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Points On The Drive To War Against Iraq And Our Movement (english)
07 Nov 2002
FRSO’s statement on the current drive towards war and how it fits in with a crises of neoliberalism, both internationally and at home; how splits among political and economic elites may help anti-imperialists and anti-capitalists organize a deeply skeptical public; lessons from Gulf War 1; and more!
(November 7, 2002)

1. The Bush administration is embarked in a headlong drive to invade Iraq in spite of deep skepticism among the US population, growing divisions in the ruling class and widespread global opposition. They gained a key victory with the Congress's September vote endorsing the use of military force. Now the administration is seeking to force through a UN Security Council resolution which can be treated the same way, as justifying war on Iraq, no matter what it actually says. Meanwhile, little reported, the logistical buildup for war in the Middle East continues.

2. In the course of this war drive, the Bush administration has confirmed and deepened a shift in U.S. policy toward the naked pursuit of empire-"armed globalization" as some have called it. The most important step here was the September paper issued by Dr. Condoleezza Rice's National Security team entitled "The National Security Strategy of the United States." One striking feature of this document is the declaration that the United States intends to attack counties that seem like they might pose a threat to the United States, even if there is no evidence of an immediate danger. It is the open declaration that the US government claims the right to invade any country and overthrow any government which is not to its liking. This is a massive violation of the United Nations charter. Another crucial feature of the document is the declaration, expounded on by various government officials, that the US will continue its military buildup and take all necessary steps to ensure military superiority over any possible rival or combination of rivals.

(The declaration of the new national security policy has been underlined by the October leaks from the administration about their post-invasion plans for Iraq. Having found no convincing Iraqi equivalent for the shaky Hamid Karzai/Northern Alliance regime that they installed in Afghanistan after the Taliban government folded, White House sources indicate that they plan to have a military occupation of Iraq, lasting as long as a decade, with General Tommy Franks as viceroy.)

The response from the rest of the world had been shock. This new policy in effect tears up the basic structure of post-WW2 global order, and substitutes for it the US declaration: "I am so the boss of you."

3. This raises an extremely important question which socialists should be thinking about: is this is a bid to put in place a new ruling consensus in the US, to replace the one established during the Reagan era?

A ruling consensus is the set of views held by the majority of the wealthy and powerful, and promoted to the rest of us in a thousand ways, on how the country, and the world, should operate. The existing consensus has been based on the glorification of the "free market" (and secondarily, electoral democracy) as the solution to all the world's problems. In practice, this has meant the pursuit of US hegemony and transnational superprofits through global free trade and, in particular, the use of institutions like the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization to force the global South and the former Soviet bloc to adopt neoliberal policies. (In fact neoliberalism has also been used as a US weapon directed at forcing the European ruling classes to change their ruling consensuses, which have placed a greater emphasis on maintaining a social compact that grants concessions to large sections of the working class in the interest of stability and is manifested in social democratic programs like national health care.)

The domestic content of the ruling consensus was very similar, a glorification of the market and corporate executives, hailed as "wealth creators." This was combined with privatization of government functions, cuts in social services and the undermining of unions.

Today the pressures for developing a new consensus are two-fold. For some in the ruling class, the current situation holds the possibility of locking in an unchallenged US global dominance which will last decades. For the past three or four years, right wing ideologues like Dinesh D'Souza have been writing about the merits of old-style empire as a force for global stability and development in venues like Foreign Policy magazine and the New York Times Magazine.

A successful invasion and occupation of Iraq would be a major step forward along this path. It would demonstrate to the world that the US will not tolerate any show of independence from its vision for the globe and would at the same time give the US far more leverage over global oil production, weakening OPEC and placing the European and Japanese economies at a severe disadvantage.

At the same time, an increasing section of the capitalist class seems to feel that the existing consensus has run up on the rocks. The neoliberal policies imposed on the much of the global South and the former Soviet bloc have not produced the predicted growth there. The promised era of global stability and "the end of history" has not, after all, arrived. Much of the world faces such massive environmental, economic and medical crisis that the problems cannot be ignored because they will not stay quietly inside the boundaries of individual countries somewhere overseas. 9/11 proved that neglect is not an option--with a vengeance. Meanwhile the global justice movement has placed a spotlight on the World Bank and IMF, cutting their utility as the main vehicles for forcing the nations of the global South to do the bidding of the rulers of the industrialized world and for keeping those countries in permanent debt peonage.

The case study of Latin America is instructive. Argentina is in the midst of a yearlong economic collapse and is in default on its massive foreign debt. Neoliberalism and especially the privatization of such basic services as electricity and water, and their purchase by giant transnational corporations, have produced extreme misery for the poor, most recently in Andean countries like Ecuador. This has also produced a growing political backlash, with left populist candidates who are unwilling to knuckle under to US capital stepping forward. In Brazil, Workers Party leader Lula just won the presidential run-off election handily, despite the open threat that the US would push the country's economy into depression.

Again, we see the limits of the current structure showing up: five years ago the US boasted ceaselessly that the whole Western Hemisphere was now "democratic," except for Cuba. This year the Bush administration was the only government in all of the Americas to recognize the failed coup in Venezuela against the elected left populist government of Hugo Chavez.

Back here in the belly of the beast, the popping of the stock market bubble, the collapse of Tyco, Enron and other criminal enterprises and the exposure of the "wealth creators" who ran them, and the increasingly uncertain economy have eroded the hold the consensus had had on the population at large. This will only worsen in the coming years as ramped-up military spending and massive budget deficits drive state and local governments to hack desperately away at social services.

If this is, in fact, a push to substantially restructure the ruling consensus in the US, then the stakes are even higher than the immediate questions of war and peace. The victory of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Perle vision is far from assured, and the shifts and jockeying for position which will come can provide real opportunities for the left to engage sections of the people in the debate over how the world should be structured.

4. The only force which might halt the US war drive in Iraq is global opposition. In practice, this means hard and relatively united opposition from Europe. (Though many Arab and other Muslim governments have spoken out against war, their rulers are also permitting the US to use countries in the region, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States as forward bases and depots to prepare its invasion.) France, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has been the leading force thwarting US efforts to get an official Security Council resolution sanctioning the planned invasion.

Still, the overall prospects are not good. The Bush administration has repeatedly declared that it will go it alone if satisfactory UN approval is not forthcoming. Some analysts say this is just a negotiating ploy, but it is a hard stance to back down from. Europe is not well positioned to stand in the face of the sudden and overwhelming US push to war. Bush is pursuing European support with a combination of bribes (offering a share of the oil wealth of Iraq once it is in US hands) and threats (publicly turning a cold shoulder to Chancellor Schroeder of Germany after he was re-elected by campaigning to keep his country out of any invasion of Iraq).

Overall, the European rulers see that the US war drive and policy shifts target them as well. Within three weeks of the Condoleezza Rice national security paper, the European Union issued a "White Paper for Community Strategy" on energy, announcing the very ambitious goal of doubling Europe's reliance on renewable energy sources from 6% to 12% of usage by 2010. This was a declaration that increased US control of the Mideast oil on which European economies depend would not go unchallenged.

Finally, the rulers of Europe are unclear how to respond to the new US policy. Despite near universal resentment, some are all too ready to knuckle under. For instance, the government of the Netherlands has gone right along with US demands for targeting Jose Maria Sison, the Filipino revolutionary leader who is in exile there. Others seem torn, to read their major newspapers, between the idea that the US must be stopped now, before it gains more momentum, and the idea that the US ruling class is desperately overreaching and should be given enough rope to hang itself.

5. Splits in the US ruling class over the prospect of invading and occupying Iraq run pretty deep. A good sectoral analysis would be useful, but so far, what's clear is that the corporate sectors most directly represented in the administration--energy extractive and energy dependent, plus defense--tend to support invasion and the new policy. Meanwhile, those sectors which are most heavily dependent on global trade and globalized production and distribution, like banking, are the most concerned about current trends.

However deep and striking these divisions, they are not set in stone. Like the rest of us, the members of the white supremacist ruling class do not necessarily have their footing in these rapidly changing and dangerous times. They are fighting some of their battles over the immediate war drive and the longer-term policy implications in the media. This is the significance of the spate of cautionary statements by the likes of Republican bigdomes like Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, and various retired Generals, among them Wesley Clark and Anthony Zinni. The specific content of their positions is naturally imperialist to the bone-it is the public raising of sharp questions about policy, strategy and tactics which is significant. Similarly, heavyweight newspaper pundits are weighing in with opinions one way or the other, or, like Thomas Friedman at the New York Times, dithering in print.

These divisions are good for the anti-war movement. We can use the leaks of official reports, the public statements by conservatives and retired generals concerned by the new unilateral interventionism, even the ups and downs of the battered stock market, to get past the media-promoted idea that opposition to the war is a knee-jerk response by out-of-touch liberals. What we cannot do is count on the Democrats, whose gutlessness in the face of Bush and Company has been nothing short of spectacular.

6. How splits in the ruling class pay out, and how our movement develops in coming weeks and months, obviously depend a great deal on how the war drive itself unfolds. The possibility still exists that the Bush administration could be forced to back off from its invasion plans by global opposition, reinforced by the divisions here and efforts by anti-war forces to deepen them. Any such backdown would be accompanied by a declaration of victory by the administration, of course, and very likely by some kind of attack on Iraq that doesn't require ground troops.

The point is that it is foolish to talk like we know what will happen as the war drive continues. We have to think about and prepare for all eventualities, from a debacle which locks the US into a volatile Middle East quagmire while Israel starts ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, to the possibility of a relatively successful invasion, followed by the gathering of Iraq into the embrace of US military occupation, with little immediate blowback in the region. As we learned in the Gulf War, once US soldiers are committed, the anti-war movement will contract. Many who have grave doubts about what our government is doing will nevertheless be reluctant to speak out for fear that it will be seen as undercutting the troops. If the Bush administration does get lucky, initial successes will affect not only the anti-war movement, but also the developing struggle within the ruling class over the direction of US foreign policy overall.

7. One interesting thing to note is that we, the opponents of the war, out-organized the Right and pro-war forces incredibly around the congressional vote. The one-sided barrage of messages against invasion was a major factor in pushing as many Congress people and Senators to vote against the resolution as did. The campaign was mobilized in significant part with the word of new, internet-savvy anti-war forces like, with funding from small lefty capitalists like Ben (Ben & Jerry) Cohen. Its success simultaneously heartened activists and filled them with disgust at the craven performance of so many "liberal" Democrats.

This was one of several factors that helped spark the revival of the spirit of the anti-war movement in the last few months. One of the biggest was that the landscape stopped shifting every week or two. Once the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was complete, many activists had had trouble figuring out how to resist the endless war on terrorism-concentrate on continuing contradictions in Afghanistan or on domestic anti-Arab profiling? Would Colombia be the next big thing? Or the Philippines? Should US aid to the Israel's military push to completely trash Palestinian society be the main area of work? Over the summer it became evident that the next big focus for Bush & company would be the invasion of Iraq. This permitted the movement to focus its energies and sharpen its agitation. (And that agitation has been greatly aided by the spread of War Times, the popularly written free newspaper that much of the movement has adopted as an outreach and organizing tool.)

8. The most important factor in the surge of anti-war activity, though, is the simple fact that a substantial chunk of the people of this country have not bought into the Bush administration's war plans. Polls confirm what a lot of us have been summing up from conversations in our communities and on the job. People are not buying into the whole war drive.

Among those who tend to follow the news the most closely, the skepticism is deepest. Folks don't like being played for chumps and the Osama bin Laden/Saddam Hussein bait-and-switch is kind of obvious. Blatant lies like Bush's claim that Saddam Hussein has pilotless drones capable of landing chemical or biological weapons in the US, for instance, just piss off the kind of working class veterans who buy gun magazines and follow military matters. Nobody likes being lied to, and obvious lies are really disrespectful.

Some other points about the mood of the masses are worth noting. There hasn't yet been a revival of the huge outpouring of flagwaving we saw in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And there isn't much of the kind of "Kick their ass and take their gas" chauvinism that was common a decade ago in the buildup to the Gulf War. This bears investigation. It is no doubt in part a direct response to 9/11. For the first time, "they" have demonstrated the ability to kick back, and to kick where it hurts.

Insecurity in the aftermath of the World Trade Center explosion (and the anthrax crisis and the DC area sniper attacks and the government's constant warnings about new terrorist attacks) is coupled with people's insecurity about the economy. The collapse of the "90s stock market bubble will be with us for years to come. Today's layoffs and job insecurity, coupled with the crumbling of the health care system, will be amplified tomorrow by the savage cuts in services (and accompanying public sector layoffs) forced by huge budget deficits which will be even deeper at the state and local level than at the national.

9. While much of the discussion among anti-war forces harks back to the Vietnam War, a lot more energy needs to go into studying, thinking about, analyzing the Gulf War of 1991. The analogy is much closer, and thinking about the differences between 1991 and today, which are very real, a more fruitful source of insight.

One reason this has not been done is that leftists in the US have our own Gulf War syndrome. After Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait, and the George H.W. Bush administration began preparing for war, we built a broad and powerful movement against war. Within a matter of a few months, there were demonstrations in every state in the union and two massive mobilizations of 100,000 or more in Washington, DC on successive weekends in January. A number of liberal politicians spoke and voted against the war. (As some of us raised at the time, there were serious political errors made within this, like focusing too much on "supporting our boys in uniform" by insisting that a war in the Gulf would result in thousands of body bags coming back to the US.)

And it all had no visible effect whatsoever on the US war drive! Bush Senior cared so little about the opposition that he launched the attack on Iraq on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Then, instead of the body bag-filled quagmire many in the movement had predicted, the war proved to be an incredibly rapid technological and tactical triumph for the US and allied forces. A lot of folks who had worked desperately to fend off the onset of war wound up bummed out for much of the decade.

Again, this is not predicting a repeat of the Gulf War. Major differences have already been discussed above: the international front the US assembled then is proving much more elusive this time around; the drive to war is happening in conjunction with an economic downturn; there is profound mass skepticism about rationale and goals for war; and so on.

The point rather is to look at what happened then and use what we learn to help shape our analysis, our strategy and our tactics in the current period.

10. What are the tasks of the movement now?

We have to figure out how to make the war/economy link in a way galvanizes people. Intuitively, many working people see the war against everyone as an attempt to distract us from economic decline/uncertainty and corporate crime. Folks recognize that war can only take money away from federal and state funds for public services and public sector jobs. What kinds of slogans can summarize the link in a dramatic way that helps spur people to action: Money for jobs, not for war? Money for health care, not for war? Money for reparations, not for war?

We have to be ready to address the civil liberties issues more effectively as repression escalates or broadens. The first to step forward on this were civil liberties advocacy groups and the communities initially targeted: Arabs, Muslims and South Asians. Then, the net spread to other immigrants, and immigrants rights groups as well as labor unions with high immigrant membership (Service Employees International Union) came out to oppose such abuses as the firings non-US citizen airport workers-including those who had documented status and seniority on the job. Now the use of national security rationales to tip the scales toward management in the West Coast longshore contract battle shows the potential effect on larger sectors of the US working class. Still, most sections of the people don't see the Patriot Act as directly affecting them or what they hold dear; and therefore the government can isolate and pick off particular targets. We need to make a breakthrough on this.

It's hard to get very specific or to do detailed long-term planning of the way ahead for the movement because we can't predict world events. Paradoxically, Bush's push against Iraq has strengthened our movement by finally giving it a focus that it hasn't had since we tried to stop the attack on Afghanistan. With a split ruling class, unfavorable world opinion and a growingly skeptical population at home, we feel some wind behind us now.

However, we should prepare ourselves and others for the emotional roller coaster that may be ahead of us. If Bush backs off on Iraq, that's a huge victory but it may return us to confusion and lack of focus. If a US attack starts, there will be a surge of patriotism and there will be a push to demonize and marginalize dissenters, which will have some effect--at least for a while. We may see a big success immediately, or a harder time than the US military strategists expect, or unintended consequences such as Pakistan/India conflict, destabilization of Mideast regimes allied to the US, or attacks on US territory or US bases overseas by Al Qaeda or other forces. How do we prepare for all these possibilities?

First, we need to educate broadly on the nature of the new national security policy. It is a policy of endless war that, in addition to being wrong ethically, will not make the people of the US safe, because it will make more of the world's peoples see this country as a bully and hate us. And while a victorious attack on Iraq might eventually pay for itself through US seizures of the oilfields, that won't be the case for other attacks. They will drain federal and state budgets, lead to service cuts at home, and enrich some oil companies and military suppliers who are buddies of the Bush's.

Secondly, we need to bring other potential targets of US imperialism closer to the center of the anti-war movement. This was done fairly successfully with Palestine in the April 20, 2002 march on Washington, as the presence of tens of thousands of Palestinians and Arabs probably doubled the march's size and gave it more vitality. (Given the strong pro-Israel sentiment and organized lobby in the US, it is not surprising that some forces, especially the more traditional, white-led peace groups, were somewhat taken aback by this and have not fully integrated support for the national rights of the Palestinian people into their raps.) The organizations and communities opposed to US intervention in the Philippines and Colombia, for example, need to be more integral to the overall anti-war movement, rather than organizing parallel to it, on separate schedules. This entails both other peace activists supporting actions around the Philippines and Colombia, and these solidarity movements turning out their forces for anti-war events, and becoming part of their planning and leadership. There is tremendous anger in Puerto Rican communities here in the US over the US Navy's use of the island of Vieques for target practice, and this too offers a bridge to opposition to US military intervention in other places.

Thirdly and in a related vein, the way to make the anti-war movement most generally relevant and powerful is to ground it as deeply as possible in as many particular communities and constituencies as possible. The contentiousness and disintegration of a number of the citywide coalitions that sprang up immediately after September 11 reflects many realities: the weight of historical responsibility we all feel, the difficulty of finding an effective strategy, and the marginalization and powerlessness we've often experienced in calling for peace after US civilians were attacked. But another key reality is that sometimes different tactics, slogans and approaches are needed for different communities. The entry points are different. One rap doesn't fit all.

For African Americans, it may be wondering why Cynthia McKinney was vilified for asking when Bush knew, and then why the Israel lobby sent hundreds of dollars to her opponent to boot McKinney out of Congress. The Peoples Organization for Progress, doing anti-police brutality and other grassroots work in Newark's Black community, asks why there's money for war, but not for reparations. For many working class youth of color, it may be in wondering why the US military is the only outfit that wants to give them jobs. In the labor movement, more people are worried about the use of a national security rationale to limit workers rights. Faith-based communities are extremely concerned about the unilateralist and preemptive character of US military policy, and the threat to world peace it poses. The students who organized against sweatshops see the US endless war as armed globalization.

The possibilities of such specific organizing in particular constituencies are shown in the growing level of anti-war activity in the trade union movement. There is a groundswell of peace activity in local unions and dozens of resolutions questioning or opposing the war have been passed, including important ones by central labor councils outside of traditional left strongholds like the Bay Area. To the surprise of many in labor, all this has gone without any significant crackdown by the national leadership of the AFL-CIO.

The importance of this hands-off policy from the top was underlined by a letter John Sweeney wrote to Congress during the debate on the resolution authorizing war on Iraq. The letter raises questions about the rationale for the war, points out that working people will be hurt the most and calls for all possible alternative steps to be taken. This is no strong anti-war cry and it was not well publicized: to find it, you have to go to the speeches section of the AFL-CIO website and do a search on Iraq. Its significance is that it shows the bind that the leadership of the trade union movement is in. Their fawning display of loyalty to US imperialism in the aftermath of 9/11 has gone unrewarded. Bush & Co. are not as good at united fronts as LBJ or even Nixon were during Vietnam. The blunt attack on the West Coast dockworkers is seen by most in labor to be as dangerous as Reagan's 1981 assault on the air traffic controllers was. Sweeney and his allies simply cannot afford to slam the door on left and other anti-war forces in the trade unions. His statement keeps the door open, and leaves the faint possibility that the labor bureaucracy may be forced to stand against the war eventually. If the invasion of Iraq starts, of course, they will go back to flag-waving patriotism for a while, but prolonged combat in Iraq, or prolonged crises in the war on everyone, or a prolonged and difficult occupation of Iraq could change that.

With the success of the 9/11 commemorative activities by anti-war forces, followed by the successful October 6 Not In Our Name actions in dozens of cities and the huge turnout at the October 26 marches in Washington and the Bay Area called by International A.N.S.W.E.R., the anti-war movement is on a roll. Tens of thousands of people who have never participated in protest activists before have taken part.

Our task now is not to wait for or even to build for the next big mobilization. To sustain and broaden the movement, there must be deep, ongoing work in particular communities. Only this kind of focus can create a current of opposition to the war capable of sustaining itself through the twists and turns that are undoubtedly coming our way.

National Executive Committee,

Freedom Road Socialist Organization
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