Notes for US Resistance to the Iraq War

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 toward empire.

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 don’t have the information or the ties to influence the resistance.

We should not call for “supporting the resistance” because we don’t know who most of them are and what they really stand for. And further, because of those we do know, we mostly don’t 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 legitimate.

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 attacks.

Most likely, this escalation will not look like what we’ve 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 world’s 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. There’s growing anger regarding poor preparation, insufficient equipment, and insufficient capacity among troops.

A 70 year-old dentist was recently called back to military service. There’s huge reliance on National Guard and reserves. Militarily, the Pentagon is seriously understaffed.

Our work: counter-recruitment and GI organizing and undermining stop loss. We’re 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 — don’t see the peace and justice movement as a force that can provide protection they need.

We have to work to undermine the Pentagon’s ability to keep people in the military and determine how they talk to their families when they go home. It’s 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 Rumsfeld’s vulnerability: money didn’t go to armoring humvees to protect GIs, only to more and better bombs to kill Iraqis.

Key constituencies: Congress, anti-corporate organizations, broad US people (especially with new polls indicating Bush’s 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 we’re not seeing much effort by the Democrats in undermining the Bush policies — don’t know if we can have much effect on the Democrats yet. But within the Republican Party there’s a growing division. Some right-wing Republicans say they’ve 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 can’t 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 Rumsfeld’s 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 Pentagon’s 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. It’s 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 aren’t 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.