On October 21, when President Obama announced that all American troops would be withdrawing from Iraq, I learned that I needed surgery on a blocked carotid artery, and soon. Ten years earlier, between the 9/11 attacks and the US invasion of Iraq, I was having quintuple bypass surgery. The Cedars-Sinai doctors even delayed the operation in case Los Angeles was struck that day.
For ten years, though, my heart kept its faithful beat. For 3,500 straight days and nights, I researched, wrote, spoke, taught and lobbied against the Iraq War. I tried to avoid pepper spray and being stomped, but for everything else, the beat was steady. When Obama made the withdrawal announcement last week, it was as if my heart was saying, Take me back to the repair shop. And so I will go once more, and will, I hope, come out battling against the wars and injustices of the next decade.
On Saturday, the day after Obama’s statement, my heart felt good as I introduced Representative Barbara Lee at a Los Angeles fundraiser. In the lightness of her mood I sensed a burden had been lifted from her heart as well.
Some of the hundred people in the room were baffled by the Obama withdrawal decision—understandably so, after a decade of several wars, a stolen election that led directly to Bush’s Iraq invasion, and now a Great Recession greatly worsened by trillions of tax dollars spent on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, instead of Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. A certain jadedness has affected our consciousness after this very bad decade. Some people in the room didn’t believe Obama was actually going to pull out of Iraq. He would sneak in 5,000 manipulative mercenaries to take over from the last of the American troops. And what about those other wars? Wasn’t he worse than Bush? Yada yada yada, ad nauseam.
I think the American troops will leave Iraq. The Iraqi people, who are regaining their sovereignty, will welcome their departure. So, too, will the American people who made the peace necessary through ten years of struggle on many fronts, including the election of Barack Obama. Yes, the other wars will continue, corporate power will continue, global warming will continue, but the lessons of the campaign against the Iraq War may be helpful as we face these other challenges.
Ending the war in Iraq was not inevitable. Angered by 9/11, ignorantly indifferent to Muslim lives and arrogantly filled with superpower delusions, the American people could have backed an all-out and permanent invasion with 1 million troops and saturation bombing. The Iraqi people, liberated from Saddam Hussein, could have submitted to American dominance, or been conquered through internal divisions, instead of resisting.
But the feverish neocons and the myopic political establishment were deluded in two ways: they were blinded to the strength of militant Iraqi nationalism, and to the potential of a peace movement in the United States. Winning the war and ushering in the world of their dreams, they thought, would be a cakewalk.
Iraq became the focal point of many contradictions in the world: between Third World nationalism and Western imperial designs; between the capacity of the US/NATO forces and imperial overreach; between oil imperialism and sovereignty; and between budgeting for a Long War versus budgeting for American needs.