Why did Operation Iraqi Freedom (sic) provoke such a massive anti-war outcry? Hold on, that's not the question I'd really like to ask. Let me rephrase: Why did Operation Iraqi Freedom (sic) provoke so much more protest than 78 days of U.S./NATO bombing over Yugoslavia in 1999?
There is an assortment of possible answers to that question...but the one I dread involves America's alleged two-party system. So let me rephrase one more time: Did the recent anti-war protests occur because Bush is a Republican and has surrounded himself with the likes of Rumsfeld, Cheney, Powell, Rice, and Ashcroft while Clinton, a purported liberal, enjoyed more freedom to commit war crimes?
Bush demonized Hussein as the "next Hitler" in order to attack him. The Left demonized Bush with Hitler comparisons. I've written many articles criticizing U.S. policy towards Iraq and have received dozens of e-mails in support. During Clinton's bombing of Yugoslavia, I published one anti-war article and was called a Nazi for supporting ethnic cleansing. Who called Clinton a Nazi then? Who made Hitler analogies when he ordered revenge on those "two-bit pricks" (Clinton's words) in Somalia? Who drew a square black mustache on Clinton posters when civilians died in Yugoslavia during an illegal bombing or a pharmaceutical plant was blown up in The Sudan to distract us from Monica?
All these questions bring us back to the 2000 election when Nader voters urged Gore supporters to go Green because Gore was essentially no different than Bush. While this argument may appear foolish post-9/11, I don't think the events of the past three years change this fundamental reality: The primary difference between Democrats and Republicans is that they tell different lies to get elected.
Would Al Gore have responded in a drastically different manner to 9/11? We might want to believe so. It might comfort us to think that Bush is an anomaly and once he's removed, everything will be better. But during the Clinton/Gore years, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was signed into law (April 24, 1996). This USA PATRIOT Act prequel contained provisions that Clinton himself admitted "makes a number of ill-advised changes in our immigration laws, having nothing to do with fighting terrorism." This unconstitutional salvo did little to address so-called terrorism but plenty to limit the civil liberties of anyone-immigrant or resident-who disagrees with U.S. policies, foreign or domestic.
Should we believe President Gore would not have clamped down like Dubya's boys did after September 11? If he did, would he have faced the same cries of fascism Bush does now? What if Gore got around to giving Iraq the same medicine Clinton gave Yugoslavia...would we have seen tens of millions marching across the globe? Would publications like The Nation be so motivated in their dissent? Will outrage over Iraq manifest itself in nothing more than co-opted support for whichever Democrat raises the $100 million necessary to run for American CEO?
Is there really a sharp distinction between the two parties or is Gore Vidal correct when he says: "Our only political party has two right wings, one called Republican, the other Democratic"?
It might help to recognize that this concept of a single corporate-controlled party isn't exactly new. By the late eighteenth century, the U.S. government was, as Zinn put it, "behaving as Karl Marx described a capitalist state: pretending neutrality to maintain order, but serving the interests of the rich."
When Grover Cleveland (Democrat) was elected president in 1884, Robber Baron Jay Gould wired him: "I feel...that the vast business interests of the country will be entirely safe in your hands." For anyone wondering if Gould was right, bear in mind that one of Cleveland's chief advisers was William Whitney, a millionaire corporate lawyer who married into the Standard Oil fortune. Cleveland was succeeded by Benjamin Harrison (Republican), a man whose main qualification was working for the railroads as a lawyer and soldier. Prior to his election, Harrison prosecuted railroad strikers in federal courts. Still, he was bumped out of the White House in 1892 when Grover Cleveland (still a Democrat) reclaimed his throne. In light of this development, Robber Baron Andrew Carnegie received a letter from the manager of steel plants, Henry Clay Frick. "I am sorry for President Harrison," Frick wrote, "but I cannot see that our interests are going to be affected one way or the other by the change in administration." Right on cue, President Cleveland used U.S. troops to break up "Coxey's Army," a demonstration of unemployed men who had come to Washington to protest (so, all you out-of-work loafers, don't get any ideas).
More than one hundred years later, who recognizes that the Democratic Clinton/Gore administration's callous policies on Haiti, Somalia, Cuba, Bosnia, Iraq, gays in the military, David Gergen, NAFTA, GATT, labor, welfare, Medicaid, Medicare, "anti-terrorism," telecommunications monopolies, etc. reflected little variation from their Republican rivals?
During 1993 and 1994, when Clinton had the "advantage" of a Democratically-controlled Congress, Emperor Bill abandoned his pledge to consider offering asylum to Haitian refugees, he reneged on his promise to "take a firm stand" against the armed forces' ban on gays and lesbians, and he backed away from his most high-profile campaign issue: health care. While "enjoying" a Democratic House and Senate, Clinton signed NAFTA and GATT, increased the Pentagon budget by $25 billion, fired Jocelyn Elders, dumped Lani Guinier, bombed Iraq and the Balkans, renewed the murderous sanctions on Iraq, and passed a crime bill that gave us more cops, more prisons, and 58 more offenses punishable by death.
After presiding over the much-hyped Republican "revolution" in 1994, Slick Willie continued to march in lockstep with his corporate owners. The next two years of foreign policy provided us with more bombs and more sanctions over Iraq; covert support for war criminals in Haiti; a tightening of sanctions against Cuba, Iran, and Libya; and the overt support of a corrupt Boris Yelstin. Domestically, Clinton continued his assault on the working class by delivering a telecommunications bill further narrowing the already laughable parameters of public debate. As a final slap in the face of the "liberal" wing of his party, Clinton signed the welfare repeal bill.
What about the environment...allegedly Gore's domain? In 1996, David Brower, former president of the Sierra Club, penned a Los Angeles Times op-ed entitled, "Why I Won't Vote for Clinton." In this piece, Brower offered a litany of Clinton-sponsored moves, which utterly smashed the public image of Bill or Al Gore as "pro-environment." Some of these crimes include the passage of the salvage logging rider, the signing of the Panama Declaration, the continuation of the use of methyl bromide, the weakening of the Endangered Species Act, the lowering of grazing fees on land, subsidizing Florida's sugar industry, weakening the Safe Drinking Water Act, reversing the ban on the production and importation of PCBs, and allowing the export of Alaskan oil. These, and other proud Clinton/Gore accomplishments, have led Brower to declare that the dynamic Democratic duo had "done more harm to the environment in three years than Presidents Bush and Reagan did in 12 years." Today, if Dubya looks cockeyed at a tree he's labeled a reactionary.
The supposed two-party system is like a giant corporate puppeteer wearing a Democrat puppet on his left hand and a Republican puppet on his right hand. The puppets themselves look different so we appear to have a choice. Nonetheless, this so-called choice is neatly framed within the bounds of the economic status quo. We can choose, but only from a pre-determined range of choices. The puppets look different but both hands are controlled by one economic brain. We are merely choosing sides in a false conflict and allowing those is power to determine our freedom of choice.
Like the bull in a bullfight, the voter chases the elusive red cape. We are distracted from the real targets through an attractive image or illusion. Our energies are so poorly focused that we offer no threat to the status quo. In fact, we willingly contribute by assuming our predetermined role as a consumer. Media-hyped millionaires with blow-dried hair are sold to the public like any other commodity. Ideologies are neatly packaged and marketed with the same intensity and deception as a cell phone or SUV. Once in office, we trust these men (and women) with our moral decisions and are satisfied with the illusion of having elected them, never comprehending the reality that if voting could really change anything, it might be made illegal.
Why did this illegal war inspire such outrage and disapproval while 78 days of carpet-bombing over Yugoslavia did not? We must hope it's more than partisan protest based on the faulty premise of a two-party system because a movement based on that foundation is certainly doomed.
Mickey Z. is the author of The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet (www.murderingofmyyears.com) and an editor at Wide Angle (www.wideangleny.com). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.