Outpouring of Nonsupport

I WASN'T THE ONLY person in the room mentally rolling my eyes.

This was a couple of weeks ago—I was listening as aides to Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray were fending off the earnest entreaties of 17 religious leaders and activists, there to make the case for voting against an invasion of Iraq. With both senators undeclared, there wasn't much the aides could say. And then came the eye roller: Murray's aide patiently explained that the senator was a very judicious woman who would weigh all sides carefully before casting her vote.

Patty Murray? In 10 years in office, the closest anyone has come to using judicious to describe our famously risk-averse senator is inert.

And then Murray gave her Senate speech last Wednesday, casting her lot with opponents to Dubya's blank check for blitzkrieg. It was virtually a point-by-point recitation—minus the pacifism—of what her aide had heard a week previous, and probably every waking moment since.

The utterly unprecedented flooding of Capitol Hill with comments on last week's resolutions for war—almost all in opposition, and not coordinated by any discernable group—produced a number of surprises. Observers who thought our state's two liberal senators would split tended to peg Cantwell as the naysayer, even though she owes her career to the notably bellicose Democratic Leadership Council. That's how unlikely it seemed that Murray would take a potentially unpopular stand—her idea of responsiveness to constituents has involved pork, not principles. Who'd have thought it?

But then, who'd have thought, six weeks ago, that there'd be more than token opposition to Bush's resolution at all? Last week's outcome was a foregone conclusion; had the vote even appeared close, Dubya would have pulled out all the chits, pork, and pressure at his disposal, just as Daddy did for 1990's narrow Gulf War vote. As it was, the White House exerted enough pressure that the most overwhelming grassroots outpouring of constituent comments in memory swayed only 147 Democrats and virtually no Republicans.

Some opponents will be discouraged by the fact that more than two-thirds of Congress ignored such a tidal wave; others will take solace in the votes that were swayed. At times, the congressional debates were inspiring, with floor speeches by even moderates like Murray including blunt assessments of the dangers and amorality of such an invasion.

More often, though, I was embarrassed for my country: a steady parade of powerful, self-confident officials spouting a relentless m鬡nge of clich鳬 gibberish, demonstrably untrue statements, and simply idiotic logic—invariably concluded by smug assertions that the rest of the world could go jump in the lake. Were I Al Qaeda, I could take the unedited speeches of at least 100 elected representatives and compile the mother of all recruiting videos. By its end, previously ambivalent students would not only be seething with anti-American hatred, they'd be ready to kill themselves, too, rather than watching Part II of the tape with another 100 such speakers.

That sort of pan-Islamic sentiment—not the Iraqi military, which is a farce—is what will make Dubya's jihad a nightmare. An invasion of some sort, probably early next year, is virtually assured. There will be noise in the coming weeks about bribing—er, lining up—United Nations support, but that's an afterthought to a decision already made.

The wild card in nightmare avoidance is not the U.N. or world opinion but the American public. Polls show the public narrowly supporting invasion if it has international support and if there are few U.S. casualties.

Since that's sort of like supporting invasion if pigs fly, the question becomes how domestic opinion will evolve in coming weeks.

Opposition could melt: Americans could lose interest or decide the die is now cast or rally behind troops once war begins or get discouraged by the yawning gap between public sentiment and how Congress voted.

Or the public could be angered by that gap or the lack of actual evidence that could justify an unprovoked invasion, or the invasion itself could play out in horrific ways around the globe. Opposition to war, much of it new and not from the usual suspects, could continue to expand.

If war was a bad idea two weeks ago, it still is. And if Patty Murray can be inspired to stick her neck out, this isn't your father's anti-war movement.


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