On to September 24th!

Against the Current, No. 118, September/October 2005

The Editors

FOURTEEN MARINES FROM Ohio killed in one roadside bombing attack in western Iraq, a week after six snipers from the same unit were wiped out on patrol.  The U.S. military death toll is almost at 1,900, over 80% of these since George W. Bush announced “the end of major combat operations” in Spring 2003.

A few weeks earlier, an armored U.S. military patrol in Baghdad takes a mid-morning break from raiding homes in search of “insurgents,” to win hearts and minds by throwing down candy to kids on the street.  A truck roars up and detonates, splattering two dozen children’s body parts along with the suicide bomber on the pavement, killing one U.S. soldier, wounding several others and shattering nearby buildings.Is this “liberation”?  Does it sound like it?  These incidents display the brutality, the paternalism and futility of the occupation.  Iraqis killing Iraqis, more by the week in a spreading civil war where even the contending sides are difficult to identify.  The deaths of innocents who make up the great majority of victims.  And the attrition of American soldiers whose lives are wasted in this evil war, which the majority in this country now feel to be as pointless as it is endless.

The poison created by imperial conquest spreads across all borders.  Bombings in the London subways murdering dozens of innocent people and, in the process, wiping out the success of the global justice movement in the streets of Gleneagles protesting the G 8 summit meeting.  A Brazilian immigrant gunned down in the subway by London’s “special” anti-terrorism police.  Attacks on Muslims and mosques all over Britain, along with new measures (modelled on the USA PATRIOT Act) for summary deportation and lengthy detention without charge or trial.

Back in the USA, where 61% of the population now opposes the war and only one-third believes it’s made us “safer,” a Washington, DC appeals court upholds the Bush regime’s scheme for military tribunals, flushing the Geneva Convention down Guantanamo’s proverbial toilet in full public view.  Immediately thereafter, the architect of that court decision, John Roberts, is appointed by Bush to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A successful antiwar struggle within the imperial power requires three components: 1) a disillusioned population turning against the war; 2) sectors of the elite losing confidence in the war; 3) a well-organized and coherent movement expressing and mobilizing the opposition.  Increasingly in George W. Bush’s America, the first two of these conditions are rapidly maturing.

What’s missing is the third.  Let’s explore what needs to be done.

The Bush Gang’s Disaster

The Iraq war has become, exactly as its critics forecast at the outset, a disastrous entanglement for U.S. imperialism and its allies.  The war’s proponents ridiculed the argument that Iraq would be a “quagmire” in the manner of Vietnam.  Long after “the end of major combat hostilities” and nearly a year since U.S. forces flattened Fallujah in a mass civilian bloodbath, calling Iraq a quagmire if anything understates the reality.  Therefore:

1) Popular sentiment has changed with the slow recognition that the war has not been and will not be “won,” as well as the revelations of the crimes against humanity at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the hidden gulag of secret detention and torture facilities.

2) If political elites have also begun turning against the war, it’s for a different reason: the recognition that prolonging it risks a meltdown of the U.S. military.  This is not to suggest a repeat of the late 1960s Vietnam War pattern, with a conscript U.S. army in the field disintegrating under the weight of fraggings, drug abuse and massive casualties.

Rather, the perspective is the exhaustion of the reserves and National Guard and the collapse of military recruitment.  It’s not only U.S. generals who know this burden cannot be sustained; the regimes of Iran, Syria and North Korea know it too, and the U.S. military establishment knows that they know it. In short, without “Iraqifying” the war the United States is beginning to demonstrate weakness rather than overwhelming power.

These developments are sobering for the warmakers, but the rest of the picture is problematic for antiwar forces:

3) The erosion of support for the war has not occurred under the impact of a well- organized and visible antiwar movement.  Would it were so. A movement that existed on the scale of February 2003, the magnificent antiwar mobilizations preceding the invasion of Iraq, combined with popular as well as elite disaffection, might actually tip the balance toward forcing withdrawal.  Without such a movement, however, the U.S. military’s losses in Iraq could remain “sustainable” for many years to come.

The Challenge Before Us

When two coalitions called for separate demonstrations in Washington, D.C. on September 24 the organized antiwar movement had yet to recuperate from its demoralization in failing to prevent the war, then seeing the collapse of movement figures into the campaign of the pro-war Democrat John Kerry.

The roots of the conflicts in the movement are not simply a matter of petty turf jealousies, but rather substantial real issues: the importance of the demand for Palestinian self-determination; the broader question of anti-imperialist politics in the movement; the linkage of the Iraq war to anti-racist, immigrant and working-class struggles at home; and the adaptation of a big part of the antiwar leadership to the electoral needs of the Democratic Party.

The latter fact is sharply reflected in the hostility of the leadership of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) to the inclusion of demands against U.S. support for Israel’s occupation policies.  This has quite justifiably angered many Arab and Muslim activists and their allies, who accuse UFPJ of practicing “segregationism” in the movement.  The rival ANSWER coalition’s longstanding practices in attempting to control the agenda at mass demonstrations are an equally powerful barrier to unity.

It’s not sufficient to talk about the virtues of unity in the abstract.  It’s important to emphasize the urgency of the present moment.  The fact that the Bush gang has lost the war in Iraq is not to say that the war is over, let alone that the Iraqi people have “won.”

Then Cindy Sheehan’s vigil outside Bush’s Texas ranch tapped into a tremendous vein of antiwar sentiment.  Sheehan, like many other military families and Iraq Vets Against the War, knows better than anyone that the official rhetoric of “Support Our Troops” hides the reality that the troops are pawns in an ugly power game.

The press reported her story, the right-wing media attacked her, and spontaneously, in solidarity with Sheehan’s call to “Bring the Troops Home,” more than 100,000 people gathered in 1,600 vigils all across the country.

It is Bush’s worst nightmare: the press is now comparing today’s antiwar sentiment to that of the ’70s, during the Vietnam War.

And under the pressure of this outpouring of antiwar sentiment, the coalitions which projected separate antiwar actions have agreed to a united march and rally.

Confronting the Big Lie

The Iraqi “insurgency” is a resistance struggle against foreign occupation.  This resistance is legitimate and inevitable.  Yet it’s also in major part a Sunni Baathist/tribalist/ Islamist war based in a traditionally dominant minority of Iraq’s people against the majority (Shia and Kurdish) populations hence the civil war. The “insurgency” can neither drive out the occupation, nor can it be defeated, militarily.  The longer the occupation lasts, the more brutal the internal war as well.

To repeat: Without the expansion of a powerful U.S. as well as an international antiwar movement, so long as the U.S. population tolerates the present level of casualties and misery, there will likely be no winners except corporate war profiteers and the worst jihadi elements.

There are two central arguments to address in order to create a clear antiwar mandate.  First is the Big Lie that Iraq has to do with “winning the war against terror.”  More than any other single argument, the antiwar movement must win this one. That is all the more true in the wake of the London subway atrocity.

The movement must answer loud and clear: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are al Qaeda’s main recruiting tool.  Getting out of Iraq is essential if religious totalitarian fanaticism is to be isolated.  In fact, when Bush and Blair promote the fraud that “Iraq is the front line in the war against terror,” they insure—intentionally—that the most reactionary elements of political Islam will thrive.  Ending the larger terrorism of occupation is the first imperative.

Yes, absolutely, this pertains to occupation not only in Iraq but Palestine too, and the imperial subjugation of the Middle East as a whole.  We feel that supporters of the Palestinian people, and of an anti-imperialist perspective, get that point across by building a powerful presence within unified antiwar mobilizations, not by marching separately from others who want the U.S. out of Iraq.  We need one antiwar movement together in the streets, with the full range of banners and leaflets that express our diversity in unity around the demand “Bring the Troops Home Now!”

The antiwar movement is recomposing itself in other, equally important, arenas.  Iraqi trade union leaders recently toured U.S. cities, in the most significant antiwar labor initiative since the Central America solidarity struggles of the 1980s.  Shortly afterwards the AFl-CIO convention overwhelmingly passed an antiwar resolution.  Local antiwar ballot initiatives are spreading.  Educators and parents are organizing against the obscenity perpetrated under the No Child Left Behind Act, requiring schools to supply student information to military recruiters to help them snatch up the most vulnerable.  Parents, in fact, are chasing the recruiters off their doorsteps.

Understanding the War

The second critical argument to confront is the self-perpetuating myth that “maybe we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq but we can’t leave the place in a mess now.”  This line is the last refuge of the warmakers and their apologists, who of course never intend to leave at all. It is the line, above all, of the pro-war Democrats, politicians whose value to the system, in moments like the present, lies precisely in keeping antiwar sentiment passive and confused.  Aside from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, no leading Democratic politicians, liberals included, call for getting out of Iraq right now.

The U.S. war in Iraq fundamentally aims for unchallenged control of oil and global supremacy, marketed under the twin brand names of “defeating terror” and “spreading democracy.”  It has inevitably forged an unnatural alliance of Baathist or nationalist insurgents with international jihadist elements—how could anyone have expected otherwise? —and intertangled both of these with intercommunal war.

That’s why the kids get blown up in the street; why worshippers are blown up in their mosques or churches.  It’s why ordinary Iraqi men lining up for police jobs or women working as cleaners in the Green Zone, when no other jobs exist in a ruined economy, are killed by the dozens and hundreds.  The occupation assures only that the carnage continues without end.

For those of us living in the superpower, what matters is that the blood of every Iraqi victim is on the hands of imperialism.  What’s needed to stop the slaughter is the movement; and nothing can be allowed to get in the way of rebuilding it now. All out on September 24—but if you are flying, boycott Northwest as long as the mechanics and cleaners are on strike!

ATC 118, September-October 2005