"You Can’t Oppose the War and Fund the War"

Anthony Arnove is the editor, with Howard Zinn, of Voices of a People’s History of the United States. He is also the editor of Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions.. Arnove’s writing has appeared in Financial Times, The Nation, In These Times, Monthly Review, Z, and many other publications. He lives in New York City. His most recent book is Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, updated paperback edition (New York: Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books/The American Empire Project, 2007).

KEVIN ZEESE: I see two broad types of groups that need to be convinced that we should get out of Iraq. The first are people who believe that the war was wrong, but now that we are there we have to finish the job, stabilize the country, make things better. These folks believe that if we leave things will certainly get worse. What do you say to these folks?

Anthony Arnove: I’d say make the same points to both groups. More than 3,000 U.S. soldiers are dead and more than 22,000 wounded, many grievously. Every day that toll mounts. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died. The Haditha massacre, the Mahmoudiya rape-murder, and the torture at Abu Ghraib are not aberrations but reflections of the brutality of a colonial occupation. The social and economic costs of this war grow every day in communities across the country as money is diverted from schools, health care, jobs, and other vital social programs to fuel this unjust occupation. The war abroad has gone hand in hand with a war on our civil liberties at home, with a massive expansion of the government’s power to detain people without trial, to use secret evidence, and to use torture. Meanwhile, every day that the United States is in Iraq, the situation gets worse and civil war becomes more — not less — likely. The U.S. occupation is distorting every aspect of Iraqi society and is the root of the problem.

In terms of how things will be once the U.S. withdraws, each day longer the United States stays, the possibilities of a livable outcome diminish. Which is why, in addition to pushing for immediate withdrawal, we also need to call on the United States and its allies to pay reparations to the Iraqi people (not just for the destruction caused by the most recent illegal invasion and occupation but before that the devastating sanctions, the toxic legacy and destruction of the 1991 Gulf War, and all the years that the U.S. armed and supported Saddam Hussein as he carried out his worst crimes). They can do a far better job rebuilding their country than the corporate looters and thugs of Halliburton, Bechtel, and Blackwater can.

KZ: The other group are people who think that the U.S. went in for good reasons — to overthrow a tyrant — and issues like WMD or link to 9/11 are no longer all that important, since the U.S. made the world better by getting rid of Saddam Hussein. What do you say to these people?

AA: The invasion of Iraq has made the world a far more dangerous place, increasing anger at the United States, encouraging other states such as Russia, Israel, China, and Pakistan to assert the right to launch so-called preemptive strikes, and fueling a renewed global arms race, including a nuclear arms race that threatens the extinction of the human species.

Iraqis are far more likely to die violently in Iraq today than they were under the dictatorship. They have less electricity and less access to safe drinking water than before the occupation, when they were still subjected to comprehensive sanctions. Unemployment has skyrocketed (while contractors hire foreign workers rather than Iraqis). Iraqis are afraid to send their children to school or to leave their homes or to live in formerly integrated neighborhoods. Inflation has put basic necessities beyond the reach of Iraqis. Iraq is the world’s worst refugee crisis, with, according to the U.S. government, 2 million external and 1.7 million internal refugees. Large sections of Baghdad have been ethnically cleansed.

It’s important to remember that the worst crimes of Saddam Hussein were enabled and defended by the United States and other Western powers. And today the United States continues to support a range of brutal dictatorships throughout Western and Central Asia and the Middle East.

The invasion of Iraq did not occur because members of the Bush administration could not sleep at night thinking about human rights abuses in Iraq, but because, in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, Washington planners saw an opportunity to advance an agenda of dominating the energy resource of the Middle east and using that regional hegemony to project U.S. power globally.

KZ: What is the step-by-step withdrawal that you recommend? Do you recommend any peace keeping forces? If so, from where?

AA: I spoke on a panel recently with an Iraq war veteran, a member of an important group called Iraq Veterans Against the War (http://www.ivaw.org/), who said, quite rightly, “Withdrawal is not a strategy. It’s an executive order.” The U.S. military would be capable of removing troops very quickly if the government were to acknowledge its defeat in Iraq, rather than persisting on its current destructive course.

The problem with all the proposals for timetables for withdrawal is that they are based on endlessly receding horizon. The people who will evaluate whether or not certain “benchmarks” have been met are the very people now building long-term military bases and setting up the largest U.S. embassy in the world in Iraq, and who have so much at stake in “winning” the war in Iraq.

President Bush has said it will be up to the next president to decide when troops will come home (recall how the Vietnam war was passed back and forth from Democrats and Republicans), and the recent budget Bush delivered to Congress would provide funding for troops into the year 2009. More fundamentally, we also have to be clear: the United States has no right to be in Iraq in the first place. They entered the country on utterly false pretexts. Their presence is the negation of democracy for the Iraqi people. Once U.S. troops leave, it is up too the Iraqi people whether or not they want peacekeeping forces or other assistance. That’s their decision, not ours, to make.

KZ: What about the economic take-over of Iraq. I agree with the thesis Antonia Juhasz (see http://democracyrising.us/content/view/483/151/) that the root cause of the Iraq takeover was to gain economic control over the oil rich region. Bremer’s 100 orders, which have been confirmed by the Iraqi Constitution, have transformed Iraq from a state-controlled economy, to an economy for the multi-nationals. Should this be reversed? How should it be reversed

AA: The economic take-over of Iraq absolutely should be reversed. Antonia Juhasz is right, as Naomi Klein, who has also written very powerfully on this topic. Klein writes that “The United States, having broken Iraq, is not in the process of fixing it. It is merely continuing to break the country and its people by other means, using not only F-16s and Bradleys, but now the less flashy weaponry” of economic strangulation. We need to call for an end to military and economic occupation, as well as the removal of U.S. military bases.

The Bremer laws preserved the Hussein-era anti-trade union regulations, lowered tax rates to levels dreamed of by multinationals, opened Iraq’s economy to 100 percent foreign ownership in all areas except oil, which will remain effectively under Western control. The mainstream economist Jeff Madrick was quite right when he argued in the business pages of The New York Times (October 2, 2003) that the privatization plans for Iraq are “stunning” and will lead to “widespread cruelty.”

The economic take-over of Iraq shows what’s really at stake in Iraq: the use of military power to spread neoliberalism, not democracy.

KZ: You point to five ingredients that led to the end of the Vietnam War:

1. Mass resistance of the Vietnamese people.
2. Resistance of US soldiers and veterans.
3. Domestic opposition to the war at home.
4. International opposition to the war around the world.
5. The growing economic consequences of the war undermining the US economy

Do you see those same ingredients being required and/or sufficient to ending the Iraq occupation? How do they apply to the current war?

AA: None of these elements alone ended the Vietnam War or are sufficient today to end this one, but all of these dynamics already have effected the course of this war and could lead to U.S. withdrawal.

To take them in turn, it is clear that a majority of Iraqis oppose the occupation and want to see U.S. troops leave. Attacks on U.S. troops are increasing rather than decreasing, and the resistance in Iraq, far from being only Sunni or foreign-led is widespread and popular. Clear majorities of Shias, as well as Sunnis, want an end to foreign occupation.

Today, we see U.S. soldiers speaking out against this war and organizing against it far earlier than we did during the Vietnam War. Conscientious objectors and war resisters such as Camilo Mejia, Pablo Paredes, and Ehren Watada, veterans groups such as IVAW, military families organizing against the war, and counter-recruitment groups have begun to have a real impact. The military is falling short of its recruitment goals. A Zogby poll last year showed that 72 percent of U.S. active duty troops in Iraq wanted to lave Iraq by the end of 2006 year, and 29 percent wanted to leave immediately, which is remarkable. Instead, we see 21,500 more troops being sent and people’s tours of duty being extended to their third, fourth, or even fifth deployment. In effect, reservists are being subjected to a backdoor draft. (For more on the Vietnam era soldiers’ revolt, there are two invaluable resources, the new documentary “Sir! No Sir!” — — and the recently updated edition of David Cortright’s Soldiers in Revolt.)

Meanwhile, at home, public opinion has turned solidly against the war, again at an earlier stage than happened during the Vietnam War. The U.S. every day is growing more isolated in its continued occupation, with a number of countries voting out prowar governments and the partners of the so-called Coalition of the Willing dwindling. The costs of the war have mounted to the point that some economic elites and also military planners are speaking out about the harm the occupation is causing to perceived U.S. economic and military interests. This opens cracks that the antiwar movement needs to use to raise issues that the corporate establishment media otherwise would ignore.

Much more needs to be done, however, to raise the costs of this war. Much more is at stake for the United States in Iraq today than was at stake in Vietnam. Iraq is far more strategic a prize. Iraq has the world’s second largest oil reserves and in a region with the majority of oil and natural gas reserves, as well as access to crucial trade routes. Iraqi crude is also of very high quality, is easy to extract, and is exceptionally profitable — at a time when each barrel of oil is getting more costly and difficult to extract from the earth than the ones before.

If the United States were defeated in Iraq, it would be a major reversal, and would affect Washington’s ability to intervene economically, politically, and militarily in the affairs of other countries around the world. So we will have to do much more than we have done to mobilize opposition at home, to encourage and support soldiers who are speaking out, to disrupt recruitment for the military, to confront the warmongers and the media that have protected them from full scrutiny, to pressure the Congress to cut off funding for the war, and to make connections between the war with other social struggles in this country, of working and poor people, of immigrants, of people concerned about civil liberties, and other people fighting attacks on their communities. So much is at stake, not just for the people of Iraq, but for people in this country — and throughout the world.

KZ: Your book title plays off the title of a book your colleague, Howard Zinn wrote — Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal — why? And, why did you write the book?

AA: Before leaving South End Press in 2002, I had the chance to republish some of Howard Zinn’s classic books, such as SNCC: The New Abolitionists and Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal. I reread Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal at that time, as I was working on an updated edition of my book Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War, with another major assault on Iraq imminent. And as the invasion and occupation unfolded, I was repeatedly reminded by the power of Howard’s argument in that book, in which he argued for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. Howard’s book, written in 1967, was remarkably prescient. The war, however, continued for years after, and to this day continues to kill and maim people through its toxic legacy. Rather than retreat, the U.S. expanded the war into Laos and Cambodia, with disastrous consequences (using similar arguments to the one we hear more frequently now about Iraq and Syria supporting the insurgency in Iraq). Literally millions of people needlessly lost their lives. This history is vital to understanding Iraq today and to exposing what the historian Sidney Lens called the “myth of American benevolence” (in his remarkable book The Forging of the American Empire)

I wrote my book in the hope that it might help give people a sense of historical perspective on the invasion of Iraq and that it might be a resource for the antiwar movement. I also hope it can help encourage more people and organizations in the antiwar to push for immediate withdrawal, rather than other proposals that accept some variant of continued occupation and war.

KZ: What do you say to those Democrats who say we cannot cut off funds for the war?

AA: You cannot oppose the war, as some Democrats have proclaimed, and yet fund this war. That’s a complete contradiction. To those who say we cannot withdraw “precipitously,” there is nothing precipitous about pulling out after four years of occupying another country against its will and in a situation where the occupying forces are at the root of the instability and violence and is fueling a civil war. To those Democrats who say cutting off funds would mean “abandoning” the troops, the best way to support the troops is to bring them home now.

KEVIN ZEESE is director of DemocracyRising.US and a co-founder of VotersForPeace.US.


Kevin Zeese is an organizer at Popular Resistance.