Iraq, the U.S., and the Challenges to the Global Peace Movement

Mar 08

These year's massive protests are in the tradition of the
global protests against the war of Feb. 15, 2003 and March 20, 2004.
They underline the world's continuing repudiation of the massive war
crime that the US is perpetrating against the Iraqi people. They are
testimony to the fact that aggression always elicits revulsion, even if
it is carried out under the pretext of "extending democracy." 

The protests come at a time that Washington has launched
another political offensive to convince the peoples of the world "to
put Iraq behind them." The effort is geared to convince us that with
the recent elections in Iraq, there is a new game that must be played,
and the name of that game is democracy.

The reality is that the old game of domination and occupation
continues, and the US is not winning. Today, we continue to witness the
rise and consolidation of a wide and deep resistance in Iraq. There is
not only the military resistance that we witness day-to-day on
television. There is also political resistance–one that is much
broader than the military resistance. Then there is something even
broader, and that is civil resistance–all those acts that ordinary
citrizens engage in day-to-day to deny legitimacy to the occupation, or
what James C. Scott calls the "weapons of the weak."

For us, there must be no question about our political stance.
We must support the right of the people or Iraq to resist occupation.
There are varieties of resistance, but we must remember that what the
Iraqi people want mainly from us is not to support this or that brand
of resistance but to demand the unconditional and immediate withdrawal
of all foreign troops from Iraq. Only under this condition will the
Iraqi people have the sovereign space to come together to debate and
struggle among themselves to create a truly legitimate national
government. To call elections carried out under occupation "free" and
"democratic" is a travesty of freedom and democracy.

The US: Losing in Iraq

The truth is that the US is losing the war in Iraq, both
politically and militarily. Over the last few months, at least 10
allied governments have withdrawn or indicated they are withdrawing
their troops. Indeed, the so-called "Coalition of the Willing" is now
so reduced that the Pentagon has dropped the term and started using
"multinational forces" instead. The 135,000 US troops are stretched
thin, their numbers unable to stop the wildfire rise of a guerrilla
insurgency. Estimates of many military experts of the minimum necessary
number to fight the guerrillas to a stalemate range from 200,000 to a
million. It is impossible to attain these numbers without provoking
massive civil unrest in the US, where the majority of the population
now sees the military intervention as unjustified. Mr. Bush may have
won the elections but it was not because of public support for the war,
and he knows this.

In the US military itself, more and more troops, even in
active duty, along with their families, are speaking out against the
war. A few weeks ago, television audiences worldwide witnessed an
assembly of troops applauding criticism of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld
by an officer who accused him of sending the troops to war without
sufficient protection. We have also witnessed an American unit that
refused to deliver supplies to a city several miles away because they
said their vehicles were unsafe. There are probably more and more such
incidents if journalists bothered to look instead of "embedding"
themselves with the Pentagon.

The US Army, one must recall, fell apart internally at the
last stages of the Vietnam War owing to demoralization, which took the
form of, among other things, the "fragging" of officers, or throwing
grenades at them. With about 40 per cent of the Army troops in Iraq
being non-regular forces with the National Guard, who are not fulltime
soldiers, the steady erosion of morale among US units must not be
underestimated. Probably the only soldiers that can resist
demoralization are the stupidly gung-ho Marines, but they are a
minority in what is otherwise an Army show.

The Crisis of Overextension

But the US is not only overextended in Iraq. Iraq has in fact
worsened the crisis of overextension of the US globally. The key
manifestations of the imperial dilemma stand out starkly:

Despite the recent US-sponsored elections in Afghanistan, the
Karzai government effectively controls only parts of Kabul and two or
three other cities. As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said,
despite the elections, "without functional state institutions able to
serve the basic needs of the population throughout the country, the
authority and legitimacy of the new government will be short-lived."
And so long as this is the case, Afghanistan will tie down 13,500 US
troops within the country and 35,000 support personnel outside.

The US war on terror has backfired completely, with Al Qaeda
and its allies much stronger today than in 2001. The invasion of Iraq,
according to Richard Clarke, Bush's former anti-terrorism czar, claims,
derailed the war on terror and served as the best recruiting device for
Al Qaeda. But even without Iraq, Washington's heavy handed police and
military methods of dealing with terrorism were already alienating
millions of Muslims. Nothing illustrates this more than Southern
Thailand, where US anti-terrorist advice has helped convert simmering
discontent into a full-blown insurgency.

With its full embrace of Ariel Sharon's no-win strategy of
sabotaging the emergence of a Palestinian state, Washington has
forfeited all the political capital that it had gained among Arabs by
brokering the now defunct Oslo Accord. Moreover, the go-with-Sharon
strategy, along with the occupation of Iraq, has left Washington's
allies among the Arab elites exposed, discredited, and vulnerable. With
the death of Yasser Arafat, Tel Aviv and Washington may entertain hopes
of a settlement of the Palestinian issue on their terms. This is an
illusion, and we probably will see this in growing support for Hamas
among the Palestinians at the expense of Mr. Abbas' PLO.

Latin America's move to the left will accelerate. The victory
of the leftist coalition in Uruguay is simply the latest in a series of
electoral victories for progressive forces, following those in
Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, and Brazil. Along with electoral turns
to the left, there may also be in the offing more mass insurrections
such as that which occurred in Bolivia in October 2003. Speaking of the
turn towards the left and away from the empire, one of the US' friends,
former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda, assesses the situation
accurately: "America's friends…are feeling the fire of this
anti-American wrath. They are finding themselves forced to shift their
own rhetoric and attitude in order to dampen their defense of policies
viewed as pro-American or US-inspired, and to stiffen their resistance
to Washington's demands and desires."

This is the global picture that belies the triumphalism that
accompanied Bush's European tour. This enterprise sought to enlist
diplomacy in the service of countering the erosion of the American
position. It was a trip undertaken out of desperation. One can, in
fact, say that while the papers have been filled with bellicose words
from Washington against Iran, Syria, and North Korea, the reality is
that, owing to its being pinned down in an endless war in Iraq, the US
is in less of a position to destabilize these governments than it was
in 2003, before the invasion of Iraq.

What we are witnessing is the third major PR effort to
convince the world that Iraq has been pacified. The first was the
famous declaration of victory on board the aircraft carrier Abraham
Lincoln in May 2003. We all know what happened afterwards. The second
was the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people last June. A sharp
escalation of the resistance followed that forgettable episode. Now,
this effort to convince the world, relying on television images, that
elections carried out under military occupation and amidst widespread
resistance–which were boycotted by millions of Iraqi voters: were an
exercise in "freedom" and "democracy."

Wooing the Venusians

Europe is, of course, the special target of the Bush strategy.
The shift in the assessment of Europe's position brought about by the
hard realities of the Iraq resistance is illustrated by the
neoconservative ideologue Robert Kagan. In 2002, Kagan spoke
disparagingly of Europe's approach to world order, with his notorious
comment that "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus." In
2004, the same Kagan had changed his tune somewhat, writing in Foreign
Affairs that "Americans will need the legitimacy that Europe can
provide, but Europeans may well fail to grant it."

Fortunately, Europeans are not being taken in by the "new,"
"conciliatory" Bush. The liberal Financial Times regards the new
approach as constituting a "belated recognition that the US is
overstretched and is in need of allies," though it cautions Europeans
against adopting a "do-nothing attitude" towards the Bush initiative.
Yet, unfortunately for the Times, on the question of Iraq, there is
really little the Western European governments can do since their
peoples continue to be strongly against participation in the US war by
large majorities. Indeed, even in less anti-American Eastern Europe,
the US is losing allies, with Hungary withdrawing its troops and the
Polish government stating its wish to pull out the Polish contingent as
soon as "circumstances allow."

Bush's diplomacy is, in fact, running against the long term
currents. The Atlantic Alliance is dead. Iraq was merely the coup de
grace to a relationship that had been savaged by escalating conflicts
with the US on trade, environmental, and security issues. Indeed, not
only is the basis of common action disappearing but, as American expert
Ivo Daalder contends, "not a few [Europeans] now fear the United States
more than what, objectively, constitute the principal threat to their
security." Already, European experts such as Marco Piccioni are arguing
to a receptive public that the US presence in Iraq is part of a larger
Middle East strategy designed to exclude Europe from oil producing
areas by force if necessary.

If France and Germany went the distance in refusing to
legitimize the American invasion of Iraq and, at this point, pointedly
refuse to make any commitments, it is not simply because of the
anti-war sentiments of their citizens. It is also to discourage any
future US moves that might pose a direct threat to their own national
security.

Challenges to the Global Anti-War Movement

Despite all this, however, the US is still in Iraq, and, while
the situation becomes more and more unfavorable for Washington, it has
given no indication that it is withdrawing anytime soon. In the
meantime, ordinary Iraqis are being killed and harmed day by day. While
the press has focused on bombings carried out by some groups in the
resistance, the recent shooting and killing by US troops of the Italian
agent that negotiated the release of journalist Giuliana Sgrena
underlined the kind of threats to their lives from Occupation forces
that Iraqis face day to day from the Occupation.

With this grim realities in mind, let me now turn to the
challenges ahead of the global anti-war movement as the US position in
Iraq worsens.

Supporting the Iraqi people's struggle to create the sovereign
space to create a national government of their choice continues to be
one of the two overriding priorities of the global anti-war movement.
The other is ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the
trampling of the Palestinian people's rights. At a moment marked by the
conjunction of a resurgent Right in the US and a continuing crisis of
empire globally, what will it take to advance this goal?

First of all, the movement has to graduate beyond spontaneity
and arrive at a new level of transborder coordination, one that goes
beyond synchronizing annual days of protest against the war. The
critical mass to affect the outcome of the war will not be attained
without a rolling wave of global protests similar to that which marked
the anti-Vietnam war mobilizations from 1968 to 1972–one that puts
millions of people in a constant state of activism. Coordination,
moreover, will mean coordinating not only mass demonstrations but also
civil disobedience, work on the global media, day-to-day lobbying of
officials, and political education. More effective coordination and,
yes, professionalization of the anti-war work must not, however, be
achieved at the expense of the participatory processes that are the
trademark of our movement.

Second, in terms of tactics, new forms of protests must be
engaged in. Sanctions and boycotts are methods that must be brought
into play. At the Mumbai World Social Forum in January 2004, Arundhati
Roy suggested starting with one or two US firms benefiting directly
from the war such as Halliburton and Bechtel and mobilizing to close
down their operations worldwide. It is time to take her suggestion
seriously, not only with respect to US firms but also with Israeli
firms and products.

Moreover, the level of militance must be raised, with more and
more civil disobedience and non-violent disruptions of business as
usual encouraged. We must tell Washington and its allies that there can
be no business as usual so long as the war continues. The kind of
debate taking place in Britain, whether to push peaceful demonstrations
or civil disobedience, is fruitless, since both are essential and must
be combined in innovative and effective ways..

Third, it is clear that Great Britain and Italy are the
principal supports of Bush's war policy outside the United States. Bush
constantly resorts to invoking these governments to legitimize the US
adventure. What happens in Italy, in turn, affects what happens in
Britain. Both countries have solid anti-war majorities that must now be
converted into a powerful force to disrupt business as usual in these
countries ruled by governments complicit in the American war. Both
countries have the hallowed tradition of the general strike that,
combined with massive civil disobedience, can significantly raise the
costs to their government of their support for Washington. When asked
why the demonstrations of March 20, 2004 drew significantly fewer
people than those of February 2003, many activists in Britain and Italy
respond: because people felt their actions were not able to prevent the
US from going to war anyway. That sort of defeatism and demoralization
can only be countered not by lowering the demands on people but by
upping them, by asking them to put their bodies on the line through
acts of nonviolent civil resistance.

In this connection, it is very welcome news indeed that owing
to the recent US killing of the Italian intelligence agent we referred
to earlier, popular anger has forced Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi to announce that Italy will begin withdrawing its troops by
September. The task of the European peace movement is to bring that
date forward, while intensifying its activities to knock Britain as
well out of the war.

Fourth, with the Middle East being the strategic battleground
of the next few decades, it will be essential to forge links between
the global peace movement and the Arab world. The governments of the
Middle East are notoriously supine when it comes to the US, so that, as
in Europe, it is forging the ties of solidarity among civil movements
that must be main thrust of this effort. This will actually be a
courageous and controversial step since some of the strongest anti-US
movements in the Middle East have been labeled "terrorist" or
"terrorist sympathizers" by the US and some European governments. What
is important is not to let US-imposed definitions stand in the way of
people reaching out to one another to see if there is a basis for
working together. Likewise, it is critical for the Palestinian movement
and the Israeli anti-Zionist and peace movements to get beyond the
labels imposed by governments and find ways of cooperating to end the
Israeli occupation. Process has a way of bringing people together from
seemingly non-reconcilable political positions. In this regard, the
Beirut Anti-War Assembly that took place in mid-September 2004, with
strong representation from the global peace movement and social
movements from all over the Arab world, was a significant step in this
direction. I would also like to call your attention to the coming
meeting in Cairo that will place later this week, when the global peace
movement will come together with many progressive and democratic groups
from Egypt and throughout the Middle East to demand not only an end to
American and Israeli occupation but also for genuine democratization
throughout the Arab world.

But even as the global peace movement focuses on Iraq and
Palestine, national and regional movements must continue to intensify
existing struggles or open up new fronts against US hegemony in their
areas. Indeed, there is a dialectical relationship between global and
local struggles against imperialism. Weakening the US base structure in
East Asia, for instance, will affect US military operations in the Iraq
and Afghanistan. And as people in East Asia, Europe, Latin America, and
East Asia mobilize against the US bases for their logistical support of
the Iraq imperial expedition, their actions contribute to popular
questioning of why those bases are in their countries in the first
place. Indeed, one of the unintended consequences of the imperial war
in Iraq may well be the erosion of the US system of international
bases.

Let me end by saying that as it begins its second term, the
Bush agenda remains the same, global domination, but its capacity to
carry that out has been eroded. Our response continues to be global
resistance. There is only one thing that can frustrate the empire's
dark aims in Iraq, Palestine, and elsewhere: militant solidarity among
world's peoples. Making that solidarity real and powerful and
ultimately triumphant is the challenge before the people's anti-war
movement in Canada and all of us.

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