iOS app Android app

Why the Anti-War Movement Needs to Embrace Repentance


So it appears Newt Gingrich hasn't really changed his mind on Iraq after all. He doesn't actually want to "pull out" of Iraq; he just wants to "pull back." Fine (and be sure and read LiberalOasis on what this neocon re-frame is really about).

But "Newt: did he or didn't he? (only his hairdresser and Richard Perle know for sure!)" is not the story for me. I'm much more interested in the way bloggers on my side of the political spectrum (including some of my favorites, and some who are good friends) initially reacted to the news that Newt had altered his stance on the war.

It wasn't pretty. Matt Stoller at MyDD labeled him "another cowardly rat jumping off the Iraq ship," an "impotent rotten apple," and urged readers to find and post their "favorite warmongering quote from Gingrich on Iraq prior to his jumping off the ship." Think Progress gathered a "gotcha!" collection of Gingrich's greatest pro-war quotes. And Jane Hamsher opened up with both barrels:

"Newt should not be allowed to assume the status of visionary hero for seeing the light. Newt is a guilty fucker with blood on his hands and no amount of apostasy is going to wash that off... No. Fucking. Prisoners. We had to live through this war because nobody put a stake through the heart of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gingrich, etc. the first time around...Every one of those bastards must be made to wear this war, the war of their own making, around their necks..."

But while I absolutely understand and share their anger, and adore the passion (indeed, I called Jane this morning and told her so), I have to ask if this is really the way we want to respond to pro-war people who change their position?

Isn't the whole goal of those of us fighting to put an end to this immoral, outrageous, and tragic war to get as many war supporters as possible to join the chorus of voices calling for a pull out from Iraq?

Jack Murtha supported the war -- then he didn't. And his change of heart adds credibility to his bold stand, it doesn't undercut it.

Yes, there is plenty of room to question the motives of pro-war neocons suddenly trying to distance themselves from their bellicose promotion of invading Iraq. But, at the same time, this is absolutely what we want and need them to do in order for us to be able to get out of Iraq. Whatever their motives. (And, trust me, Jane, if you distrust Newt, I distrust him a million times more. Remember, I know him.)

And don't all of us against the war want Hillary to change her mind on the war, as we briefly thought Gingrich did?

Let's say Hillary, instead of slinging economic platitudes in Chicago yesterday, had announced that she had changed her mind on Iraq. Would liberal bloggers be collecting their favorite warmongering quotes from Senator Clinton (including the time she told the Council on Foreign Relations that we "owe a great debt of gratitude" to the president for capturing Saddam) and saying that she has blood on her hands and must be made to wear this war around her neck? No, she didn't sit on the Defense Policy Board like Newt and help craft the Iraq war plan. But she did vote for the war and was one of the key enablers without whom we never would have invaded Iraq. Here is, after all, what she said on the floor of the Senate on October 10, 2002:

Intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members... [I]f left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security. Now this much is undisputed.

How would that speech be different if it had been delivered by Newt, or Dick Cheney, or Richard Perle? In fact, rereading that floor speech, I was filled with fresh anger at the Democrats who made it possible for the neocons to sell this disastrous war to the American people. And here is Hillary again, playing the administration's trump card, linking invading Iraq to 9/11:
I cast [this vote] with conviction... I come to this decision from the perspective of a Senator from New York who has seen all too closely the consequences of last year's terrible attacks on our nation. In balancing the risks of action versus inaction, I think New Yorkers who have gone through the fires of hell may be more attuned to the risk of not acting. I know that I am.

But despite my anger at her helping make this war possible, I would gladly welcome Hillary to the anti-war fold. I would have no doubt that the change of heart was based on calculation but, if we're serious about our goal -- withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and an end to the building of permanent military bases there -- we need as many people as possible with a platform and a voice on our side.

And since so many of these people-with-a-platform -- on both sides of the aisle -- voted for the war (and made speeches similar to Hillary's), no change in policy will happen until enough of them publicly change their minds. And say that they were wrong. And, with a bit of luck, say they're sorry. But I'll take it even if they don't say they're sorry.

It's more than a little ironic that Newt Gingrich was the spark for this latest dustup, since the transformation in my political thinking was prompted in large measure by my deep disillusionment back in 1996 with Gingrich, his empty rhetoric, his hypocrisy, and his hidden agenda.

Maybe that's why I have a soft spot for people publicly changing their minds. It's rarely simple or painless (see Francis Fukuyama's op-ed on the reaction to his switch on the war). But it's absolutely what we need to have happen more and more if we're going to put an end to the debacle in Iraq.

The sooner all the guilty fuckers fess up and admit they were wrong, the better.

Repentance Update: Ending the War vs. Defending Our Anti-War Purity

Follow Arianna Huffington on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ariannahuff