Point counter point: Are anti-war activists motivated by political persuasion? (Gurr)

Historically, peace activists have a lengthy record of censuring American presidents. During the Vietnam era, presidents of both parties received the brunt of remarkable public outrage. With the end of the Cold War, the international atmosphere calmed dramatically. Consequently, protests decreased in intensity and frequency during the 1980s and 1990s. But recent leaders of both parties have continued to face large-scale demonstrators voicing opposition to public policy.

Understandably, peace protesters voice their outrage about the war in Iraq. Demonstrating against the war does not mean activists worship all Democrats and vilify all Republicans. If anything, peace activists view both parties with contempt as they march for change. Most protesters criticize Democrats and Republicans alike for abandoning nonviolent principles they hold dear.

Compared to President Bush, President Clinton’s international actions did not galvanize as many protesters to action because, plainly, they were not as controversial. Clinton’s actions were never as ruthless, and most people did not view his motives as questionable. In Yugoslavia, the United States acted with international support in circumstances much more complex than today’s situation. Plus, the global climate was much less precarious during the Clinton administration, so the public had less cause for concern. Yet peace activists were hardly “silent.”

Clinton was extensively criticized for his actions in the international arena. Activists were out in full force during much of his administration, livid about Clinton’s lack of intervention in Rwanda. Many peace activists openly blamed him for violence in Haiti. NATO’s bombing in Yugoslavia was greeted with numerous protests nationwide, and many groups criticized Clinton for coddling Milosevic and intensifying the conflict in Kosovo.

The antiwar movement picks up speed when wars are unsuccessful and unpopular: Iraq is both, while many of Clinton’s policies were neither. That’s not a reflection on activists’ double standards, but a reflection of general public reaction.

Though peace activists criticize both parties, they justifiably take greater issue with Republicans as the worse of two evils. Bush deceived the public about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, launching an unprovoked war in spite of widespread international opposition.

Naturally, peace activists are outraged by Bush’s behavior. While the country grappled with a stammering economy, he unilaterally invaded Iraq. While the United States struggled to fight terrorism at home, Bush diverted valuable money, time and effort into a senseless conflict thousands of miles away.

Bush’s haughty arrogance is every peace protestor’s worst nightmare: a powerful, aggressive leader thumbing his nose at international agreements, invading countries and aggravating proliferation. There is nothing hypocritical about the peaceful public’s furious reaction to the Bush administration.

But speaking of hypocrites, how about the shifting Republican position on war and patriotism? People who once scoffed at Clinton’s justification for action in Kosovo now condemn anyone who criticizes American military action as unpatriotic. For example, conservative Sean Hannity adamantly opposed U.S. action in Kosovo, asking liberals to explain to parents of soldiers that “may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life.” Today, he scorns identical sentiments as inappropriate and “un American.” The double standards are obvious: Conservatives support war when it’s their war and they play the peace card when they aren’t in charge.

Though his foreign policies were not as divisive as Bush’s, Clinton was still widely criticized. It is an obvious lie to say that peace activists “stood in utter silence” when, in reality, they protested military action in Kosovo, Haiti and Yugoslavia. But the current situation is much more controversial and much more prolonged.

Activists are rightly outraged at Bush’s absurd, unprovoked action in Iraq and will continue to voice their anger as the conflict extends. Demonstrating against war doesn’t make protesters hypocrites-it makes them active citizens whose involvement is commendable, whether one agrees with their principles or not.

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