Between these wobbling scenarios, one thing is clear: the opposition to the US occupation among Iraqis is rising past the breaking point. This is the indisputable â€œsecretâ€ that the American media rarely reveals. The recently-leaked â€œProvisional Stability Assessmentâ€ reports â€œseriousâ€ or â€œcriticalâ€ security situations in six of Iraqâ€™s 18 provinces, including Baghdad and Basra. [NYT, April 8, 06], which means the invasion and occupation have failed to suppress the resistance in most of the country. More stunning, the percentage of all Iraqis favoring a timeline for US withdrawal has risen from thirty percent in February 2004 to 76 percent in February 2005 to 87 percent in February of this year. [NYT report of data collected by Brookings Institution, Mar. 19, 2006] This means, excluding the pro-American Kurds from the survey, virtually all other Iraqis favor a concrete timetable. There is no better measure than this data of the amoral bankruptcy of American policy. Our government has dispatched over 3,000 Americans to their death, and taken hundreds of billions from American taxpayers, for a conflict from which 87 percent of Iraqis want us to withdraw.
All of which means an opportunity for the peace movement in this yearâ€™s Congressional elections, where the most cynical of pundits acknowledge that Republicans are deeply worried, and the presidential year just around the corner. The strategy of pressuring the pillars of policy â€“ public opinion, military recruitment, congressional funding priorities, expensive oil dependency, and the faltering â€œcoalition of the willingâ€ â€“ is steadily working.
Amidst the agony, the opportunity exists for absorbing a deep public understanding that expeditionary wars like this one should never happen again. We no longer are a huddling minority, nor are we a coopted Beltway faction. We are immersed in the gradual soul-searching currents of the mainstream, where loss of direction is a constant risk.
There are some voices of despair among peace advocates. The invaluable Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector, believes the peace movement is actually losing, and needs a more centralized warrior-like direction. Others feel that all the marches have had no effect, while others feel the growing need to take up other issues. The despair is understandable given the loss of lives, but absolutely unjustified. When in the course of a movementâ€™s development it reaches the mainstream, the cause is adopted by millions, not by prophetic minorities. The radicals sometimes diappear in the midst of their own success.
Many activists are learning for the first time, or perhaps all over again, what it means to be winter soldiers in a long war. All the wasted lives can never be brought back, all those squandered tax dollars will never be redistributed, true enough. But if the war itself was never going to be a cakewalk, why should ending it be any different? It may still be far from over, with the simmering question of Iran on the immediate horizon. The fear of al-Qaeda continues to paralyze the American mind; one top Washington journalist even told me this week that the difference between withdrawing from Vietnam and from Iraq is that there was â€œno al-Qaeda threatâ€ back in the day, as if a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq somehow would increase the chances of al-Qaeda attacking New York again. [Whatâ€™s stopping them from doing it now, port security?]. It should be energizing to live on borrowed time.
At a similar point of despair during the late Sixties, few of us could see the gathering storm of public outrage over war and Watergate that would drive Nixon from the White House and terminate the funding of war. Overnight, the storm finally broke, but it had been building for years. That memory still resides as a dream for one side of the Sixties generation and as a nightmare for Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Just when the activists turned to rage, burnout or issues dearer to their lives, the great and mysterious force of public opinion was joining the movement to throw the bastards out for going too far, for lying too much, for wasting good money after bad and, above all, for encouraging Americans to die for no reason. That was the time that gave rise, unexpectedly, to John Kerry and the â€œVietnam syndromeâ€ that the establishment Machiavellians feared so much that they went to war one more time to try to stamp it out. â€œBy God, weâ€™ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for allâ€, declared President Bush â€“ fifteen years ago. Now the Syndrome is back, by God, and we should spread it everywhere, for today and for the future.
The peace movement should build a community of meaning to stay the course, as long as the syndrome of Empire exists. When you think about it, we are living at a tumultuous moment in a five-hundred year history of crusades, slavery, colonialism and patriarchy. When we act with personal urgency, as we should, it still brings results only gradually. When we take strong public stands, as we should, the effects are often unseen. When we become militant, as we should, we still reach the moderates only marginally. Connecting the dots of empire is hard, but rewarding. Imagining a new story, one beyond empire, will take time and work, but the work is good. The Machiavellians will never recognize the movementâ€™s work, or only in ways that we will not recognize. The recognition will be for historians and poets. Our reward, as Bobby Sands once wrote from prison, will be seen in the smiles of our children.
Tom Hayden | TruthDigÂ (read more. . .)