How to End the Iraq War

It is in the nature of truly mass movements that people choose the paths that seem to promise effective results, even victories. So it should surprise no one that much of the energy of the peace and justice movement flowed into presidential campaigns for Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and ultimately John Kerry (the UnBush).

As a result millions of people become engaged politically on grassroots levels, many for the first time. The peace and justice message was heard more widely than before.

Under pressure, the Democratic platform opposed the Central American trade agreement (CAFTA) and promised a full review of U.S. trade policy. The movement was unable to push Kerry and the Democrats into an anti-Iraq position, although Kerry at least voiced a constant attack on Bush's policy as mistaken. The pressure of anti-war voices and the Kerry campaign led Bush to delay the request for a supplemental $75 billion appropriation, the assault on Falluja, and the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi elections until after Nov. 2.

Once the election was over, the Bush administration turned Falluja into a slaughterhouse – even as the Democrats remained silent and thousands of activists seemed frozen in mourning or internal discussions of what went wrong.

There is a lesson here for progressives. Since the anti-war sentiment was a factor of public opinion during the presidential race that made Bush defer tough decisions, the movement needs to create an even greater force of opposition that will become indigestible, a kind of gallstone in the stomach of power.

If this seems unlikely, one must remember that the war-makers are feverishly trying to manipulate the perceptions of restive Americans. They fear the multitudes. That is why reporters were embedded at the beginning. That is why the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue on April 9, 2003 was "stage-managed" by the U.S. Army, according to the L.A. Times.

Even the most recent battle of Fallujah was about "the American military intend[ing] to fight its own information war," as the New York Times observed. According to another Times article, the Fallujah hospital was shut down on the first day of the operation because our Army considered it a "source of rumors about heavy casualties." A senior military official called the hospital "a center of propaganda" as scores of patients were being treated.

The importance of public opinion was stated quite frankly by Robert Kaplan, a leading neo-conservative, in the Atlantic Monthly last year. The most important battleground of America's new "combination warfare," he wrote, is the media:

Indeed the best information strategy is to avoid attention-getting confrontations in the first place and to keep the public's attention as divided as possible. We can dominate the world only quietly, so to speak. The moment the public focuses on a single crisis like the one in Iraq… it becomes a rallying point around which lonely and alienated people in a global mass society can define themselves through an uplifting group identity, be it European, Muslim, anti-war intellectual, or whatever.
Therefore, public opinion – if strategically focused – can end this war. To understand this requires a different analysis than the usual one that assumes that there will be an "exit strategy" after Iraq is "stabilized." The war will end either when the U.S. military "wins" or it will not end at all.

The Iraqi elections are designed to inflate the currently non-existent legitimacy of the Allawi regime by co-opting Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties, which are led mostly by long-time exiles. In this scenario, the new regime would technically end the occupation and "request" the U.S. to stay until the country is "stabilized," which means permanently, i.e. fulfilling the long-term agenda of the neo-conservatives, now entrenched more deeply than ever at the pinnacles of power.

While it is theoretically possible (and in my view, desirable) that the January election might bring to power a Shiite-led coalition that would ask the U.S. to withdraw troops, that is hardly the intent. The U.S. still plans to permanently remake a new Iraq, plans that include American military bases, a privatized market economy, ready access to oil, a prime target for Western and, especially Christian, proselytizing in the region. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. is already flooding Iraq with satellite dishes and televisions while privatizing its 200 state-owned companies: "Bremer discussed the need to privatize government with such fervor that his voice cut through the din of the cargo hold."

Instead of assuming that the Bush administration has an "exit strategy", the movement needs to force our government to exit. The strategy must be to deny the U.S. occupation funding, political standing, sufficient troops, and alliances necessary to their strategy for dominance.

A Plan of Action

The first step is to build pressure at congressional district levels to oppose any further funding or additional troops for war. If members of Congress balk at cutting off all assistance and want to propose "conditions" for further aid, it is a small step toward threatening funding. If only 75 members of Congress go on record against any further funding, that's a step in the right direction – towards the exit.

The important thing is for anti-war activists to become more grounded in the everyday political life of their districts, organizing anti-war coalitions including clergy, labor and inner city representatives to knock loudly on congressional doors and demand that the $200 billion squandered on Iraq go to infrastructure and schools at home. When trapped between imperial elites and their own insistent constituents, members of Congress will tend to side with their voters. That is how the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia were ended in 1975.

Two, we need to build a Progressive Democratic movement which will pressure the Democrats to become an anti-war opposition party. The anti-war movement has done enough for the Democratic Party this year. It is time for the Democratic leadership to end its collaboration with the Bush administration – with its endorsement of the offensive on Fallujah, the talk of "victory" and "killing the terrorists" – and now play the role of the opposition. The progressive activists of the party should refuse to contribute any more resources – volunteers, money, etc. – to candidates or incumbents who act as collaborators.

Thought should be given to selectively challenging hawkish Democratic incumbents in primaries, and supporting peace candidacies in 2006 and 2008.

Three, we need to build alliances with Republican anti-war conservatives. Non-partisan anti-war groups (such as Win Without War) should reach out to conservatives who, according to the New York Times, are "ready to rumble" against Iraq. Pillars of the American right, including Paul Weyrich, Pat Buchanan and William F. Buckley, are seriously questioning the quagmire created by the neoconservatives. Strategists like Grover Norquist call the war "a drag on votes" and "threatening to the Bush coalition" that cost Bush six percentage points in the election. The left cannot create a left majority, but it can foster a left-right majority that threatens the hawks in both parties.

Four, we must build solidarity with dissenting combat veterans, reservists, their families and those who suffered in 9/11. Just as wars cannot be fought without taxpayer funding, wars cannot be fought without soldiers willing to die, even for a mistake. Every person who cares about peace should start their daily e-mail messages with the current body count, including a question mark after the category "Iraqi civilians."

Groups like Iraqi Veterans Against the War deserve all the support the rest of the peace movement can give. This approach opens the door to much-needed organizing in both the so-called "red" states and inner cities, which give disproportionate levels of the lives lost in Iraq.

The movement will need to start opening another underground railroad to havens in Canada for those who refuse to serve, but for now even the most moderate grievances should be supported – for example, relief from the "back door draft" that is created by extending tours of duty.

Over one-third of some 3,900 combat veterans have resisted their call-ups, and the Army National Guard is at 10 percent of its recruitment goal. More generally, the "superpower" is stretched to a breaking point, with 14 of the Army's 33 combat brigades on front-line duty in Iraq. Though most discourse on Vietnam ignores or underplays the factor of dissent within the American armed forces, it was absolutely pivotal to bringing the ground war to an end. It already is becoming a real "gallstone" for the Pentagon again.

Five, we need to defeat the U.S. strategy of "Iraqization." "Clearly, it's better for us if they're in the front-line," Paul Wolfowitz explained last February. This cynical strategy is based on putting an Iraqi "face" on the U.S. occupation in order to reduce the number of American casualties, neutralize opposition in other Arab countries, and slowly legitimize the puppet regime. In truth, it means changing the color of the body count.

The problem for the White House is that if the Iraqi police and troops will not suppress and kill other Iraqis on behalf of the United States, the war effort will completely disintegrate. In April, the 200,000-strong Iraqi security forces assigned to Fallujah simply collapsed. In the most recent battle of Fallujah, the Iraqi troops took part in little if any combat. In Mosul, insurgents seized five Iraqi police stations, not an uncommon event.

There is no sign, aside from Pentagon spin, that an Iraqi force can replace the American occupation in the foreseeable future. Pressure for funding cuts and for an early American troop withdrawal will expose the emptiness of the promise of "Iraqization." In Vietnam, the end quickly came when South Vietnamese troops were expected to defend their country. The same is likely to occur in Iraq – or the U.S. can deepen its dilemma through permanent occupation.

Six, we should work to dismantle the U.S. war "Coalition" by building a "Peace Coalition" by the means of the global anti-war movement. Groups with international links (such as Global Exchange or other solidarity groups) could organize conferences and exchanges aimed at uniting public opinion against any regimes with troops supporting the U.S. in Iraq. Every time an American official shows up in Europe demanding support, there should be speakers from the American anti-war movement offering a rebuttal to the official line.

Hungary is only the latest government to "bow to public pressure and prepare to bring its troops home" The others who have packed up or plan to depart include Spain, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, the Philippines, Norway, Poland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Moldova, and Bulgaria – 15 of the original 32. Japan is trying to limit its troops to non-combat roles.

The most frightening U.S. "ally" is Pakistan, where 65 percent of the population has a favorable impression of Osama bin Laden and only seven percent a positive image of President Bush.

But the most important governments with troops still on the ground are Britain (8,361), South Korea (2,800), Italy (2,700) and more symbolically, Japan (550) and Australia (250). Peace movements have achieved majority or near-majority status in all five countries, with Britain being the most vulnerable. In addition, both France and Germany continue to resist the U.S.-dominated coalition, in part because of the movements in those countries. Any strategy to mobilize public opinion across Europe, especially in Britain and Italy, could complete America's isolation from its historic allies and the world in general.

With Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggesting that the Iraq policy is illegal, the Bush administration faces the danger of being frozen out of international diplomacy. At some point, the administration will painfully find that it cannot impose its will on everyone on the planet.

In short: pinch the funding arteries, push the Democrats to become an opposition party, ally with anti-war Republicans, support dissenting soldiers, make "Iraqization" more difficult, and build a peace coalition against the war coalition. If the politicians are too frightened or ideologically incapable of implementing an exit strategy, the only alternative is for the people to pull the plug.

Where do mass demonstrations and civil disobedience fit into this framework? Certainly Bush's inauguration will be an appropriate time to dissent in the streets. Nationwide rallies are an important way to remain visible, but many activists may tire if they see no strategic plan. The civil disobedience actions at Bechtel, the San Francisco financial district, and the Port of Oakland in early 2003 come closer to the strategy of pressuring the nerve centers of war. Care will have to be taken during such militant actions to send the clearest possible message to mainstream public opinion.

Time for Action

If this sounds "irresponsible," the "responsible" people have had their chance – they can still rig the Iraqi election to install a regime that will ask us to leave. After that, there's no hope but to begin the withdrawal one person, one community, one country at a time, until the president learns there's no there over there.

Ending this bloodbath is the most honorable task Americans can perform to restore progressive priorities and our respect in the world. We have passed the point for graceful exit strategies. Our policy is to go on mechanically killing people unless they vote in January for us to keep on killing people.

By any moral or economic accounting, we now are worsening the lives of Iraqi since the fall of Saddam. We have turned innocent young Americans into torturers in places like Abu Ghraib. When going into battle, we close hospitals first. We make sure that television and newspapers are not "able to show pictures of bleeding women and children being taken into hospital wards" – this reported on Veterans Day in the Times. Not even our friends like us anymore, whether we are tourists in Europe or diplomats at the United Nations.

We bomb Iraq towards an American-style market economy, passing along a $200 billion war cost and trillion-dollar debt cost to our children, while our own market economy has failed most of us: minimum wage, down thirty percent since 1978; company pensions, holders down 18 percent since 1979; median job tenure, down from 11 years to 7.7 since 1978; health insurance coverage, down from 70 percent to 63 percent since 1987.

We may even be making another 9/11-type attack more likely. What kind of government repeatedly states that another attack is "inevitable," "not a matter of if but when," then behaves in way to provoke one?

Our priorities must change.

Both parties now are trapped in the vicious cycle of the "war on terrorism," just as they were caught up in the Cold War, be it the nuclear arms race, opportunistic alliances with dictators, and McCarthyite suppression of domestic critics. Only the Sixties peace and civil rights movements could finally shatter Cold War thinking at that time. It will take another such movement today to restore America's respect in the world, take steps towards global justice, and in the process possibly prevent another 9/11 attack.

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