The anti-war movement has little to do with an actual war. It’s about something larger with even greater significance for which Iraq has only been the catalyst. It has opened a deep political rift that suggests placing the world order up for review.
The furor caused by our intention to go to war calls into question the use of American power. Every American now sees millions of individuals marching around the world, condemning our president, our power and often enough, our country itself.
The wrath of the worldwide movement is focused on the United States alone. Little mention is made of Hussein, the man responsible for this confrontation in the first place. Instead, placards in local Santa Barbara marches read “Stop Mad Cowboy Disease” or “Stop Bush’s Wargasm. Pull out now!” While devoid of serious commentary, these cute slogans reveal a current in the American psyche that has been gaining strength, forced into the public by Iraq.
For this reason, Americans right now are profoundly anxious. We have always thought of ourselves as reluctant warriors, never exuberant about sending our youth to fight wars in distant lands. Yet now the world seems to criticize our hostility and aggression. Polls show that while most Americans approve of the end -a free Iraq sans Saddam – they worry that it isn’t justified by the costs.
This anxiety is especially strong among students on our campus, where the desire to be progressive is particularly acute. The ungenerous portrayal of the U.S. in our classes has helped turn an honest questioning into a focused and fierce antagonism (usually against an evil triumvirate of U.S. politicians, corporations and oil). How do we reconcile our self-conception as a benevolent peacemaker with worldwide charges of warmongering? What we have thought of as leadership, they call domination.
Our leadership is at least partly responsible for growing alienation and resentment. The undiplomatic bluster of Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney is received as a message that we do what we believe to be right and the world is free to put its suggestions in the suggestion box. There is a strong case for war, but the administration has done a lackluster job of making it. It has been overly reliant on dubious evidence like Iraqi links to al-Qaeda while failing to adequately emphasize Iraq’s nightmarish and well-documented nuclear ambitions.
Times have certainly changed since engagement became necessary after World War II. Today, Bush is endlessly lambasted for sermonizing. But there was a time when presidents were lauded for saying things like, “This nation has placed its destiny in the hands, heads and heart of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God” (Franklin D. Roosevelt). Now when anything approaching this is said, it is instantly ridiculed as unsophisticated moral instruction from an evangelical president.
Everyone has their own conception of what America’s role in the world order should be, but the view of an essentially malignant U.S. has one fundamental flaw: It concentrates on the wrong America has done, and does not include recognition of the good. As someone who had family in both Stalin’s purges and Hitler’s death camps, I have my own view of the country that defeated Communism and Nazism. How many lives were saved as a result of our victories in those great global struggles?
Political scientist Charles Kupchan predicts that a “shrinking American willingness to be the global protector of last resort will be the primary engine of a changing global landscape.” Retrenchment will be the result, and we will find out exactly what “life after the American century” looks like.
American ambition has done more to positively change the world than that of any other nation in history. If we lose that ambition, it will not be because of the world giving up on America, but because of America giving up on the world.
-Joey Tartakovsky is a junior Global Studies and Slavic Studies major