Color Your Opposition to the War But Stay Within the Lines

Supporters and opponents of the U.S. war in Iraq question each other's assumptions and appear diametrically opposed on major points. We know them by heart by now. The arguments of those who opposed the war are the most cogent. The administration used the fear of 9/11 to orchestrate a threat in Iraq and a motive to invade. All the while there were no WMDs, no links to bin Laden, no imminent threat. This was a war of choice, an optional war, not a necessary one. War proponents now missing their WMDs tell us we should 'stay the course' in Iraq to install a Western-style system of government.

With the election nearing, it is a welcome change of events to see candidates speaking out against the war and hearing more pundits and editors questioning the administration. For those of us who spoke out against invading Iraq eons ago, the chaos we have seen unfold since the U.S. occupied Iraq was predictable. Each day's news of more people killed or harmed there is excruciatingly painful for us, because we know it could have all been avoided. We poured out onto the streets to say so, and nobody listened.

Mainstream opponents of the war are coming out of the woodwork, now that it is safer to speak out, and these newly outspoken war opponents object to the war but within a limited framework. Key underlying issues are never brought up. It is only acceptable, in this hyper nationalistic environment, to be opposed to the war if you premise your opposition on precepts that the mainstream media and war supporters have both deemed beyond question.

Today, it is acceptable to oppose the war, but that opposition has to be framed within certain parameters, opposition arguments have to be premised on certain 'agreed upon' concepts, reified collective notions that go unchallenged. In addition, there are topics that are entirely off base. In essence, scan the opposition editorials in the major papers and you will recognize the prescribed lines. All anti-war remarks must begin or end with the declaration that the U.S. military behaved 'heroically.' Their conduct and blind acceptance to attack Iraq is beyond reproach. (Not many conscientious objectors in this group, only an unusually high rate of suicides.) Partly in connection with that, one must ignore the issue of Iraqi deaths, civilians or otherwise. Like the war's supporters, democratic candidates and opposition pundits never mention Iraqi casualties, leaving the average uninformed American not knowing whether any Iraqi civilians died at all.

A war opponent who wants to get any print or airtime in the U.S. media has to preface their remarks with over the top flattery for how skillfully the war was won, which means the trek to Baghdad to topple the Saddam statue. Heaps of praise must be bestowed, never acknowledging the superior technology, air power and troop strength in comparison to the Iraqis. Plowing down the ill-equipped Iraqi soldiers wasn't difficult, not anything close to a fair fight, and giving the army credit for this is equivalent to praising a 200 pound bully who beats to death a 95 pound adversary. But if you want to criticize the complete lack of post-war planning, you must first rave about how effectively the initial phase of the war was carried out. By all means, don't conjure up any realistic mental image of an Iraqi boy strewn dead under a beat up Toyota pick up truck, alongside his father, cut down like animals. Just repeat the mantra of how efficiently the first phase of the war was 'fought.'

Last but not least, while one can state that Bush deceived the nation in taking us to war, one cannot posit the question of why, if not to disarm WMDs, Bush and his neo-cons did take us there. Talking about U.S. economic interests in the region is taboo. Is it not discussed because it's so obvious? Sadly, no. The most obvious reason we are about to create a puppet government in Iraq , its huge oil reserves, is left out of the debate entirely. Our conveniently redefined mission in Iraq is to spend billions setting up the perfect democratic 'show me' Middle Eastern State, and oil has nothing to so with it. Of course it's okay not to support democracy in Pakistan or Libya or in the occupied territories of Palestine ' just in Iraq . Oil? What oil?

This notion that the current mission in Iraq is to set up a democracy is the most repeated and least challenged precept. Leaders of both parties, TV and radio commentators, pundits, newspaper editors, all project the incorrect notion that the goal in Iraq , motivated solely from the goodness of our hearts, is to create a democratic state. Remember before the war, for a year, these people repeated over and over 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' until you thought you were going to explode? Well today it is similar, but the mantra is 'Democracy in Iraq .' Their experience is that by repeating a phrase over and over again, simplistic Americans will come to believe it as a truth. The U.S. administration doesn't want democracy in Iraq , which could mean direct elections and Shiite majority control, they want a form of government that will serve their economic interests.

The lesson is that if you want to go mainstream with your opposition to the war in Iraq and get the time of day, first and foremost you must lace your argument with adulation for the troops' heroism and patriotism. Steep your words in the notion that war is a glorious thing, even wars without cause. Don't talk about dead Iraqis, never mentioning the fact that, according to Iraq Body Count, over ten thousand Iraqi civilians have been killed, and more die every day. Iraqi lives don't matter, so only relay the exact daily death toll of U.S. soldiers. And don't mention oil as being the predominant reason for our involvement, act as if it isn't part of the equation at all. Never refer people to study the history of U.S. and British involvement in the Middle East over the last century. They might be led to believe that history repeats itself. Don't include any of the above information; stay within the lines, and your opposing voice will most certainly be heard.

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Kristina M. Gronquist's picture
Columns on STR: 10

Kristina M. Gronquist is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. She specializes in foreign policy analysis and holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Minnesota.