules, and who couldn't deliver on objectives (finding Osama and Saddam) would be kicked out in a heartbeat -- which is exactly what should happen to Bush.

Iraq is a mess and Bush has made us less safe at home by not investing in port security and first responders to prepare them for biological and chemical attacks. He's successfully misled the public about who gets his tax cuts, which were designed to stimulate his campaign contributions and not the economy. Republicans complain about irrational "Bush hatred," but it's perfectly logical. He got hatred the old-fashioned way: He earned it.

-- Robert Powell

By Salon Staff

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