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.
Cockburn is wrong when he claims the peace movement is dead. How does he think that 70 percent antiwar opinion he notes was created? There are now 300 US cities where “dead” movements have forced city councils and mayors to pass resolutions demanding that troops and the National Guard be brought home, that funds for the war and occupation be reallocated to education, infrastructure and healthcare. United for Peace and Justice is coordinating regional mobilizations for October 27, and across the country counterrecruitment work is escalating.
Our movement is very much alive. It is nowhere near as strong as we must be to force an end to the occupation. But we are alive, searching for a clearer strategy to transform antiwar public opinion into real political power, to bring that 70 percent with us to support an entirely new US foreign policy based on justice, not power.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, director
New Internationalism Project
Institute for Policy Studies
Right now I don’t think the peace movement is advancing the end of the Iraq War by a single day. In fact, goodly chunks of it are effectively protracting the war by marching in lockstep with the Democratic Party, whose overseers strive on an hourly basis to tamp down unseemly criticism of what the party’s Congressional representatives are up to. What the peace movement has substantively done since the Democrats took over Congress is give the green light to the “surge,” to continued funding for the war, to the next Pentagon budget.
Take the “netroots.” The organizers of the recent Yearly Kos event wouldn’t even schedule a strategy session on ending the war in Iraq:They denied John Stauber’s request to include a session organized by Stauber’s Center for Media and Democracy featuring speakers from Iraq Veterans Against the War. Set that wimp-out next to this paragraph from a New York Times news story from Des Moines, Iowa, published August 12: “Four years after the last presidential race featured early signs of war protest, particularly in the candidacy of Howard Dean, a new phase of the debate seems to be unfolding, with antiwar groups giving the Democrats latitude to take positions short of a full and immediate withdrawal. Neither MoveOn.org nor its affiliated group, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, have sought to press Democrats here in Iowa to suggest anything short of ending the war immediately.”
Phyllis Bennis talks vaguely of “searching for a clearer strategy,” but this vagueness is no more surprising than the self-restraint of MoveOn and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. Bennis resides at the Institute for Policy Studies, whose principals are well aware that any IPS-related support for a strategy deemed discomfiting to the Democratic Party’s efforts to capture the White House in 2008 would result in having IPS’s major funders yank them back into the kennel in short order.
I don’t doubt Bennis’s calendar is admirably full of speaking events, but out here in the progressive Northwest, there’s nothing much going on between San Francisco and the Canadian border. Yes, there have been useful actions in Olympia and Tacoma, but it’s awfully quiet. The mass mobilizations of 2003 seem light-years away. In 2005 UFPJ raised more than $1 million, and in 2006 it raised $575,000. Those budget numbers were provided at a UFPJ conference. The difference came from failure in small donations and Internet donations.
Of course there’s no fizzle. People here aren’t being driven crazy by the war the way we were by the slaughters and bombings of Vietnamese. The horrors pressed down on one every day. Of course people were ultras, which is where the long-march radicals should always start out. The alternative is to come out of the womb squealing about “the excesses of the left” and spend the rest of your life like Todd Gitlin writing op-eds to that effect.
It was even somewhat the same in the Central American interventions of the 1980s. You could read about contras disemboweling a rural organizer from the FSLN and tremble because it might be the same person you had just met on a solidarity tour, either up here or down there. People thought I was being frivolous by evoking North American lesbians traveling to meet their Nica partners, but bed is a pretty good place in which to cement revolutionary solidarity.
Actual Iraqis are mostly a blur to the peace movement. Sure, towns here pass resolutions telling the President or Congress to do this or that. Arcata, California, sixty miles north of me, got a lot of press for doing that, at least until they threw David Meserve off the City Council. It didn’t add up to anything. Now, if a group from Arcata said it was sending a sister-city delegation to Falluja, that would mean something. Sister-city programs can add up to something serious, which is why mainstream Jewish organizations go crazy every time people in Madison, Wisconsin, or Olympia, Washington, try to set up official ties with Rafah, in Gaza.
Both Bennis and Katha Pollitt are outraged by Lawrence McGuire’s remarks about the Iraqi resistance, but what he wrote was on the money. Isn’t it the ultimate in cynicism to use the Iraqi resistance’s successes as a stick with which to beat George Bush and the Republicans but not the Democrats, while simultaneously saying you’d rather not think about the resistance because it seems Not Very Nice? If you are too scared to look, you’ll never find out anything. In mid-July important Sunni-led insurgent organizations gathered in Damascus to prepare a negotiating position in advance of US withdrawal. Leaders of three of the groups met with Seumas Milne of the British Guardian and denounced Al Qaeda, sectarian killings and suicide bombings against civilians. You can either try to inform yourself of what the Iraqi resistance is doing, or you can take the route Pollitt did when she hysterically stigmatized the resistance as composed of “theocrats, ethnic nationalists, die-hard Baathists, jihadis, kidnappers, beheaders and thugs.” How come she forgot to add “raghead”? I guess it wasn’t PC.
THE NEPAL CONNECTION
Thanks for Ramachandra Guha’s “A War in the Heart of India” [July 16/23]. Perhaps it took a foreign publication to discuss this frankly, as Guha does so well. The Indian urban press evidently does not wish to disturb corporate or government figures. From what I’ve gathered, the Salwa Judum is a government-sponsored force that’s co-opting desperate villagers in order to clear the forest areas of Maoists and tribals and open the areas up for “development.” The government will then ghettoize the tribals like Native Americans and exploit the valuable forest reserves. I had always hoped Indians would learn from American history, but I’m afraid they’ve learned all the wrong things.
The resemblance to the Maoist situation in Nepal is striking. Maoists paid attention to the situations the big-city politicians ignored. And despite their championing of Adivasis, the Naxal leadership, like that of the Maoists, is solidly Bahun-Chhetri (Brahmin-Kshatriya). So much for social change. But the Indian Naxals need not worry about Nepali Maoists having “sold out” by “giving up weapons.” All they’ve really done is lock up the worthless arms and stash the good stuff elsewhere. You heard it here first.