Ira Chernus  
PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER

 

FOR PEACE MOVEMENT, OPTIMISM = REALISM = PEACE

Mother nature will not wait for the Bush administration to make up its mind. She will bring summer to the desert sands of Iraq, right on schedule. If the Bushies donít start their war by the end of February, it will be too hot to fight until late next autumn.

Too many of my friends in the peace movement assume that war is inevitable. In fact, it is far from a done deal.

Last summer, the hawks in the administration clearly had the upper hand. Since then, they have slowly but steadily lost their grip. For months now, the president has been backpedaling, in the face of a world-wide wall of opposition to war that just wonít budge. Even George W. no longer believes that America can do whatever it damn pleases.

In Britain, organizers of the world-wide demonstrations on February 15 expect up to a million people to fill Trafalgar Square. This week, the German Green Party came out against war. That forced the German government to demand a second Security Council resolution before war can begin. The French and Russians remain sympathetic to that view. The five new members who just joined the Security Council are less likely than the old members to vote for war. Kofi Annan added another warning to his continuing string of cautionary statements.

At the same time, the administration revealed its obvious double standard by agreeing to negotiate with North Korea (as long as it isnít called "negotiation"). Bush pulled the rug out from under his own stated principle of going after dictators with weapons of mass destruction. That makes all his arguments for war with Iraq even less believable. It gives all those nations intent on blocking the path to war more reason to stand firm.

In light of all this, it is no coincidence that the White House now says January 27 is not a drop-dead deadline. Thereís still plenty of wiggle room.

The man who may cast the deciding vote is the administration's political strategist and vote-counter-in-chief, Karl Rove. He reads the polls. One number has not changed in months: two-thirds or more of U.S. voters will support a war only if itís waged by an international coalition under UN auspicesó a coalition that just is not there. If we go into war alone, and the war drags on with any sizeable number of U.S. casualties, Rove might suffer the only casualty he really cares about: losing the 2004 election.

Iíll bet that every night Rove communes with the ghost of Bush past, George the First, vintage 1992. Rove knows how fast a war president can lose popularity. He also knows how slim the Republican victory was last fall. If a mere 20,000 voters in key states around the country had voted Democrat instead of Republican, the Dems would now control the Senate. So Rove is shining a big yellow caution light over the White House.

Those of us who want to stop the war have good reason to be optimistic. Weíve built the biggest peace movement in over thirty years. Why, then, do so many of us go around telling each other that Bush will go to war, no matter what? Do we want to feel like powerless victims? Do we get some perverse masochistic pleasure from it?

I suspect that, more than anything else, we are just preparing for another disappointment. When you work for peace, itís easy to feel that your work is in vain. People remember all the wars that happened. They quickly forget the ones that could have happened but didnít. So peace activists can easily see themselves as permanent losers. Psychologically, it makes sense to cushion the next loss by preparing for it in advance.

Politically, though, it makes no sense at all. Pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It saps our energy, just when we need energy the most, just when we are on the verge of stopping this war before it starts. So letís cut out all the doomsaying. Letís be realists and face the facts. Letís start telling each other that we can stop this war. Letís believe it, because it is true. That will give us the one last burst of energy we need to bring peace before summer comes to the desert sands.


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