Divided We Stand?

Every culture, it seems, has the same joke: Put three Koreans—or Albanians or Poles or Kenyans or Californians—in a room. After an hour of debate, they’ll form four political parties.

We are, by nature, a factious species. We huddle together in large crowds for football games or New Year’s celebrations. But when it comes to politics, we gravitate toward groupuscules. Sure, there are exceptions. There’s not a lot of political diversity in North Korea. But even in supposedly homogenous polities, like Japan where a single party has ruled almost continuously for the last half-century, factions thrive behind the scenes.

This law of division applies even more strongly to opposition movements. As FPIF contributor Lawrence Wittner wrote in How the Peace Movement Can Win, the anti-war movement in the United States is a many-splendored thing. But its lack of unity, he argued, is handicapping its effectiveness.

FPIF asked 11 peace activists and scholars to evaluate Wittner’s argument. Is the movement’s diversity part of its strength or its weakness? In What’s Next for the Peace Movement, Scott Bennett, Frida Berrigan, David Cobb, Brian Corr, George Friday, Don Kraus, Joanne Landy, Andrew Lichterman, Geoffrey Millard, Bal Pinguel, and Saif Rahman largely come down on the side of diversity. In addition, they address the “traditional whiteness” of the movement, the lure of party politics, the challenge of supporting democratic movements abroad, the virtues of networking, and much more.

In What the Peace Movement Can Learn from the NRA, Wittner responds to the Peace Movement 11.

The same debate over political strategy comes up in FPIF’s Strategic Focus on the World Social Forum. We asked 10 global activists to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the Forum, whether it was too diffuse or too institutionalized, and where it should head in the future. Adam Ma’anit bemoans the corporate sponsorships and the mega-concert flavor of the last WSF. Rita Thapa celebrates the opportunities to network. Melanie Joseph urges more artist participation. Jamal Juma’ wants to see the Forum engage more with the Arab world. Patrick Bond recommends a more explicit political program. Guacira César de Oliveira envisions a Forum that is more diverse yet less diffuse. Bret Benjamin suggests that Forum activists maintain a double vision that permits both inclusive dialogue and focused organizing. And Erinc Yeldan argues that the Forum is an ideal place for academic debate over the pressing issues of the day.

An Important Article

The tension between democratic impulses and focused leadership came up recently in President Bush’s May 2 speech to the Associated General Contractors of America. The Decider-In-Chief was trying to explain who was in charge when it came to the Iraq War and setting or not setting timetables for U.S. troop withdrawals. “I’m the commander guy,” Bush announced. Later, following the overwhelmingly negative response that greeted the comment, the transcript was reviewed and revised, with the clarification that Bush actually said: “I’m a commander guy.” Was Bush trying to sound more democratic, was he trying to side more with the military commanders on the ground, or was he simply having a bad article day?

“The truth is, it really doesn’t matter much.” FPIF contributor Alec Dubro explains in his satirical annotation of Bush’s speech, Commander Guy Bush: “He isn’t a or the commander guy, he’s the commander in chief. So, he gets to command, unless Congress decides it’s had enough of his commanding and commands him not to. At some point in the near future, we’ll probably see who sits atop the military, even if it takes a Supreme Court decision to settle it.”

Our guest columnist Zia Mian, meanwhile, analyzes the tension between Congress and the president over withdrawals and timelines. The Democrats submitted their compromise bill and the president vetoed it. The party is reluctant to push harder. “The Democrats are seeking to use the votes against the Iraq war to identify Republicans with a deeply unpopular president and a deeply unpopular war,” Mian writes. “The Democrats present themselves as opposed to both.” But they won’t do anything to jeopardize their chances at the polls in 2008.

Missile Defense, Habeas Corpus

The United States wants Eastern Europe to be part of a missile defense system to defend against rogue missiles. Or that’s what the administration says. FPIF contributor Conn Hallinan, in And You Thought the Cold War Was Gone for Good, sees it differently. Forget rogue missiles. The 10 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems proposed for Poland and the radar system for the Czech Republic, when linked up to other existing and potential sites from Norway to Azerbaijan, have more “to do with the Bush administration’s efforts to neutralize Russia’s and China’s nuclear deterrents and edge both countries out of Central Asia.”

So far the Democrats have blocked funding for the European ABMs. But the administration may push hard to restart the Cold War regardless of congressional opposition.

And finally, FPIF’s military affairs analyst Dan Smith takes a look at the Cold War on the home front: the continued assault on basic civil liberties. The Justice Department is asking for secret monitoring of telephone calls, emails, and other electronic communications of non-citizens and non-legal residents who are thought to “possess significant foreign intelligence information.” Meanwhile, nearly 400 detainees remain at Guantanamo. They don’t have access to full legal representation.

“Today we are fast becoming a closed society, suspicious not only of ‘outsiders’ but of many within our borders who are in some way ‘not like us,’” Smith writes in Habeas That Corpus. “The lists of our freedoms have turned into lists of our enemies, giving them an unmerited significance that in turn diminishes the country’s international standing. Persuasion has been replaced by coercion, honor sacrificed to a corrupted ‘duty,’ and morality to expediency.”

After the September 11 attacks, placards and full-page ads and even tattoos appeared everywhere to declare that “United We Stand.” Six years later, the U.S. public is indeed united: in its stand against the Iraq War, against the assault on civil liberties, against the disastrous economic policies of the administration. It’s no surprise, then, that with its vetoes and speeches and foreign policy proposals, the administration is doing whatever it can to divide the U.S. public against itself.