Quantcast

The Nation

Postwar Democracy? Iraq is a Hard Place

The angry guy with the shoe.

Those who have been watching the war on television are familiar with the video footage: after the US military took control of Safwan, the southern Iraqi border town, this fellow was captured on film banging on a large, partially destroyed wall portrait of Saddam Hussein with his shoe. It was the closest the world has so far come to viewing joyous Iraqis dancing in the street before their American liberators. Such images may yet arrive, validating the assurances of American and British war advocates who maintained that this military action is indeed liberation, not conquest; that Iraqis would welcome such intervention; and that the invasion and occupation would place Iraq on the road to democracy. But if the dancing does not happen soon, the war planners can expect to have a tougher time securing Iraq and creating the environment necessary for reconstruction and democratization.

Consider the celebratory heel-banging in Safwan. A few days after the shoe-heard-around-the-world smacked against Hussein's forehead, ABC News reporter John Donvan and his crew--working unembeddedly--crossed the border into Kuwait and visited the town. They witnessed no rejoicing. Townspeople surrounded the journalists and passionately voiced their opinions of the US invasion. "We learned," Donvan reported, "that just because the townsfolk don't like Saddam, it doesn't mean they like the Americans trying to take him out....They were angry at America, and said US forces had shot at people in the town. They were also angry because they needed food, water and medicine and the aid promised by President Bush had not appeared....They asked us why the United States was taking over Iraq, and whether the Americans would stay in Iraq for ever. They saw the US-led invasion as a takeover, not liberation."

Resentment and suspicion, not gratitude and embrace. If the sentiment of these people was an accurate indicator of how other Iraqis are or will be reacting to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the coming (or so the Bush administration promises) mission to democratize and remake Iraq will face severe challenges.

Now that the war is under way--damage done--the Bush administration's professed desire to free the repressed citizens of Iraq and introduce them to democracy and liberty ought to be supported and encouraged, and the White House's commitment to this supposed war aim closely monitored. ("This nation never conquers, but we liberate," Bush said. Did he forget the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the subjugation of Native Americans and other past glories, including the invasions of Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic? Oh, never mind.) But how does Bush plan to seed Iraq with democracy? He and his administration have not offered any specific plans. It may well be because they do not truly know. "I'm not sure they've gotten beyond platitudes and wishful thinking," says one federally-funded democracy -development expert. But whatever their strategy may be--or end up being--it won't mean much if the Iraqi people are not with the program.

Before Operation Bring 'em Democracy can kick off, the war has to be won and the country secured. As of this writing, these goals remain unattained. And it seems at the moment that if the war is indeed won in the conventional sense, there still may be resistance throughout the country to an occupying force. If that opposition is widespread and persistent, it could soak up attention and resources that might otherwise be directed toward rebuilding (politically and otherwise) Iraq. Lingering resistance could also produce a security situation not conducive to democracy-building. If military officials in the field have to deal with an ongoing insurgency--an intifada?--it will be even more difficult for them to create rudimentary democratic structures. Judith Kipper, director of the Middle East Forum, has suggested that if Saddam Hussein survives the US attack, he might reemerge to lead an underground guerrilla force that fights the US occupation. To use Vietnam terminology, Iraq has to be pacified before it can be saved.

And that pacification needs to happen fast. Democracy-building experts cite several factors as crucial to success in Iraq. Foremost among them is a good and quick start. As a report of the Council on Foreign Relations put it, US forces should enter Iraq with the "mission to establish public security and provide humanitarian aid. This is distinct from the tasks generally assigned to combat troops." A retired general with experience in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo told me, "You have to begin immediately with two major endeavors simultaneously. You have to establish public security and bring about stability within the country, and you have to mount a humanitarian effort to give meaning to your claim you're here to help the Iraqi people. After that you have to try bottom-up and top-down efforts to build a semblance of political order."

By supplying security and aid expeditiously and effectively, US forces can take a stab at conquering the resentment and distrust. As Donvan found out in Safwan, residents there were already complaining about the absence of assistance. The administration had a good initial excuse: the opposition in Basra and the South was tougher than expected, and humanitarian supplies could not be moved into Iraq. But there should have been a plan for such a scenario. (Aid started flowing once British and US forces secured portions of the South.) "People are suspicious," the retried general notes. "We've just bombed and strafed their town. There is 12 years of anger. There were sanctions. Twelve years ago, we crapped out on them [by not supporting the resistance that occurred during the first Gulf War]. Most of this stuff is in the eye of the beholder, not the declarations of the occupiers. People have to believe you are doing what you say and not that you're just there for the oil."

The credibility gap that must be overcome is pronounced, says Kipper. "It is very unlikely any American transition plan...will be accepted," she maintains. Noting that Iraq has been an independent country since 1921, Kipper observes, "they're losing their sovereignty. That's not something a very proud, fierce, nationalist people will accept very easily." And, she adds, "we are culturally and linguistically deprived" in matters related to the Middle East. "We will have to wait until [the war] is over and see how sensitive we can be," she says. "This is a war of choice--an American-led war against a Muslim-led country and that has consequences. Iraqis will be happy Saddam Hussein is gone. But they will not be happy to be occupied."

To address the likely distrust--which might not be surmountable--the occupiers must take rapid steps toward establishing a new political order. In cities and towns across the country, US officials--presumably military people--will have to identify locals (tribal elders, prominent citizens, bureaucrats) with whom to work toward developing some form of representative governance. "This is hard, very hard," says the retired general. A former military official who was in charge of an Iraqi town during the first Gulf War notes, "You're a battalion commander and you have an interpreter, this is what you do: you go looking for the old guys. You try to pull together a clan of elders. But you need someone who can explain the clans, the tribes, and the gossip. I wish I had had that. And if you're giving out copious amounts of aid and doing medical work, you create some jobs by paying people to clear up road intersections." (By the way, there are 150 tribes and 2000 clans in Iraq, some of which may attempt to establish their own militias. The democracy-builders of the US occupation will have to understand and take into account the rivalries and conflicts among the groups.)

At the same time, the retired general adds, some kind of national structure has to be established. In the run-up to the war, there was disagreement within the US government about whether to ready a provisional government composed of Iraqi exiles, most notably millionaire Ahmed Chalabi, who has lived outside Iraq since 1956 and who was convicted of financial fraud in Jordan in 1992. (He claims it was a set-up.) "I'm very suspicious, as are most Iraqis, of Chalabi," says the retired general. "We need a collective gathering of folks who at least appear to be a reasonable cross-section of the Iraqi people and let them start the process. Everything we do will be assessed as to whether this is for our purposes or for those of the Iraqi people. One reason we needed more allies was to create the impression this is not being done for our gain." In addition to providing security, aid, and a roadmap to self-representation, the United States also will have to oversee, strengthen or establish the courts, the police, the banking system, the energy and water systems, and, of course, the oil industry.

"I don't think they understand what the fuck they just bought into," the retired general says. "They're like the dog that catches the car, but it's an 18-wheeler. This is work that requires more patience and more commitment that I've seen to date. Exhibit One is Afghanistan."

A recent article by Larry Goodson in the Journal of Democracy, which is published by the National Endowment for Democracy, should cause Iraqis to fret about their occupiers. Goodson, a professor of Middle East studies at the US Army War College, was a consultant in 2002 to the Afghan loya jirga that chose Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan's president. In the piece, he recalls being "excited to see democracy (of a sort) in action" when he witnessed Afghans voting last May for members of the loya jirga, He even gave a short speech, "telling the soon-to-be voters that the whole world was watching Afghanistan, and that any of them who had a complaint could come to me, as a representative of the international community."

Now the optimist is a pessimist. "Afghanistan's transition," Goodson writes, "even to stability (much less democracy) is highly unlikely. What is worse, after a largely successful military campaign, the United States and the rest of the world may have only a limited window of opportunity within which to aid Afghanistan's transition. Moreover, they may be losing interest in doing so, which would almost certainly doom any chance that the country might have." The United States, he argues, failed to do what was necessary to achieve stability in the country--that is, it did not maintain a security presence throughout Afghanistan, nor did it mount a "swift and massive" reconstruction. It essentially blocked "any serious international peacekeeping" outside of Kabul, which has enabled warlordism to rise outside the capital city. "Total spending on peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan during the past year," Goodson notes, "was $540 million, or about 5.4 percent of the roughly $10 billion that it cost the US-led military coalition to operate there."

Money pledged to Afghanistan by the United States and other nations for rebuilding was insufficient. The $1.8 billion promised for 2002 was less per capita than what was spent in Rwanda, Bosnia, East Timor or Kosovo. Washington and the international community, Goodson maintains, botched the political reconstruction by pushing a centralized model rather than a federal system. "Most Afghan leaders today," he observes, "derive their authority from a combination of appeals to Islam, illicit economic activities (such as the opium trade), and gunmen."

Iraq is not Afghanistan. But Washington is still Washington. And a broken commitment in Afghanistan does not augur well for the new commitment in Iraq. In February, there was a preview in Washington of the debate that might ensue within the administration over how far Washington should go to bring stability to Iraq. General Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, testified in the Senate that "several hundred thousand" troops will be needed for an effective postwar operation in Iraq. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz blasted that estimate two days later, dismissing it as "wildly off the mark" and "hard to imagine." How many troops does the administration intend to commit to postwar Iraq? It hasn't said. But is it serious about achieving stability throughout Iraq? "With nation-building as with peacekeeping," Goodson writes, "there are no shortcuts and no substitutes."

Ray Jennings, a fellow at the US Institute of Peace who previously was a senior field adviser for the Office of Transition Initiatives at the US Agency for International Development, agrees the United States' record in Afghanistan is not encouraging. Moreover, he notes, "the US track record on nation-building is discouragingly mixed. Of the eighteen regimes the United States has displaced by force this past century, democratic rule has prevailed in only five places."

Money, resources, and planning count--and so does tone. "It is with some humility, then, that the United States should enter Baghdad," Jennings maintains. "The seductions of privilege and absolute control that accompany occupations may make it difficult to rule Iraq without hubris--but it is essential that the United States make the effort. Arrogance will almost certainly prove disastrous. Every gesture will carry political significance in an environment where international legitimacy for occupation is in short supply. Rebuilding a nation, occupying it in order to free it, is an inherently arrogant act."

Can Washington breed democracy in a land it occupies? Can it provide security and stability without being heavy-handed and imperious?How to balance the need to not rule for too long with the need to remain committed (and not repeat its near cut-and-run performance in Afghanistan)? "If the United States meddles far too much with the shape and form of what comes next," Kipper says, "it will not work. The Iraqi people have to take charge of their own destiny....American rhetoric is very important. We must speak in respectful terms and we need to say over and over we will be there a short time." What's a short time? Administration officials have testified in Congress that the United States might have to stay in charge for two years. And Kipper is not alone among Middle East experts in noting that for the United States to be seen as acting in good-faith by Iraqis and other Arabs it must vigorously "address the Israeli-Palestinian problem."

Building--not rebuilding--democracy in Iraq will be a task requiring both delicacy and vigor. It will have to be conducted with speed and with steadfastness. And, as Joe Wilson, a former acting US ambassador to Iraq, says, "we should not be surprised if the outcome is not what we would like to see." Install democracy in Iraq and what arises may not be a national government that is friendly (and grateful) toward the United States. Perhaps the people will chose leaders who want the United States out of Iraq sooner than later, who intend to nationalize the oil industry and do business with non-American firms, who fully support Palestinian extremists, who ally themselves with the mullahs of Tehran or other Islamic fundamentalists. What would Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Cheney and George Bush (let alone Bill Kristol and the other neocon war-cheerleaders) do then? Celebrate the triumph of the people's will?

After all, what does that guy with the shoe and his neighbors want? Is it the same thing as Richard Perle? If not, whose desires will win out?

To date, Bush has not shown the skill and talent needed to navigate the difficult assignment he has assumed: growing democracy in Iraq. He's been a my-way-or-the-highway sort of guy who does seem to appreciate policy nuances. Prior to September 11, he scoffed at nation-building. After the al Qaeda attack, he had to pay it heed, but he failed to embrace it fully in Afghanistan. And after abandoning the United Nations Security Council, Bush has to court allies and international organizations to participate in the rehabilitation of Iraq. The administration has started discussions with the UN about how to handle the postwar period, but will it again insist its own priorities and policies come first?

Will Bush the Liberator stick it out in Iraq and export democracy to that troubled nation? Will he even get the chance? He's but one piece of a big and unwieldy puzzle. There's also the Iraqi people: the liberated ones, who may not consider themselves liberated.

'Shoot Movies, Not Iraqis'

Well, we can rest assured that the Academy Awards voting is not rigged.

Going into Sunday night's Oscars' ceremony, it was a safe bet that, if the people who run the movie-industry's annual prize patrol had their druthers, antiwar filmmaker Michael Moore would not have gotten anywhere near a microphone. Moore, who wore a badge reading "Shoot Movies, Not Iraqis," when he accepted an Independent Spirit Award the night before, had promised that if he won an Oscar he would use his acceptance speech to make an issue of Bush's war. With right-wing talk radio hosts and members of the Congressional Yahoo Caucus already ranting and roaring about unpatriotic celebrities, the pressure was on to avoid controversy.

But, to a greater extent than just about anyone in Hollywood, Moore embraces controversy. And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters who decided the winner of the best documentary feature competition embraced Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," a hilarious and haunting examination of gun violence, poverty and the media in America. The Academy voters gave the rabble-rousing filmmaker, author and activist an Oscar for his documentary -- as well as an opportunity to deliver 45 seconds of "message" to the world.

Moore took the stage, and immediately took after Bush and the war in Iraq.

Surrounded by his fellow nominees in the best documentary category, Moore announced, "They're here in solidarity with me because we like nonfiction. We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fiction of duct tape or (the) fiction of Orange Alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush."

As the packed auditorium at Hollywood's Kodak Theater erupted with a wild mix of applause and booing, Moore yelled: "Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you." He closed by noting the international opposition to the US attack on Iraq -- which includes everyone from religious leaders to country music stars. Addressing Bush, Moore said, "Any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up."

Moore's was not the only antiwar voice heard at what may well have been the most politically-charged Academy Awards ceremony ever. Dozens of stars wore peace pins and Artists United to Win Without War badges. As he introduced a song from the film "Frida," which tells the story of radical artist Frida Kahlo, actor Gael Garcia Bernal interrupted his scripted remarks to say, "The necessity for peace in the world is not a dream. It is a reality, and we are not alone. If Frida was alive, she would be on our side, against war."

Actress Barbra Streisand defended free speech rights. Actress Susan Sarandon flashed a peace sign as she appeared on the stage. Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, an outspoken foe of the war who won the best original screenplay award for his film "Talk to Her," dedicated his Oscar "to all the people that are raising their voices in favor of peace, respect of human rights, democracy and international legality." And Nicole Kidman, who won the best actress Oscar for playing Virginia Woolf in "The Hours," spoke of the pain of "families losing people" in a time of war.

Actor Adrien Brody, who won the best actor Oscar for his performance in the Holocaust-themed film "The Pianist," expressed his great joy at the unexpected honor. He then insisted on a bit more time to say, "I am also filled with a lot of sadness tonight because I am accepting an award at such a strange time. And you know my experiences of making this film made me very aware of the sadness and the dehumanization of people at times of war. And the repercussions of war. And whatever you believe in, if it's God or Allah, may he watch over you and let's pray for a peaceful and swift resolution."

Accepting the best supporting actor award for his role in the film "Adaptation," actor Chris Cooper closed his speech with a succinct message: "In light of all the troubles in the world, I wish us all -- peace."

Fighting for Peace--UPDATED

****HELP GREET BUSH IN FLORIDA****

George W. Bush is going to Florida tomorrow. Help the local progresive community give him a proper greeting. He'll be at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa to rally the troops and meet with leaders of the military's Central Command. In response, there will be a Peace Rally at 10:00 am at Bayshore Blvd. and Bay-to-Bay in Tampa, Florida. For more information, please contact Penny at Reparations@aol.com or call 727-894-6997.

************************************

As the United States unleashes a brutal fusillade of bombs on Baghdad and other Iraqi cities for the third straight day, hundreds of thousands of people around the world continue to demonstrate against the US/British attack.

Yesterday, an estimated 150,000 people came out in New York City; 200,000 in London; 75,000 in San Francisco --which has been at the forefront of US antiwar activism since Thursday with 2,150 arrests for nonviolent civil disobedience; 50,000 in Lahore, Pakistan; 30,000 in Sydney; 15,000 in Calcutta; 10,000 in the Italian city of Naples, in a protest that ended at a NATO base; 2,000 in the South Korean capital, Seoul, where Buddhist monks struck giant drums at a rally; even 1,000 in Metalam, Afghanistan, the capital of Lagman province in the south.

In Spain, police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Madrid, for the second day running. In Barcelona, police said 150,000 protested, while town hall officials, along with organizers, put the crowd at 500,000. Tens of thousands of people also hit the streets in cities in France, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Denmark, and Portugal, among many other European countries.

Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, a general strike closed down most businesses and mosques; in Japan, protesters rallied near a US naval base as well as outside a US air base on the southern island of Okinawa, and in the southern, mainly Muslim provinces of Thailand, there were numerous mass prayers for peace.

In the Middle East itself, the protests have been predictably far more angry and militant. Cairo, Sanaa in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon and the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott have all seen violent, in some cases deadly, clashes between riot police and citizens enraged by what the US is doing in Iraq.

In the US, United for Peace and Justice is doing all it can to keep up the antiwar pressure. Check out the site, make a donation, and help volunteer in a UFPJ office. And, if you're in the New York area, join a UFPJ peace rally in Brooklyn this Thursday, March 27, at the residence of New York Senator Chuck Schumer to protest his pro-war stance.

The Pledge of Resistance is urgently organizing the sort of militant nonviolent direct action that has been so successful in underlining antiwar sentiment in San Francisco in recent days. Click here for info on civil disobedience and how you can participate.

Student walkouts have been frequent since the war was launched, and students around the world are at the forefront of antiwar activism. In the US, the Campus Antiwar Network is sponsoring national emergency student mobilizations on April 5, while The National Youth and Student Coalition is promoting an Emergency Campaign of Lobbying and Nonviolent Direct Action to Stop the War and Fund the Schools.

As Desmond Tutu argued in the Christian Science Monitor on Friday, it's critical to recognize and continue the historic gains of the global antiwar movement, despite the despair fostered by the reality of the conflict:

"Never in history has there been such an outpouring of resistance from average people all around the world before a war had even begun. Millions took a stand. This doctrine of moral and popular preemption must be sustained."

Against the Hijacking of Patriotism

"In all good conscience, I cannot and will not vote for a resolution that supports and endorses a failed policy that led us to war," declared US Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, as he explained why he could not join most members of Congress in backing what Republican leaders on the House of Representatives cynically described as a simple "support our troops" resolution.

The resolution, which passed the House by an overwhelming margin Friday morning, did express support for soldiers who have been ordered into combat in Iraq, and for the families of young men and women who wear the uniform of the United States in a time of war. But those sentiments came wrapped in a highly partisan expression of "unequivocal support . . . for [President Bush's] firm leadership and decisive action in the conduct of military operations in Iraq." After a failed attempt by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to extract the more extreme cheerleading language – perhaps by paralleling the more reasoned wording of the resolution that passed the Senate 99-1 on Thursday – the measure passed the House by a vote of 392-11, with 22 members voting "present."

Many of the House Democrats and Republicans who opposed the October "use of force" resolution that the administration used as justification for launching the war expressed discomfort with Friday's "unequivocal support" statement. But most, including Pelosi, backed it.

The bulk of the opposition to the measure came from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, such as Lewis, the civil rights movement hero who is frequently referred to as the conscience of the Congress. An angry U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, said, "I trust the American people to see through this attempt to coerce endorsement of his preventive war doctrine."

The ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee and the longest-serving African-American member of Congress, Conyers has been outspoken in expressing Constitutional concerns about the president's decision to launch the war. "What I'm telling my colleagues in Congress and citizens is that we must continue to protest this illegal and unconstitutional war," argues Conyers. "The president has no authority to do what he's doing."

On the 11 House Democrats who voted against the "unequivocal support" resolution, eight were members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Conyers; Ohioan Stephanie Tubbs Jones; Californians Barbara Lee, Diane Watson and Maxine Waters; New Yorkers Charles Rangel and Edolphus Towns; and Virginian Bobby Scott. They were joined by California Democrats Mike Honda and Pete Stark, as well as Washington state's Jim McDermott.

Fifteen members of the CBC, including Lewis, CBC chair Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, and CBC vice-chair Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, voted present. They were joined by seven other House members, including leaders of the anti-war block in the Democratic caucus, such as Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. In addition to Lewis, Cummings, Johnson and Kucinich, "present" votes came from California's Sam Farr; Florida's Corrine Brown; Indiana's Julia Carson; Missouri's William Clay Jr.; Maryland's Elijah Cummings; Illinois' Danny Davis, Jesse Jackson Jr., Bobby Rush and Jan Schakowsky; Michigan's Carolyn Kilpatrick; Minnesota's Martin Olav Sabo; New Jersey's Donald Payne; New York's Gregory Meeks and Major Owens; North Carolina's Mel Watt; Ohio's Sherrod Brown; and Texans Sheila Jackson-Lee and Lloyd Doggett. The single Republican to vote against the resolution was Texan Ron Paul.

The House members who opposed the resolution or voted "present" went out of their way to express sympathy for soldiers and their families. But many also expressed outrage at the determination of House Republican leaders, particularly Majority Leader Tom DeLay, D-Texas, to play politics with the matter.

California's Diane Watson, a former U.S. ambassador to Micronesia, summed up those sentiments after voting against the resolution.

,"As our troops endure the risks of battle in Iraq, we send to them our thoughts and prayers for their success and safe return. This is a time for all Americans to join in sending a clear message of support for our men and women in uniform," explained Watson. "That is why I am saddened and angered that the House Republican leaders would abuse an opportunity to show our troops support in order to make an overtly political statement. Rather than introduce a simple bill supporting our troops, House Republicans forced us to vote up or down on a resolution that endorses the President's mishandling of diplomacy and heedless march toward war."

Watson said Republicans "hijacked this resolution for their selfish political purposes."

"I support the troops," she added. "But I will not be coerced into endorsing the President's failure to resolve the Iraq dispute peacefully. We are not at war because it is necessary. We are at war because the President failed to find a diplomatic solution to this problem."

Rachel Corrie's Echo

In the last note that 23-year-old American college student Rachel Corrie wrote to her father from a Palestinian community on the Gaza Strip, she thanked Craig Corrie for stepping up his antiwar activism in the United States and urged him to continue speaking out against a US-led attack on Iraq. Four days later, on March 16, Rachel was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer as she attempted to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian physician's home. Even as he and Rachel's mother mourned the death of their daughter, they carried out her wish Wednesday on the terrace of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC.

With three Democratic members of Congress from Rachel Corrie's homestate of Washington -- Jim McDermott and Brian Baird, who voted against the October resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, and Adam Smith, who voted for it -- standing behind them, Craig and Cynthia Corrie read a statement that poignantly added their daughter's voice to the chorus of corncern regarding the Bush Administration's launch of a preemptive war with Iraq.

"We are speaking out today because of Rachel's fears about the impact of a war with Iraq on the people in the Occupied Territories. She reported to us that her Palestinian friends were afraid that with all eyes on Iraq, the Israeli Defense Forces would escalate activity in the Occupied Territories. Rachel wanted to be in Gaza if that happened," explained Cynthia Corrie. "In the last six weeks, Rachel became our eyes and ears for Rafah, a city at the southern tip of Gaza. Now that she's no longer there, we are asking members of Congress and, truly, all the world to watch and listen."

The Corries expressed particular concern for international activists and Palestinians who are seeking to prevent home demolitions, as Rachel Corrie was on the Sunday she was killed. "We are asking members of Congress to bring the US government's attention back to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and to recognize that the occupation of the Palestinian territories is an overwhelming and continuous act of collective violence against the Palestinian people," said the Corries. "We ask that military aid to Israel be commensurate with its efforts to end its occupation of the Palestinian Territories and to adhere to the rules of international law."

Rachel Corrie, who was due to graduate this year from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, was a longtime activist on environmental, social justice and peace issues. Before traveling this winter to the Gaza Strip to join International Solidarity Movement protests against the tactics used by the Israeli military in Palestinian refugee camp, she was active in Olympia's antiwar movement. Her parents said they had learned from Rachel that they must speak out loudly against violence. "Rachel's brutal death illustrates dramatically the madness of war," explained Craig Corrie, an insurance actuary.

Rachel Corrie's parents are not the only ones being inspired to action by her death. Baird, the congressman who represents the Olympia area, said he would introduce a House resolution calling for an investigation by the US State Department of Corrie's death. "I am a strong supporter of Israel, but that doesn't mean you look away," said Baird. "It is incumbent for our State Department to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation" of the incident, added Baird, who described the circumstances of Corrie's death as "profoundly troubling to me" and said "I think people should be held accountable."

Baird ripped into conservatives who have criticized Rachel Corrie for placing herself in harm's way as part of a political protest. "To suggest a nonviolent person should be run over by a bulldozer because she said and did things we don't agree with, I find that morally repugnant," argued the congressman. "This is not just about Israeli policy, this is about Israeli conduct against an unarmed American citizen engaged in nonviolent action."

McDermott echoed the call for an investigation and for respect of Rachel Corrie's nonviolent activism, saying, "We must look at this event in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. A girl took action against a policy (home demolitions) that needs to have the light of day shown upon it."

Urgent Antiwar Activism--UPDATED

George W. Bush has launched war with Iraq, a war that is unnecessary, unwise and illegal. In response, a wave of angry antiwar protests began to roll across Europe and the Middle East this morning. And in the US, the antiwar movement is calling for emergency actions nationwide.

United for Peace and Justice is planning vigils, rallies, walkouts and civil disobedience.

The Pledge of Resistance is staging nonviolent direct action to stop the flow of business as usual as long as the bombs continue falling.

The National Youth and Student Coalition is sponsoring a series of campus protest events beginning the morning of March 20.

The Campus Antiwar Network is asking all students to participate in an immediate student strike to protest the war, and to spend the time working on public education, lobbying and direct action activism.

International ANSWER and Not In Our Name are organizing emergency protests and calling on everyone who can to take off work in order to spend the next few days trying to convince others that stopping the war is our most urgent priority, both as US citizens and as human beings.

Then, on Saturday, March 22, United for Peace and Justice is staging a national march in New York City, starting at 42nd Street and Broadway and moving downtown through Union Square to Washington Square Park. Download and distribute flyers in English and Spanish, make a donation, and help volunteer in a United for Peace office.

Also on Saturday, the Veterans Against the Iraq War are sponsoring a teach-in and speakout at American University in Washington DC, to be quickly followed by the urgent lobbying of Congressional members on Monday. VAIW is asking all military veterans, active-duty GI's, reservists, and family members who oppose the war to attend on either Saturday or Monday, if possible both. Veterans are asked to wear their medals, ribbons, parts of their uniforms, and to bring American flags, banners, and protest signs.

Finally, A Dream of War Comes True

A few months ago, I was in a television studio with one of Washington's leading pro-war cheerleaders. After we finished our mini-debate, he asked if I thought war was coming. Well, I said, it seems to me that when enough people want a war, it is likely to happen. "But," he said, only half in jest, "we've wanted so many wars, and we didn't get them. And we've wanted this one for years." Well, now his dream has come true.

I hope that the get-Iraq crusaders--neocon kingpin Bill Kristol; columnist/bombardier Charles Krauthammer; more-hawkish-than-thou Democrats Joe Lieberman, Dick Gephardt and John Edwards; reluctant warrior Colin Powell; inspections-thwarter Dick Cheney; strategic kibitzer Richard "of Arabia and the Entire World" Perle; unilateralist extraordinaire Donald Rumsfeld; and, oh, yes, President/Sheriff George W. Bush--are right.

That the war goes easy, with few casualties and little collateral damage (which is also known as crushed, maimed, and burned children and adults). That Saddam is dethroned. That liberation occurs, with flag-waving and moustache-shaving in the street. That food, medicine, electricity and water reach the Iraqi people, many of whom are already undernourished. That the country remains intact and does not descend into chaos marked by fighting among or between its various ethnic groups and battles between Kurds and Turks. That if there are awful weapons of mass destruction or scientists with dangerous know-how in Iraq, the US military is able to prevent these arms and their designers from reaching those who would put them to evil use, all while prosecuting the war and securing a nation of 23 million or so people. That the subsequent occupation proceeds smoothly.

That democracy and human rights sprout in a society with no democratic tradition and spread to other nations in the region. That the Iraqis select public-interest-minded democrats and secularists--not religious fundamentalists, demagogues, or Iranian-backed America-haters--to represent them. That the abilities of global terrorists are curtailed. That the invasion and occupation do not bolster al Qaeda recruitment, embolden terrorists to strike American targets, or cause other governments to tumble and fall to Islamo-fascists. That the reconstruction of Iraq is well-financed and managed effectively--in a multilateral manner. That the nation's oil wealth is used for the benefit of its people. That its economy--destroyed by sanctions and Saddam Hussein's ways--rebounds. That the United States does not become a despised occupier. That somehow the changes in Iraq enable a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That America's security is enhanced and the Middle East starts to be transformed into a region of tranquility, stability, prosperity, and justice.

There are a lot of promises being attached to this war. It's not just a matter of chasing off a ragtag bunch of Islamic fundamentalist students who have taken over a poor and undeveloped country and blasting the remnants of several terrorist camps. War in Iraq has been presented as a cure-all. We can protect the United States and the world, transform a dictatorship into a democracy, and address the many dilemmas of the Middle East by mounting an unfriendly takeover of Iraq using an army of nearly a quarter-million people. And--at no extra charge--we can enforce the United Nations' mandate, for the UN is too weak to do that itself.

But in addition to fifty states (and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Somoa, the Virgin Islands, and Guam), Bush will now also be responsible for Iraq. Forget reforming Medicare, how do you keep the hospitals in Basra open and stocked with sterile gauze? CEO of Iraq--how will that look on his résumé? Some of the costs of the war and occupation can be calculated in advance. After months of ducking the question, the administration has conceded that the military action alone will probably run in the $70 billion to $100 billion range. And an estimated cost of occupation is $20 billion a year. For how long? Who knows? (Perhaps John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean and the other Democratic presidential wannabes are now running to be in charge of two countries.)

But the less tangible costs are impossible to calculate. What's the price of the United States' image in the world? A poll conducted in early March by the Arab American Institute and Zogby International asked Arabs in various countries whether they possessed a favorable or unfavorable view of America. In Jordan, the positive/negative ratio had dropped from 34/61 in March 2002 to 10/81. In Morocco, it fell from 38/61 to 9/88. Pissing off people in other countries may not be reason not to act on principle or in self-defense (assuming that's what this war is about, which I don't). But it is foolish to behave as if the opinions of others do not count and are of little consequence. In calculating security threats to the United States, how do you factor in overseas animosity?

During his get-out-of-Dodge speech, Bush declared, "The terrorist threat will be diminished the moment Saddam Hussein is disarmed." Yet how can he assert that? The repercussions of war are unpredictable. (Did the first Gulf War, which ended with a US military presence in Saudi Arabia offensive to Islamic extremists, lead to September 11?) Consider the opening line of a recent New York Times front-pager: "On three continents, al Qaeda and other terror organizations have intensified their efforts to recruit young Muslim men, tapping into rising anger about the American campaign for war in Iraq, according to intelligence and law enforcement officials." A senior American counterintelligence official told the newspaper: "An American invasion of Iraq is already being used as a recruitment tool by al Qaeda and other groups."

So you remove Saddam Hussein--who, according to a CIA finding last fall, did not pose a terrorist threat to the United States unless directly threatened by Washington--but there's a recruitment boom for al Qaeda (at a time when Osama bin Laden's network seems to be under the gun). Is that a net diminution of the "terrorist threat" to America? No one can accurately say. Yet Bush--disingenuously--has been guaranteeing results. He has been over-promising. Just as he has been hyping the still unproved link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, a connection that would call for severe action. Just as he has been misrepresenting criticism of his policy by suggesting that his opponents prefer "inaction." No, war skeptics in the United States and the Security Council have proposed other courses of action, including coercive inspections and hard-and-fast deadlines. Bush could have argued these alternatives were not likely to succeed. Instead, he dishonestly has ignored their existence. Likewise, he has claimed to be pursuing diplomacy, when all that meant to him was pressing the Security Council to endorse war.

A tangent: in his most recent war speech, Bush called on Iraqi military and civilian personnel to "not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people." Was that an affirmation of socialism? Can the Iraqis expect to see the US viceroy in Baghdad oversee the revitalization of a nationalized oil industry?

Perhaps the war-backers will triumph and the assorted scenarios mentioned above will come to pass. Unlike other big-time endeavors sought by the neocons and conservatives, this is a no-holds-barred effort. To use a cliché, a swing for the fences. Conservatives often gripe that their principles are never fully put to the test. Ronald Reagan cut taxes, but deficits occurred because Congress didn't curtail spending. Welfare reform was passed, but it wasn't strict enough. Ballistic missile defense hasn't gone operational yet because the program has not been sufficiently funded and supported. Saddam Hussein was pushed back in 1991, but not pursued. This time out, the cons and neocons should have no complaints. This is what they have desired for years. Bush has his war, and it's step one in their (and his) crusade.

Bush and the rest are placing much at risk for their grand promises. Let them take credit, if success transpires. And let them bear responsibility for whatever might be unleashed.

A War Begun in Failure

It appears that George W. Bush will get his war. But it will be a war begun in failure. Even as Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders in the United States dutifully signed up with promises of support or silence regarding a war many of them know to be unnecessary, the blunt reality is that this American president has failed to convince the world of the need for a war with Iraq.

The president's dramatic defeat in the court of international public opinion was acknowledged Monday, when the administration abandoned its doomed effort to win a go-ahead from the United Nations Security Council for warmaking.

That rejection of diplomacy was met with a diplomatic response from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who telegraphed his frustration with a read-between-the-lines statement to the effect that, "If the action is to take place without the support of the Council, its legitimacy will be questioned and the support for it will be diminished." Others were not so gentle in their assessment.

Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair abandoned their attempt to get a new UN resolution, said Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, the French ambassador to the UN, because the argument for war was unconvincing. "It (the resolution) did not get the votes because the majority of the UN and, I would say the majority of people in the world, do not think it would be right to have the Council authorize the use of force," he explained.

It was not just the French who noted the collapse of the Bush Administration's diplomatic initiative.

The leader of the British House of Commons, Robin Cook, who quit Blair's Cabinet to protest the Prime Minister's commitment of British troops to the US cause, articulated the reasoned view of that failure when he argued on Tuesday that: "The harsh reality is that Britain is being asked to embark on a war without agreement in any of the international bodies of which we are a leading member. Not Nato. Not the EU. And now not the security council. To end up in such diplomatic isolation is a serious reverse. Only a year ago we and the US were part of a coalition against terrorism which was wider and more diverse than I would previously have thought possible. History will be astonished at the diplomatic miscalculations that led so quickly to the disintegration of that powerful coalition."

In the United States, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, who may be the closest thing the current Congress has to an opposition leader, said, "The President's decision to push our nation, and the world, to the brink of war, in the face of intense international opposition, and without UN approval is a failure by this Administration to exercise world leadership and a grave mistake. The Administration's decision to withdraw its resolution from the United Nations Security Council is a dramatic admission of its failure to convince the world of its case against Iraq."

Despite months of cajoling, conniving and, when all else failed, behind-the-scenes offers of economic aid and political consideration, the Bush Administration could not convince the chief target audience -- Security Council members -- that there was sufficient legal or moral justification for war at this time. To wit:

* The president and his aides built their case for war on a "foundation" of discredited data, including reports of supposed Iraqi "threats" that turned out to have been misread, falsified or, in the case of a key British document, reliant upon out-of-date information culled from the Internet.

* The president and his aides repeatedly attempted to establish a connection between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaida terrorist network, yet they never succeeded in doing so. The unrelenting focus on finding such a linkage undermined the Administration's broader argument for war. It became clear to the international community that if there was the slightest shred of evidence, the administration would have produced it. And they were never able to do so.

* The president refused to perform basic diplomatic duties. In particular, he failed to maintain personal contact with leaders of countries that questioned his stance - especially French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Neither the president nor Secretary of State Colin Powell engaged in the sort of international travel and one-on-one communication that former President George Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker used to build coalition support for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The mumbles, stumbles and bumbles that characterized the Bush Administration's approach to the question of how best to disarm Iraq served to isolate the White House from leaders with whom Bush thought he had built solid personal relationships, such as Russia's Vladimir Putin and Mexico's Vicente Fox. And it has severely strained relations with historic US allies such as Germany and China. The veteran French journalist Gérard Dupuy used a physical metaphor to explain the diplomatic reality. "In the end, Mr. Bush finds himself backed up by the only two leaders who have stuck by him from the beginning - Mr Blair and (Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria) Aznar," noted Dupuy, as he described the one-hour "summit" on an island in the Azores at which the determination was made to reject diplomacy. "Their meeting on an American base lost in the immensity of the Atlantic neatly symbolises the isolation of a president who has fallen victim to his own mediocrity."

Nothing that the president said in Monday night's televised address to the nation, and the world, changed the fact that George W. Bush has entered the international arena and stumbled. Badly. His ultimatum to Iraq's Saddam - leave the country or face the "serious consequences" mentioned in U.N. Resolution 1441 - made war seem inevitable.

If war comes, however, it will not be the war that any thoughtful American president could have wanted. Rather, it will be a misguided mission pursued by a troublingly small "coalition of the willing" - with most coalition "partners" there against the will of the people in their countries.

A wiser president might have refused to go ahead without having convinced more of the world. Then again, a wiser president would not have pursued this path in the first place.

After all, the point of diplomacy is not to wage an unrelenting campaign for an unpopular result. The point of diplomacy is to propose action, open a dialogue about the plan and then to refine and improve the approach until the theoretical becomes the possible. It is about winning the faith of others.

George W. Bush leads the world's remaining superpower. That position places great responsibilities on his shoulders. The greatest of these is to engage seriously and sincerely in the diplomatic process that allows for the collective wisdom of many nations to inform the actions of the United States.

President Bush has failed to meet that responsibility. He has let his country down. He has let his world down. The Spanish newspaper El Pais said it best in an editorial that read, "Diplomacy has ended because the US president has had enough of negotiating..."

Walking into War

President Bush ended an hour-long summit in the Azores today by giving the UN a deadline of 24 hours to act on a resolution authorizing war with Iraq, marking an abrupt end to six months of feverish but failing diplomacy in which world opinion grew steadily against a US invasion.

With little hope of passing a resolution, Bush signaled his intention to flout the Security Council and quickly unleash the more than 250,000 US troops currently massed near the Iraqi border.

Yesterday's global antiwar protests, which again saw millions of people worldwide come out to express outrage at Bush's plans for war, could be just a hint of opposition to come if and when war begins. Tonight, evening peace vigils are taking place around the world, starting in New Zealand and following sequentially in time zones in more than 2,800 cities in 104 countries.

Starting tomorrow, March 17, a nationwide campaign of sustained nonviolent direct action will commence in Washington, DC, along with last-ditch lobbying efforts by a host of citizen groups, organizations and individuals. And if you can't make it to DC, it can't hurt to email, fax and phone (again!) your elected reps imploring them to oppose an unnecessary war.

Then next Saturday, March 22, United for Peace and Justice is staging a national march in New York City. The city has been much more cooperative this time around, allowing a permitted march, as the organizers requested, starting at 42nd Street and Broadway and moving downtown through Union Square to Washington Square Park.

We may be at war by then, in which case it's anybody's guess how the rally will shape up. But, if US bombs are raining down, it's all the more imperative to get as many people out on the streets as possible. Download and distribute flyers in English and Spanish, make a donation, help volunteer in a United for Peace office, and watch this space for emergency antiwar actions if and when a US invasion is launched.