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March 21, 2003
No Protest as usual

Pre-emptive surrender. Mass desertion. Lethal betrayals. The battle of Iraq may be over before the battle of San Francisco. Of course, it's the latter war that most Americans have been itching to fight anyway...

Yesterday, thousands of protesters spent hours blocking downtown traffic for peace, the San Francisco police department earned $500,000 in overtime, and Famous Wayne, benevolent "Shoe Shine King of the World," had plenty of work too.

Organized chaos was the goal, but to what ends? And by what means? The precision-guided puking was funny, but the vandalism and the violence were just a sad and annoying acknowledgement that even some anti-war protesters have so assimilated the idea that aggression is the height of diplomacy that they turn to it when other kinds of engagement prove ineffectual. Of course, overt violence and vandalism were minimal yesterday, but even simply blocking traffic is an aggressive act, designed to coerce rather than persuade.

It was probably inevitable that it would come to this, however. For months, pundits and politicians have dismissed the anti-war protests as trivial and without meaning: just a bunch of aging hippies and other malcontents waving signs and chanting slogans. Instead of Vince McMahon, there was Martin Sheen. Instead of greasy men in thongs, there were droning communists - but in the end, the whole spectacle was just as politically significant as an episode of WWE Smackdown! Meanwhile, in chronic counterpoint, the following refrain was aimed at anyone who dared voice an opinion that hadn't been scripted by Ari Fleischer and company: brave soldiers gave their lives in combat, all so you could trivialize their sacrifice by painting Hitler mustaches on Dubya!

Frustrated at their failure to make a difference, and at their perceived lack of genuine conviction, some protesters decided to escalate their efforts yesterday. The local TV news captured the general dynamic in the following (paraphrased) exchange: a large blonde woman passed a protester holding a sign, then turned back at him and start delivering The Speech. "Real Americans fought for your right to stand there," she said, her face pinched into a puffy fist of disdain, her finger (equipped with a scary-looking, weaponized fingernail) jabbing at the no-fly zone in front of the man's face. "I'm fighting too," the man replied, matching her anger finger-jab for for finger-jab. "That's what I'm doing here right now, fighting for my free speech."

Of course, by resorting to actual violence, or even to coercive tactics like shutting down intersections, the anti-war movement undercuts its own power; the police and the federal government are simply much better equipped to debate on those terms. Not surprisingly, there are many people who are eager to see the anti-war movement sabotage itself in this way. At Little Green Footballs, one poster has seized upon the protesters' traffic-blocking techniques as a legitimate rational for shooting them, and even the site's editor, Charles Johnson, is apparently making jokes along these lines. After one poster left the comment, "Should have shot them. In the boobies," Johnson (or at least someone signing in as him) replied, "Hey JR: what's up with the 'boobies' comments? Knock it off, or I'm going to ban you."

Hopefully, most protesters will refuse to take the bait, because the true power of dissent in the United States doesn't come from rocks and bottles. Instead, it comes from military leaders who decide to ramp up the disbuildingment of a country that can't surrender fast enough. It comes from people who yearn for an America where the penalty for even symbolic dissent is death. It comes from opposing the tactics and values of such people in a way that is demonstrably antithetical to them, which is to say, civil, restrained, diplomatic, and heavy on the funny masks and slogans (which for some reason, seems to drive them nuts...)

Posted by Greg Beato at 12:28 PM
March 20, 2003
Body Double

At the very least, the Washington Post suggests, we killed his glasses: "One official said the case against the broadcast's authenticity included that Hussein has several body doubles and his glasses looked nothing like the ones he normally wears."

Optometric virility expert Jonah Goldberg also weighs in: "If Saddam was looking to make a show of strength, he wouldn't wear those glasses."

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:46 AM
March 19, 2003
Block That Glennuendo!

Some slippery rhetoric from Comrade Reynolds, commenting on this article about the class-action lawsuit filed against Canadian oil producer Talisman Energy Inc. for its alleged "complicity in crimes against humanity" in Sudan: "Hmm. Funny, I usually only hear American companies accused of this kind of stuff. No doubt it's all somehow Dick Cheney's fault, though."

The glennuendo here: Talisman hasn't gotten much criticism, and this case hasn't gotten much coverage, because Talisman is a Canadian (and thus virtuous) company rather than an American (and thus evil) one.

The reality: The Village Voice, Reuters, the Associated Press, the Economist, and the Washington Times have all covered the lawsuit or incidents leading up to it, as have numerous websites.

And: the American Anti-slavery Group, the organization that filed the lawsuit against Talisman, is based in Boston, Massachusetts. So at least a few Americans have been accusing Talisman of wrongdoing. As have Canadians: the Toronto-based Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility has been urging Talisman to "agree to independent verification of its operations in Sudan for compliance with international human rights standards" since 1998.

Of course, if Reynolds was suggesting that elite media figures like Dan Rather and Bill O'Reilly, rather than human rights activists, have been ignoring this case, then perhaps he has a point. (I don't have access to comprehensive transcripts of CBS News so I don't know if Rather has mentioned it or not; it looks as if O'Reilly hasn't.) Given that the elite media barely covers allegations of American corporate wrongdoing, however, it's not that surprising that allegations of Canadian corporate wrongdoing haven't received much attention in the U.S. media...

Posted by Greg Beato at 06:47 PM
March 18, 2003
What A Wonderful War This Could Be

In 1963, the CIA helped Iraq's 850-member Ba'ath party overthrow General Abdul Karim Kassem, because a world in which a small group of violent extremists is given control over an oil-rich nation is a world where free people can breathe easy. In 1980, the United States helped thousands of Muslim rebels, including Osama Bin Laden, defend Afghanistan against a Soviet invasion, because free people should never have to wonder about the reliability of world opium supplies, and there's no telling what might have happened to Afghanistan under Communist control. Around the same time, the United States assisted Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, because a world in which Middle Eastern countries aren't generating substantial revenues for Western arms manufacturers is one that free people should simply never have to endure.

And, once again, it is time for free people to set the course of history, and choose a future rooted firmly and ironically in the past. We are acting now because inaction would be anti-climatic and a little boring. We are acting now because so many of our previous efforts to control our destiny have backfired on us in tragic ways: frankly, we think we're due for an unambiguous win. We are acting now because while freedom comes at a terrible price, war can actually have a pretty good profit margin, especially in lackluster economic times like these.

As warhawks, Wall Street, and the world's wildest temp agency applaud President Bush's 48-hour ultimatum, others are left to wonder: is the invasion of Iraq the first step of many? Are the treatment teams at the White House and Pentagon planning more preemptive interventions to assist other wayward countries on the path to recovery? And if they are, exactly how many of these operations will the other countries of the world stand for without trying to check U.S. power?

Luckily, the world is filled with sniveling appeasers, and Saddam is like Satan with herpes: no one's going to mourn his demise too much. So while France is panning Bush's speech-writers and Russia has decided to keep its nuclear arsenal intact just in case it has to "provide for the security of the entire world community," it seems unlikely that Dubya Dubya III will erupt as long as Operation Body Baghdad goes smoothly.

On the other hand, who's to say what sort of repercussions there will be if the war does go smoothly? Within 24 hours or so, we may finally find out exactly what sort of weapons of mass destruction Saddam really has. But what if we don't? Say we bomb Baghdad into the 21st century, and Saddam doesn't even bother to deploy any of his infernal arsenal, because (a) he doesn't really have the weapons we believe he does, (b) he has them, but simply chooses not to use them, or (c) he has them, but can't garner enough assistance from his troops and/or freelance terrorists to effectively deploy them.

Given our reasons for attacking him, any one of those scenarios would offer an ironic denouement to this story, and more fuel for our most popular export. And that's the best-case scenario! If Saddam's Lion Cubs get slaughtered; or Iraq launches missiles at Israel and Israel fires back; or Islamist terrorists strike hard at our allies, or perhaps even worse, at countries opposed to our decision to attack Iraq, what happens then?

Well, no one said it's going to be easy. (Except, of course, when they said it was going to be easy.) And when democratic institutions like the U.N. Security Council fail to make the world safe for democracy, then only bombs can make the world safe for democracy. So it's time to put down the swords of diplomacy, and pick up the pens of military might, and write our own destiny. Of course, editorial evildoers around the world will eventually press for revisions, but no matter: without enemies, we can't have war. And without war, we can't have peace.

Posted by Greg Beato at 05:20 PM
March 17, 2003
Lights Out

In celebration of the grand opening of Ted Barlow's Lightbulb Joke Warehouse, a new lightbulb joke:

Q: How many U.S. troops does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: 280,000. But once that bulb is changed, a domino effect will take place, with the new bulb serving as a dramatic and inspiring example of illumination for other bulbs in the region, which will subsequently start changing themselves.

Posted by Greg Beato at 04:42 PM
Sanctions of Mass Destruction

In Gaza, they're bulldozing live American chicks. In Shreveport, over 150 patriots armed with a crop tractor spent Saturday crushing dissent (literally) in more humane fashion: the only casualties of their ritual Dixie Chicks cleansing were CDs, tapes, and any claim of moral seriousness. As Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy put it: "What's really frightening is that the British or anyone else might attach the least bit of significance to the political opinion of a 28-year-old music-school dropout and country singer from Lubbock."

While Kennedy's comment was meant to dismiss Dixie Chick Natalie Maines for disparaging George W. Bush, it works equally well as a critique of the CD exterminators, the radio stations purging the Dixie Chicks from their playlists, and the pundits implying that Maines committed an act of treason.

For the record, here's what Maines said, in the midst of a performance in London: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."

According to Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation, "The Dixie Chicks may be entitled to their opinion, but for them to give aid and comfort to the enemy when we are on the edge of war is just outrageous."

To which one can only respond: if that's what qualifies as aid and comfort these days, then perhaps we should keep giving sanctions a chance! Those Iraqis must be damn demoralized. Also: what the hell was Saddam doing at a London Dixie Chicks concert when his people are about to get blown off the face of the earth? He really is a selfish bastard...

David Limbaugh, who is to political punditry what Frank Stallone is to movie magic, had harsh words for the Chicks too, along with this civics lesson: "Protesting against America is not 'very pro-American.' Being pro-America is pro-American. Defending one's right to protest is celebrating America's freedoms. But the act of dissing America while exercising those freedoms is not pro-American."

This sounds very similar to the kind of "free speech" they have in Iraq, of course, and perhaps such similarities explain why so many conservatives seem far more interested in waging war against American liberals than evil dictators. Indeed, what's most striking about warhawk rhetoric of the last few months is how Saddam has basically become an afterthought: first, International ANSWER and anti-war protesters established themselves as Public Enemy #1, then Hollywood celebrities established themselves as Public Enemy #2, then France established itself as Public Enemy #3.

Saddam, he's #4, maybe, but it would sure help if, say, he bought a place in Malibu or at least released a DVD of his music videos that we could boycott. Indeed, while Saddam has an undeniably frightening rap sheet, he is, at the moment, a somewhat abstract villain - straight out of central casting, yes, but also distant, reclusive, foreign. America is a hands-on place: we're not content to let our troops do all the work. We want to get involved, make sacrifices, achieve tangible results. Hating France is not merely an intellectual exercise; we're also renaming our food. Forsaking the Dixie Chicks means we have to spend that much more time listening to Shania Twain. Small gestures, executed by millions, are just as powerful as Massive Ordnance Air Burst bombs.

But can such tactics work against Iraq, or other countries we might boycott, like Saudi Arabia, homeland to Osama Bin Laden, 15 out of 19 of the 9/11 murderers, and numerous venture terrorists? Boycotts against them haven't captured the imagination of the American public in the same way that boycotts against France and celebrities have for one simple reason: they don't produce anything as economically strategic as freedom fries or country music.

Posted by Greg Beato at 01:16 AM