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What Comes After Withdrawal?

Moving Beyond Anti-War Politics

by PHYLLIS BENNIS And ROBERT JENSEN

As Congress sends its bill requiring partial troop withdrawals from Iraq to the White House for a certain veto, it has never been clearer that mobilizing against this war is necessary, but not enough.

Congressional Democrats may be willing to stop there, but demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq is only the first of our obligations to help create the conditions for real justice and peace in the Middle East and around the world. It’s crucial that we also advocate for an entirely new foreign policy based on opposition to the long U.S. drive toward empire.

That first step is, of course, crucial. When 78 percent of the Iraqi people oppose the presence of U.S. troops and 61 percent support attacks on those troops, it’s clear that our presence in the country is causing — not preventing — much of the violence. Pulling out U.S. troops (including the 100,000-plus mercenaries who back the U.S. military) won’t eliminate all Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence, but it will remove the reason many Iraqis are fighting. That would take away the protective umbrella that the widely supported anti-occupation violence currently gives the real terrorists — those engaged in killing civilians for political or sectarian reasons. Once U.S. forces are gone and the reason for the legitimate resistance to foreign occupation is eliminated, the ugly terrorist violence will be exposed for what it is and it will be possible for Iraqis themselves to isolate the terrorists and eliminate them as a fighting force.

But what comes after a U.S. withdrawal? We clearly owe the Iraqi people massive reparations for the devastation our illegal invasion has brought. Only in the United States is that illegality questioned; in the rest of the world it’s understood. Equally obvious around the world is that the decision to launch an aggressive war was rooted in the desire to expand U.S. military power in the strategically crucial oil-rich region, and that as a result the war fails every test of moral legitimacy.

As we organize against the occupation, we also must work to end U.S. support for Israeli occupation and try to prevent an aggressive war against Iran. But all of this is part of a larger obligation of U.S. citizens: We must challenge U.S. empire. The U.S. troop withdrawal and reparations should be accompanied by a declaration of a major change of course in U.S. foreign policy, especially in Iraq and the Middle East. We need a new foreign policy based on justice, relying on international law and the United Nations, rather than the assertion of might-makes-right.

This takes us beyond a critique of the mendacity of the Bush administration, to recognize that similar dreams of conquest and domination have animated every administration, albeit in different forms. From the darling of the anti-communist liberal elite (John F. Kennedy) and the champion of so-called "assertive multilateralism" (Bill Clinton), to the crude Republican realist (Richard Nixon) and the patron saint of the conservative right (Ronald Reagan), U.S. empire in the post-World War II era has been a distinctly bi-partisan effort.

In his 1980 State of the Union address, President Jimmy Carter called for domination of the Middle East: "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." In other words: We run the region and control the flow of its oil.

George W. Bush took earlier administrations’ power plays to new heights of reckless militarism and unilateralism, seizing the moment after 9/11 to declare to all nations: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." In other words: We demand global capitulation.

The only way to transcend this ugly history is through an honest national dialogue and a promise of a sea change in U.S. policy.

Look around the world at the results of U.S. strategies. Rhetoric about democracy and free trade has masked the enforcement of political and economic subordination to the United States and U.S.-based multinational corporations. The people of Latin America, much of Africa and the Middle East, and many parts of Asia can offer compelling testimony to the impact of those policies, enforced now through more than 700 U.S. military bases spread across the globe in over 130 countries.

Such empires are typically brought down from outside, with great violence. But we have another option, as citizens of that empire who understand how this pathology of power damages our country as well as the world. Imagine what would be possible if we — ordinary citizens of this latest empire — could build a movement that gave politicians no choice but to do the right thing.

Imagine what would be possible in the world if an anti-empire movement were strong enough to make it clear that ending military violence requires a just distribution of the resources of this world.

Imagine what is possible if we work to make inevitable one day what seems improbable today — the justice that makes possible real peace.

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and author of Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy U.S. Power. She can be reached at pbennis@ips-dc.org.

Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and author of

. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.