"the now-infamous Wolfowitz riots"

You could consult this morning's NYTimes for a report on Paul Wolfowitz's appearance yesterday at the New School. If you have the print edition, you would see an image of me holding my unfolded sign while I stood in front of the architect of our world war, himself sitting on the stage with his publicist, Jeffrey Goldberg.

The text of the news article would only begin to give you an idea of what it was like to be in that room yesterday. For that kind of an account you could not improve on the wonderful writing of my friend Choire published on The Morning News site, where the event is referred to as "the now-infamous Wolfowitz riots." [it's located about halfway down the page under "Sunday," but if you hurry there you'll miss some delicious fun with his visits to the rest of the New Yorker Festival projects]

1:26 p.m. Outside the New School Auditorium there is a giant yellow New Yorker balloon with the words ‘Sponsored by Kate Spade.’ The wind picks up and the balloon assaults some people. Interns spend the next 30 minutes hilariously attempting to deflate it. A passer-by asks ‘What’s going on here?’ The cute Young Republican in front of me in line says ‘Wolfowitz.’ ‘Oh,’ says the passer-by, ‘What’s he doing?’ ‘Spreading evil,’ I butt in.
I have a few more thoughts of my own today.

In my first post I made no attempt to describe what Wolfowitz or his straw man Goldberg said. I think it was because I was still recovering from the boredom of their conversation, believing that there was no real news in their statements, and feeling unequal to the task of outlining every lie and contradiction I had heard.

Still, there are a few bits which should be aired, and some of them have yet to see print.

I believe the words "Afghan" or "Afganistan" were not uttered, and "Palestine" only after it was lodged from the floor a number of times.

When asked why containment was rejected as a policy toward Hussein's Iraq, Wolfowitz explained that it had cost us billions, and American lives had been lost in the process. Yes, he really said that.

The reasons we destroyed Iraq were threefold: WMDs, Al Qaeda, human rights.

He did not address Africa, or respond to shouts from the audience which referenced the human rights needs, including AIDS relief, on parts of that continent.

Wolfowitz said theocracy would never be chosen by a democratic Iraq, since half of the voters are women, who would always reject theocracy. He both assumes an opportunity for totally free choice and ignores the desperate history of all paternalistic societies, where women must resort to religion to gain any control - at least in their own homes. As for the men, he personally is friends with many of them, and they would reject theocracy.

He repeatedly asserted that 9/11 had changed everything. I only wish that I could have told him that the destruction of 9/11 did not change me. What has forever changed me, the rest of the country and even the world, was this regime's violence since that day, or more fundamentally, its destruction of the 2000 presidential election.

Yesterday and still today I have difficulty in describing my reaction to the yelling in the auditorium (I mean that from those on the floor, not the stage, where there were microphones and yelling was unnecessary).

How do you deal with a government whose spokespeople just make things up? What if the media never calls them on it? What if millions of demonstrators in streets here and around the world cannot provoke a response? Finally given the appearance of access, some people will shout their opposition with relative restraint, and some will yell, really yell, possibly even indulging in some hyperbole.

What's rude here? What's appropriate in a revolutionary situation?

We did not appoint Wolfowitz, we did not appoint his boss, Rumsfeld, and we did not appoint Rumsfeld's boss Bush. Wolfowitz, and to some extent his associate Goldberg, are not operating according to the rules . Power and military force are their preferred tools, but they will use the rhetoric of the Constitution and civil rights if it works as well.

Is it rude to yell at a dictarorship? Is it still appropriate to talk about threats to the exercise of free speech if we are talking about a regime which has been imposed upon a great people, and when that regime has rewritten the rules which govern democracy and civil rights?

How are we to be heard above the roar of their violence?

I saw you on C-SPAN yesterday, and I have to say, doing what you did definitely takes balls. I think it also probably took a great deal of restraint to not do what the guy who charged the stage did. I sat here in my living room watching Wolfowitz shed crocodile tears about Iraqi human rights, and I wanted to put my hands around his neck and shake him. Just the sheer hypocrisy in almost any context would be enough to warrant that, but when we're talking about peoples' lives, that hypocrisy seems so much worse.

Despite my own more violent inclinations when it comes to members of the Bush "administration" ("imperial court" might be a more appropriate term), I think I like your approach with the sign much better, at least in this instance. Let me make clear that I also agree with you that holding up signs has been shown to be ineffective with this gang, but I still think that most people become distracted from the real issue when those who oppose injustice go too far in their protests.

For this reason, I think by far the most effective way of ensuring the downfall of people like Wolfowitz and the rest of the Bush crowd is to ask more questions like the Iranian immigrant who asked about how Wolfowitz thought that the occupation of Iraq was leading to greater democracy in the region. Rather than just insulting them (which they deserve, but which can be interpreted by the general public as simple politics), I think those of us who recognize the need for change should spend our time asking embarrassing questions for which officials like Wolfowitz have no response.

Instead of "there are lots of other evil dictators", we should be armed with statistics like they always are, about the number of people being tortured and killed in non-oil producing countries. I realize how devaluing this is to those who are actually suffering, but it cannot possibly be more devaluing than the behavior of the imperial council. Americans are so desensitized to the suffering of people in other countries that the only way to get them to take notice is to call attention to our "government"'s blatant, cynical and disgustingly opportunistic use of that suffering to achieve their own ends.

What is really telling about this situation, though not all that surprising, is that this even was barely covered in the national media. It's getting worse and worse, and unfortunately, I think that violence and verbal disruption mostly serve the interests of the government by giving them an Orwellian "Goldstein" to focus and amplify conservatives' hatred of liberals. Whereas, if these lying pieces of human filth continue to obfuscate, avoid, and outright lie in response to questions they can't answer, even Ann Coulter will eventually have to see there's something wrong.

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Published on September 22, 2003 12:08 PM.

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