John Kerry Flapping in the Public Opinion Breeze on Iraq

Until , if you wanted to read about John Kerry denouncing the war as an “error of judgment of historic proportions” you had to take the wayback machine on a thirty-year hop. So certain was he that the war in Iraq would remain popular, at least among the swing-voters, that he squandered every opportunity to forthrightly criticize his opponent’s most blatant failure. he changed his mind.

That in itself isn’t news, at least not the kind to meet The Picket Line’s exacting standards of relevance. Kerry’s new rhetoric, while stronger than before, still tends to evaporate on closer scrutiny. Did he really say that he believed that the war in Iraq was a mistake, that he would not have invaded if he had been in charge, that it was all based on a lie? Well, on first reading, yeah, it does sound like that. But then when you read his speech over again, you find that he’s left himself plenty of room to weasel out of any such firm conclusions.*

But look over here: A quick exit from Iraq is likely if Bush is reelected, says the balloon floated by Robert Novak.

If Kerry’s speech was full of weasel room, Novak’s column is a room full of weasels, in the form of “officials” and “well-placed sources” “inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus.” The column masquerades as an inside-scoop, but it’s really a telegram being sent by the Bush campaign to voters frustrated with the war, saying that maybe Bush is the one to end it, and in any case it’s not likely to last much longer so don’t worry about it.

It’s a message designed to appeal to credulous folk who would love an excuse to stop worrying about Iraq, and is designed to give them one less excuse to vote against the Dubya Squad.

But that, and Kerry’s speech (and a probably-not-coincidental chorus of Republican talk-show guests on ), show that both campaigns have come to believe that the tide of public opinion is starting to turn, and that it may become a liability for Bush and Kerry to run on their pro-Iraq-war records.

And the campaigns aren’t merely reacting to their perceptions of public opinion, of course — they’re also shaping it. When Kerry decides to try to sound as though he were anti-war, when conservative columnists float hopeful speculations that Dubya will bring the troops home soon, and when Republican legislators signal that there’s plenty of room for disagreement about the war in their party — this is not only pandering to an increasingly anti-war public, but it’s advertising and legitimizing anti-war attitudes to that public.

Is this a good thing? Well, it’s not a bad thing. But it’s a little late to do a lot of good. One way or the other, the U.S. government will continue to be led by someone who lied and cajoled and beat his chest and followed his merciless power greed to get us bombing Iraq. Note that presidents were sending messages to voters about how they’d get the U.S. out of Vietnam years before they actually stopped napalming people, so a change in political rhetoric or public opinion is not sufficient to change things for the better in Iraq.

But one day, perhaps, you’ll be able to conduct a poll to show that some huge majority of Americans claim to oppose the war or even to have opposed it all along. We may not have become even one notch less susceptible to being whipped up into murderous war frenzy, but we will have convinced ourselves that we’re not to blame for someone else’s mistake in Iraq.

* For instance, compare his speech to the interview with Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik that came out : “Iraq didn’t pose a clear and present danger to the United States. It didn’t pose a danger to the United States at all. And the US has not, in fact, ‘liberated’ the people of Iraq. They still have a dictator. For awhile, his name was Bremer. Now it’s Allawi. And the US has the innocent blood of thousands of Iraqis and more than 1,000 of its own young men and women on its hands.” Couldn’t fit a weasel in there with the weaselly equivalent of a shoehorn. That’s how you say something when you mean it.

Michelle Goldberg, in Salon seems to be thinking along the same lines:

Do such stories even register with Americans? By way of analogy, [George] Lopez points out, Americans turned against the war in Vietnam because they thought we were losing — not because they thought it was immoral. Only a vocal minority, he says, worried about the atrocities being inflicted on Vietnamese civilians. “We had moments after the Tet Offensive where the public was willing to get out,” he says. “But Nixon won in a landslide because he promised peace with honor.”

John Pilger in New Statesman writes:

These days, the Americans routinely fire missiles into Fallujah and other dense urban areas; they murder whole families. If the word terrorism has any modern application, it is this industrial state terrorism.…

Only by recognizing the terrorism of states is it possible to understand, and deal with, acts of terrorism by groups and individuals which, however horrific, are tiny by comparison. Moreover, their source is inevitably the official terrorism for which there is no media language. Thus, the state of Israel has been able to convince many outsiders that it is merely a victim of terrorism when, in fact, its own unrelenting, planned terrorism is the cause of the infamous retaliation by Palestinian suicide bombers. For all of Israel’s perverse rage against the BBC — a successful form of intimidation — BBC reporters never report Israelis as terrorists: that term belongs exclusively to Palestinians imprisoned in their own land. It is not surprising, as a recent Glasgow University study concluded, that many television viewers in Britain believe that the Palestinians are the invaders and occupiers.

On , Palestinian suicide bombers killed 16 Israelis in the town of Beersheba. Every television news report allowed the Israeli government spokesman to use this tragedy to justify the building of an apartheid wall — when the wall is pivotal to the causes of Palestinian violence. Almost every news report marked the end of of “relative peace and calm” and “a lull in the violence.” During of relative peace and calm, almost 400 Palestinians were killed, 71 of them in assassinations. During the lull in the violence, more than 73 Palestinian children were killed. A 13-year-old was murdered with a bullet through the heart, a five-year-old was shot in her face as she walked arm in arm with her two-year old-sister. The body of Mazen Majid, aged 14, was riddled with 18 Israeli bullets as he and his family fled their bulldozed home.

None of this was reported in Britain as terrorism. Most of it was not reported at all. After all, this was a period of peace and calm, a lull in the violence.

I don’t often bring up the quicksand-issue of Israel here on The Picket Line, but… we’re paying for it…

The United States will sell Israel 5,000 smart bombs, for $319 million, according to a report made to Congress a few weeks ago.

The funding will come from the U.S. military aid to Israel…

That’s right: they’re buying the bombs from U.S. weapons manufacturers with money that U.S. taxpayers are giving them.

Government sources said the bomb deal, one of the largest weapons deals of recent years, did not face any political difficulties, despite the use Israel has made of U.S.-made F-16s in some of its assassinations in the territories. The IDF used a one-ton bomb to kill a senior Hamas officer, Salah Shehadeh, in , an assassination that also took the lives of 15 Palestinian civilians, including children.