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Iraq, the US and the World
Published on Friday, July 30, 2004 by The Nation
Iraq, the US and the World
by Katrina vanden Heuvel
 

Inside the Fleet Center this week, few speakers have engaged the fierce antiwar views of the vast majority of delegates.

Instead, activists and delegates flocked to panels and forums around Boston in order to debate and discuss the war, the occupation and what is to be done. On Wednesday afternoon, the Campaign for America's Future and The Nation co-sponsored a debate on "Iraq, The US and the World." Agreed: the debacle in Iraq has left America more isolated, more reviled and less safe. Panelists included Dennis Kucinich, who will work hard to elect Kerry, while continuing to speak out in support of the withdrawal of our troops and ending the occupation. Gary Hart, talked about the themes of his new book. He also welcomed a special guest. Robin Cook, the former British Foreign Minister, who courageously resigned on the eve of war to protest Tony Blair's decision, was in Boston for the convention. Referring to Cook's resignation, Hart lamented that in the old days "When people disagreed with policy, they used to resign in protest. What's happened to that tradition," he asked the crowd of some 400 people. ("Run, Robin, Run," people shouted in reply." ) Ambassador Joe Wilson --after listening to Kucinich talk of making nonviolence an organizing principle--asked if it was "okay to harbor just a bit of violence against a certain journalist?" (He was talking about Robert Novak, for those who've been living under a rock these last months.)

Barbara Lee, diminutive in stature, statuesque in her commitment to the Constitution and peace, laid out an alternative progressive foreign policy. She talked of how she had introduced House Resolution 141 to repeal preemptive war doctrine. (It has 40 co-sponsors), and House Resolution 3919, which states that no US tax dollars can be authorized to overthrow a democratically elected government. Look at Haiti, Lee said. "And we need a rational policy toward Cuba. Let us end the embargo against Cuba," she said to rousing applause from the crowd of some 400 people.

Tom Andrews of the Win Without War Coalition and Gayle Smith, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, also participated in the forum.

Like all such panels, time was running out when I stepped up to the podium. What follows below is a longer version of my hastily abbreviated remarks.

July 28, 2004, The Royal Sonesta Hotel, Cambridge, Massachusetts

One reason The Nation (magazine) is thriving is because so much of the media failed the American people in the run up to war. It failed to ask the tough questions. Robin cook's presence here reminds me of that press conference on the eve of war, when journalists acted more like courtiers at the court of King George than members of a free press. And we welcome Robin Cook to our shores, in these perilous times, and we will conscript him in our fight to oust this President, who on a good day acts like a secular monarch, and on rough days he acts like he's channeling god.

What is the single most important thing that we as Americans can do to advance a more just and secure world? Defeat George W. Bush and send him packing, back to the ranch in crawford. But it's not enough to defeat Bush. That is the first and crucial step.

Everyone in this room knows that after Kerry is elected there is much work ahead to build a compelling and democratic alternative national security policy that affirms the best of our values--including respect for the truth and international law.

This election is a referendum on an Administration that has led us into the greatest foreign policy failure in us history. It is a referendum on an adminstration that has squandered America's credibility while pursuing a faithbased foreign policy when it comes to evidence, and a messianic militarist one when it comes to action. Bush and his neocon accomplices have rolled back decades of bispartisan tradition with their preemptive war doctrine. Theirs is not a conservative foreign policy; it is a radical and reckless one. While hijacking our foreign policy, Bush and his people have violated the most essential trust in a democracy and taken Americans into an illegal and unecessary war based on manipulated intelligence, repetitions of baseless claims and the persistent use of fear.

But what is hopeful, as we meet this afternoon, is that a majority of Americans now believe that the war was a mistake. A majority of Americans have turned against the war. And they have done so with precious little leadership from our politicians.

A majority of Americans understand that the war has made America less safe, not more secure. That it has made us more isolated, reviled and hated than at any time in our history. That is a view shared by a wide range of establishment sources--from the british inst for strategic studies, which concluded in a recent study that the war has led to accelerated recruitment in Al Qaeda; to anonymous, the CIA counterterrorist analyst, who put it plainly, " the war has been a christmas gift to Osama bin Laden." Then there are the establishment dissenters. The leading diplomats and military officials who worked in reagan and Bush one Administration who recently issued a powerful statement indicting this admin for damaging our national security.

A majority of Americans believe the war was a mistake because:

--20,000 US troops have had their tours of duty extended. Redeployment has been met with widespread anger among military families and active-duty personnel.

--A majority of US troops report low morale. The military is stretched thin, seriously thin. There is talk of reviving the draft.

**Consider the mounting costs in blood and money.

* More than 900 US troops have died since Bush declared "the end of major combat" in his infamous "mission accomplished' speech in may 2003. Another ugly landmark was passed early this week--the 10,000 wounded mark. Imagine--over 10,000 wounded Americans in a war our military and political leadership now say may last years. The costs to the Iraqi people have also been tragic. Over 11,000 Iraqi civilians have died in conflict so far--many of them children.

* The United States has already spent some $126 billion on the war, costing every American family about $3400 each. As the camp for am's future has pointed out, this admin has socked it to hardworking families on two fronts--Bush passed his massive tax cuts that gave a huge break to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, and then when he went to war, Bush asked the same working and middle class families who bore the brunt of the tax cuts to pay for the conflict. Meanwhile contract cronies masquerading as companies like halliburton are making a killing in Iraq after receiving no bid contracts from the federal government.

*For the $152 billion Congress has allocated for the war, the United States could have provided healthcare for 27 million Americans --or we could have spent the $151 million on food for half the hungry people in the world for two years; plus a comprehensive global aids program plus clean water for all in the developing world; plus childhood immunizations for every child in the developing world; or we could have committed to helping the middle east create the 100 million jobs it will need over next 15 years just to keep up with the youthful populations--thus addressing the root causes of instability in this turbulent world. America could once again become a source of hope and use its power in constructive, intelligent ways.

The work of building a clear, credible and compelling alternative to the messianic militaristic policies of the Bush Administration. Is the tough and critical job of those who opposed this senseless war, those citizens' groups and movements and media who have fought for years for a more democratic and enlightened foreign policy ...It is those people, groups who gave Kerry and the party the energy and backbone in the months before we arrived here in boston. And when we elect Kerry President we're not going away.

For us, peace is not off message. It is the message.

We will work for a Kerry victory because it will mean a necessary repudiation of those who have hijacked our security and foreign policy. But we have no illusions about a Kerry presidency. As we have learned from hard trial and error, progressives must gear up to hold a democratic Administration accountable and be perpared to fight pitched battles to forward progressive reforms whether in economic policy or security policy. But Kerry in the white house will enable progressives to go from defense to offense. And though Kerry was wrong to vote to give Bush the authority to make war in Iraq, and he has failed to call for an end to the us occupation, he challenges Bush's preemptive war doctrine and promises a foreign policy that will be tempered by alliances, international cooperation and the rule of law. He offers Americans an Administration that will be able to revive America's influence as a source of hope not fear and resentment and enlist its allies, and more willing to address the broader threats to us security--from catastrophic climate change to the trade in loose nukes.

But the central issue of our political and historical moment is an end to the occupation of Iraq. If it isn't ended, it will bleed both our forces, as well as the Iraqi people--and our country of resources for our own domestic reconstruction.

The Bush Administration bears heavy responsibility for the fact that the options in Iraq today are bad, worse and much worse. We cannot easily rebuild what the Bush Administration has broken, but a fundamental course correction is urgently needed. Slogans about "staying the course" are a prescription for inflaming the region while polarizing the us and undermining us global leadership. America needs a roadmap out of Iraq, one that as senator byrd has said, "is orderly and astute, else more of our men and women in uniform will follow the fate of tennyson's doomed light brigade." It is time to change course --not stay the course.

The costs of continuing the occupation outweigh the risks of a phased and responsible withdrawal.

The occupation, like other occupations throughout history, has generated instability and violence and a growing popular resistance that cannot be defeated militarily. The longer the us military presence lasts, the more likely it is that the Iraqi resistance will intensify. Even leading us generals admit this cannot be won militarily.

Occupation and its abuses are creating new recruiting tools for terrorists in the region; while we neglect hotbeds of terrorist activity along the pakistan-afghan border. It will trap the us and the un in a spiral of unending violence, as the standoffs in Fallujah and Najaf have demonstrated.

*Yes, arguably withdrawal may leave Iraq a failed state or lead to some form of civil war. But an extended American occupation may only result in an intensified guerrilla war and attract every disillusioned muslim fanatic to Iraq to fight the American infidel, which would produce the same or even worse result. A well-coordinated withdrawal is more likely to deprive these extremists of a pretext and a context for future attacks. Egyptian President Mubarak warned that a us invasion would create "a hundred bin Ladens" and the longer we stay , the more such extremism will be fostered. It is our respect for the will of the Iraqi people that will deprive islamic radicals of their greatest rallying cry. On balance, staying the course will only doom more Americans and Iraqis to die for a dubious cause at costs we can ill afford.

And, tragically, if Kerry stays the course, it may well destroy any of the hopes he has of revitalizing our nation domestically.

To call for a coherent exit strategy is not to abandon Iraq or its people. There are still many things that the us can do. Continued economic assistance is one. Another is to help the un and international organizations assist in the transition to a new political order. But all combat operations should cease and then, on a fixed and announced timetable, us forces should withdraw in as orderly, responsible way as is possible from the country. In short, the us working with others, should give Iraqis their best chance to succeed in their own efforts to create their own future. No permanent us bases, no meddling with their legal codes to put fix in for us multinationals, no shameless war profiteering by halliburton.

I believe that each additional day that American troops continue to fight in Iraq can only compound the eventual price of the original mistake--costing more lives, pulverizing the society, contributing to the spiral of violence and animus toward the us, and reducing, not fostering, any chances for a better future for the country.

There are important lessons for an alternative security policy in the tragedy of the reckless strategic crusade in Iraq:

1/ we have seen the limits of American military power to achieve any reasonable political goals, certainly not at an acceptable cost. As Nation columnist jonathan schell has masterfully demonstrated in his latest book, the war system has reached a point that using war as primary goal to resolve differences does as much harm to those that employ force as it does to those on the receiving end. It is just common sense to acknowledge that most of today's international security threats are not susceptible to military solution or will provoke local resistance that is far more potent than are American capabilities. We desperately need a new definition of security in a vulnerable and interconected world. Overwhelming military power is ill suited to dealing with the central challenges we face: stateless terrorists with global reach, the worst pandemic in human history, the spread of WMD. Insecure and decrepit nuclear arsenals in the former Soviet Union, genocidal conflict and hunger afflicting africa, the degradation of our common environment, transnational crime, and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality.

As we work to end the occupation, let us also fight for a more constructive and intelligent use of American power.Let us unshackle our imaginations.

In this context, imagine an Administration which would use America's power to:

  • Lead a global campaign to meet the un's milennium goal of halving world poverty, cutting child mortality by two-thirds and guaranteeing every child primary education by 2015.
  • Strengthen multilateral and verifiable arms control treaties that curb WMDs, while at same time promoting nuclear disarmament and international demilitarization.
  • End dependence on foreign oil and invest in the development of alternative energy sources--and commit to the campaign for America's "Apollo Project" on energy indpependence.
  • Build up the capacities of the united nations to prevent and contain conflict.
  • Ratify the scores of treaties the us has subverted these last two years--from Kyoto to the international criminal court, to the anti-ballistic missile treaty.

Or consider these positive steps an enlightened adminsitration might take:

  1. Declare that it will hold Israel accountable to international law and to un security council resolutuions, and that it will move quickly to a UN quartet-sponsored summit to bring about a final settlement with the taba maps as the starting point of final negotiations.
  2. Establish, with the European Union and major Asian developed nations, a job creation and development fund aimed at creating 100 million jobs in the greater Middle East by the year 2020. The development fund woulf finance a combination of public investment projects, smaller regional funds for small business and home development, and public education. Arab oil-producing countries would be asked to match Americans, european and japanese contributions.
  3. Move quickly to a non-conditional detente policy with Iran and announce that it will support un talks aimed at creating a non-nuclear weapons zone in the Middle East.
  4. Announce that it will support with money and expertise a new UN department of state-building for overseeing failed states and for assuming responsibility for afghanistan and Iraq.

None of us here today wish to complicate--or oppose--the campaign of senator John Kerry. We must defeat Bush. But those of us, the millions who rallied to oppose this war, must stand for what we believe and become an independent factor/force that will fight in these coming months for an end to an occupation that is the result of a mistaken war.

Copyright © 2004 The Nation

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