[Marxism] [Fwd: McReynolds article on Iraq]

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 23 07:07:14 MDT 2004

Iraq: A Deepening Tragedy

By David McReynolds (former Chair, War Resisters International,

Socialist Party candidate for President 1980, 2000. He visited Baghdad 
in 1991, just before the start of the first Gulf War as part of a team 
from the Fellowship of Reconciliation) // this article can be used in 
whole or part without permission. April 22, 2004

Friends have heard me say I could not believe the Bush Administration 
would launch the Iraq war - until the moment when "shock and awe" 
illuminated the night sky of Baghdad. My reasoning had nothing to do 
with the fact the US actions would violate international law (would be, 
in fact, criminal) but rather my conviction the war would be an act of 
stupidity almost without parallel.

We had known that the "Vulcans" - that perplexing coalition of 
neoconservatives which draws its strength from almost equal parts of 
former Trotskyists, sharply pro-Israel American Jews such as Paul 
Wolfowitz and Richard Perle (who would do anything for Israel except go 
and live there), and a group of evangelical Christians, often privately 
anti-Semitic, led by the likes of Pat Robertson - had been in control of 
the Administration from the moment of Bush's appointment by the Supreme 
Court in 2001. We had seen them seize upon the tragedy of 9.11 as an 
excuse to curtail our own civil liberties and put the nation on a war 
footing, and invade Afghanistan.

But the idea that the United States would actually attack Iraq, that it 
would be supported in this action by Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great 
Britain, and would think it's Christian troops would somehow be welcomed 
as liberators by a deeply Islamic nation . . . this was such obvious 
folly that I keep thinking some committee of smart Wall Street bankers 
would tap Rumsfeld on the shoulder and say "Sorry, Rumfeld - no way. 
Saddam is a nasty man, but there are no weapons of mass destruction 
there, no links to terrorism - this war would be genuinely crazy".

(Let not forget the wave of massive demonstrations around the world in 
February of 2003 - demonstrations on a scale never seen before. And the 
urgent efforts of political leaders in almost every nation - Israel 
excepted - to dissuade Bush. And the extraordinary steps taken by the 
Pope to use his moral force - even sending a special Papal envoy to meet 
with Bush).

The Iraq of Babylon and Baghdad, of the Euphrates and Tigris, the cradle 
from which Western civilization had sprung, a land which had, early in 
the 20th century, defeated the British - at that time the greatest 
Empire in the world. The US really thought it would be welcomed with 
flowers? That it would be seen as the liberator? After it had, for ten 
years, caused enormous suffering for the civilian population of Iraq by 
its economic sanctions?

With others, I was surprised at the relative ease of the first phase - 
the military conquest of Saddam's forces. I had assumed there would be 
grinding battles in the cities, that the loss of civilian life there 
might cause the world to demand the US withdrawal. But with the US 
Occupation we saw the beginning of a "dual reality" - the "reality of 
Iraq" as seen by the White House and transmitted by the US media, and 
the "reality of Iraq" as seen from foreign news sources, reaching us in 
the US either by BBC or the internet. (In fairness, much of the truth 
was there in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other 
newspapers - but not in that part of the media which most shapes public 
opinion - the world of "Fox News").

It is possible those around Bush believed their own news reports. It is 
said that April is the cruelest month - for many American and Iraqi 
families this has been an unusually cruel and bloody month. April 
clearly caught the Pentagon by surprise. Even Rumsfeld admitted he 
didn't expect things to be this difficult a year after "victory".

Listening tonight to David Burns, of the New York Times, as he reported 
from Baghdad, it was clear there has been a breakdown of the Occupation. 
As Burns pointed out (and he is not a reporter tainted by ideology - 
just a journalist doing his job), travel is now extremely difficult and 
dangerous in Iraq, most roads are closed, there is no commercial air 
travel, and even in Baghdad things are not safe. He admitted it was 
almost impossible to know what was happening "on the ground" in any Iraq 
city outside of Baghdad.

Americans in Iraq rarely venture outside the "green zone" in Baghdad, 
which is as secure as modern technology can make it. Paul Bremer resides 
in the palaces and buildings Saddam had built, strides the imperial 
offices in combat boots, issuing orders which are erratic (such as the 
dissolution of the Iraqi army - which instantly left tens of thousands 
of armed men unemployed!).

The hearings from Washington D.C. this month, the flood of books that 
have come out, have defined the reality there were never any weapons of 
mass destruction in Iraq, there was no link with Al Queda, there had 
never even been any plans for "post-invasion" Iraq, and - most 
devastating of all - Bush and the Vulcans had used 9.11 as the basis for 
their war planning, even diverting funds from Afghanistan and the hunt 
for Osama Bin Laden to plotting the war in Iraq.

So we are here, a year after the invasion. Those of us who opposed the 
invasion are the Cassandras, as we were in the 1960's when we warned 
against deepening US involvement in Indochina.

We are in the midst of a disaster - one which the US cannot repair or 
make right. What course is open to us, to Iraqis, to the community of 
nations? I can even ask what course might be open to the leadership of 
the US if it could come to its senses as easily as, a year ago, it lost 

First, the one course open to the Administration - the only possible 
course - would be to turn the entire matter over to the United Nations, 
with the understanding all US and British forces would be withdrawn 
within 90 days, that UN peace keeping forces, drawn from Islamic, Arab, 
and neutral countries (which might include Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, 
Finland, Sweden, etc.) would be in place for a period of no more than 
six months, to organize national elections, that such UN forces would 
begin immediately to open dialogue with all parties in Iraq - excluding 
the present US-appointed governing council.

However, this won't happen. It isn't simply a matter that the United 
Nations might want to avoid so difficult a job - might, in fact, be 
totally unable to carry it out. It is that the United States will not 
for an instant consider "turning tail and running". And why should it? 
Bush might yet win re-election as a war president. John Kerry isn't 
pressing for withdrawal. Those who run this country have no sons and 
daughters serving in Iraq - indeed, for the most part the Vulcans are 
made of up draft evaders from the Vietnam period (or, in the case of 
Bush, men who were AOL). Those who died this April, and will die in May, 
June, July, August, and into the dismal months of autumn and winter of 
the year ahead, are working class youth, in many cases from communities 
of color. A handful of them have already begun to resist, to desert, to 
apply for Conscientious Objectors status, but these are yet only a 
handful (though they deserve our full support). In the Vietnam War 
military resistance did not begin on a serious scale until quite late.

Ironically, if the US did want to negotiate its way out of Iraq, it has 
no one with whom to negotiate, making any potential withdrawal doubly 
embarrassing. The "Governing Council" the US set up is in no position to 
negotiate for the people of Iraq.

In India, in 1947, when Great Britain withdrew, it had the Congress 
Party with which to negotiate an honorable departure. The French, both 
in Indochina and in Algeria, had organized opposition forces with whom 
it could negotiate an end of the fighting. The US, sadly, rejected the 
chance to negotiate its way out of Vietnam but it could have done so at 
almost any time. (There are two other notable failures to negotiate when 
negotiations were possible - the Russians have destroyed Chechneya but 
still cannot control it, while Israel has rejected the negotiations it 
could have had with the PLO).

What we have is a war with no early way out. Many, particularly in the 
liberal community, will argue that while it was wrong to go into Iraq 
"we can't just leave now". Their feeling cannot be dismissed out of 
hand. There is a danger of civil war - though at the moment the US 
Occupation seems to have done more to unite the warring religious 
factions. There is danger of a rigid Islamic government coming to power, 
one which would strip women of the freedoms they enjoyed under Saddam 
and which the US says it is committed to guaranteeing. (Ironic that 
brutal as Saddam's regime was, for women it was far freer than the 
current regime of Saudi Arabia, Bush's closest ally in the Arab world).

No one in the peace and justice movement should have illusions about the 
kind of Islamic fundamentalism to which the US invasion has helped give 
new life - and which might easily win Iraq's first "free election". The 
tragedy is that serious as these problems are, the US cannot solve them. 
Our government has done a great evil in its aggression, and if 
international law had any force, we would not be discussing what the US 
should do, but rather what the world should do about preparing war 
crimes trials for the US and British leaders who opened the gates of 
this particular hell, and about what reparations these two nations must 
pay to Iraq.

However international law is weak - as Bush and Blair demonstrated by 
their actions of a year ago. The international community might hope that 
Bush would concede his actions were a monstrous miscalculation, and turn 
the matter over to the UN, but he will not do that. The loss of that 
pool of oil, the loss of funds to be made by private corporations from 
public funds "rebuilding" an Iraq we have destroyed, and the humiliation 
of admitting error - too much to ask.

We are in need of facing the reality. Which is that every day the 
Occupation continues, so will the violence, and as the violence 
continues, it will become legitimized in the eyes of the people of Iraq. 
The resistance may not represent a majority of Iraqis, but neither did 
the French resistance truly represent the majority in France. Yet it was 
a real and honorable resistance. That, with each passing day, is what 
the US is creating in Iraq - a resistance that is morally legitimate.

I understand those who feel that it would be irresponsible "to turn and 
run". But to think the US can "fix" things now is like thinking a rapist 
is the ideal person to stay and provide therapy to the victim. It is 
possible our pressure, combined with the military reality in Iraq, will 
cause the Administration to pursue a drastically different course of 
action. And if so, that is good. If it ends the military actions, if it 
announces plans for withdrawal, if it enters into negotiations directly 
with the Sunni and Shiite religious leaders, fine.

But what we must demand is withdrawal. Withdrawal without conditions. To 
those who say we are not supporting our troops, we respond that we are 
giving them far more support than Bush and Cheney, who sent them there. 
To those who say we would weaken American influence, we respond that we 
hope that is the case - the US needs to learn humility, as it briefly 
learned it after the war in Indochina (a war which did not end until 
over three million Vietnamese had been killed).

The actions of the US government have not only been foolish and 
arrogant, they also qualify as evil, as wars of aggression are, by the 
definition of international law, evil. One cannot argue that launching 
such a war was wrong but that having launched it we must "stay the 
course" - what course is being stayed? What purpose is being served? 
When we hear Bush speak now of the evils of Saddam, as he once spoke 
with such certainty of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction, those 
of us with memories would not quibble about the evils of Saddam, but 
rather ask why Rumsfeld and others chose to do business with Saddam even 
after he had used poison gas. When did these men learn morality? And who 
can believe they can teach the world - or the men and women of Iraq - 
morality, or democracy? These are words and concepts deeply stained by 
the Bush Administration. Out. Now.


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