In the coming months, Washington DC, San Francisco, New York and several other cities will be the sites of a number of actions against the US war in Iraq. These protests, which include and encampment and march the week of September 22 – 29, a protest on September 15th in DC and Los Angeles, and a number of regional protests around the date of October 27th, are being called by a number of national organizations, including UFPJ, Troops Out Now, and ANSWER. In addition, the Iraq Moratorium Project is calling for nationwide locally organized actions across the country every month beginning on September 21st.
While these efforts are commendable and serve the purpose of rallying the committed forces, they also tend to dilute the potential power of the antiwar movement. Unlike many more cynical folks opposed to the US debacle in Iraq, I believe that the antiwar movement is a viable and growing movement. If it has a problem, it is not from the lack of numbers or the lack of commitment from the grassroots. After all, this movement has turned out in incredibly large numbers over the past five years despite the ever obstinate refusal of the White House to acknowledge the depth of opposition to its wars. No, the antiwar sentiment among us regular folk continues to grow, not diminish. Unfortunately, this has yet to translate into a cessation of US action and a withdrawal of US forces. Instead, we have seen an increase in US forces since January 2007 and a renewed determination by the Bush administration to sink US forces even deeper into the morass of war. In addition, the Iraqi and Afghani people have suffered the results of an increased use of military airpower as US planes strafe and bomb whole villages and city neighborhoods in their attempt to destroy the resistance. These air operations have caused untold numbers of civilian deaths and increased the local hatred for the imperial forces on the ground while increasing support for the resistance.
Why has the war escalated while polls show an increasing number of US residents oppose the war and want the troops to come home? (In fact, a recent poll by Harris Polling showed that 42% of US residents polled want an immediate and unconditional withdrawal). Of course, one can point to the man in the White House and his accomplice Dick Cheney and blame the entire phenomenon on their obstinacy and commitment to the ideology of the neocons. One could even speculate that George Bush has some kind of psychological complex that explains his inability to see things for what they are and exacerbates his stubbornness. Or, they could just say that he’s so stupid he doesn’t care about the facts. While all of these may have an element of truth to them, they do not explain why the US continues to occupy Iraq and bomb Afghanistan. What they do do, however, is obfuscate the other reasons the US military finds itself deeper in the Iraqi and Afghani quagmires in August 2007 than anyone in official Washington was willing to predict in 2006.
Those real reasons have much more to do with the role of Congress than the White House. It is Congress that provided Bush and Cheney with the legitimacy for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent occupation of that country. It is Congress that provided the White House with the legal ability to invade Afghanistan in 2001 and it is Congress that continues to provide the legitimacy and the funds to continue the US military actions in that country. Furthermore, it is the US Congress that legitimized the US involvement in Somalia, its continued incursions into Pakistan and its covert operations inside Iran—operations that might erupt into full scale war if we are to believe the growing number of leaks from official Washington in this regard.
Congress is not just collaborating here, it is providing the White House and Pentagon with the funds and legal ability to carry out the Project for a New American Century. This is the case no matter whether the congressional majority is Republican or Democratic. Furthermore, the occasional outbursts of opposition that we have witnessed since the November 2006 elections have not only been fruitless, they have served to provide the prowar forces with the cover of democratic legitimacy because all of the bills even mentioning a withdrawal of forces have either been defeated or watered down to the point where they would have changed nothing on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan. From where I sit, this does not appear to be an accident. Indeed, it looks more and more like this is what the Democratic leadership wanted all along–a pretend antiwar opposition to the war in Congress that would take the wind out of the movement in the streets of the United States and insure the continuation of the war in the streets of Baghdad. The next step in this plan would entail antiwar citizens involving themselves in the Democratic campaigns for president and, after the leadership quashes all attempts to make the Democratic Party the party of immediate withdrawal by marginalizing those candidates who are on record supporting just such a move and quashing any attempts to place any such demands in the party platform. This would then leave the antiwar movement with little choice but to vote for its candidate. Of course, as any observer of US party politics can foresee, that candidate will most likely be someone that is not for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and in favor of continued aggression in Afghanistan. For those of us with a sense of history, this scenario played itself out in 1968 and left many antiwar Democrats with the choice of voting for the prowar Humphrey or not voting at all.
So, what is to be done? Plain and simple, the antiwar movement must be wrested back from those who would sell it to the Democratic Party. This means, plain and simple, that antiwar actions must not champion presidential candidates at the expense of the stated goal of immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq. We must understand clearly that the only way to end US involvement in Iraq is by ending it once and for all. That means no more troops, no more CIA, no more mercenaries, and no more military actions from the air. It also means that the only monies that should be expended by the US in Iraq should be to expedite the withdrawal of all forces and for reparations once an infrastructure is created to insure those funds get to the people and communities that deserve them, not the corrupt Iraqi officials currently in control.
The only role that a political candidate should play in the antiwar movement is to endorse this position. No organization in the antiwar movement should endorse a candidate. It is up to them to endorse us. In order to precipitate this process, however, it will be necessary for the movement to gather its strength into a unified and powerful mass. Such a thing can only happen when the grassroots insists that the leadership set aside their political and personal differences and coalesce around one or two simple demands and back national actions that will demonstrate the strength and breadth of the US people’s opposition to this war.
The antiwar actions coming up this fall are not contrary to this potential. Indeed, it might be useful to see them as the seeds of a movement like that outlined above. I believe the sentiment and determination exists among the American people to build a movement capable of ending these wars. My doubts arise only when I reflect on the fractured nature of the current national antiwar organizations and the seeming inability of those groups’ leadership to put aside their differences for the greater cause of ending the US occupation of Iraq now. The antiwar movement was able to help elect a Democratic majority last November because that is where it focused its energies. It can also get a million people in the streets demanding an immediate withdrawal. Now is the time to begin organizing such an effort.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org