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Ending the War in 2009

by Tom Hayden

Let me tell you what the supporters of endless occupation are worried about. A Washington think tank, the Center for a New American Security, whose board includes Madeline Albright, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon recently warned that

The transition from president bush is getting more and more problematic as the American people continue to lose confidence in the Iraq War and step up their pressure on candidates from both parties. If no bipartisan consensus is reached before the Democratic and Republican primaries, the next president will likely be elected principally on a "get out of Iraq" platform. The political space to do otherwise is shrinking by the day."

Contrary to their worries, I thought: What a great prospect, that the American people through the democratic process can force the end of this war, can discredit the neo-conservatives agenda, can defeat the Bush-Cheney legacy, can rebuke hawkish mentality in both parties, and can drive the discussion of our future. I have written Ending the War in Iraq to hasten this possibility.

The conventional thinking that led us into quagmire is the same conventional thinking that says today that while it was a mistake to invade in 2003 it would be a bigger mistake to ever leave. These are not just White House flacks or Bush administration dead-enders, but friends we respect such as James Fallows has written -

I have come to this sobering conclusion. The United States can best train Iraqis, and therefore best help itself leave Iraq, only by making a long-term commitment to stay.

Too many are governed by the paradigm that we can never "stand down" until the Iraqis themselves "stand up", that we have to fight the insurgency to create space for the Iraqi government to become stable enough to secure itself, and only then can we leave.

The truth being denied is that we have funded, equipped, and trained a Frankenstein monster, and now multiple frankensteins, and they are indeed standing up. In any other conflict, the Iraqi regime and security forces would be called a police state. Yet we remain in denial because the truth would undermine the war's very rationale.. Even today, a prestigious military commission headed by General Jones reports that the Iraqi police force is hopelessly sectarian and should be scrapped. The media denial is evident in the coverage: the ninth paragraph on page 8 of the New York Times, the 25th paragraph on page 8 of the LA Times.

This is not new news. The Baker-Hamilton report last year said that the Iraqi police "routinely engage in sectarian violence, including the unnecessary detention, torture and targeted execution of Sunni Arab civilians."

The illusion is that the sectarian militias are outside the Iraqi state and must be reined in, when the reality is that the biggest militias are inside the interior ministry, inside the army, police and secret prisons, particularly the Badr Brigade which belongs to SCIRI, the dominant party in the ruling coalition we put in power. Nineteen billion of our tax dollars have been spent on building the Iraqi security system.

It gets worse. As encouraged by Gen. Petraeus a few years ago, at least 190,000 American-made AK-47s and 370,000 small arms sent Iraq are unaccounted for, most of them without serial numbers. This mass distribution of weapons was deliberate, not accidental, according to the GAO and Special Inspector General.

The illusion is that we are preventing a sectarian civil war when the reality is that, in the best British tradition, we have been fomenting and feeding a civil war which will fragment, subdivide and eliminate the basis of Arab nationalism in Iraq.

The intellectual proponent of this division is Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, an on-the-ground adviser to Gen. Petraeus. Biddle writes that the US should support both sides in the civil war. We should arm the Sunnis to gain leverage against the very Shi'a we put in power, and we should increase the Shi'a ability to create mass violence as an incentive for the Sunnis to compromise on their demand to end the occupation. This was written in Foreign Affairs magazine in 2006. The much-touted Petreaus plan to further divide Iraq by helping Sunnis fight other Sunnis in Anbar and Diyala provinces is little more than Kit Carson's plan to arm the Ute mercenaries against the Navajo over a century ago. I make the comparison because the Sunni fighters on the US payroll are even called the "Kit Carson Scouts."

All this is against current law, the Leahy Amendment of 1997 which expressly forbids US military assistance to governments or security forces that are known to be human rights violators. Why is this provision being ignored? Is it like the claim that violence is going down in parts of Baghdad, because there are fewer people for the death squads to kill. Will a day come when there will be no more human rights violations because there will be no more Iraqis with human rights to violate?

Fortunately, a few members of Congress - Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey - and one liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, want to stop our taxes going for torture. Their HR 3134, just introduced, would require the end of all funding of the Iraqi army and police forces unless expressly approved by a vote of Congress. We need the media and groups like the clergy and the ACLU to pay attention to this developing issue. Americans may be uneasy about immediately cutting off funding for American troops in the field, but would be opposed to taxes going for secret torture chambers and ethnic cleansing.

There is a gaping hole in the major peace proposals from Baker-Hamilton to Feingold-Reid to Clinton and Obama. All the discussion is about withdrawing combat troops while leaving thousands of American troops as trainers and advisers to these feuding sectarian and dysfunctional Iraqi security forces. This is not a recipe for ending the war, but for turning it into a low-visibility, lower-casualty conflict like Afghanistan.

Partial troop reducaions may diminish public attention during the election year - that will be partly up to us - but are unlikely to alter the course of the war. It is hard to imagine fewer American troops, embedded as trainers and secret commandos, succeeding militarily where 162,000 could not.

So what's the answer? In the debate on Capitol Hill, I favor setting a withdrawal deadline, which is the only way to begin the shift away from a military model to a conflict resolution model. But a deadline is not enough. I interviewed former CIA director John Deutch about a rational exit plan, and he stressed two essentials: [1] that the US has to decide to withdraw, which it has not, and [2] he stressed diplomacy with Iran, which he called the only country that could cause trouble during our withdrawal. He was implying negotiations with Iran to obtain what Richard Nixon once called a "decent interval" for the US to leave Vietnam.

We should call for a shift from warmaking to peacemaking through a diplomatic offensive, declaring a firm intention to withdraw all American troops and bases on a one-year timetable, which would create an immediate incentive for engagement on the part of Iran, Syria, the Arab League, the Europeans, Russians and Chinese, the UN. No one has an interest in joining the US in the occupation; everyone has a interest in minimizing a power vacuum as we leave. The issues to be resolved will be humanitarian assistance to 3-4 million refugees, economic reconstruction, and protection of all Iraqis from unrestrained vendettas. America should offer to assist by appointing a peace envoy and offering billions in reconstruction. The horrific damage cannot be undone but can be contained and mitigated.

Of course our government is following the absolute opposite course from that proposed by Deutch, and even has drawn up contingency plans for a possible escalation to Iran. Many of the neo-conservatives continue to push, as in Vietnam, for escalation as the solution to quagmire.

It is here that the force of public opinion really matters in the coming year, and election year when public opinion becomes most important to decision-makers.

I find that the peace movement has been misunderstood and underestimated these past five years.

This is partly because we are governed by past image of peace movements as strictly outside protests in the streets as during Vietnam. But those were times of deep exclusion, when many could not vote and were structurally outside the institutions. The image of a defiant draft-card burner or bleeding demonstrator remains in our heads when in reality the typical resister today is an outraged blogger.

Not that we haven't been in the streets. On nine occasions, more than 100,000 people have assembled, several times in numbers closer to 500,000.

Nearly 200 city councils and legislatures have voted to oppose the war.

Public opinion came to view Iraq as a mistake more rapidly that the public did during Vietnam, according to Gallup surveys.

Cindy Sheehan and other military families have neutralized the old claims that the peace movement is against the troops.

Howard Dean shocked the Democratic Party when he became the Eugene McCarthy of 2003.

Michael Moore shocked everyone when his Farenheit set unprecedented box office records in 2004.

Robert Greeenwald's videos and YouTube spots reach hundreds of thousands of people.

Fifty thousand people listen to Amy Goodman's and Juan Gonzales "war and peace report" every morning in LA.

The Dixie Chicks stood their ground in Texas, defeated blacklisting, and still aren't ready to make nice.

Members of MoveOn.org contributed $180 million to candidates in 2003-2004.

The 2004 election was the first in our history when the American voters turned out a Congressional majority over a war in progress.

Whether impeachment happens or not, the Bush Administration is being impeached in installments - Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby, Gonzales - they have failed to make Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame the Daniel Ellsbergs of this war.

The peace movement is suffering from success, not failure. There can be an identity crisis when marginalized people suddenly find themselves in the majority, but that is where we are.

I can hear some of you asking, How can we consider ourselves successful when Iraqis and Americans are dying every minute, when the juggernaut continues, when, when the system that produced Iraq is gearing up for Iran? All I can ask is that you not let the suffering break you, not let the suffering push you down ineffective roads, but turn the pain into a controlled and strategic rage that creates ripple effects towards justice.

The year 2009 will be decisive. This week comes the debate over the surge. Next week the president's recommendations. Then the elusive search among the politicians for bipartisan consensus. Then the appropriations bill, then the new request for next year's war funding, then the presidential primaries, all of that in the next six months. Then in April, comes the projected breaking point for the armed forces, when some troop withdrawals will have to begin or tours of duty extended to intolerable lengths. Then the political conventions in the protest-friendly cities of Denver and Minneapolis, and then the campaign itself.

Step by step, we all need to ensure that ending the war is the issue on which the elections turn.

Activists need to apply people pressure to the pillars of the policy: the pillars of public opinion, the pillar of budget funding, the pillar of military recruitment, the pillar of international support. The keys are simple.. Build the memberships of our local campaigns. Persuade more voters to demand rapid withdrawal as a condition of their support. Meet and confront military recruiters before they take more of our children. Reach our and form coalitions for a progressive budget. Whatever the candidates say, the war in Iraq cannot be sustained as these pillars - voter support, infinite funding, ample troops and reserves - continue to crumble and fall. As the costs, including the costs of protest and a persistent public opinion, finally outweigh the perceived benefits, I believe the cold and rational elements of the establishment will decide to cut their losses.

Big donors - those who contribute many millions to the so-called 527 independent issue committees - can make a huge difference in ending the war this time instead of avoiding the issue as they did in 2004. This year the independent committees can fund television, radio, and grass-roots campaigns to force the issue in targeted precincts all across the country. There is the potential of having the best-funded peace movement in our history.

A peace movement that can make a real difference by door-knocking and phone calls to impact close elections, protests against recruiters trying to take our children, and building coalitions with all the groups like teachers and health care workers whose needs are ignored by the $200 million per day that goes to war.

A peace movement that not only demands but deserves an alliance with environmentalists because the center of the fight against global warming is the war over the oil fields of the Middle East.

A peace movement that demands and deserves an alliance with labor and consumers because the center of the fight for fair trade and against corporate privatization is Iraq where all government protections are being stripped away before the coming of the US and British oil companies.

A peace movement that demands and deserves the support of all believers in democracy because the makers of war and the National Security State are the greatest threat to our civil liberties today.

And finally, a peace movement that encourages the lessons of this war in order to prevent future undemocratic aggressions whether in the Middle East or Venezuela.

Iraq is the focal point for confronting the great issues of our future. The fight is on. As Bobby Sands, the Irish hunger striker used to say, everyone has a part to play, and our reward will be seen in the smiles of the children.

Tom Hayden is a former state senator and leader of Sixties peace, justice and environmental movements. He currently teaches at Pitzer College in Los Angeles. His books include The Port Huron Statement [new edition], Street Wars and The Zapatista Reader.

 

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