Tom Hayden is an anti-war activist who most recently was the lead author of “The Peoples Petition for Iraqi Peace.” He was a leader of the student, civil rights and anti-war movements in the Sixties, and the environmental and anti-nuclear movements in the Seventies. He served in the California Assembly from 1982-1992. He is currently a professor at Occidental College and social science adviser for Animo public schools: Venice, Inglewood, Lennox, South Central and Boyle Heights, California. He is the author of nine books, including “Rebel: a Personal History of the 1960s,” “The Lost Gospel of the Earth,” “The Whole World Was Watching” and “Irish Hunger.” The New York Times cited his 1988 book, “Reunion,” as one of the best 200 of the year.
KEVIN ZEESE: It seems like the opposition to the war is at a historic moment of opportunity. Public opinion is moving our way, President Bush has diminished himself by refusing to meet with Cindy Sheehan, people are seeing the failure of the occupation and even recognizing it makes us less safe at home. At the same time pressures from inside Iraq for a U.S. exit are building. How do you see this moment? How should the peace movement build momentum for an exit strategy in Iraq?
Tom Hayden: I don’t know why the media has chosen Cindy Sheehan as their symbol. She does fill one critical need, a grievance process that leads to peace through getting at the truth, instead of the grieving that leads families to support further war so that the fallen haven’t died in vain.
I don’t know if it is a moment or not. But I believe that those who have been right in opposing the war from the beginning have a right to be heard in the debate about how it should end. In addition to that right, we have a practical need to persuade moderates and politicians that the choices are not permanent war versus pulling out troops tonight. We need to propose an exit strategy. This does not mean abandoning “out now.” It means explaining the need to decide not to get out, and how.
KZ: What would be the first steps toward a sensible withdrawal from Iraq?
TH: I have proposed short versions and long, but the first step is for public opinion, congressional leaders, and pentagon experts to send a clear message to te President that the war is not viable any longer. Perhaps we need a committee of the ruling class, like the “wise men” who counseled President Johnson, to tell Bush in private.
Then the government should do what the British did to move the peace process in Northern Ireland, declare no strategic or permanent interest, no permanent military bases, no design to control Iraqi oil. The Iraqis, the United Nations, and parties around the world need to hear this message as a confidence-building measure.
Then the government should appoint a peace envoy to facilitate talks, direct and indirect, with the Iraqi oppostion, including insurgents interested in a political settlement.
Then announce the goal of troop withdrawal, in month not years. Also, an end to the occupation, including the schemes of privatization that enrich American contractors. At the same time, ask the United Nations, or a body blessed by the UN, to take over monitoring the de-escalation process and the economic reconstruction.
KZ: What initial steps can be taken to stop the daily killing by both sides? Is it time to start thinking about and talking about a cease fire?
TH: Regarding a cease fire, if there is such a proposal it will come from confidential talks among Iraqis, perhaps brokered by Aiham Al Sammarae (editors note: Sammarae founded the National Assembly for the Unity and Reconstruction of Iraq as a vehicle for seeking a negotiated peace in Iraq that could tie a U.S. withdrawal to a ceasefire by the resistance), perhaps by some of the 400 American CIA agents working out of the U.S. Embassy. It might be a public step, it might simply be cessation of patrols and other operations by American troops in certain provinces or hot spots. We are so far from a conflict resolution mode that includes the opposition I am not getting into to it to specifically. But yes, cease fire would be a natural step in a withdrawal process.
KZ: How does the current anti-war movement compare to the anti-war movement during Vietnam?
TH: This movement is larger in some respects, partly because Vietnam is still in our blood. But the earlier movement arose in a more intense context of a global revolution.
KZ: One of the stumbling blocks I see in Congress is the leadership of the Democratic Party. While progressives in the Party are organizing as part of the Out of Iraq Caucus, the leadership of the Party is calling for more troops — people like Senators Joseph Biden, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry — even the peace candidate now chair of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean, is speaking in favor of the occupation. (Note: Hayden has been critical of Dean’s stance on the occupation.) It seems like the “national security Democrats” dominate the Party. Is that accurate? Why is that and how do we overcome that obstacle?
TH: I absolutlely agree. The movement has to energize the awakened minority of doves in the House while shaming the established leaders for taking the Party in the wrong direction at a time when most Democrats want peace. We have to complicate their calculations for future Presidential campaigns, and keep working through all avenues to convince them that they need to change.
KZ: What can people do to help build momentum around the “Peoples Peace Plan?” What are your next steps?
It may not resonate like issues of stolen elections or Cindy Sheehan’s battle, but we have to receive a mandate from tens of thousands of activists through the petition and, of course, countless discussions. Then we should advocate to the liberal Democrats to adopt an exit strategy and introduce it as a resolution. Then we go to work on co-authors on the exit strategy and Jones -Abercrombie legislation, getting at least 100 by January. Of course, nearly all the work needs to be done by core, committed groups at community and congressional district levels.
More on Tom Hayden is available at: http://www.tomhayden.com/ and on his blod at Huffington Post
KEVIN ZEESE is Director of DemocracyRising.US. Democracy Rising has called for a dual exit strategy of U.S. military and U.S. corporate interests from Iraq. It has signed onto the “People Petition for Iraqi Peace.” We are urging others to join in by signing onto the petition. You or your organization can sign on by going here.