PEACE MOVEMENT: DEAD OR ALIVE?
Alexander Cockburn makes three points in “Support Their Troops?” [“Beat the Devil,” July 30/Aug. 6]. One is right, one is wrong, one is preposterous. First, he says the US peace movement doesn’t embrace the Iraqi resistance. Right. Second, the peace movement is “pretty much dead.” Wrong. Third, publicly sympathizing with the Iraqi resistance will somehow build “the necessary critical mass to have a real movement.”
Cockburn waxes nostalgic about the days of earlier antiwar movements, particularly Vietnam and Central America. I was part of the sector of the Vietnam antiwar movement whose favorite chant was “One side’s right, one side’s wrong. We’re on the side of the Viet Cong!” In the 1980s we didn’t only oppose US intervention; we also supported the FMLN and the Sandinistas. And throughout the antiapartheid years, we supported the African National Congress.
But that was then. This is now. I have spent the past seventeen years opposing US sanctions, war, invasion and the occupation of Iraq. But I never supported Saddam Hussein, who was “resisting” the United States during the sanctions years, and I don’t support what is called “the Iraqi resistance” today.
What’s the difference? We supported the NLF in Vietnam, the FMLN and the ANC out of principle, because we supported the social program they were fighting for. We may not have agreed with every position or tactic, but we shared what they were fighting against–US-backed dictatorships or US-paid contras or the devastation of apartheid–and what they were fighting for as well: independence and socialism in Vietnam, self-determination and social justice in Central America, a nonracial South Africa.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Iraq. Certainly the Iraqi people have the right to resist an illegal occupation, including military resistance. And certainly there are Iraqi people, organizations and movements that many of us do support. (The work of US Labor Against the War in supporting the Iraqi oil workers unions is one of our best examples.) But what is broadly named “the Iraqi resistance” is a set of largely unconnected armed factions (including some who attack Iraqi civilians as much as they do occupation troops). There is no unified leadership that can speak for “the resistance”; there is no NLF or ANC or FMLN that can claim real leadership and is accountable to the Iraqi population as a whole. We know virtually nothing of what most of the factions stand for beyond opposition to the US occupation–and for myself, of the little I do know, I don’t like so much.
Real internationalism means making good on our obligations to end the war and occupation and recognizing the Iraqis’ international law-sanctioned right to resist. Internationalism does not require us to embrace any particular resistance forces regardless of what they stand for. We build the strongest movement by keeping our focus on the US occupation, maintaining our demand to bring all the US and “coalition” troops and mercenaries home, dismantle the US bases and give up control of Iraq’s oil industry.