When Barack Obama takes office on January 21, 2009, he will bring the hopes of millions of Americans into the White House with him. Foremost among those hopes he brings with him will be that he carries out his promise to withdraw the US forces from Iraq. Along with the hope to see the end of the US military adventure in Iraq is the belief that President Obama will end the war and occupation of Afghanistan. In fact, according to a recent AP poll, fifty per cent of the US population believes Obama will end that failed adventure. Yet, if we look at the appointments, nominations and words of Obama and his transition team since the election, it appears that his administration’s role is one that is supposed to redeem the face of the project for US dominance of the world. When one peruses the transition team’s website, they can see what their intentions are regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. The plan’s for Iraq are summarized this way: “Under the Obama-Biden plan, a residual force will remain in Iraq and in the region to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions.” The size of the force is undetermined as is its exact mission. Complementary to the plans for Iraq is the Obama team’s plan to “dedicate more (military) resources to the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.” Recently, antiwar organizer Ashley Smith of the International Socialist Organization stated the present situation rather succinctly: “The antiwar movement has an immense opportunity with the election of Barack Obama. His victory has raised expectations not only of an end to the Iraq war, but also an end to the Afghan War and the many other barbaric policies of the Bush Administration. However, the establishment and the corporative power brokers are pressuring Obama to rehabilitate American imperialism so that it is better able to dominate the planet against its regional and global rivals.”
At this point in the transition from Bush to Obama, there seems to be a wait-and-see attitude among the US populace. Folks who voted for Obama seem to be transfixed by the mere fact of his victory while some of those who opposed him are already making plans on how to get rid of him. Many of those who voted for him because he said he would withdraw troops from Iraq are unfortunately diminishing the importance of his statements calling for an expansion of the US military in Afghanistan and his public stances against Iran and in support of Israeli bellicosity. This wait-and-see attitude by these voters seems to be paving the way for a continuation of the war policies that were undertaken by the Bush administration. If there was ever a time for a renewed vigor in the antiwar movement, that time is now. Leia Petty of the national student organization Campus Antiwar Network put it this way in an email: “National mass mobilizations give expression to widespread discontent and provide an opportunity to organize the unorganized…. The last national protest was nearly two years ago, meaning that many students in our organization and on our campuses have never experienced marching and chanting in the streets alongside hundreds of thousands of people. Protest is the primary expression of our demands and the building block of our movement.”
The past two years have been a quiet time for that movement. There have been no major national demonstrations since March 15th, 2007 when 40,000 people marched on the Pentagon. Prior to that was a protest of over 150,000 in DC (with another 100,000 on the West Coast) on January 27th of that year. Both of these protests took place in the wake of the November 2006 congressional elections that saw the Democrats take over both houses of Congress in an election that was essentially a referendum against the war. It was a referendum that was to be baldly ignored by the very folks who were elected to carry it out. Instead of a withdrawal plan, we saw an escalation of the war via the “surge.” This escalation brought about an increase in Iraqi and US deaths, while further dividing the country of Iraq into sectarian enclaves, displacing millions more Iraqis, and pushing the people of that country further into poverty. Now, almost two years later, there are more US troops in Iraq than there were before the 2006 elections and Washington is still trying to impose an agreement on the Green Zone government that pretends to promise a withdrawal by 2011, but in reality has more loopholes regarding that withdrawal than the current US tax laws do for the oil companies. In Afghanistan, the occupation grows more brutal daily, as US airstrikes kill and maim civilians and US Predator drones wreak their destruction and death in Afghanistan and, increasingly, in Pakistan as well.
During the weekend of December 12th and 13th, 2008, the national antiwar coalition United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ) is holding it national meeting in Chicago. This meeting is certain to discuss the nature of the antiwar movement in the coming year. Already, the other national antiwar network ANSWER has called for a national protest in Washington, DC on March 21, 2009. The third national network, known as the National Assembly to End the War is circulating a letter asking UFPJ to co-sponsor such a protest. Some of the National Assembly’s members, like antiwar activist Marilyn Lewin of Boston will be attending the UFPJ conference as individuals and members of various local antiwar groups. When asked why she planned to attend, Ms. Lewin told me that “the long rift between UFPJ and ANSWER and the absence of mass mobilizations has been a serious setback. I will be attending the UFPJ National Assembly to call for UFPJ to join with ANSWER and others to form a broad, independent, ad hoc coalition to build mass mobilizations in Washington, San Francisco and other cities on March 21, marking six years of war in Iraq.”
In a continuation of its pointless refusal to work with ANSWER, UFPJ has so far refused to go along. Instead, the UFPJ leadership has called for a series of undefined, vague actions the week before. Separate actions make very little sense. The time for a coordinated mass national action by all elements of the US antiwar movement is this coming spring. The US military presence in Iraq will be heading into its seventh year. It doesn’t matter who is in the White House when it comes to this issue. Nor does it matter if Washington and the Iraqi Green Zone government have agreed that US forces will leave by 2011. As we have seen before, agreements like the Status of Forces Agreement mean very little when they don’t serve Washington’s needs. It is extremely rare in US history that a president or Congress ended a hostile overseas military action without massive public pressure. Besides the fact that Iraq is considered too important to Washington’s plans, there are just too many pressures from those whose income and careers depend on continuing such adventures to end these things. If and only if the antiwar movement revitalizes itself and organizes the majority of Americans that oppose the war/occupation in Iraq will it be ended.
The same applies to the situation in Afghanistan. That mission has failed. The resistance against Washington’s occupation continues to grow. More and more Afghan civilians die every week from US bombs and missiles while the Karzai government grows weaker and weaker. This government, put into place to help the US project its power into Central Asia in order to control the Caspian Sea natural gas and oil, has less internal support than the al-Maliki regime in Baghdad. .It is time for the occupying forces to end their murderous support of whichever warlord is willing to take Washington’s money. That nation’s people will only begin to have a chance to live without war or reactionary Islamist rule after US and NATO forces begin to leave the country. Not only should the various wings of the national antiwar movement organize a single demonstration in the spring of 2009, they should include a call for an immediate US/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in their demands.
The election of Obama after years of Bush and Cheney has created a historical moment. Those who voted for Obama hoping that he will end the war(s) and move away from the imperial aggression of the past decades can not merely sit back and wait for Obama and the Congress to do this on their own. Now more than ever those of us who oppose the US wars around the world and Washington’s ever-expanding military presence from Latin America to Asia must make our opposition known. That means we must take it into the streets, the halls of Congress, our workplaces and schools and our shopping malls and churches. In short, we must revive the antiwar movement with the same commitment and emotion that so many of its members gave to getting the GOP out of Washington. Along the way, we also need to bring along those who became involved politically for the first time during Obama’s run and who also oppose the US wars around the world. An important first step in this drive is for the organizations that consider themselves to be the leadership of the antiwar movement to work towards a single massive protest on both US coasts in March 2009. Anything less will be a squandering of opportunity on a colossal scale.
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