Over the past six months, we’ve witnessed the emergence of a global antiwar movement so large it has seemed almost possible that US war plans could be stopped. But now that the war has begun, even without UN sanction, the antiwar movement is at a crossroads. Following is a forum in which David Cortright leads off a discussion on what the peace movement’s goals should be now and in the longer term; his essay is followed by three responses–from Phyllis Bennis and John Cavanagh, Bill Fletcher Jr. and Medea Benjamin. –The Editors
As the Bush Administration continues its illegal and unjust military invasion of Iraq, we must steel ourselves for the difficult days that lie ahead. We must also recognize that our work for peace has only just begun.
We should not retreat from our core criticisms of Bush’s war or be intimidated into silence. This war was and is completely unnecessary. Iraq was being disarmed through peaceful diplomatic means. It made numerous concessions to UN demands and was in the process of destroying missiles and disclosing its weapons activities when the United States attacked. Unprovoked war against another country without the approval of the Security Council violates the UN Charter and is illegal under US and international law. Such a war can never be just.
The outbreak of war makes our work more important and necessary than ever. It creates enormous new challenges, but it also offers new opportunities. We must organize a broadly based campaign to address the causes and consequences of this war and to prevent such misguided adventures in the future.
We can start by recognizing the tremendous accomplishments of the past few months. We have created the largest, most broadly based peace movement in history–a movement that has engaged millions of people here and around the globe. Never before have US churches, from the Conference of Catholic Bishops to the National Council of Churches, spoken so resolutely against war. Never before have so many US trade unions supported the antiwar movement. In practically every sector of society–business executives, women’s groups, environmentalists, artists, musicians, African-Americans, Latinos–a strong antiwar voice has emerged. Antiwar rallies and vigils have occurred in thousands of communities, and many cities have passed antiwar declarations.
The fact that this effort could not prevent war reflects not the weaknesses of our movement but the failures of American democracy and the entrenched power of US militarism. The Bush Administration has shown utter contempt for public opinion at home and abroad. It manipulated legitimate public concerns about terrorism to assert a false connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda and refused to tell the American people or Congress how much the invasion and occupation would cost until after the war was already under way.
Our short-term objectives will depend on how the war unfolds, whether it is a short, “successful” military campaign or becomes a drawn-out war of attrition with constant sniper or guerrilla attacks. We hope there will be few casualties, both for Iraqis and Americans, but we know that a quick victory will bolster the very policies we abhor. We urge our government to do everything possible to avoid unnecessary death and destruction. Our short-term political agenda should include the following demands and issues:
§ Protect the innocent. The United States should provide massive humanitarian assistance and economic aid for the Iraqi people and other vulnerable populations in the region. We should support the reconstruction and development of Iraq. This assistance should be administered by civilian agencies, not the Pentagon. We should also demand, or if necessary provide, an accurate accounting of the civilian dead.