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ENDING THE WAR IN IRAQ
By Tom Hayden
Akashic BooksCopyright © 2007 Tom Hayden
All right reserved.
IntroductionOn January 27, 2007, I looked at the U.S. Capitol surrounded by a sea of antiwar protesters massing to march once again. I stood on the same spot forty-two years before, in April 1965, at the first national march against the Vietnam War. Then, as now, a president was violating a voter mandate for peace. Lyndon Johnson had indicated during his presidential campaign in 1964 that he would not send young American soldiers to Southeast Asia. Because of that promise, young radicals like myself decided on the slogan, Part of the way with LBJ, knowing that the alternative was the conservative Barry Goldwater. Johnson betrayed his vow, however, escalating the conflict to a ground war by 1965. Our march grew accordingly, reaching 25,000-said at that time to be the largest antiwar outpouring in memory. Little did I understand that we would be marching for a decade. We marched largely against the wishes of our elders. Leaders of both parties claimed we were soft on Communism.
Similarly, in 2007, President George W. Bush betrayed the voter mandate of the previous autumn, when ending the war in Iraq was the primary reason that American voters had deposed a Republican congressional majority. Despite this clear ultimatum, and the advice of manyconservatives, Bush authorized sending at least 21,500 more American troops into a war that most observers believed was unwinnable. In addition, he pushed to the brink of expanding the war to Iran. But in deploying more troops to Iraq, Bush also triggered a new wave of protest energy.
The crowd before me was one of the largest I'd seen in forty years of marching on Washington. Though the Washington Post reported that the numbers fell short of the organizers' expectations, and though the mainstream media settled on an arbitrary figure of "tens of thousands," my experienced instincts told me that closer to a half-million Americans were encircling the Capitol. A crisis was in the air, as the White House had failed in Iraq and at home. The war was poisoning our civic life, filling our graveyards and veterans' hospitals, denying funds for domestic needs, isolating our country, and destroying our nation's reputation.
I was recovering from heart surgery at the beginning of the war, but remember being hooked on the television accounts by a passion awakened from my past. Sensing one fabrication after another, I sank into despair at the media's collaboration, but believed from the first days that the occupation would bring forward a resistance. I began blogging, trying to reveal the story between the lines. Since early 2003, nearly one hundred of those blogs and essays have appeared online, in the Nation, Huffington Post, In These Times, and the op-ed pages of the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle. My audience included both the older and newer antiwar movements, as I attempted to apply my experience from the 1960s to this rapidly unfolding conflict. While criticism of the war increased, I found myself not only writing and marching, but meeting with members of Congress and the political establishment to try to avert a deepening quagmire. I traveled on several occasions to Amman, Jordan, and London to interview scores of displaced Iraqis living in exile. I now teach a sociology course on Iraq at Pitzer College in the Claremont Colleges complex east of Los Angeles, and am committed to chronicling another war and another antiwar movement until the end, which may be a long time from now. Or not so long; it depends partly on what Americans do.
I believe there is a growing convergence between the events in Iraq and those here at home. Polls show that the Iraqi people overwhelmingly favor a timetable for withdrawing American troops, combined with continued assistance in reconstructing their broken country. A large majority even favors armed attacks on U.S. forces as a right of national resistance. At least 131 members of the Iraqi Parliament, nearly half the body, have petitioned for the U.S. to withdraw, and the number is growing. The same parliament's National Sovereignty Committee has unanimously called for a withdrawal timetable (see Chapter 3). Most Iraqis are at odds with the sectarian, American-backed executive clique currently in power in Baghdad.
If the Iraqi regime was not so tightly rigged at the top, the parliament itself would give us the boot (but politely, perhaps with red carpets). Iraqi voices for withdrawal are seldom referenced in the mainstream American media. Neither is the grotesque mismanagement of the Baghdad regime itself. Occasionally the media mentions that the oil ministry is "rife with corruption." Several authors have documented the dishonest practices of American contractors, but few have zeroed in on the heart of the regime itself.
For example, the current president of Iraq is Jalal Talabani, who has been a Kurdish leader for decades. Like other American-backed victors, he inhabits a mansion previously belonging to Saddam Hussein's family. Talabani brags that the Kurdish town of Sulaimaniya now has twenty billionaires and 2,000 millionaires, that he spends an estimated half-million dollars for a week's hotel stay in Paris, and that he receives up to $1 million per month in discretionary funds; he has supposedly handed out envelopes containing fifty crisp $100 bills to journalists and associates. These self-aggrandizing patterns are almost never reported, and when they are, they are usually presented as lifestyle foibles.
Despite the national differences, many Americans are coming to conclusions about the war that are similar to those of most Iraqis. As of this writing, roughly thirty percent of the U.S. want our troops home now, about sixty percent want a timetable for their speedy withdrawal, and a Democrat-led Congress has a mandate for peace and an end to government corruption. In late 2005, nearly half of all Americans wanted to consider impeaching the president. Support for Bush and his Iraq policies has dropped below thirty percent. Yet the Bush Administration and influential contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater USA continue to prevent the inevitable withdrawal of American forces. The precise U.S. and Iraqi casualty rates, as well as the actual costs of the war, are deliberately hidden from the American people. Billions of tax dollars disappear through the sieve of unaccountable special interests. The deception and corruption practiced by the White House extends from the Beltway to Baghdad, with U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley writing memos suggesting "monetary support" for Iraqi parties that follow America's lead in Green Zone politics.
The point is that strong majorities in both countries want American troops returned home and feel disenfranchised by their governments. This consensus prevails despite legitimate worries about healing the deep wounds of postwar Iraq. Either the Iraqis, free from U.S. pressure, need to install a new transitional governing circle in Baghdad-one whose spirit is consistent with that of the Iraqi people-or the American public has to elect new leadership in Washington in 2008.
Just as the path into Iraq was blurred by fabrications, so is the way out. It is commonly asserted that American troops will be able to "stand down" only when Iraqis "stand up." But that won't happen, at least not in the foreseeable future. Whatever the original intentions, the U.S. has raised a Frankenstein monster in Iraq-a country ruled by a Shi'a and Kurdish alliance of convenience engaged in a vendetta against their former Sunni Arab rulers, whose people are being ethnically cleansed from many parts of the country. As these pages will demonstrate, Iraq's repressive government is replete with sectarian militias, some trained in Iran, dominating a brutal interior ministry and essential state organs. The fate of Iraqi women, once a purported American concern, is long forgotten amidst rampant sexual violence and strict interpretations of Shari'a law. An insurgency, at first mostly Sunni in composition, appears to be gaining traction across sectarian lines. Iraq is a failed state that can no longer provide basic security to its inhabitants. Thus, making a future U.S. withdrawal dependent on the current regime in Baghdad will turn all Americans into prisoners of a perpetual war.
Even worse, the White House is reversing its definition of allies and enemies in mid-course. In 2003, the foe was a "WMD-armed" Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-dominated Ba'ath Party, and shortly after the fall of the regime, it became the "Sunni-led" insurgency. By 2007, the U.S. seemed to be changing direction again, deciding that the greatest danger is Iran, a Shi'a state which benefits from the very regime the U.S. has empowered in Baghdad. The U.S. is now warning Iran to stop meddling in Iraq, despite the fact that Iran supports the same Shi'a Iraqi government as the U.S. On the other hand, the U.S. continues to back Saudi Arabia, which provides funding, volunteers, and diplomatic muscle to the Sunni insurgency. As Martin Indyk, a former State Department official and the current director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution said in 2007, "This could get very complicated. Everything is upside down."
There is an imperial logic in this topsy-turvy policy, however, that exploits fissures between Muslims to ensure U.S. military and strategic dominance over a divided Middle East. To imagine U.S. policy more clearly, picture a giant oil tanker with a crew of four-George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and outgoing Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad-all affiliated with Big Oil, navigating a narrow strait amidst violent sectarian waves churned up by its very presence.
It is difficult, as I have learned in the past, to write about historic events before they are over. A number of useful books have recently appeared, most of them diagnosing the profound manipulation and mismanagement woven into the invasion period of 2002-2003. Several have singled out neo-conservatives or the so-called "Vulcans" of the war cabinet for special blame. But despite having documented and denounced the flawed grounds for invading Iraq, few of these critics have recommended a decision to withdraw. Given the fallout from the original mistake, they now suggest that it would be even worse to exit Iraq. For example, in a devastating critique called Blind into Baghdad in which he exposes the Iraqi army as being virtually nonexistent, James Fallows nevertheless writes:
I have come to this sobering conclusion: The United States can best train Iraqis, and therefore best help itself leave Iraq, only by making very long-term commitments to stay.
Making the same argument-that it was a mistake to invade but would be a bigger mistake to leave-the 2006 Iraq Study Group Report finds that the U.S.-created Iraqi government and army are dysfunctional and fraught with sectarian strife, then proposes the withdrawal only of U.S. combat troops in 2008, which would strand and expose tens of thousands of remaining American trainers and advisers. Proposals to actually withdraw all U.S. forces on a fixed timetable are dismissed as "precipitous," when it seems much more precipitous to abandon thousands of Americans embedded in an unstable Iraqi military.
But the limitations of the critics' proposals pale in contrast with the desperate expansionism of a besieged President Bush, who seems determined to carry this war forward into the term of his successor and possibly escalate a confrontation with Iran. Iraq has become a "march to folly," the phrase used by the late historian Barbara Tuchman to describe rulers who take a disastrous course, are offered reasonable alternatives, and yet insist on nonetheless continuing their reckless behavior.
There are genuine problems, of course, with any withdrawal, even from an unwinnable war. In this book, I hope to shift the discourse to the actual alternatives that lie ahead, by offering explanations of two important factors which receive little mainstream attention. First, how could the U.S. government and armed forces be losing to, or at least not prevailing over, the Iraqi insurgency? Rather than pointing toward mistaken prewar plans (not enough troops, no attention to reconstruction, etc.), it is more important to understand why the national, cultural, and religious resistance of Iraqis to the U.S. occupation may well be permanent and undefeatable. Such an assessment will be difficult for the superpower mentality to absorb, but could lead to the conclusion that ending the occupation is a necessity, not simply a choice.
Second, while the new post-'60s antiwar movement is given little credit as a factor in turning public opinion against the war, it is a powerful force. On eight occasions the movement has produced over 100,000 protesters in the streets, including three in which more than a half-million turned out to demonstrate. Public opinion has shifted against this conflict more rapidly than it did during the Vietnam War. At least 165 city councils and state legislatures have passed referendums against the war. Internet activism far surpasses the membership drives of antiwar groups in the '60s. The 2003-04 Howard Dean presidential campaign was in many ways similar to Eugene McCarthy's unsuccessful bid for the White House in 1967-68. And in November 2006, for the first time in U.S. history, American voters resolutely marched to the polls to reject an ongoing war.
Yet to many people, including activists, this war seems unstoppable and the opposition movement marginal or irrelevant. This is in part due to the media, but also to the Pentagon's strategy of lessening the direct impact of Iraq on the lives of most American citizens. There is no draft, we pay no direct taxes, the casualty rate of U.S. troops is one-fifteenth that of Vietnam. The perception of political impotence is also affected by anachronistic paradigms that contain romantic images of clashes in the streets of Chicago and the like. Bloggers against the war simply are not as dashing and photogenic as young men burning their draft cards in Central Park.
But this argument should be turned upside down: It is remarkable that the antiwar movement has become a catalyst of public opinion given all the resources expended on selling the Iraq War as cheap, easy, and non-intrusive in the lives of most Americans. It is a mistake to define the antiwar movement as narrowly confined to the streets, as political activism since the 1960s has opened up a space for working within a previously closed system. Bloggers and "netroots" have further developed this space, in a literal sense, through online activism.
It is necessary to write the antiwar movement into the history of this time.
This book also proposes a specific plan to end the war: by applying public pressure to the pillars of the war policy. All wars are dependent upon the availability of certain resources, which I label as pillars, and which are subject to individual, local, and movement pressures. The pillars which are needed to sustain this war, detailed in Chapter 4, include:  a stable ally in the form of an Iraqi government;  sufficient public support in America;  compliant American media outlets;  strong political support from the U.S. Congress;  an adequate supply of American troops and recruits;  ample budgetary resources over a decade-long period;  a moral reputation drawing respect at home and abroad; and  a network of international alliances, the so-called "coalition of the willing." Since the war began, we have seen all of these pillars gradually disintegrating. As they fall, the war will come to an end out of necessity. Those Machiavellians deeply concerned about damage to America's status will be forced to adopt a face-saving formula and leave Iraq.
Even assuming the administration expands the war to Iran (or Syria), this analysis would remain the same. A U.S. attack on Iran would be implausible, contradictory, and tragically ironic. The U.S. invaded and is occupying a country on Iran's long border, yet says that any Iranian interference in its neighbor's affairs could be a casus belli. Iran's alleged material involvement is at this point blamed for five percent of American deaths, according to a U.S. intelligence estimate. The role of Saudi Arabia, an American ally, in providing support for the Sunni insurgents who attack American forces day in and day out goes unmentioned. Since the U.S. already pays for, trains, and props up Iranian-backed Shi'a militias in Iraq, the administration's new rhetoric sounds like scapegoating for a failed policy.
Excerpted from ENDING THE WAR IN IRAQ by Tom Hayden Copyright © 2007 by Tom Hayden. Excerpted by permission.
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