Cannot Oppose The War
And Fund This War”
By Kevin Zeese &
12 February, 2007
Anthony Arnove is the editor, with Howard Zinn, of Voices of a People’s
History of the United States. He is also the editor of Iraq Under Siege:
The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War and of Terrorism and War, a collection
of post–September 11 interviews with Howard Zinn. Arnove’s
writing has appeared in Financial Times, The Nation, In These Times,
Monthly Review, Z, and many other publications. He lives in New York
City. His most recent book is Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, updated
paperback edition (New York: Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books/The American
Empire Project, 2007). The book is available at http://www.americanempireproject.com/
Kevin Zeese: I see
two broad types of groups that need to be convinced that we should get
out of Iraq. The first are people who believe that the war was wrong,
but now that we are there we have to finish the job, stabilize the country,
make things better. These folks believe that if we leave things will
certainly get worse. What do you say to these folks?
Anthony Arnove: I'd say make
the same points to both groups. More than 3,000 U.S. soldiers are dead
and more than 22,000 wounded, many grievously. Every day that toll mounts.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died. The Haditha massacre, the Mahmoudiya
rape-murder, and the torture at Abu Ghraib are not aberrations but reflections
of the brutality of a colonial occupation. The social and economic costs
of this war grow every day in communities across the country as money
is diverted from schools, health care, jobs, and other vital social
programs to fuel this unjust occupation. The war abroad has gone hand
in hand with a war on our civil liberties at home, with a massive expansion
of the government's power to detain people without trial, to use secret
evidence, and to use torture. Meanwhile, every day that the United States
is in Iraq, the situation gets worse and civil war becomes more -- not
less -- likely. The U.S. occupation is distorting every aspect of Iraqi
society and is the root of the problem.
In terms of how things will
be once the U.S. withdraws, each day longer the United States stays,
the possibilities of a livable outcome diminish. Which is why, in addition
to pushing for immediate withdrawal, we also need to call on the United
States and its allies to pay reparations to the Iraqi people (not just
for the destruction caused by the most recent illegal invasion and occupation
but before that the devastating sanctions, the toxic legacy and destruction
of the 1991 Gulf War, and all the years that the U.S. armed and supported
Saddam Hussein as he carried out his worst crimes). They can do a far
better job rebuilding their country than the corporate looters and thugs
of Halliburton, Bechtel, and Blackwater can.
KZ: The other group
are people who think that the U.S. went in for good reasons -- to overthrow
a tyrant -- and issues like WMD or link to 9/11 are no longer all that
important, since the U.S. made the world better by getting rid of Saddam
Hussein. What do you say to these people?
AA: The invasion of Iraq
has made the world a far more dangerous place, increasing anger at the
United States, encouraging other states such as Russia, Israel, China,
and Pakistan to assert the right to launch so-called preemptive strikes,
and fueling a renewed global arms race, including a nuclear arms race
that threatens the extinction of the human species.
Iraqis are far more likely
to die violently in Iraq today than they were under the dictatorship.
They have less electricity and less access to safe drinking water than
before the occupation, when they were still subjected to comprehensive
sanctions. Unemployment has skyrocketed (while contractors hire foreign
workers rather than Iraqis). Iraqis are afraid to send their children
to school or to leave their homes or to live in formerly integrated
neighborhoods. Inflation has put basic necessities beyond the reach
of Iraqis. Iraq is the world’s worst refugee crisis, with, according
to the U.S. government, 2 million external and 1.7 million internal
refugees. Large sections of Baghdad have been ethnically cleansed.
It's important to remember
that the worst crimes of Saddam Hussein were enabled and defended by
the United States and other Western powers. And today the United States
continues to support a range of brutal dictatorships throughout Western
and Central Asia and the Middle East.
The invasion of Iraq did
not occur because members of the Bush administration could not sleep
at night thinking about human rights abuses in Iraq, but because, in
the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, Washington planners
saw an opportunity to advance an agenda of dominating the energy resource
of the Middle east and using that regional hegemony to project U.S.
KZ: What is the step-by-step
withdrawal that you recommend? Do you recommend any peace keeping forces?
If so, from where?
AA: I spoke on a panel recently
with an Iraq war veteran, a member of an important group called Iraq
Veterans Against the War (http://www.ivaw.org/),
who said, quite rightly, "Withdrawal is not a strategy. It's an
executive order." The U.S. military would be capable of removing
troops very quickly if the government were to acknowledge its defeat
in Iraq, rather than persisting on its current destructive course.
The problem with all the
proposals for timetables for withdrawal is that they are based on endlessly
receding horizon. The people who will evaluate whether or not certain
"benchmarks" have been met are the very people now building
long-term military bases and setting up the largest U.S. embassy in
the world in Iraq, and who have so much at stake in "winning"
the war in Iraq.
President Bush has said it
will be up to the next president to decide when troops will come home
(recall how the Vietnam war was passed back and forth from Democrats
and Republicans), and the recent budget Bush delivered to Congress would
provide funding for troops into the year 2009. More fundamentally, we
also have to be clear: the United States has no right to be in Iraq
in the first place. They entered the country on utterly false pretexts.
Their presence is the negation of democracy for the Iraqi people. Once
U.S. troops leave, it is up too the Iraqi people whether or not they
want peacekeeping forces or other assistance. That's their decision,
not ours, to make.
KZ: What about the
economic take-over of Iraq. I agree with the thesis Antonia Juhasz (see
that the root cause of the Iraq takeover was to gain economic control
over the oil rich region. Bremer's 100 orders, which have been confirmed
by the Iraqi Constitution, have transformed Iraq from a state-controlled
economy, to an economy for the multi-nationals. Should this be reversed?
How should it be reversed?
AA: The economic take-over
of Iraq absolutely should be reversed. Antonia Juhasz is right, as Naomi
Klein, who has also written very powerfully on this topic. Klein writes
that “The United States, having broken Iraq, is not in the process
of fixing it. It is merely continuing to break the country and its people
by other means, using not only F-16s and Bradleys, but now the less
flashy weaponry” of economic strangulation. We need to call for
an end to military and economic occupation, as well as the removal of
U.S. military bases.
The Bremer laws preserved
the Hussein-era anti-trade union regulations, lowered tax rates to levels
dreamed of by multinationals, opened Iraq's economy to 100 percent foreign
ownership in all areas except oil, which will remain effectively under
Western control. The mainstream economist Jeff Madrick was quite right
when he argued in the business pages of The New York Times (October
2, 2003) that the privatization plans for Iraq are "stunning"
and will lead to "widespread cruelty."
The economic take-over of
Iraq shows what's really at stake in Iraq: the use of military power
to spread neoliberalism, not democracy.
KZ: You point to
five ingredients that led to the end of the Vietnam War:
1. Mass resistance
of the Vietnamese people.
2. Resistance of US soldiers and veterans.
3. Domestic opposition to the war at home.
4. International opposition to the war around the world.
5. The growing economic consequences of the war undermining the US economy
Do you see those
same ingredients being required and/or sufficient to ending the Iraq
occupation? How do they apply to the current war?
AA: None of these elements alone ended the Vietnam War or are sufficient
today to end this one, but all of these dynamics already have effected
the course of this war and could lead to U.S. withdrawal.
To take them in turn, it
is clear that a majority of Iraqis oppose the occupation and want to
see U.S. troops leave. Attacks on U.S. troops are increasing rather
than decreasing, and the resistance in Iraq, far from being only Sunni
or foreign-led is widespread and popular. Clear majorities of Shias,
as well as Sunnis, want an end to foreign occupation.
Today, we see U.S. soldiers
speaking out against this war and organizing against it far earlier
than we did during the Vietnam War. Conscientious objectors and war
resisters such as Camilo Mejia, Pablo Paredes, and Ehren Watada, veterans
groups such as IVAW, military families organizing against the war, and
counter-recruitment groups have begun to have a real impact. The military
is falling short of its recruitment goals. A Zogby poll last year showed
that 72 percent of U.S. active duty troops in Iraq wanted to lave Iraq
by the end of 2006 year, and 29 percent wanted to leave immediately,
which is remarkable. Instead, we see 21,500 more troops being sent and
people’s tours of duty being extended to their third, fourth,
or even fifth deployment. In effect, reservists are being subjected
to a backdoor draft. (For more on the Vietnam era soldiers' revolt,
there are two invaluable resources, the new documentary "Sir! No
Sir!" -- http://www.sirnosir.com/
-- and the recently updated edition of David Cortright's Soldiers in
Revolt -- http://www.haymarketbooks.org/Merchant2/merchant.mv?
Meanwhile, at home, public
opinion has turned solidly against the war, again at an earlier stage
than happened during the Vietnam War. The U.S. every day is growing
more isolated in its continued occupation, with a number of countries
voting out prowar governments and the partners of the so-called Coalition
of the Willing dwindling. The costs of the war have mounted to the point
that some economic elites and also military planners are speaking out
about the harm the occupation is causing to perceived U.S. economic
and military interests. This opens cracks that the antiwar movement
needs to use to raise issues that the corporate establishment media
otherwise would ignore.
Much more needs to be done,
however, to raise the costs of this war. Much more is at stake for the
United States in Iraq today than was at stake in Vietnam. Iraq is far
more strategic a prize. Iraq has the world's second largest oil reserves
and in a region with the majority of oil and natural gas reserves, as
well as access to crucial trade routes. Iraqi crude is also of very
high quality, is easy to extract, and is exceptionally profitable --
at a time when each barrel of oil is getting more costly and difficult
to extract from the earth than the ones before.
If the United States were
defeated in Iraq, it would be a major reversal, and would affect Washington's
ability to intervene economically, politically, and militarily in the
affairs of other countries around the world. So we will have to do much
more than we have done to mobilize opposition at home, to encourage
and support soldiers who are speaking out, to disrupt recruitment for
the military, to confront the warmongers and the media that have protected
them from full scrutiny, to pressure the Congress to cut off funding
for the war, and to make connections between the war with other social
struggles in this country, of working and poor people, of immigrants,
of people concerned about civil liberties, and other people fighting
attacks on their communities. So much is at stake, not just for the
people of Iraq, but for people in this country -- and throughout the
KZ: Your book title
plays off the title of a book your colleague, Howard Zinn wrote -- Vietnam:
The Logic of Withdrawal -- why? And, why did you write the book?
AA: Before leaving South
End Press in 2002, I had the chance to republish some of Howard Zinn's
classic books, such as SNCC: The New Abolitionists -- http://www.southendpress.org/2004/items/SNCC
-- and Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal -- http://www.southendpress.org/2004/items/Vietnam.
I reread Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal at that time, as I was working
on an updated edition of my book Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact
of Sanctions and War -- http://www.southendpress.org/2004/items/Iraq
--, with another major assault on Iraq imminent. And as the invasion
and occupation unfolded, I was repeatedly reminded by the power of Howard's
argument in that book, in which he argued for the immediate and unconditional
withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. Howard's book, written in 1967,
was remarkably prescient. The war, however, continued for years after,
and to this day continues to kill and maim people through its toxic
legacy. Rather than retreat, the U.S. expanded the war into Laos and
Cambodia, with disastrous consequences (using similar arguments to the
one we hear more frequently now about Iraq and Syria supporting the
insurgency in Iraq). Literally millions of people needlessly lost their
lives. This history is vital to understanding Iraq today and to exposing
what the historian Sidney Lens called the "myth of American benevolence"
(in his remarkable book The Forging of the American Empire: http://www.haymarketbooks.org/Merchant2/merchant.mv?
I wrote my book in the hope
that it might help give people a sense of historical perspective on
the invasion of Iraq and that it might be a resource for the antiwar
movement. I also hope it can help encourage more people and organizations
in the antiwar to push for immediate withdrawal, rather than other proposals
that accept some variant of continued occupation and war.
KZ: What do you say
to those Democrats who say we cannot cut off funds for the war?
AA: You cannot oppose the war, as some Democrats have proclaimed, and
yet fund this war. That’s a complete contradiction. To those who
say we cannot withdraw “precipitously,” there is nothing
precipitous about pulling out after four years of occupying another
country against its will and in a situation where the occupying forces
are at the root of the instability and violence and is fueling a civil
war. To those Democrats who say cutting off funds would mean “abandoning”
the troops, the best way to support the troops is to bring them home
is director of DemocracyRising.US and a co-founder of VotersForPeace.US.
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