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As Barack Obama’s troop escalation begins in Afghanistan and talking heads debate how many more troops the US should send, the leadership of what was once the largest antiwar organization (UFPJ) in the United States rejected a call for a unified antiwar protest on March 21st, 2009. Instead, they issued a call to go to Wall Street on April 4th, 2009 and encourage the war profiteers to move "beyond a war economy," while toning down the demand to end the wars and occupations now to a demand to merely end them. Like antiwar organizer Ashley Smith told me in an email: "(That is) something Dick Cheney could support." The implication of this call by UFPJ is that now that Barack Obama and the Democrats are in power, there is no longer any need to protest against war. Not only is this incredibly naive, it is downright dangerous for the future of the world.
As anybody who has paid the least bit of attention to the nature of the US economy over the past century, its very foundations rest on the production of war and materials for war. Also apparent to those of us who have been paying attention is that the Democrats are just as responsible for this reality as the Republicans are. Just because George Bush and his administration were personally reprehensible and their arrogance and disregard for principles most Americans hold dear was as obvious as the nose on Pinocchio’s wooden face doesn’t mean that the policies of the Democrats are substantially different.
Consequently, the antiwar movement would be foolish to think they have a government of allies in Washington, DC now. There may be a more personable bunch of folks ruling the country now, but the odds of those folks pulling out of Afghanistan or Iraq now instead of later without a major push from the American people insisting that they do so are about as poor as they were under the Bush administration. The time for the antiwar movement to demand that the Obama administration end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan is now, before its political ego becomes entangled in a military exercise that is ill-advised, poorly done, and just plain wrong.
Walking through New York’s financial district carrying signs expressing a hope that the trillion dollar war economy will go against its profit margin because it is morally wrong to profit from death is not a bad thing. It might feel good and even change some minds. It might even be part of a greater UFPJ strategy to move beyond a movement that opposes the military adventures of the US to one that addresses the greater inequities of the system, but it won’t change the bottom line. And it is the bottom line that must be changed. That bottom line is that war and occupation are the linchpins of the US empire.
Understanding this fact requires the antiwar movement to be united and specific. The demands are simple: Bring all of the troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan now. Not in 2010, or 2011 or 2012, but no. Both of these operations have gone on long enough, no matter what the generals tell Obama or the American people. Since the Pentagon hasn’t been able to accomplish what it wanted despite being militarily engaged for close to a decade in both countries, it’s high time that we insist that our timetable be put into effect.
Fortunately, a coalition has formed around this simple demand. The National Assembly to End the Wars and the ANSWER coalition have joined forces and are holding protests in at least three major US cities on March 21, 2009. Washington, DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco will be the sites of these protests. In addition to calling on the Obama administration and Congress to remove the troops from Afghanistan and Iraq now, the protests also address the issue of US support for the violent occupation of Palestine by Israel–another important issue that the UFPJ prefers not to highlight in their public calls to join their protest.
Unless and until the issue of Palestine is addressed in an honest and just way that does not merely echo the desires of the Israeli expansionists, things in the Middle East will remain volatile and dangerous. According to most public opinion polls, the majority of Americans understand this yet Washington continues to support Tel Aviv no matter what it does–murderous attacks on Gaza or illegal settlements in the West Bank, it doesn’t seem to matter. The US money and weaponry continues to flow. Additionally, in the wake of recent election results in Israel, the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran (with at least tacit US support) grows stronger. Unless the US government is put on notice that this is beyond the pale, the current relative calm in the Middle East and South Asia will become a thing of distant memory.
I’m rewriting this paragraph on the afternoon before Barack Obama gives a speech to the nation. In the past three days, 8 US troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This fact may presage an increase in bloodletting in both places. Almost certainly, as surely as the escalation in Afghanistan will kill many more Afghans, so will it kill many more US troops. To what end is anybody’s guess. It is not my intention to disregard or disrespect UFPJ’s march on April 4th in New York. Indeed, if one can attend that protest and one of the protests on March 21st, please do.
However, if one has to choose, the intentions of the March 21st protests are certainly more immediate and, if the world without war that UFPJ envisions is to ever occur, essential to that vision. After all, in order to move beyond the war economy, doesn’t it make sense that we must end the wars/military occupations currently taking place? If we don’t get this message out there, those who want to expand the war in Afghanistan and ultimately bring it into Pakistan on a much greater scale will assume they have the approval of the US public. The job of the antiwar movement is to let them know that this is not the case. March 21st, 2009 is the first national manifestation of this in the Obama era.
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