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Iraq, the US and the World | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Iraq, the US and the World

Inside the Fleet Center this week, few speakers have engaged the fierce antiwar views of the vast majority of delegates.

Instead, activists and delegates flocked to panels and forums around Boston in order to debate and discuss the war, the occupation and what is to be done. On Wednesday afternoon, the Campaign for America's Future and The Nation co-sponsored a debate on "Iraq, The US and the World." Agreed: the debacle in Iraq has left America more isolated, more reviled and less safe. Panelists included Dennis Kucinich, who will work hard to elect Kerry, while continuing to speak out in support of the withdrawal of our troops and ending the occupation. Gary Hart, talked about the themes of his new book. He also welcomed a special guest. Robin Cook, the former British Foreign Minister, who courageously resigned on the eve of war to protest Tony Blair's decision, was in Boston for the convention. Referring to Cook's resignation, Hart lamented that in the old days "When people disagreed with policy, they used to resign in protest. What's happened to that tradition," he asked the crowd of some 400 people. ("Run, Robin, Run," people shouted in reply." ) Ambassador Joe Wilson --after listening to Kucinich talk of making nonviolence an organizing principle--asked if it was "okay to harbor just a bit of violence against a certain journalist?" (He was talking about Robert Novak, for those who've been living under a rock these last months.)

Barbara Lee, diminutive in stature, statuesque in her commitment to the Constitution and peace, laid out an alternative progressive foreign policy. She talked of how she had introduced House Resolution 141 to repeal preemptive war doctrine. (It has 40 co-sponsors), and House Resolution 3919, which states that no US tax dollars can be authorized to overthrow a democratically elected government. Look at Haiti, Lee said. "And we need a rational policy toward Cuba. Let us end the embargo against Cuba," she said to rousing applause from the crowd of some 400 people.

Tom Andrews of the Win Without War Coalition and Gayle Smith, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, also participated in the forum.

Like all such panels, time was running out when I stepped up to the podium. What follows below is a longer version of my hastily abbreviated remarks.

July 28, 2004, The Royal Sonesta Hotel, Cambridge, Massachusetts

One reason The Nation (magazine) is thriving is because somuch of the media failed the American people in the run up to war. It failed to ask the tough questions. Robin cook's presence here reminds me of that press conference on the eve of war, when journalists acted more like courtiers at the court of King George than members of a free press. And we welcome Robin Cook to our shores, in these perilous times, and we will conscript him in our fight to oust this President, who on a good day acts like a secular monarch, and on rough days he acts like he's channeling god.

What is the single most important thing that we as Americans can do to advance a more just and secure world? Defeat George W. Bush and send him packing, back to the ranch in crawford. But it's not enough to defeat Bush. That is the first and crucial step.

Everyone in this room knows that after Kerry is elected there is much work ahead to build a compelling and democratic alternative national security policy that affirms the best of our values--including respect for the truth and international law.

This election is a referendum on an Administration that has led usinto the greatest foreign policy failure in us history. It is areferendum on an adminstration that has squandered America'scredibility while pursuing a faithbased foreign policy when it comes to evidence, and a messianic militarist one when it comes to action. Bush and his neocon accomplices have rolled back decades of bispartisan tradition with their preemptive war doctrine. Theirs is not a conservative foreign policy; it is a radical and reckless one. While hijacking our foreign policy, Bush and his people have violated the most essential trust in a democracy and taken Americans into an illegal and unecessary war based on manipulated intelligence, repetitions of baseless claims and the persistent use of fear.

But what is hopeful, as we meet this afternoon, is that a majority of Americans now believe that the war was a mistake. A majority ofAmericans have turned against the war. And they have done so withprecious little leadership from our politicians.

A majority of Americans understand that the war has made America less safe, not more secure. That it has made us more isolated, reviled and hated than at any time in our history. That is a view shared by awide range of establishment sources--from the british inst forstrategic studies, which concluded in a recent study that the warhas led to accelerated recruitment in Al Qaeda; to anonymous, theCIA counterterrorist analyst, who put it plainly, " the war has beena christmas gift to Osama bin Laden." Then there are theestablishment dissenters. The leading diplomats and militaryofficials who worked in reagan and Bush one Administration whorecently issued a powerful statement indicting this admin fordamaging our national security.

A majority of Americans believe the war was a mistake because:

--20,000 US troops have had their tours of duty extended.Redeployment has been met with widespread anger among militaryfamilies and active-duty personnel.

--A majority of US troops report low morale. The military isstretched thin, seriously thin. There is talk of reviving the draft.

**Consider the mounting costs in blood and money.

* More than 900 US troops have died since Bush declared "the end ofmajor combat" in his infamous "mission accomplished' speech in may2003. Another ugly landmark was passed early this week--the 10,000wounded mark. Imagine--over 10,000 wounded Americans in a war ourmilitary and political leadership now say may last years. The coststo the Iraqi people have also been tragic. Over 11,000 Iraqicivilians have died in conflict so far--many of them children.

* The United States has already spent some $126 billion on the war,costing every American family about $3400 each. As the camp for am'sfuture has pointed out, this admin has socked it to hardworkingfamilies on two fronts--Bush passed his massive tax cuts that gave ahuge break to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, and thenwhen he went to war, Bush asked the same working and middle classfamilies who bore the brunt of the tax cuts to pay for the conflict.Meanwhile contract cronies masquerading as companies like halliburtonare making a killing in Iraq after receiving no bid contracts fromthe federal government.

*For the $152 billion Congress has allocated for the war, the UnitedStates could have provided healthcare for 27 million Americans--or we could have spent the $151 million on food for half the hungrypeople in the world for two years; plus a comprehensive global aidsprogram plus clean water for all in the developing world; pluschildhood immunizations for every child in the developing world; orwe could have committed to helping the middle east create the 100million jobs it will need over next 15 years just to keep up with theyouthful populations--thus addressing the root causes of instabilityin this turbulent world. America could once again become a source ofhope and use its power in constructive, intelligent ways.

The work of building a clear, credible and compelling alternative tothe messianic militaristic policies of the Bush Administration.Is the tough and critical job of those who opposed this senselesswar, those citizens' groups and movements and media who have foughtfor years for a more democratic and enlightened foreign policy ...Itis those people, groups who gave Kerry and the party the energy andbackbone in the months before we arrived here in boston. And when weelect Kerry President we're not going away.

For us, peace is not off message. It is the message.

We will work for a Kerry victory because it will mean a necessaryrepudiation of those who have hijacked our security and foreignpolicy. But we have no illusions about a Kerry presidency. As we havelearned from hard trial and error, progressives must gear up to holda democratic Administration accountable and be perpared to fightpitched battles to forward progressive reforms whether in economicpolicy or security policy. But Kerry in the white house will enableprogressives to go from defense to offense. And though Kerry waswrong to vote to give Bush the authority to make war in Iraq, and hehas failed to call for an end to the us occupation, he challengesBush's preemptive war doctrine and promises a foreign policy thatwill be tempered by alliances, international cooperation and the ruleof law. He offers Americans an Administration that will be able torevive America's influence as a source of hope not fear andresentment and enlist its allies, and more willing to address thebroader threats to us security--from catastrophic climate change tothe trade in loose nukes.

But the central issue of our political and historical moment is anend to the occupation of Iraq. If it isn't ended, it will bleed bothour forces, as well as the Iraqi people--and our country ofresources for our own domestic reconstruction.

The Bush Administration bears heavy responsibility for the fact thatthe options in Iraq today are bad, worse and much worse. We cannoteasily rebuild what the Bush Administration has broken, but a fundamentalcourse correction is urgently needed. Slogans about "staying thecourse" are a prescription for inflaming the region while polarizingthe us and undermining us global leadership. America needs a roadmapout of Iraq, one that as senator byrd has said, "is orderly andastute, else more of our men and women in uniform will follow thefate of tennyson's doomed light brigade." It is time to change course--not stay the course.

The costs of continuing the occupation outweigh the risks of aphased and responsible withdrawal.

The occupation, like other occupations throughout history, hasgenerated instability and violence and a growing popular resistancethat cannot be defeated militarily. The longer the us militarypresence lasts, the more likely it is that the Iraqi resistance willintensify. Even leading us generals admit this cannot be wonmilitarily.

Occupation and its abuses are creating new recruiting tools forterrorists in the region; while we neglect hotbeds of terroristactivity along the pakistan-afghan border. It will trap the us andthe un in a spiral of unending violence, as the standoffs in Fallujahand Najaf have demonstrated.

*Yes, arguably withdrawal may leave Iraq a failed state or lead tosome form of civil war. But an extended American occupation may onlyresult in an intensified guerrilla war and attract everydisillusioned muslim fanatic to Iraq to fight the American infidel,which would produce the same or even worse result. A well-coordinatedwithdrawal is more likely to deprive these extremists of a pretextand a context for future attacks. Egyptian President Mubarak warnedthat a us invasion would create "a hundred bin Ladens" and the longerwe stay , the more such extremism will be fostered. It is our respectfor the will of the Iraqi people that will deprive islamic radicalsof their greatest rallying cry. On balance, staying the course willonly doom more Americans and Iraqis to die for a dubious cause atcosts we can ill afford.

And, tragically, if Kerry stays the course, it may well destroy anyof the hopes he has of revitalizing our nation domestically.

To call for a coherent exit strategy is not to abandon Iraq or itspeople. There are still many things that the us can do. Continuedeconomic assistance is one. Another is to help the un andinternational organizations assist in the transition to a newpolitical order. But all combat operations should cease and then, ona fixed and announced timetable, us forces should withdraw in asorderly, responsible way as is possible from the country. In short,the us working with others, should give Iraqis their best chance tosucceed in their own efforts to create their own future. No permanentus bases, no meddling with their legal codes to put fix in for usmultinationals, no shameless war profiteering by halliburton.

I believe that each additional day that American troops continue tofight in Iraq can only compound the eventual price of the originalmistake--costing more lives, pulverizing the society, contributing tothe spiral of violence and animus toward the us, and reducing, notfostering, any chances for a better future for the country.

There are important lessons for an alternative security policy in thetragedy of the reckless strategic crusade in Iraq:

1/ we have seen the limits of American military power to achieve anyreasonable political goals, certainly not at an acceptable cost. AsNation columnist jonathan schell has masterfully demonstrated in hislatest book, the war system has reached a point that using war asprimary goal to resolve differences does as much harm to those thatemploy force as it does to those on the receiving end. It is justcommon sense to acknowledge that most of today's internationalsecurity threats are not susceptible to military solution or willprovoke local resistance that is far more potent than are Americancapabilities. We desperately need a new definition of security in avulnerable and interconected world. Overwhelming military power isill suited to dealing with the central challenges we face: statelessterrorists with global reach, the worst pandemic in human history,the spread of WMD. Insecure and decrepit nuclear arsenals in theformer Soviet Union, genocidal conflict and hunger afflicting africa, thedegradation of our common environment, transnational crime, and aglobal economy that is generating greater instability and inequality.

As we work to end the occupation, let us also fight for a moreconstructive and intelligent use of American power.Let us unshackleour imaginations.

In this context, imagine an Administration which would use America's power to:

*lead a global campaign to meet the un's milennium goal of halvingworld poverty, cutting child mortality by two-thirds and guaranteeingevery child primary education by 2015.

*Strengthen multilateral and verifiable arms control treaties thatcurb WMDs, while at same time promoting nuclear disarmament and internationaldemilitarization.

*End dependence on foreign oil and invest in the development ofalternative energy sources--and commit to the campaign for America's"Apollo Project" on energy indpependence.

*Build up the capacities of the united nations to prevent and contain conflict.

*Ratify the scores of treaties the us has subverted these last twoyears--from Kyoto to the international criminal court, to theanti-ballistic missile treaty.

Or consider these positive steps an enlightened adminsitration might take:

1/ Declare that it will hold Israel accountable to international lawand to un security council resolutuions, and that it will movequickly to a UN quartet-sponsored summit to bring about a finalsettlement with the taba maps as the starting point of finalnegotiations.

2/ Establish, with the European Union and major Asian developednations, a job creation and development fund aimed at creating 100million jobs in the greater Middle East by the year 2020. Thedevelopment fund woulf finance a combination of public investmentprojects, smaller regional funds for small business and homedevelopment, and public education. Arab oil-producing countrieswould be asked to match Americans, european and japanesecontributions.

3/ Move quickly to a non-conditional detente policy with Iran andannounce that it will support un talks aimed at creating anon-nuclear weapons zone in the Middle East.

4/ Announce that it will support with money and expertise a new UNdepartment of state-building for overseeing failed states and forassuming responsibility for afghanistan and Iraq.

None of us here today wish to complicate--or oppose--the campaignof senator John Kerry. We must defeat Bush. But those of us, themillions who rallied to oppose this war, must stand for what webelieve and become an independent factor/force that will fight inthese coming months for an end to an occupation that is the result ofa mistaken war.

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