Monday, February 18, 2008

Speaking of Anniversaries: Here's One From the Clinton Regime Files

Ten Years Ago, People Power Stopped Clinton in Iraq, by Bill Simpich:
Ten years ago, this week, Bill Clinton was doing his best to get the US embroiled in war with Iraq.


Once again, the President invoked an all-too-familiar mantra: Saddam Hussein had to be stopped before he got his hands on weapons of mass destruction.

Unbelievably, on February 18, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Defense Secretary William Cohen, and national security advisor Sandy Berger visited Ohio State University for an internationally televised "town hall" meeting to warm up the country for a carpet bombing of Iraq.

CNN and the Clinton Administration joined hands to try to ensure peace and quiet. A university press release mandated that no cameras, banners or placards would be permitted in the arena. Purses and bags were searched and metal detectors were the order of the day. Outside, an armored personnel carrier was parked in an alley across the street.

Only a relative handful of carefully screened individuals were issued red or gray tickets and were allowed to ask questions at the "town hall". Even they were questioned as to what their question was and how they were going to ask it. CNN agreed that no one could bring notes to the microphone. The ushers included soldiers in uniform. Other uniformed soldiers were stationed in seats throughout the arena to cow anyone from challenging the presenters.

Jon Strange, a public school teacher, joined a handful of activists at Ohio State University in forming the Columbus Coalition for Democratic Foreign Policy to confront the "Three Musketeers".


When she [Madeline Albright] took to the microphone, people started shouting at her the moment that she threatened to use military force. They pretty much stopped her cold. Defense Secretary Cohen got similar treatment. Burger was forced to admit, "We have a divided house." Then a "NO WAR" banner was unfurled. Then the initial question was posed from the microphone:
Q: "I am an assistant professor in the Ohio State University. My question is to Secretary of Defense, Mr. Cohen. The American Administration has the might and the means to attack the Iraqi state, but does it have the moral right to attack the Iraqi nation?"
Much sputtering ensued. (The evening's transcript--including the shouting--can be enjoyed at CNN gave the fish eye to the questioners at the three microphones and pulled in the reins. Rick Theis' Plan B was spoiled, as CNN repeatedly refused to turn on his microphone. When he voiced his dismay, he was physically dragged away by security.

As the questioners continued to be carefully vetted, the shouting got louder and more frequent. Carrying people out of their seats only increased the volume. Finally, CNN sought to buy peace by offering to let Jon Strange ask a question if his group would stop shouting. (By the way, they never did.) But the exchange was priceless.
Q: "Yes, I have a question for Secretary Albright. Why bomb Iraq, when other countries have committed similar violations? Turkey, for example..."


"--Can I finish? For example, Turkey has bombed Kurdish citizens. Saudi Arabia has tortured political and religious dissidents. Why does the US apply different standards of justice to these countries?"


ALBRIGHT: "Let me say that when there are problems such as you have described, we point them out and make very clear our opposition to them. But there is no one that has done to his people or to his neighbors what Saddam Hussein has done or what he is thinking about doing."


Q: "What about Indonesia? You turned my microphone off."

ALBRIGHT: "I think that the record will show that Saddam Hussein has produced weapons of mass destruction, which he's clearly not collecting for his own personal pleasure, but in order to use. And therefore, he is qualitatively and quantitatively different from every brutal dictator that has appeared recently, and we are very concerned about him specifically and what his plans might be. Do you have a follow-up?"

Q: "Thank you. My microphone is off. There we are. What do you have to say about dictators of countries like Indonesia, who we sell weapons to yet they are slaughtering people in East Timor?"


"What do you have to say about Israel, who is slaughtering Palestinians, who impose martial law? What do you have to say about that? Those are our allies. Why do we sell weapons to these countries? Why do we support them? Why do we bomb Iraq when it commits similar problems?"

When Albright hemmed and hawed, Strange unleashed a zinger:
Q: "You're not answering my question, Madame Albright."

When Albright responded in her closing remarks, "We need your support," the protesters shouted back, "You can't have it!"

The next day, pictures of Rick Theis in his green sweater were broadcast around the world, while the Clinton Administration was covered with ridicule. When he was asked why he didn't support US military involvement in Iraq, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said "Not even Ohio supports it." Clinton's war efforts had come to naught, for the moment. (On the other hand, lest we forget, there was "low-level" US aerial bombing of portions of Iraq throughout the entire Clinton Administration). But it was a clear victory. As Jon Strange later put it: "Three dead in Ohio."

There was a moment, nine months later in November, when Clinton came within eight minutes of setting off an all-out carpet bomb attack in a desperate attempt to avoid impeachment before Sandy Berger got him to revoke his order in a last-minute act of sanity. A month later, Clinton finally fired a far more modest flurry of missiles on the last day of the House impeachment proceedings. Although Clinton brazenly dubbed it "Desert Fox", it was better known as the sequel to "Wag the Dog".

It's important to remember that people do have the power, when they decide to really roll up their sleeves and use it. On March 19, the fifth anniversary of the Iraq occupation, thousands of people will engage in nonviolent civil disobedience in Washington DC, led by Iraq veterans and military families in the wake of their Winter Soldier war crimes tribunal.

Hundreds of similar actions will take place around the country on that fateful Wednesday. In San Francisco, Direct Action to Stop the War has been reborn, and plans to return to the San Francisco financial district to shout a message loud and clear. This time around, the plan is for large numbers to expose and confront Iraq war profiteers such as the Carlyle Group in their own front yard, after standing in solidarity on March 15 with the West County Toxics Coalition and communities of color against Chevron's Richmond refinery--it pollutes the surrounding population while it processes Iraqi oil.

The United States has created a shambles. 650,000 to 1 million Iraqis dead or wounded, 4,000,000 displaced. Nearly 4,000 U.S. service people killed and over 40,000 wounded and neglected by our government. Meanwhile, U.S. corporations reap huge profits as they put the squeeze on the Iraqi government to acquiesce to their plans to control Iraq's oil. U.S. citizens face a bill of 2.8 trillion dollars, and a military budget that has got to be redirected to fund human needs. We don't have to be silent. We can shout--All At the Same Time.

No more blood of Iraqi men, women, and children. If we can take action together, like the students at Ohio State showed us ten years ago in the face of great odds, maybe we can find a path that leads away from this devastating winter in America--and towards the promise that the vernal equinox provides.
I've emphasized a few passages that I found particularly salient. Some of what should be immediately salient is that the Clintonistas were an especially authoritarian lot, much in the same vein as the Bushistas of this decade. The efforts to micromanage a so-called "town hall" meeting so that no inconvenient questions could be asked is just one exemplar. Once more I also think it's important to realize that the Clintonistas were genuine warmongers, as the article reminds the reader, and much like the current regime willing to use military force under the most cynical of circumstances - human costs be damned. Finally, we can be reminded that activists can and do manage to effect change. Sometimes the effects are fairly immediate, sometimes a bit more slowly-emerging.

It's funny that I was discussing in one of my classes this morning the concept of collective efficacy. You can think of collective efficacy as the group equivalent of self-efficacy. Whereas the motto of self-efficacy is "yes I can," the motto of collective efficacy is "yes we can." If you look at various social movements, past and present, what sustains the group efforts (and of course the individual efforts within these groups) even in the face of adversity is this sense that whatever they are doing can make a difference. ¡Si, se puede! You get the picture.

There are of course numerous means to show a withdrawal of support for any regime. Taking it to the streets in protest, general strikes, even simply refusing to show up to vote in sufficient numbers to create a critical mass can send the message that we're done with all the bullshit.

Food for thought.

No comments:

Post a Comment