Bill Curry was the executive Director of Freeze Voter. He was State Comptroller in Connecticut and twice Democratic nominee for governor there. He was Counselor to the President in the Clinton White House. He's now a political columnist for the Hartford Courant. His column appears every Sunday.
Kevin Zeese: Are there lessons from the Nuclear Freeze for anti war activists today?
Bill Cury: One reason the Freeze was so effective was we had the right policy, which is different from and more important than having the right 'message'. That policy was a bilateral, verifiable freeze on the development, manufacture and deployment of nuclear weapons. Freeze activists weren't just against the arms race. They had an alternative whose first step was logical and clear. We were successful in organizing because our very powerful ideas did so much of our organizing for us.
Some of the left is simply and purely pacifist. I doubt that will ever be the majority opinion in America. People want above all to be safe. The framers of the Nuclear Freeze showed people they could be not just safe but indeed safer by resort to reason, diplomacy and the rule of law.
Bush knows how badly we want to be safe. He said he had a plan to make us safe. His manipulation of our fear- or Rove's, or Cheney's manipulation of it - was brilliant. Those opposing the war must do a better job of showing people how to feel safe and live unafraid.
KZ: What is the root of Western conflict in the Middle East?
BC: One of Bush's favorite lies is the "they hate us for our freedom" lie.
The truth is while 'Islamic extremists' disdain the consumerism and sensuality of western culture, they don't sit around reading the Federalist Papers "hating our freedom." They think they are fighting for their own.
Our long time friendship with Israel and our support of Arab oligarchs is the reason we're so much on their minds. It is why they're so able to propagandize against us in the Arab world. Were we to reduce our thirst for oil and thus our dependence on Arab regimes and were we somehow to end the Israel/Palestine crisis, the Al Qaeda recruiting pool would begin drying up.
Bush is entirely correct that the terrorists' tactics are evil. But his depiction of our foes as a mindless monolith of pure reactive evil is a false, foolish paradigm. It is self destructive not least because it prevents us from seeing their real motives and purposes.
KZ: What are your thoughts on America's unilateral use of military force?
BC: If Bush's cowboy unilateralism isn't your preferred means of conflict resolution you need an alternative. There is evil in the world and there are times-- Rwanda, Darfur -- when military intervention, is a necessity.
But whose job is that? It's the job of the community of nations, which practically speaking means the UN.
The question isn't whether the U.N. is up to the task. It isn't. It's broken. The question is whether we want to kill it or fix it. Bush and Bolton seem ignorant enough, if not to kill it, then to further undermine it. They have catastrophically bad judgment, but you knew that. The question is whether we're ready to defend multilateralism, and in particular the U.N., and ready as well to put on the table a plan for curing its manifest weaknesses so it can do the job it must do in the world.
This war has exposed the limits of unilateralism and militarism and the cost of each in money, respect and human life. The triumphalist 'neoconservative' view of the U.S. as 'the last superpower' arose when nation states, including ours, were under siege from both globalization and devolution and when our own military power could no longer protect us as it once had from, among other things, threat of terrorism.
The U.S. must recognize that our security lies in the rule of law – in a transition from an era of unilateral superpowers to one of multi-lateral conflict resolution. Someone must stand up and announce that a shoot first foreign policy is un-American and doesn't work either. Of course it is a hard thing to explain to a country so afraid.
The Democrats are most afraid of all. In part they're afraid of the Republican propaganda machine—hey, who wouldn't be-- but their fear also arises from their own inability to devise and explain an alternative theory of national security.
KZ: What should the Anti war movement be doing?
BC: Policy comes first.
The anti-war movement should acknowledge how hard it is to get out of Iraq. I'm proud I opposed the war from the beginning. One reason I did so was I knew how hard getting out would be. (That's why they call it a quagmire.)
We must address not just when to get out but how. The truth lies between those who say our leaving will bring a bloodbath and those who say our staying is the main cause of it. Bush meant to export democracy to Iraq but succeeded only in importing terrorism to Iraq. But his hubris and ineptitude do not excuse us from the duty to get as close as we can to a peaceful resolution of the war we brought upon them.
People want politicians with the courage of their convictions. First you have to have convictions; courage may follow. Rudderless Democrats follow public opinion. Their foreign policy establishment is so paralyzed by cautious me-too-ism it can't propose a plan. So others must. Here are some possible components:
We must negotiate with the new government a withdrawal timetable as requested by all factions at their Cairo summit. This is not 'imposing a timetable' but honoring our allies who, however much they really meant it, felt compelled by Iraqi public opinion to seek a time-table for withdrawal. There can be performance measures for all parties but there's no getting around the fact when our own allies request a timetable it falls to us to respond.
There must be wider negotiations as well. Since our soldiers are in their country we're obliged to talk to all sides. It may even help us figure out who they are and what they want, two topics on which the administration continues to appear appallingly ignorant.
We must renounce any preferential treatment in the sale of Iraqi oil as well as any proposal to establish permanent military bases there. Many see these as our true motives for intervening. President Bush has sworn it isn't so, that we seek only to end tyranny and establish democracy. It's an improbable claim; most of the world, not only the Arab world, thinks it preposterous. Still, we should take him at his word and call him on it.
Message comes second.
The Democrat political establishment is even worse than its foreign policy establishment. Once there is a plan the question arises of how to communicate it. This is what is called 'message' by those who haven't any.
A big problem is the Democratic establishment's inability to talk to men.
Culture critics have long warned of the negative role models propagated by gangsta rap. What of the model of middle aged white men on couches shouting at TV screens, unable to distinguish among sports contests, video games and actual war? Democrats fear this stereotype. Bush plays to it. Someone must stand up and talk to American men in the language of adults, the language of reason, respect, responsibility, restraint. Our entire nation must learn the rules of civil discourse. Someone out there has to be brave enough to get real and say it out loud.
KZ: Doesn't Bush want to stay in Iraq?
BC: Yes. But as I said, the President has staked what remains of his reputation for candor on the idea that it is a blood libel even to accuse him of such a thing. So call him on it.
The history of the age of oil tells us military bases aren't connected to stable oil supply in the way all presidents of the period believed. When it's to their advantage to join OPEC in raising prices or imposing an embargo our supposed best friends go right along. On the other hand when they need the money our worst enemies are more than happy to sell us the oil.
It turns out as much security as there may be in the superpower/client state relationship there's far more in the simpler, less expensive one of buyer and seller. Our growing economic insecurity regarding oil has little to do with military security and lots to do with the fact we're no longer the only consumer game in town-- the Saudis sell more oil to the Chinese- and that our demand continues to grow as supply dwindles.
KZ: Is there reason for optimism in Iraq?
BC: I'm not optimistic about democracy taking root there soon. We don't know how to plant it and they don't know how to grow it. You may think exporting democracy is to the Bush family what importing olive oil was to the Corleone family; that is, mostly a cover for other more profitable lines of work. I don't go quite so far. But I do think the Corleones knew a lot more about olive oil than the Bushes know about democracy.
People forget that Bush the elder was the first of his family to go into the business. When he was exporting democracy to Russia and Eastern Europe he sent folks over to explain how to get democracy up and running: privatize everything, deregulate everything, and get the governments in the black, like, yesterday.
The problem was Bush thought a free society was just a free market in the style of Friedrich Hayek. He didn't understand that a free market is a creature of democracy, of developed civic institutions from the common law to the commercial code to central banks and federal regulators. He thought exporting democracy and exporting his favored style of capitalism meant about the same thing. And so the new free markets were free for alls. What emerged, along with some inspiring stories of democratic heroism, were some of the great thugocracies in world history.
You know the saying: Those who don't know the history of the Bushes are condemned to repeat it, and so we do. It's hard to be optimistic that people with no grasp of democracy can transplant it. What we can hope for is that we find a way to end the bloodshed and establish domestic tranquility in Iraq and then get back to the business of making our own democracy something we're again able to export by the sheer power of its example.