Notes for US Resistance to the
by Phyllis Bennis
Phyllis Bennis, a long-time analyst of Middle East issues, is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. Her most recent publication is Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer (2003). These reflections are directed to colleagues and activists. Bennis overview may help us shape our agenda for 2005.
Iraq continues to be the centerpiece of our broader campaign for peace and
justice because the Iraq war is now the centerpiece of US policy and its drive
Our job in the peace and justice movement is to identify and heighten the pressures
making the war and occupation more difficult for the US to fight.
Certainly the single most important factor undermining the US war is the Iraqi
resistance. We recognize the RIGHT of the Iraqi people to resist, even if we
do not endorse specific resistance organizations or tactics. But we dont
have the information or the ties to influence the resistance.
We should not call for supporting the resistance because we dont know who most of them are and what they really stand for. And further, because of those we do know, we mostly dont support their social program beyond opposition to the occupation.
Do we support the January 30 Iraqi election?
We support the idea of elections,
but not this election. An election
held under occupation, an election designed to put in place a US puppet government
and legitimize an illegitimate occupation such an election cannot be
Regardless of whether there is some support in Iraq for the election, our job is here in the US. We need to expose US goals for the election and work to delegitimize them.
US military strategy. Conditions
in Iraq are worsening. The US is committed to trying to wipe out the Iraqi resistance
before the January 30 election. That means continuing escalation of US military
Most likely, this escalation will not look like what weve seen over the last few months, with the large-scale assaults on Fallujah and elsewhere. It will likely not take the form of huge, escalated attacks in one place that can grab the worlds attention. Rather, it will likely take the shape of smaller attacks in different places.
We must identify deficits in US war policy, and especially the fissures within sectors of support for the war. Our job is to widen those fissures.
The military personnel deficit.
Much of the total US military force is now tied up in Iraq. Rising casualties
among US military means that morale is sinking, that recruitment and retention
are more difficult. Theres growing anger regarding poor preparation, insufficient
equipment, and insufficient capacity among troops.
A 70 year-old dentist was recently called back to military service. Theres
huge reliance on National Guard and reserves. Militarily, the Pentagon is seriously
Our work: counter-recruitment and GI organizing and undermining stop loss.
Were not a nation at war this was a war of choice. We need to rebuild
the GI coffeehouse movement (during the Viet Nam anti-war movement coffeehouses,
near military bases, were storefronts where you could get coffee, hang out,
and military lawyers would provide draft counseling; to protect GIs, there would
be do-you-know-your-rights flyers, etc.)
So far most military people even those questioning Pentagon policy about
the military itself, but not yet questioning the legitimacy of the war
dont see the peace and justice movement as a force that can provide protection
We have to work to undermine the Pentagons ability to keep people in
the military and determine how they talk to their families when they go home.
Its long-term, but we could see significant results quickly.
Key constituencies: military families, veterans organizations, counter-recruitment activists.
The financial deficit. The costs
of war are mounting. It creates a huge problem for the White House when it has
to go back to Congress to request $100 billion more at the same time the reality
of the problems of how the money is spent is on the front pages.
US corporations close to the Bush administration are increasingly seen as getting
the bulk of the money. The UN is criticizing US diversion of Iraqi oil funds
to pay US contractors (Halliburton, Bechtel, others) while ignoring the needs
of Iraqi contractors and workers (and failing to actually reconstruct anything).
The lack of reconstruction, the insufficient personal protection for US soldiers,
the impact on other government programs and the huge overall deficit as a result
of the high spending on the Iraq war all of these are important in challenging
the appropriation of more funds.
We must focus on pressuring Congress against the appropriations bill (likely
to come up in February). Note Rumsfelds vulnerability: money didnt
go to armoring humvees to protect GIs, only to more and better bombs to kill
Key constituencies: Congress, anti-corporate organizations, broad US people (especially with new polls indicating Bushs approval rate is down and disapproval for the war is up [57%].)
Deficit in protection and real support for US troops.
The Administration is more and more vulnerable as the military community speaks
out. Issues include: lack of protective gear, stop-loss laws, forcible returning
to service of veterans (the back-door draft), long deployments for
reservists and national guard, high rate of mental and emotional disorder in
returning vets, lack of sufficient veteran healthcare.
To maximize, we need to keep organizations like Military Families Speak Out
and the new Iraq Veterans Against the War at center stage in our mobilizations.
But we also need to provide concrete support to those organizations, particularly
with help in funding and staff.
We should note that US concern about human costs in the war has not yet focused on the huge numbers of Iraqi civilian casualties. This is true despite the (short-lived) flurry around the John Hopkins study published in the British medical journal, Lancet, which estimated 100,000 Iraqi war casualties. [See Moral deficit below.]
Political and credibility deficit.
So far were not seeing much effort by the Democrats in undermining the
Bush policies dont know if we can have much effect on the Democrats
yet. But within the Republican Party theres a growing division. Some right-wing
Republicans say theyve lost confidence in Rumsfeld; a few (including some
neo-cons like William Kristol) are even calling for Rumsfeld to be fired.
Rumsfeld personifies the war. Bush cant get rid of him because that would
admit that the war itself has become a liability. (So far one of the only right-wingers
to come out in clear defense of Rumsfeld has been Richard Perle, arch neo-con
and former Pentagon adviser, who has been virtually silent since corporate-related
scandal forced him out of Rumsfelds Defense Policy Board earlier in 2004.)
A December 21 Washington Post poll indicates 56% think Rumsfeld should
be fired, 49% disapprove of Bush as president, 57% believe the war was not worth
fighting. We need to figure out how to strengthen this popular opposition, perhaps
linking it with growing elite and particularly right-wing opposition.
Key constituencies: Democrats, who so far have failed to seriously critique the war, and peace movement sectors with ties to the Democrats.
International deficit. The appointment
of Condoleezza Rice to replace Powell means the end of popular illusions (in
Europe and the Middle East in particular) that the Bush administration has separate
views or that there is a rational semi-multilateralist voice within the
administration. This clarifies the reality of the unified unilateralist thrust
of US policy.
Key constituencies: global peace movement, European and other governments, UN.
Moral deficit. The Pentagons
lack of concern over GIs especially being killed. The Pentagon ignores the rising
casualties among Iraqis civilians and demonstrates the fallacy of the Iraqis
are better off today argument. Its likely that the Iraq election
will be widely seen as illegitimate because of occupation-linked violence making
it impossible for large numbers of people to vote.
Our challenge is to raise the issue of Iraqi civilian casualties both
direct casualities of occupation forces and those that are occupation-related.
(When the resistance attacks civilians it usually seems to be targeting civilians
viewed as collaborating with the occupation.)
Key constituencies: We need a sharper strategy for reaching faith-based communities, particularly mainstream churches. (The peace churches are with us, but need to broaden their campaigns.) Many mainstream churches have taken positions, but arent mobilizing their base. How about coordinating a national day for local coalitions of religious leaders to preach against the war on the same weekend?
Democracy deficit. The destruction
of civil liberties [e.g. the Patriot Acts and the militarization of the police]
is coming under increasing scrutiny. Such destruction undermines the claim that
the US is fighting for democracy in Iraq.
Key constituencies: civil liberties, immigrant rights, people of color organizations.
What Does Our Movement Need for this Work?
Internationalism: serious networking, engaging and intersecting with the global peace movement.
Linkage with Israel/Palestine question: crucial issue of dual occupations. The peace movement has accomplished important initial educational and mobilization work in normalizing the issue within the broader peace and justice movement, but needs to do more to make links.
Organizing strategies: beyond giant national actions, we must figure out ways to heighten the deficits/challenges facing US strategy, and educating about those rising costs and deficits. The March 19 [second anniversary of the beginning of the invasion] mobilization will be key.
Grassroots media and training: we can look at the model of the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation in organizing regional training sessions in five/six state regions. Those trainings provide basic skills in media and in outreach/education and advocacy but they also mobilize and energize movement activists still paralyzed with post-election depression.
Speaking tours: probably a good idea, but they have to be linked with outreach and media strategies and not just be educational. Our national movement, centered in United For Peace & Justice (UFPJ), needs to link local and regional organizing efforts into a national peace movement able to speak with one voice, one message.