When we first drafted an anti-war petition in college, we gave a lot of thought to what it should say. We wanted it to appeal to the widest array of people, without compromising our beliefs. We decided to keep it simple. Our petition was only six words: "We oppose the war in Iraq."
Our plan worked like a charm. In four weeks, we got 2,000 signatures on a campus with 5,000 undergrads. We didn’t care why you opposed the war, just that you opposed it. Over the last few years, the anti-war movement has grown in strides in similar fashion. Millions have added their voices to the movement, united in their opposition to the war regardless of their reason for opposing it.
But along the way, the anti-war movement has lost itself. Not the anti-war movement that got a foothold six years ago in the run up to the Iraq war, but the one that sprung up seven years ago to oppose the war in Afghanistan. Today, that anti-war movement has been hijacked by those who oppose the Iraq war only because they think it distracts from the war in Afghanistan. As someone whose political psyche was born in the fall of 2001, this tears me up, and so I write...
It was the fall of 2002, I was a junior in college, and I lived and breathed the anti-war movement. Our campus anti-war group was strong and vibrant. Before the Iraq war even started, we already had 2,000 signatures on an anti-war petition--on a campus with about 5,000 undergrads. We had over 1,000 people on our email list long before the war turned unpopular.
Yet when I think back to our biggest meeting, it wasn’t in the fall of 2002 or the spring of 2003, right before the start of the Iraq war. It was in 2001, the week following September 11th. The whole country rallied together after September 11th. So too did activists on campus. We dropped everything and spontaneously came together to demand a just and humane response to a horrific tragedy. We opposed airstrikes into Afghanistan and warned that they would kill thousands of innocent civilians, put our troops in danger, and ultimately do little to quell terrorism.
We talked about the paradox of a "war on terror" in which we terrorize and massacre innocent civilians for the sake of vengeance. And we pointed out the absurdity of waging war on a tactic. Terrorism is, after all, not a political ideology or a religious doctrine or even a military strategy. It is simply a tactic. Like shock and awe was a tactic. We explained, first rationally and then emotionally, that you can’t eliminate terrorism by waging a war against it, because anyone anywhere can carry out a terrorist attack for any reason.
We reasoned that the only way to curtail terrorism is to address the root causes. And of course, that meant first figuring out what the root causes were. We rejected the idea that "they hate us for our freedoms." We railed against the theory that this was a cultural war or a clash of civilizations. We urged policymakers to look, in this case, no further than Al-Qaeda’s own words to find the true cause.
They had attacked us because of our foreign policy in the Middle East. A foreign policy that had terrorized Iraqi civilians for a decade through sanctions that killed nearly two million people before this second Iraq war even started. A foreign policy that had undermined democracy in Iran and propped up the oppressive regime of the Shah. A foreign policy that championed the Saudi despots. A foreign policy that had created the power vacuum that brought the Taliban to power in Afghanistan, and that subsequently supported the brutal and oppressive regime that terrorized Afghani civilians.
We told everyone who would listen that the only way to truly root out terrorism was a fundamental shift in our foreign policy. If ‘we’ stopped terrorizing ‘them’ then ‘they’ would stop terrorizing ‘us’. Unfortunately, we had a President who responded to terror with a war of terror--one that was and is an act of terror being inflicted on the Afghani civilians, and one that has spawned even more terrorist attacks and inspired more people to turn to that tactic. President Bush failed to hear the voice of the anti-war movement. It wouldn’t be the last time.
We all know what happened next. After a miserable failure of a war in Afghanistan, we invaded Iraq. Our voice was louder this time, but still could not reach the President’s ears. Over the next few months and years, as it became abundantly clear that the mission could not possibly be accomplished, our voice grew louder and louder, until it was the voice of mainstream America.
But one day, I woke up and realized that this voice--the one that was ringing loud and clear, that was permeating our social fabric, that could be heard on the floors of Congress and in the speeches of our next President, and that was verified by poll after poll after poll--that this voice was not my voice any more. Because this new voice failed to recognize the fallacy of the war on terror. It opposed the war in Iraq because it was a distraction from the war on terror; not because it was merely the next phase in our own government’s war of terror.
At the onset, the anti-war movement had been the anti-war-on-terror movement, not the anti-war-in-Iraq-only movement. And today, as Senator Obama and the Dems proclaim that they will end the war in Iraq so that they can instead turn their attention to Afghanistan and Pakistan, I am once again forced to question the political will of our leaders. Senator Obama is one of the most intelligent political minds in the history of our country. If a group of undergrads can see that the war on terror is creating more terrorists than it is eliminating, surely he can too. But that is a politically inconvenient truth in a country where FOX News still remains a reputable news outlet.
It breaks my heart to hear Senator Obama talk about expanding the war on terror, or refocusing on the war on terror, or even mentioning the "war on terror". Because it reinforces the notion that anything we have done militarily in the last seven years has in any way, shape, or form, addressed the root causes of terrorism. In trying to capture one Osama bin Laden, the so-called war on terror is producing new Osama bin Ladens everyday. Capturing the one will not make a lick of difference any more. Not until we address the underlying causes.
To the Obama campaign’s credit, in the last two debates, both Senators Obama and Biden have finally begun to talk about some of these underlying issues. Somewhere in the middle of the talk about bombing Pakistan, they both acknowledged, in their respective debates, that to truly take on terrorism we have to win the people’s hearts and minds, and that means supporting democracy and helping them with governance and their economic well-being, so that their only interaction with us isn’t with our military.
But we must keep in mind that any good will we may build will go out the window the second we bomb them. Even if their only interaction with us isn’t with our military, as soon as that bomb goes off, for them, it will certainly be their most important interaction with us.