Iraq lies in ruin, the US military occupation is generating a sustained guerrilla resistance, crime is rampant in Baghdad and an Iraqi civil war along ethnic and religious lines is a real possibility. Against this background, the American peace movement–a diverse collection of dissenters that includes pragmatic conservatives, concerned moderates, frustrated military families, Arab-Americans, anarchists, peaceniks and more–is attempting to come up with demands and strategies that are both radical and realistic, that both challenge the Bush Administration and unite the opposition, which plans to descend on Washington for a mass demonstration on October 25.
It’s no small task. The central point of contention is whether the United States should quit Iraq completely and at all costs or hand off the occupation (which is really a counterinsurgency war) to some sort of international/United Nations security force, with or without US participation. In light of these splits, what is most impressive is that the movement has managed to maintain as much tactical, strategic and ideological coherence as it has.
Win Without War, a self-described “mainstream voice for peace,” is a coalition propelled primarily by the online organizing of MoveOn.org. It favors “an end to the quagmire” or a transformation of the occupation into an internationally controlled affair rather than an immediate withdrawal of US troops. WWW led the charge against Bush’s request for $87 billion to fund the disastrous occupation. “We want to bury the Bush doctrine in Iraq. But the US can’t just walk away from the mess it’s created,” says Tom Andrews, WWW’s national director. WWW is not an official sponsor of the October 25 protest–which has adopted as its slogan “End the Occupation”–though Andrews is quick to mention that many WWW members will attend and perhaps even be onstage.
At the other end of the peace camp’s spectrum is the implacably anti-imperialist ANSWER; it demands an unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces, followed by robust reparations to whatever Iraqi government comes next. Citing Iraq’s 7,000-year history of civilization and formal jurisprudence, ANSWER spokesperson Bill Hackwell explains that ANSWER opposes any alternative international occupation. Hackwell waves off concerns about civil war, asking: “What could be worse than the current situation? Americans are killing people every day, unemployment and poverty are rampant. This is a disaster. We have to respect Iraq’s right to self-determination.”
ANSWER brings considerable tenacity and organizational competence to the peace struggle–something that the biggest umbrella group, United for Peace and Justice, recognizes (the two are working closely on the upcoming protest), even though UFPJ has crafted a more nuanced position. The UFPJ position paper, written by Institute for Policy Studies Fellow Phyllis Bennis, calls for the withdrawal of US forces and a quick transition to Iraqi self-government under the auspices of a UN General Assembly-created peacekeeping force (note that UFPJ is not supporting a UN Security Council-led initiative). UFPJ also demands an end to US corporate profiteering and to the privatization of Iraq’s economy. Like the other big peace coalitions, the group opposed Bush’s request for $87 billion to fund the US occupation, but to pay for reconstruction it calls for a program of US and British reparations.
This is a program not just for ending US occupation but also for radically reforming the UN. It is also a set of demands shared by most Iraqi leftists. In Iraq, many secular leftists want the United States out now, but they are also eager to avoid a Lebanon-style civil war, in which they would be the first targeted. This complicated position was first outlined to me by Yanar Mohammed, a socialist, feminist and founding member of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. As Mohammed explains it, her group seeks to build “a democratic Iraq in which women are in the forefront of social change, working as equal partners with men. And where the wealth of the nation is shared equally among all its people.” The mainline Iraqi Communist Party–which was decimated by Saddam’s rule but holds a seat on the US-picked Governing Council and is attempting to coax back old members–also wants the United States out, the UN in and a quick move to self-rule. “The new government must be secular and pluralistic,” explains Mufid al-Jazairi, one of the ICP’s leaders. Though the ICP is critical of the UN, the party’s leaders see no alternative force capable of replacing the United States and preventing civil war.
US peace groups are sure to remain conflicted on this issue. “Some groups in UFPJ are increasingly concerned about the question of an alternative occupation,” explains Andrea Buffa, an activist with Global Exchange and a steering committee member of UFPJ. “It’s an important issue to work out. But realistically, right now, the Bush Administration is not about to leave Iraq, and most Americans still think Saddam Hussein worked with Al Qaeda. So, as a movement our immediate task is educating the public and pressuring for a US withdrawal.”
Of course, none of the movement’s demands are likely to be met, especially now that the UN has given the US-led occupation its imprimatur. But political demands are the tools of pressure politics and as such must be visionary. The main goal for the left now is to articulate a counternarrative that casts Iraq as an expensive and illegal war that breeds terrorism. For peace forces to disengage from coalitions that do not yet have the perfect answers would be both wrong and tragic.