BEIRUT, Lebanon –

Zac Peskowitz

I had a wonderful dream last night. Saddam Hussein agreed to go into exile in order to save his people from death and destruction. George Bush the Lesser called off his war, saying his belligerence and crusader zeal were all part of a brilliant ruse.

“We just wanted to liberate the people of Iraq without bloodshed,” he said from the White House Rose Garden. “The only way to do that was to look real serious. Cold War-style brinksmanship. I’ve been practicin’ my poker face. Me and Colin were the only ones in on it! We fooled ya! And all these months Dick Cheney has been in an ‘undisclosed location?’ He’s been working on a comprehensive and responsible plan to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure. Halliburton’s even gonna donate the money to do it.”

Waking up these days is more depressing than usual.

Now that the “liberation” of Iraq’s oil – uh, people – has begun, it’s time for the Bush junta to make good on the promise that all the United States wants is to spread democracy and make the world safer for everyone. But there are better ways to promote those ideals. For example, there is Kirsten Scheid, a Princeton graduate student living in Beirut who attended an anti-war demonstration in front of the American Embassy here earlier this month. The embassy, a compound in one of the suburbs, is guarded by Lebanese soldiers and demonstrators are often met with tear gas and water cannons.

Scheid arrived at the embassy carrying a sign identifying her (in Arabic and English) as an American against the war. She noticed that at this particular protest, the alleys into which people normally escaped when they were gassed or hosed were blocked by barbed wire. As the soldiers appeared to be preparing to use the water, she was hurried to the front by the mostly Arab protesters. The police told her it wasn’t safe to be there, but she stayed put. No one was hosed, no gas was used and the protest stayed peaceful. Sheid is convinced she was a major reason – if not the only one – this was the case. One American, living abroad, seeing her citizenship as a way to help other people instead of a reason to be scared. International Solidarity Movement activist Rachel Corrie, murdered last week in Gaza, was following the same sort of logic. Losing people who are waging the fight for civil liberties with civil disobedience is tragic, but we’ll lose far fewer people that way than we will by bombing.

Direct action isn’t the only way to spread American ideals. Every morning, on my way down the street to pick up a newspaper, I have to sidestep the Kalishnikov barrels of Lebanese soldiers assigned to protect the nearby McDonald’s. I’m not a big fan of burger and fries diplomacy, but it beats bombing. Export your consumer culture and their political thought will follow. Granted, this and the aforementioned process are slower than the shock therapy of war, but strong-arming people just makes them resentful. Ground-level methods for introducing American culture (and in theory, democracy along with it) have much longer-lasting effects. Perhaps if U.S. policymakers worked along those lines, McDonald’s wouldn’t need armed guards.

After Sept. 11, the optimistic side of me predicted Americans would be imbued with a new interest in understanding world affairs, specifically how and why American foreign policy often causes resentment from those on the short end of it. The pessimistic side of me predicted Sept. 11 would be hijacked as specious reasoning for killing people in foreign countries. Now that we’re giving people all over the world another reason to resent the United States, here’s your next big opportunity to learn about why they don’t like us very much. This time, please pay attention. Things are going to get worse before they get better.

It has been over a day since the first missiles were fired into Iraq and I just returned from a demonstration at the British Embassy. The overwhelming sentiment in the streets is one of futility. After the police turned the water cannons on the protesters (who in this case provoked the police by trying to remove a barrier blocking the road to the embassy), two men picked up an Iraqi flag, stood defiantly in the stream of water and hoisted it above their heads. They looked rather … liberated. For my part, I was the only obvious foreigner present (I don’t exactly blend in when standing in a crowd of Arabs) besides a pair of European students who were with me. We weathered a few “aren’t you guys on the wrong side of the fence?” looks before we began talking to some of the protesters, who expressed gratitude instead of animosity that we had stayed. Some came up and shook our hands.

“You, you and you! You are the good ones!” one guy said.

It doesn’t just have to be us.

Enders can be reached at denders@umich.edu.

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