Re-injecting the war and occupation into our work

David McDonald dbmcdonald at
Thu Aug 21 11:50:34 MDT 2003

I would like to use this list in a new way, or at least one I haven't seen
before. What follows is an email I would like to send to all the Puget Sound
antiwar groups, motivating a meeting to begin planning an October 25th
demonstration in Seattle, but I would like to have interested readers of the
list comment on it to help me perfect it. This is not high intellectual
work, let it be said, but I will surely appreciate the efforts made.
Off-list replies to dbmcdonald at are fine if this subject tries
the list's patience.

David McDonald

Here's my first draft:

Below are excerpts from a recent (July 31) address by Democratic Sen. Joseph
Biden of Delaware to the Brooking Institute.

I am posting these excerpts to begin a discussion of why our movement, as
the subject line of this email indicates, needs to bring the question of the
war and occupation of Iraq to the fore of our work.

Tomorrow's and Saturday's (Aug 22 & 23rd) events are entirely devoid of
antiwar content, as far as I have been able to discover. I have not
discovered the slightest mention of Iraq, let alone a call for what I
believe is the correct thing, which is the immediate withdrawal of US troops
from Iraq and an end to the US occupation. (Hopefully the bombing of the UN
headquarters may be causing some of those who have advocated the replacement
of US with UN forces to re-assess their view of how welcome that change
would be to the masses of Iraqis, but that is a question that can be
addressed only after we have decided to talk about Iraq openly to the people
of the Puget Sound.)

First, we (SNOW, NION, JWJ, Church Council, ANSWER, EVERYBODY) are an
antiwar movement. We cannot stop a war we are afraid to name.

I believe Iraq has disappeared from our work because people think it is a
divisive issue, a focus on which will divide the forces that can be massed
to oppose the re-election of President Bush. Having privately raised this
point with one experienced antiwar activist in a recent e-mail, I received
the following reply:

"Now, as I mentioned earlier, I believe that opposition to Bush is an issue
that appeals to a majority of people more than does the war. I absolutely do
not want a president in office, no matter what party he may be affiliated
with, to be in support of the war. However, I had much rather have a
president in office who supports the war and disagrees with privatizing the
national park service, cutting 270 million to federal student loans, and
supports health care than what we have now.
"David, being an idealist it is hard for me to compromise. At the same time,
I realize that the best way to oust Bush from office is to appeal to those
whom his policies have hurt the most. The fact is that while I want to end
the war IMMEDIATELY, I also want to put an end to the thousands of people
dying due to inadeqaute health care, the hundreds dying in the desert on the
Mexican border due to newly enforced immigration restrictions, I want to see
an end to a rising jobless rate, and I want to see a president who will
reinstate the US position on the Kyoto accords.
"Democrats are not the answer to US problems at home and abroad. However, I
see the policies being passed under our noses ( an new constitutional
amendment banning gay marriages?) as doubly evil. We have to get this guy
"So, to answer your question. The war, although it be a big, is only one of
the many issues I have with our President. I see a sort of war on the US and
I do believe that the next election willl see either a democrat or
republican put in office. If we play into the hands of the dems, so be it,
our goal is to remove Bush and bring attention to his stances that are
hurting the same people who support him.
"Chances are we will both be in dissaccord with whomever takes the oath to
office. I just hope it is someone I am only 75% in disagreement with than

I believe ideas like this are at the core of the sudden unwillingness of
antiwar groups like SNOW, but by no means SNOW alone, to confront the war
and occupation (please look at the proposed fall actions advertised as up
for discussion last Monday on SNOW's website,

for confirmation). The author of the reply quoted above has a sneaking
suspicion that his approach won't work, because he says, "Chances are we
will both be in dissaccord with whomever takes the oath to office."

Indeed, that is surely possible, but the question for the antiwar movement
ought to be, what is the strategy that will put an end to the war and
occupation of Iraq? First, there can be no question that both major parties
supported and continue to support, in their overwhelming majority, the war
and occupation of Iraq. People who are unaware of this fact should do some
research. Now, have the Democrats changed their minds? I don't think so, and
I challenge anyone to supply the evidence of a sea-change among the
Democrats to oppose the occupation.

What is emerging among the Democrats in an attempt to nit-pick the
administration to death around the edges of its conduct of the war and
occupation. The material basis for this nitpicking is, of course, the total
absence of WMDs on the Iraqi side (but not he US side). What is NOT emerging
is the sentiment that the US should get out of Iraq. My exhibit A for this
is the speech by Biden mentioned above, which, for the sake of continuity of
my argument, I have placed at the end of this email

Biden is proposing Democrat-style conquest and occupation to replace the
neocon version. You will note that Biden does not even reject the notion of
pre-emptive war, clearly illegal according to ratified treaties and
therefore the law of the US. He merely wishes to use it more selectively.
Talk about keeping your options open.

Biden wants to spread around the cost in lives and dollars to other
countries. His complaint is that Bush's STYLE has made this difficult. He
advocates a hat-in-hand approach to allies to ameliorate, not the suffering
and death of the Iraqi people, but to make the ongoing occupation of Iraq
possible. He is proposing a rescue operation for an an invasion and
occupation gone bad. This is solid, serious, Democratic Party politics.

So, what are we to do? Just give up because the Democrats are merely
sugar-coated and cost-conscious Republicans?

No. We should begin where we left off after February 15th. The only thing we
can do that will actually make a difference is to BUILD A MOVEMENT against
the occupation. February 15th was a new event in world history. It was
powerful. It united people in over 600 cities in scores of countries. It's
effect was so staggering that the Bush administration was forced to start
the war well before any rational degree of readiness had been achieved. As
Biden points out below, so precipitious was the launching of the war that
something so elementary to all military strategists as splitting the enemy's
forces (a second route of invasion thru Turkey) had to be foregone. Why?
Because antiwar momentum was GROWING. Because, literally, the Bush
administration lost EVERY political battle in the run-up to the war (except
for getting the Democrats on board), and there was little indication, in
fact none, that that circumstance was about to change. So the choice became,
invade NOW or give it up. Fredisfree of SNOW acknowledged as much in the
first SNOW meeting after the start of the war when he urged SNOW members to
congratulate themselves for causing the war to be less bloody, more
pinpointish than otherwise thru their activism. While I would not have put
in that way, I agree with him that our movement had a profound effect, whose
real effects are now evident in the actual form of the quagmire that is
snaring US troops and other occupation forces in Iraq today.

So let us return on sights to the real target: the war and occupation of
Iraq. Let us attempt to rebuild the movement we built before February 15.
Let any politician of any stripe who agrees with us or wants to share a
platform with us, under our banner, be welcome and heartily so. But let us
not take down our banner in favor of theirs. This will accomplish nothing.

In practical terms, I propose that we begin immediately to build toward a
united Puget Sound demonstration, sponsored by all peace/antiwar groups, on
October 25th, to demand:

						US Out of Iraq!
						End the Occupation!

I am well aware that particularly the second demand is not wholly agreed to
by antiwar forces in this area, and I am committed to a political process in
the coalition or committee or whatever to achieve unity, provided that the
focus remains on the war and how to stop it. I welcome comments on this
article. I would suggest that people in agreement contact me off-list at
dbmcdonald at to help prepare an initial meeting to discuss how to
have a BIG meeting, so that this call for a demonstration does not appear to
be a personal quirk of mine.

Following are excerpts from Biden's speech.

Full text as delivered:

>>What we need isn't the death of internationalism or the denial of stark
national interest, but a more enlightened nationalism - one that understands
the value of institutions but allows us to use military force, without
apology or apprehension if we have to, but does not allow us to be so
blinded by the overwhelming power of our armed forces that we fail to see
the benefit of sharing the risks and the costs with others.

Some in my own Party have said it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first
place, and the benefit is not worth the cost. I believe they're wrong. The
cost of not acting against Saddam would have been much greater, and so is
the cost of not finishing the job. The President is popular. The stakes are
high. The need for leadership is great.

I wish he'd used some of his stored-up popularity to make what I admit is an
unpopular case. I wish the President, instead of standing on an aircraft
carrier in front of a banner that said: "Mission Accomplished" would have
stood in front of a banner that said: "We've Only Just Begun." I wish he
would stand in front of the American people and say: "My fellow Americans,
we have a long and hard road ahead of us in Iraq, but we have to stay in
Iraq. We have to finish the job. If we don't, the following will happen.
Here's what I'll be asking of you and, by the way, I'm asking the rest of
the world to help us as well. And I am confident we'll succeed and as a
consequence be more secure."

Nine months ago, I voted to give the President the authority to use force. I
would vote that way again today.

And if we'd left him alone for five years with billions of dollars in oil
revenues I'm convinced he'd have had a nuclear weapon that would have
radically changed the strategic equation to our detriment.

For me, the issue was never WHETHER we had to deal with Saddam. but WHEN and
HOW. And it's precisely the WHEN and HOW that this administration got wrong.
We went to war too soon. We went with too few troops. We went without the
world. And we're paying a price for it NOW.

Last month, Senators Lugar, Hagel and I traveled to Baghdad. We left behind
two of our senior staffers for an extra week to see more of the country and
talk to Iraqis
.It was clear to us that the vast majority of the Iraqi
people are happy Saddam is no longer in power. They want us to stay as long
as it takes to get them back on their feet. Much of the country beyond
Baghdad is relatively calm - hospitals and schools are open; the newly
formed Iraqi Governing Council is encouraging; and so are the local
councils, one of which we visited.

The problem breaks down into two parts: First, we haven't put down the
opposition from forces loyal to Saddam. General Abizaid finally admitted
we're facing "guerilla war." Almost every day that our troops continue to
get picked off, sometimes by a lone sniper, other times by roadside bombs
that kill two, three, four, or more at a time. This cannot, it must not

There's a short-term fix: more foreign troops to share our mission and more
Iraqis to guard hospitals, bridges, banks, and schools. If we had them, we
could concentrate our troops in the Sunni triangle -- where they're needed
and where they can do the type of military job for which they were trained.

So that leaves us with three options: We can pull out, and lose Iraq. That's
a bad option; We can continue to do what we're doing: provide 90 percent of
the troops, 90 percent of the money, and nearly 100 percent of the deaths.
That's another, really bad option; Or, we can bring in the international
community and empower Iraqis to bolster our efforts and legitimize a new
Iraqi government which will allow us to rotate our troops out and finally
bring them home.

We have to understand that leaders whose people opposed the war need a
political rationale to get them to support building the peace. We have to
understand and be willing to accept that giving a bigger role to the United
Nations and NATO means sharing control, but it's a price worth paying if it
decreases the danger to our soldiers and increases the prospects of

If we learned one thing last year, it should be that the role of those of us
in positions of leadership is to speak the truth to the American people - to
lay out the facts to the extent we know them and to explain to the American
people exactly what's expected of them in terms of time, dollars, and

Our role as leaders is not to color the truth with cynicism and ideological
rhetoric but to animate that truth with the same resilience the same
dignity, the same decency, and the same pragmatic approach the American
people have applied to every task and every challenge.

It's long past time for the President to address the American people in
prime time, to level with us about the monumental task ahead, to summon our

I and most of my colleagues will stand with him.

I'm reminded of the words of Senator Arthur Vandenberg who said: "Bipartisan
foreign policy does not involve the remotest surrender of free debate in
determining our position. On the contrary, frank cooperation and free debate
are indispensable to ultimate unity...It simply seeks national security
ahead of partisan advantage. Every foreign policy must be totally debated
and the loyal opposition is under special obligation to see that this

[From the question and answer period, this touching remark about the
patriotism of the wealthy in Biden’s home state, Delaware (home of the

What do you think would have happened if the President stood before the
American people and said, look, we’re about to go into a war, the cost of
which is unknowable, but we know it will cost. We know the last war cost us,
in today’s dollars, $75 billion, of which we only paid 15%. We’re going to
go into this war probably basically alone, picking up the cost. And by the
way, the p0ols we have in there, we’re paying for them to be in there. So
even if we get in other people in [sic], we’re still paying. But the cost is
going to be unknowable, but consequential, and so I’m asking the top 1
percent of the country to forego for two years the tax cut that’s coming to
them; or instead of having a tax cut that is literally 100 times the average
American, only ten times the average American.

I believe every single wealthy person in my state would have said sign me
on, no problem, none, none.<<

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