Should We Stay or Should We Go Now?


Have you ever heard someone try to argue that the Iraq War was a mistake but that now the proper course is to continue the mistake a bit longer or to carefully end it in a long and complicated way that could take months or years? Have you ever wondered how such a position, if examined in detail, could possibly make any sense?

Wonder no more. Such a position, in various forms, actually makes no sense. In fact, such a position requires a stunning degree of illogic.

There’s an important book at called “Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal” by Anthony Arnove. The book has a Foreword and an Afterword by Howard Zinn, who in 1967 published “Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal.” Arnove’s book is important because it refutes all the major claims against immediate withdrawal.

Arnove begins with some historical background, and then lays out an overwhelming case for the following points. I’ll list them here, but you’ll need to read the book (it’s only 100 pages) for the arguments:

1. The U.S. military has no right to be in Iraq in the first place. It turns out the Iraq war was not a mistake at all, and so the mistake cannot be continued even for an hour. The Iraq War was and is a crime.

2. The United States is not bringing democracy to Iraq. Spreading democracy had nothing to do with why this war was launched or why it is being continued. As Arnove writes, “The U.S. government opposes genuine democracy in the Middle East for a simple reason: if ordinary people controlled the region’s energy resources, they might be put toward local economic development and social needs, rather than going to fuel the profits of Western oil companies.” Does that sound outrageous or paranoid or “anti-American”? Read the historical context that Arnove provides and then explain to me how you can see it any other way.

3. The United States is not making the world a safer place by occupying Iraq. In fact, this war has made the world much less safe. We’ve set a precedent for other nations to attack each other. We’ve driven other nations to invest in weaponry to try to hold off a U.S. attack. We’ve heightened anti-U.S. sentiment and significantly increased the incidents of terrorism each year.

4. The United States is not preventing civil war in Iraq. This is the same myth the British spread in 1920, when they didn’t want to stop occupying Iraq. Our occupation, and the constitution we’ve imposed on Iraq, deliberately pit ethnic groups against each other in an effort to direct violence away from the occupiers. Still, the bulk of the violence is directed at the occupying army and its collaborators. And it is getting worse, not better.

5. The United States is not confronting terrorism by staying in Iraq. Al Qaeda arrived in Iraq AFTER the invasion.

6. The United States is not honoring those who died by continuing the conflict. That thinking is a recipe for compounding the tragedy without end.

7. The United States is not rebuilding Iraq. Halliburton and Bechtel are looting, not repairing. It is a racist and imperialist frame of mind that allows us to imagine that Iraqis could not best rebuild their own country. We owe them financial support in that effort. At present we are draining their resources, not adding to them.

8. The United States is not fulfilling its obligation to the Iraqi people for the harm and suffering it has caused. We are making things ever worse for the Iraqi people. Our first obligation is to stop harming them. We should then pay reparations.

Arnove does not make his case for immediate withdrawal contingent on persuading the United Nations or any other group to take over. He argues, and argues well, that the Iraqis themselves can best handle the rebuilding assuming we liberate them from our liberation:

“In demanding an end to the U.S. occupation, we do not need to call for some other occupying power to replace the United States. The United Nations, the most likely candidate in such a scenario, has shown through the years of the sanctions it imposed, the buildup to the war, and its endorsement of the U.S. occupation that it is not able or willing to confront U.S. power Any outside power will not be accountable to the people of Iraq. And the United States is hardly alone in bearing responsibility for the suffering of the Iraqis. The United Nations is deeply implicated. The Arab League countries did nothing to protect the people of Iraq. Indeed, a number of its member states provided support for the invasions of Iraq in 1991 and 2003 while seeking to profit from the war and from the sanctions. Many countries besides the United States also supported Saddam Hussein, armed him, and protected him.”

Recognizing that being right is not always enough, Arnove offers advice to the anti-war movement based on what worked during Vietnam. Among other ideas, he suggests making civil disobedience part of mass demonstrations rather than smaller efforts the next day (as was done in DC last September).

Arnove also points to electoral politics and suggests that we will never end the war as long as we support pro-war candidates. “The U.S. left made a terrible mistake,” Arnove writes, “in supporting the presidential campaign of John Kerry, giving up its independence and political principles to support a prowar candidate. Kerry called for sending more troops to Iraq, insisting that ‘it would be unthinkable now for us to retreat in disarray and leave behind a society deep in strife and dominated by radicals.’ Kerry also asserted that he would still have voted to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq even if he knew [as of course he DID] Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, a position that he only clearly retracted after losing [that is, coming close enough to have it stolen] the election.”

Arnove believes, and I agree, that we will not turn the anti-war movement into a powerful enough force to end the war unless we oppose the war for the right reasons, the reasons that compel us to demand immediate withdrawal and to sacrifice until we’ve achieved it:


“Some liberals have staked their opposition to the war in Iraq on the idea that Iraq is a ‘distraction.’ The problem with this line of argument is that it accepts that Bush is now waging an otherwise legitimate war. The stronger the consciously anti-imperialist current in the anti-war movement, the stronger the movement to end the war will be, and the greater the chance we will have to bring about the fundamental change needed to stop future wars.”

DAVID SWANSON can be reached at: david@davidswanson.org




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David Swanson wants you to declare peace at http://WorldBeyondWar.org  His new book is War No More: The Case for Abolition.

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