Despite increased preparation for war, there is a growing perception that a U.S. invasion of Iraq can be stopped.
There is little question that were it not for the anti-war movement, the
United States would have gone to war against Iraq already. It was the
strength of opposition to plans for a unilateral U.S. invasion that forced the Bush Administration to go to the UN in the first place. So far, Iraqi compliance with the United Nations weapons inspectors has made it extremely difficult for the administration to proceed with its war plans.
UN Security Council resolution 1441 - written by and pushed through by the United States to strengthen the power of UN inspections and weaken the ability of Iraq to evade them - was modified before passage so that military action to enforce the resolution is possible only with explicit Security Council authorization. In order for such authorization to go forward, Iraq would have to do something rather brazen and stupid which
- while it certainly cannot be ruled out - has thus far forced a reluctant Saddam Hussein to cooperate with the new inspections regime.
This does not mean that the Bush Administration - which has repeatedly shown its contempt for international law - would not proceed with an invasion anyway. In October, the U.S. Congress, with support of both the Republican and Democratic leadership, granted President Bush the authority to invade Iraq without UN Security Council authorization. This war resolution was illegal, however, since such an invasion would violate the United Nations Charter, which was signed and ratified by the United States; Article VI of the U.S. Constitution declares such international treaties as "supreme law."
The Bush Administration has demonstrated, however, that they do not have great respect for the Constitution either. What, then, might be able to stop an invasion?
Again, it would be the strength of anti-war opposition.
Already, a number of Democrats who supported the war resolution are now advising the administration to avoid a rush to war, fearing that a resurgent Green Party - which, unlike the Democratic Party, opposed authorizing an invasion of Iraq - could capture enough liberal votes to cause their defeat in the next election.
Some top military brass and career officials in the Department of Defense are quietly but firmly expressing their opposition to the war, recognizing that an invasion of Iraq would be the most complicated and bloody U.S. military operation since Vietnam. This, in turn, would strengthen anti-war opposition further. The Vietnam War taught the U.S. military that it should not fight in any major war without the backing of the majority of the American public. Currently, the U.S. military is one of the most respected institutions in America. They do not want to go back to the days when military recruiters could not even show up on college campuses without demonstrations breaking out. As military officials, they will certainly obey the orders of their commander-in-chief if called into combat. However, the more anti-war forces grow, the greater the U.S. military will be concerned about its own institutional self-preservation.
The intelligence wing of the Central Intelligence Agency - unlike the operations wing - is composed largely of professionals whose concerns are less ideological than they are with protecting American security. Their studies have not only failed to hold up most of the administration's efforts to portray Iraq as a threat to the United States, their cost/benefit analyses have shown that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would threaten rather than protect American interests.
In effect, we have the ironic situation where the most significant allies of the peace movement in Washington, DC are the Pentagon and the CIA. They are very influential actors in foreign policy decision-making and could potentially allow cooler heads to prevail.
Indeed, they are joined in their opposition by top foreign and defense policy officials from former Republican administrations, including Lawrence Eagleburger, Brent Scowcroft and Anthony Zinni.
There is also the international factor: While a number of America's key European allies are willing to grant rights to use bases on their soil for re-supply and provide other logistical assistance for war against Iraq in the event of United Nations authorization, there is considerable skepticism regarding a unilateral U.S. invasion. Despite this, these European governments, particularly those who still feel indebted to the United States for the role of American forces in liberating them from Nazism during World War II, are sensitive about appearing anti-American for speaking out against a unilateral war.
The more European governments and other allied governments see a visible American anti-war movement, however, the more they will recognize that opinion is so divided that it would be harder to view such opposition to the war as anti-American. For example, in response to an internationally-broadcast disruption of then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's speech at Ohio State University in 1998 advocating war with Iraq, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak observed that if the administration could not even convince Ohio, how could they be expected to convince Egypt?
Public opinion polls have consistently shown that while the majority of Americans are supportive of the idea of a U.S. invasion of Iraq to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, only a minority would support such a war if it came without authorization of the United Nations, without the active participation of allied militaries, or if it resulted in high American casualties. Since all three of these appear very likely at this point, it is not unreasonable to assert that the majority of the American public opposes the Bush Administration's plans to unilaterally launch a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. Indeed, polls have shown support for war declining.
The anti-war movement is strong and is growing. Already, the major national demonstrations against a U.S. invasion of Iraq - which hasn't yet happened - have been larger than those against the Vietnam War during the first three years of heavy fighting by American soldiers. Anti-war activities on college campuses are also significantly greater than during that same period. This is particularly significant since this comes despite the fact that today's college students are not living in fear for their personal safety through the draft.
The Roman Catholic bishops and virtually all major Protestant denominations have come out against a U.S. invasion, whereas it was not until the last few years of the Vietnam War that so many churches came out with an anti-war position. While the U.S. labor movement was hawkish to the bitter end of the Vietnam War, several major labor unions are also now on record in opposition to a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The economic impact of an invasion of Iraq - which could costs upwards to $200 billion and could be significantly more should there be a long-term U.S. military occupation and administration - has raised serious concerns among economists and business leaders. As the federal deficit grows, domestic programs cut, and states are struggling with unprecedented deficits, the economic impact of the war could be staggering. On January 13, a group of Republican businessmen took out a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal denouncing the war and a number of governors facing huge budget shortfalls have joined the ranks of administration critics.
Today's anti-war movement is far more diverse in terms of women and people of color in positions of leadership. Increasing numbers of poor and working class people are becoming involved in anti-war activities, recognizing that it is their loved ones who will be doing most of fighting and dying and it is they who will be disproportionately affected by the inevitable cutbacks in social programs made necessary by this incredibly expensive military adventure. The diverse age range of the anti-war movement is also a significant indicator of its strength, blending the experience of activists from the 1960s and earlier with the energy and creativity of younger activists.
Despite all this, the Bush Administration may still decide to forge ahead with its planned invasion. It is far from inevitable, however, and there are increasing signs that this war can indeed be stopped before it starts.
Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He is Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project and is the author of the recently released book Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (www.commoncouragepress.com).