Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden writes in response to Lakshmi Chaudhry's 'Rethinking Iraq,' posted last Thursday. Hayden was a leader of the student, civil rights, peace and environmental movements of the 1960s and served 18 years in the California legislature. He is the author of ten books, including "Street Wars" (New Press, 2004). He is a professor at Occidental College, Los Angeles.

This week a number of longtime American peace advocates, including Harvey Cox, Robert Lifton, the leaders of Global Exchange and myself, will issue a "global call to conscience" against the U.S. war in Iraq, and offer a concrete program for forcing the American occupation to end. We cannot justify any further squandering of young lives, tax dollars and moral reputation on the slaughter we have unleashed, and would like to challenge America to debate withdrawal. (For further information, contact Global Exchange).

The recent article by AlterNet Senior Editor Lakshmi Chaudhry, in my view, would take us in exactly the opposite direction.

The closely reasoned and well-written article reveals a powerful bias towards continuing the war and occupation if the alternative is U.S. withdrawal. Her first priority, rhetorically, is to "bring the soldiers home" but it turns out they will be staying until others are sent (from Europe?) or there is a "democratic and stable Iraq." This is a formula for aggression with a human face.

Does Chaudhry favor members of Congress voting no on the $80 billion supplemental coming to the floor in a few weeks? The article doesn't say, but the implication is that a no vote would be "irresponsible." If the anti-war elements of the Democratic Party wake up and call for withdrawal, would that be irresponsible too?

Should the U.S. anti-war movement be urging our European counterparts to reverse their resistance and demand that their governments send troops to join a multinational force in Iraq? That's the suggestion of Lakshmi's analysis.

Should the anti-war movement be pressuring Halliburton (which has seen 100 of its employees die) to get out of Iraq and end the privatization? Again, the article doesn't say, but the implication is that our "reconstruction" efforts can somehow be improved without first ending the occupation.

Chaudhry doesn't see that the occupation itself is the chief cause of the insurgency and that the upcoming elections are the cause of the impending civil war. As Thomas Friedman, the Rudyard Kipling of The New York Times, suggested the other day, we need a "proper election" in Iraq to conduct a "proper civil war," in which a legitimized Shiite majority fights the Sunni minority.

Nor does she note the ominous chorus of national security experts predicting that the occupation and war will take seven, ten, even thirty years to "break the back" of the insurgents. As one who spent ten years actively opposing the Vietnam War, I see all the signs of another long, depressing, shameful quagmire.

If all this is about Lakoffian "framing" of the issue, we should be discussing how to frame the issue of getting out. But the author's framing runs the risk of leaving us there, continuing the occupation until the Iraqis learn what is good for them.

Whatever international assistance is possible will most likely arrive when the U.S. privately signals that it has decided to withdraw, except for reconstruction aid. In exchange for ending the occupation, the U.S. may seek guarantees that the insurgents will not strike at other countries and that Iraqi crude will still be available. But it is hard to guarantee a red carpet for defeated occupying powers.

Throughout Chaudhry's analysis runs the superpower assumption that we, the United States, are in charge of deciding whether we stay or leave, and on what terms. But another scenario is more likely: The real choice is to carry out a planned withdrawal, or be driven out because the insurgents shatter the U.S.-supported Iraqi security forces.

The majority of Americans who believe the war is a "mistake" are being told by Chaudhry that it would be a bigger mistake for the mistake to end. Already one-third of Americans, at least 40 million people, support withdrawal, yet are completely unrepresented in politics and public debate. They are not irresponsible isolationists, simply Americans who know you don't send your children to die for a mistake, you don't throw good money after bad, and above all, you don't tarnish your good name by becoming torturers.

The real question is not whether it is irresponsible to call for the total end of of the occupation which has caused the present war, but whether there is any point at which Chaudhry and others like her would agree that continuing the war is no longer worth the cost in lives, taxes and moral character. If not now, when?

Read responses from Jonathan Schell, Kamil Mahdi and Erik Leaver.

Lakshmi Chaudhry responds.

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