MAY 2005


update:Also Naomi Klein, end page:How to end the war

How to End the Occupation of Iraq:
Outmaneuver the War Proponents
April 2005
FPIF Discussion Paper

By Gareth Porter©April 4, 2005
Gareth Porter was codirector of the Indochina Resource Center, an anti-war lobbying organization in Washington, DC, from 1974 to 1976. He has written about negotiated settlements of wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines and is the author of Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, forthcoming from University of California Press.

For an anti-war activist of the Vietnam era, the current search for a political strategy for ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq brings to mind the very similar problems facing the movement to end the Vietnam War in 1968-69. In fact, a review of the strategy that the anti-war movement pursued at that juncture of the Vietnam War helps clarify the choices before the present movement and their likely consequences. It should serve as a warning against ignoring the possibility of embracing the negotiation of a compromise peace agreement with those resisting the U.S. occupation as an anti-war strategy.

The political dynamics surrounding the occupation of Iraq are strikingly similar to those surrounding the comparable phase of the Vietnam War. As in Vietnam in early 1968, the U.S. war in Iraq suffered a serious setback last year, and most Americans concluded that the intervention had been a mistake. In fact, public opinion has soured on the current occupation even faster than it did for the occupation of South Vietnam. It was in August 1967, slightly more than two years after the first major U.S. troop commitment to Vietnam, when a majority of U.S. citizens expressed the belief that it had been a mistake to go to war in Vietnam. In the case of Iraq, a majority of Americans concluded that it was not worth fighting a war over Iraq as early as May 2004, a little more than a year after the invasion.

Opponents of the U.S. military occupation of Iraq are struggling to find a way to translate widespread disillusionment with war into effective political pressure on the administration to withdraw, just as was the case in Vietnam in the late 1960s. The dominant influence of the ideologically driven right wing in the Republican Party, the Republican control of Congress, a divide within the Democratic party, and the influence of conservative media present formidable obstacles to a campaign to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. A different set of obstacles, including a significant fraction of the population who wanted to escalate the war further and a majority that was viscerally opposed to anti-war demonstrations, stood in the way of effective pressures on Nixon to get out of Vietnam.

The strategy adopted by the Vietnam anti-war movement in the late 1960s was to demand unilateral withdrawal and to mount mass demonstrations to demonstrate public opposition to the war. In retrospect that approach can be seen as a strategic error that allowed the Nixon administration to prolong the war for four more years. The error lay in the failure to focus on developing a proposal for the negotiated withdrawal of U.S. troops under a peace settlement at a time when it could have been an effective form of pressure on Nixon.

Advancing such a plan for peace negotiations now would avoid a battle over unilateral withdrawal that the anti-war forces are unlikely to win. Instead, it would outmaneuver the administration, making it far more difficult for it to justify the occupation. Such a plan would avoid the administration’s political strengths while taking fullest advantage of the political strengths of the anti-war forces.


A Look Backwards

A review of the strategy of the anti-war movement in Vietnam during 1968-69 underlines the fateful importance of the missing policy alternative of negotiating a compromise peace. In the aftermath of the Tet offensive of early 1968, anti-war forces focused entirely on getting an anti-war candidate nominated for president rather than on crafting a legislative alternative to administration policy. But when Hubert Humphrey emerged as the Democratic candidate that summer, there was no clear, credible proposal for peace negotiations around which Congress and the public--or candidate Humphrey himself--could rally. That fact certainly contributed to Richard Nixon’s election in November 1968.

That same political dynamic was evident during the 2004 campaign, which was held in the shadow of the shocking success of the Iraqi insurgents in several cities in April. John Kerry could not point to a policy alternative that had been introduced by credible political figures nor did he develop one himself. And again that missing piece almost certainly contributed to the reelection of George W. Bush.

In the wake of Nixon’s election, anti-war forces spent an entire year preparing for and carrying out the massive national demonstrations against the war--the “Vietnam Moratorium” of October and November 1969. Although those demonstrations showed the breadth of the anti-war movement, they were not coordinated with a well-thought-out legislative strategy that could result in serous pressure on the administration. The opportunity to maneuver Nixon into negotiating a compromise peace agreement in 1969 rather than 1972-73 was lost.

It was only in 1970--five years after the U.S. invasion of South Vietnam--that the anti-war movement seriously pursued a legislative strategy, and it remained focused on a timetable for unilateral withdrawal, not on demanding a compromise political settlement. By then, Nixon had been able to reduce the urgency of the issue of withdrawal by undertaking his own unilateral withdrawal. Congressional support for a timetable for complete withdrawal always fell short of a majority. The McGovern-Hatfield amendment of September 1970, which set a date of the end of 1971 for complete withdrawal, failed 55-39. In June 1971, the same legislation lost by a 55-42 vote.

Although it was inevitable that the U.S. occupation of Vietnam would be ended by a negotiated settlement rather than by a complete victory for one side or the other, peace negotiations did not play a significant role in the anti-war position from 1968 through 1970. Not until George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign did a proposal for negotiations emerge as a serious alternative to Nixon’s diplomatic position.

The idea that putting enough people in the street would provide the political muscle to face down the Nixon administration was mistaken. Nixon was able to rebuild public support to prolong the war in part by exploiting public resentment felt by more than half the population--including many who were not pro-war--toward the mass protests. And the war continued for another four years.


A Negotiated Settlement for Iraq

The occupation of Iraq is also likely to end in a negotiated settlement of some kind. The only question is when and how. Defining the terms of a negotiated settlement under which U.S. and other coalition forces would withdraw completely from Iraq--including all U.S. military bases--should actually be easier than it was in the case of Vietnam. The leaders of the Iraqi insurgents are not claiming to represent an alternative government in Iraq, as the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces were in the late 1960s and early 1970s. If they are fighting for the withdrawal of foreign troops as they claim, a surrender-for-withdrawal agreement is feasible and in everyone’s interest.

The main reason for the neglect of the negotiating option up to now has been the general belief that the insurgency is led by hardcore Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists, which has prevailed in the media and politics. But the evidence now available suggests that most insurgent leaders, many of whom are too young to have been close to Saddam, would be willing to surrender in return for immediate and total U.S. withdrawal and major concessions to Sunnis in the new political order. A major incentive for them to agree to such terms is that they would be honored by the population of the Sunni triangle for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The Sunni insurgents coordinate their efforts in a broad sense and were united under a single group of leaders in Fallujah when they controlled that city last year, but they operate without a single command structure. This is not an insurmountable obstacle to peace negotiations, however. If the opportunity to negotiate the withdrawal of U.S. and other occupation forces were presented to them, they could find a way to consult on a common negotiating position. Sunni leaders with legal status but ties to the insurgents--most likely the leaders of the Association of Muslim Scholars, which represents thousands of mosques throughout the Sunni triangle--could represent their position in such negotiations. They would negotiate simultaneously with U.S. officials on a military settlement and with Iraqi government representatives on a set of political arrangements aimed at reassuring the now unrepresented Sunnis that their political interests will be protected in the new political system.

A negotiated settlement need not have the participation of every nationalist group to serve the interests of peace. The foreign terrorists in Iraq aligned with al-Qaida are certainly not going to be part of any peace settlement, but relations between the nationalist resistance leaders and their followers, on one hand, and the foreign terrorists who bomb Shiite mosques and behead foreigners, on the other, quickly became very tense last year. It seems likely that most of those in the resistance would be unwilling to tolerate the presence of foreign jihadists in the country once the American troops have departed. Turning those nationalist against their erstwhile foreign allies through a peace settlement, therefore, is the surest way to end the recruitment and training program of the terrorists in Iraq.

Some leaders of nationalist insurgent organizations might well hold back from such an agreement as well. But if the bulk of the resistance leaders were to participate, and the agreement resulted in the visible pullout of American troops from one or two Sunni strongholds and their immediate departure from Iraq, it would profoundly change the political context in which the remaining insurgents would have to operate in the Sunni triangle. Support for and cooperation with the military activities of holdouts on the part of Sunni public could be expected to diminish dramatically. U.S. withdrawal and the prospect of peace would put more effective pressure on what remains of the armed resistance than all the counterinsurgency offensives of the United States of the past two years.


A Plan for the Peace Movement

By putting on the table a proposal for a negotiated peace settlement under which most of the resistance organizations would surrender and the foreign jihadists and other holdouts would be isolated, anti-war forces would gain a tremendous political advantage over the Bush administration in Congress and public opinion. It would put the administration on the defensive and pave the way for a political campaign to ask Congress for a resolution calling for such a negotiated withdrawal.

Today opponents of the occupation have far greater capabilities for mounting an effective campaign for a negotiated settlement than those available to the Vietnam era anti-war movement. Once the anti-Vietnam war movement turned to a legislative campaign in the early 1970s, it was relatively difficult to mobilize large numbers of activists to participate. No anti-war organization existed with truly broad reach in the society. Sandy Gottlieb, who organized a lobbying effort on behalf of anti-war legislation for SANE, recently recalled that the only way to find large numbers of activists for such a campaign was to go to college campuses.

Now, however, the Internet and the new mass political organizations that have harnessed its potential (e.g., Move-on and the followers of Howard Dean) make it possible to have timely two-way communications with millions of activists. Moreover, a much larger proportion of the population today is knowledgeable and thinks critically about the issue of occupation and war than had a similar level of sophistication in the late 1960s. Much more information and analysis about the negative consequences of the U.S. occupation of Iraq now reaches the attentive public through websites and blogs than reached the public from 1968 to 1970.

It may be argued that a mass movement calling for setting a certain date for unilateral withdrawal could just as easily take advantage of these capabilities as one calling for peace negotiations. But a legislative strategy for withdrawal from Iraq cannot succeed without Republican support. A proposal for a negotiated peace settlement has the potential to win over a critical number of Republicans, whereas the demand for unilateral withdrawal cannot.

More important, however, mounting a campaign for a negotiated settlement could heal the breach in the anti-war ranks between those who want to fight over unilateral withdrawal and those who reject that demand. That deep division now represents a serious obstacle to the mobilization of a broad popular movement against the U.S. occupation, without which political pressure through Congress for U.S. withdrawal cannot be achieved.

Failing to take advantage of the opportunity for a peace settlement that removes U.S. troops is likely to result in a much longer occupation than is necessary. This is the lesson of the Vietnam experience for today’s movement against the occupation of Iraq. Anti-war activists can ignore that lesson only at the peril of their mission.

How to End the War
by Naomi Klein
In These Times
May 5, 2005

The central question we need to answer is this: What were the real reasons for the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq?
  When we identify why we really went to war—not the cover reasons or the rebranded reasons, freedom and democracy, but the real reasons—then we can become more effective anti-war activists. The most effective and strategic way to stop this occupation and prevent future wars is to deny the people who wage these wars their spoils—to make war unprofitable. And we can’t do that unless we effectively identify the goals of war.
When I was in Iraq a year ago trying to answer that question, one of the most effective ways I found to do that was to follow the bulldozers and construction machinery. I was in Iraq to research the so-called reconstruction. And what struck me most was the absence of reconstruction machinery, of cranes and bulldozers, in downtown Baghdad. I expected to see reconstruction all over the place.
  I saw bulldozers in military bases. I saw bulldozers in the Green Zone, where a huge amount of construction was going on, building up Bechtel’s headquarters and getting the new U.S. embassy ready. There was also a ton of construction going on at all of the U.S. military bases. But, on the streets of Baghdad, the former ministry buildings are absolutely untouched. They hadn’t even cleared away the rubble, let alone started the reconstruction process.
The one crane I saw in the streets of Baghdad was hoisting an advertising billboard. One of the surreal things about Baghdad is that the old city lies in ruins, yet there are these shiny new billboards advertising the glories of the global economy. And the message is: “Everything you were before isn’t worth rebuilding.” We’re going to import a brand-new country. It is the Iraq version of the “Extreme Makeover.”
  It’s not a coincidence that Americans were at home watching this explosion of extreme reality television shows where people’s bodies were being surgically remade and their homes were being bulldozed and reconstituted. The message of these shows is: Everything you are now, everything you own, everything you do sucks. We’re going to completely erase it and rebuild it with a team of experts. You just go limp and let the experts take over. That is exactly what “Extreme Makover:Iraq” is.
There was no role for Iraqis in this process. It was all foreign companies modernizing the country. Iraqis with engineering Ph.D.s who built their electricity system and who built their telephone system had no place in the reconstruction process.
  If we want to know what the goals of the war are, we have to look at what Paul Bremer did when he first arrived in Iraq. He laid off 500,000 people, 400,000 of whom were soldiers. And he shredded Iraq’s constitution and wrote a series of economic laws that the The Economist described as “the wish list of foreign investors.”
Basically, Iraq has been turned into a laboratory for the radical free-market policies that the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute dream about in Washington, D.C., but are only able to impose in relative slow motion here at home.
  So we just have to examine the Bush administration’s policies and actions. We don’t have to wield secret documents or massive conspiracy theories. We have to look at the fact that they built enduring military bases and didn’t rebuild the country. Their very first act was to protect the oil ministry leaving the the rest of the country to burn—to which Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded: “Stuff happens.” Theirs was an almost apocalyptic glee in allowing Iraq to burn. They let the country be erased, leaving a blank slate that they could rebuild in their image This was the goal of the war.
The Big Lie
The administration says the war was about fighting for democracy. That was the big lie they resorted to when they were caught in the other lies. But it’s a different kind of a lie in the sense that it’s a useful lie. The lie that the United States invaded Iraq to bring freedom and democracy not just to Iraq but, as it turns out, to the whole world, is tremendously useful—because we can first expose it as a lie and then we can join with Iraqis to try to make it true. So it disturbs me that a lot of progressives are afraid to use the language of democracy now that George W. Bush is using it. We are somehow giving up on the most powerful emancipatory ideas ever created, of self-determination, liberation and democracy.
  And it’s absolutely crucial not to let Bush get away with stealing and defaming these ideas—they are too important.
In looking at democracy in Iraq, we first need to make the distinction between elections and democracy. The reality is the Bush administration has fought democracy in Iraq at every turn.
  Why? Because if genuine democracy ever came to Iraq, the real goals of the war—

  • control over oil,
  • support for Israel,
  • the construction of enduring military bases,
  • the privatization of the entire economy

—would all be lost.   Why? Because Iraqis don’t want them and they don’t agree with them. They have said it over and over again—first in opinion polls, which is why the Bush administration broke its original promise to have elections within months of the invasion. I believe Paul Wolfowitz genuinely thought that Iraqis would respond like the contestants on a reality TV show and say: “Oh my God. Thank you for my brand-new shiny country.” They didn’t. They protested that 500,000 people had lost their jobs. They protested the fact that they were being shut out of the reconstruction of their own country, and they made it clear they didn’t want permanent U.S. bases.
That’s when the administration broke its promise and appointed a CIA agent as the interim prime minister. In that period they locked in—basically shackled—Iraq’s future governments to an International Monetary Fund program until 2008. This will make the humanitarian crisis in Iraq much, much deeper. Here’s just one example: The IMF and the World Bank are demanding the elimination of Iraq’s food ration program, upon which 60 percent of the population depends for nutrition, as a condition for debt relief and for the new loans that have been made in deals with an unelected government.
In these elections, Iraqis voted for the United Iraqi Alliance. In addition to demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of troops, this coalition party has promised that they would create 100 percent full employment in the public sector—i.e., a total rebuke of the neocons’ privatization agenda. But now they can’t do any of this because their democracy has been shackled. In other words, they have the vote, but no real power to govern.
  A Pro-Democracy Movement
The future of the anti-war movement requires that it become a pro-democracy movement. Our marching orders have been given to us by the people of Iraq. It’s important to understand that the most powerful movement against this war and this occupation is within Iraq itself. Our anti-war movement must not just be in verbal solidarity but in active and tangible solidarity with the overwhelming majority of Iraqis fighting to end the occupation of their country. We need to take our direction from them.
Iraqis are resisting in many ways—not just with armed resistance. They are organizing independent trade unions. They are opening critical newspapers, and then having those newspapers shut down. They are fighting privatization in state factories. They are forming new political coalitions in an attempt to force an end to the occupation.
  So what is our role here? We need to support the people of Iraq and their clear demands for an end to both military and corporate occupation. That means being the resistance ourselves in our country, demanding that the troops come home, that U.S. corporations come home, that Iraqis be free of Saddam’s debt and the IMF and World Bank agreements signed under occupation. It doesn’t mean blindly cheerleading for “the resistance.” Because there isn’t just one resistance in Iraq. Some elements of the armed resistance are targeting Iraqi civilians as they pray in Shia mosques—barbaric acts that serve the interests of the Bush administration by feeding the perception that the country is on the brink of civil war and therefore U.S. forces must remain in Iraq. Not everyone fighting the U.S. occupation is fighting for the freedom of all Iraqis; some are fighting for their own elite power. That’s why we need to stay focused on supporting the demands for self-determination, not cheering any setback for U.S. empire.
And we can’t cede the language, the territory of democracy. Anybody who says Iraqis don’t want democracy should be deeply ashamed of themselves. Iraqis are clamoring for democracy and had risked their lives for it long before this invasion—in the 1991 uprising against Saddam, for example, when they were left to be slaughtered. The elections in January took place only because of tremendous pressure from Iraqi Shia communities that insisted on getting the freedom they were promised.
  “The Courage to be Serious”
Many of us opposed this war because it was an imperial project. Now Iraqis are struggling for the tools that will make self-determination meaningful, not just for show elections or marketing opportunities for the Bush administration. That means it’s time, as Susan Sontag said, to have “the courage to be serious.” The reason why the 58 percent of Americans against the war has not translated into the same millions of people on the streets that we saw before the war is because we haven’t come forward with a serious policy agenda. We should not be afraid to be serious.
Part of that seriousness is to echo the policy demands made by voters and demonstrators in the streets of Baghdad and Basra and bring those demands to Washington, where the decisions are being made.
  But the core fight is over respect for international law, and whether there is any respect for it at all in the United States. Unless we’re fighting a core battle against this administration’s total disdain for the very idea of international law, then the specifics really don’t matter.
We saw this very clearly in the U.S. presidential campaign, as John Kerry let Bush completely set the terms for the debate. Recall the ridicule of Kerry’s mention of a “global test,” and the charge that it was cowardly and weak to allow for any international scrutiny of U.S. actions. Why didn’t Kerry ever challenge this assumption? I blame the Kerry campaign as much as I blame the Bush administration. During the elections, he never said “Abu Ghraib.” He never said “Guantanamo Bay.” He accepted the premise that to submit to some kind of “global test” was to be weak. Once they had done that, the Democrats couldn’t expect to win a battle against Alberto Gonzales being appointed attorney general, when they had never talked about torture during the campaign.
  And part of the war has to be a media war in this country. The problem is not that the anti-war voices aren’t there—it’s that the voices aren’t amplified. We need a strategy to target the media in this country, making it a site of protest itself. We must demand that the media let us hear the voices of anti-war critics, of enraged mothers who have lost their sons for a lie, of betrayed soldiers who fought in a war they didn’t believe in. And we need to keep deepening the definition of democracy—to say that these show elections are not democracy, and that we don’t have a democracy in this country either.
Sadly, the Bush administration has done a better job of using the language of responsibility than we in the anti-war movement. The message that’s getting across is that we are saying “just leave,” while they are saying, “we can’t just leave, we have to stay and fix the problem we started.”
  We can have a very detailed, responsible agenda and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. We should be saying, “Let’s pull the troops out but let’s leave some hope behind.” We can’t be afraid to talk about reparations, to demand freedom from debt for Iraq, a total abandonment of Bremer’s illegal economic laws, full Iraqi control over the reconstruction budget—there are many more examples of concrete policy demands that we can and must put forth. When we articulate a more genuine definition of democracy than we are hearing from the Bush administration, we will bring some hope to Iraq. And we will bring closer to us many of the 58 percent who are opposed to the war but aren’t marching with us yet because they are afraid of cutting and running.

Naomi Klein is a columnist for In These Times, the British Guardian and The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper and the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies.
  © 2005 In These Times  
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Ain't But One Way Out

Naomi Klein's "Courage"


Naomi Klein, in a recent article posted on In These Times, tells us "How to end the war". She says we need to know the reasons for it, that these are exposed by the US' pursuit of military bases and Iraqi oil wealth. She says that we should struggle for what the Iraqis themselves want, meaningful self-determination and real democracy, buttressed by respect of international law. Her essay pretty well collects in one place everything that is wrong with so much left-wing thinking right now.

What's wrong?

First, to end the war, we do not need to know the real reasons for it. That's historical research, not political planning. It's like saying that, for the allies to win World War II, they needed to know Hitler's real reasons for making it. These reasons are still debated--A.J.P.Taylor introduced major competition to the naked aggression thesis--yet the war is long won. This is not nit-picking; it exemplifies the left's obsession with pointless, endless, fruitless analysis.

Second, Klein's claims about what counts as evidence for what are feeble. Of course, when one country invades another on a shoestring budget--and the whole point of Rumsfeld's policies was to make war on the cheap--then its first priorities will be to:

(1) make the place safe for your own forces, so that the political and economic cost of the war doesn't spiral out of control, and

(2) use the country's assets--in this case oil--to pay your way. So the invasion's activities were dictated by the invasion's budget, and are no indication of any ultimate objectives.(*) As for making the place safe for foreign investment, that is a third, more long-term priority along the same lines: get the private sector to do the reconstruction, which would otherwise cost far more than the US could ever afford. This is classic creepy-Republican wishful thinking and again has nothing to do with any ultimate objectives.

Third, Klein makes much of the insincerity of US democracy-rhetoric about Iraq. Well, duh. What has this to do with anything? Everyone but some few Americans know this, and those few Americans are either too steeped in their prejudices to be moved, or don't really give a damn whether the US is out to make Iraq into a democracy. They are far more concerned about kicking terrorist butt and generally showing the world that America is boss. Their motives are pure 9-11 reaction.

Fourth, Klein tells us we should have the courage to be serious, and then recommends what might as well be frivolity. She tells us that "the core fight is over respect for international law". Nope, international law is a non-starter, because there is no overriding, neutral sovereign to enforce it. What Klein is asking us to respect is in reality no more than a bunch of sentences expressing good wishes, articulated by courts and lawyers without the slightest authority because, in the real world, authority rests on naked power. No, the core fight is to get the US out of Iraq, isn't it? Which would be preferable: the US leaving Iraq tomorrow, and remaining completely contemptuous of international law, or leaving in five years, imbued with the deepest respect for international law? Klein's priorities are just a case of political ADD.

Fifth, Klein's position is drawn and quartered by the tug-of-war between her wish to avoid Bush's nation-building and her embrace of that very doctrine. First she says: "The future of the anti-war movement requires that it become a pro-democracy movement. Our marching orders have been given to us by the people of Iraq... We need to take our direction from them."

Then she says: "We need to support the people of Iraq and their clear demands for an end to both military and corporate occupation. ...It doesn't mean blindly cheerleading for "the resistance." Because there isn't just one resistance in Iraq... Not everyone fighting the U.S. occupation is fighting for the freedom of all Iraqis; some are fighting for their own elite power. That's why we need to stay focused on supporting the demands for self-determination, not cheering any setback for U.S. empire."

Then she says: "Anybody who says Iraqis don't want democracy should be deeply ashamed of themselves. Iraqis are clamoring for democracy and had risked their lives for it long before this invasion-in the 1991 uprising against Saddam, for example, when they were left to be slaughtered. The elections in January took place only because of tremendous pressure from Iraqi Shia communities that insisted on getting the freedom they were promised."

It's confusing, but I get it: getting the US out of Iraq is not really our first priority. It's getting the US out of Iraq *on our terms*. Who's 'we'? Well, 'we' support democracy, which means supporting, not all Iraqis, but the Iraqis who support democracy. The other Iraqis are bad: they just want to support 'their own [now conspicuously absent] élite power.' Worse, "Some elements of the armed resistance are targeting Iraqi civilians as they pray in Shia mosques-barbaric acts that serve the interests of the Bush administration by feeding the perception that the country is on the brink of civil war and therefore U.S. forces must remain in Iraq." So we support the people who want democracy, and who don't attack the Shia. We support the people who really want democracy, namely the nice Shia (not any nasty ones who want a theocracy) and, though she does not mention them, the Kurds. In other words, we support exactly the elements of the population Bush supports, and whatever other nice people we can find. It's all very well for Klein to talk of a 'responsible agenda' for withdrawal and even reparations, but if she's really committed to democracy in Iraq, she is committed to large parts of the US government's current policies.

This is pure bone-headed American ideology all over again. Of course the Shia communities wanted elections--wouldn't you, if that was your gateway to power? Sure they revolted in 1991--we are told they wanted Saddam Hussein off their backs, and thought they saw their chance. None of this shows that Iraqis have the American left's infantile commitment to a system of government which, in America itself, has been a miserable failure. Democracy, if it works anywhere, seems to work best in very settled, very prosperous countries--like those of Western Europe, at least before it got riled up about its immigrants. Iraq is no such place.

There's more. If Klein were not as arrogant as Bush, she would be the first to stress that she knows nothing about Iraq or what the Iraqis want, rather than trumpeting her great certainty on that subject. She would not produce embarrassing nonsense like "Now Iraqis are struggling for the tools that will make self-determination meaningful...". For one thing, 'self-determination' is comical: do the Iraqi Kurds want it in the same sense that the other Iraqis do? It is like the joke (yes, joke) that Kant reports: Two kings, Francis I of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, both want Milan. Francis proclaims a harmonious convergence of interest: "what I my brother Charles wants, I want too." For another thing, in our ignorance of Iraq, shouldn't we tend to go with the obvious? Savage resistance to an invasion is usually taken to mean that the resisters want the invaders out of there. It is usually taken, not as a struggle to make self-determination meaningful, but as a struggle for self-determination.

Quite possibly Iraqis do want what Klein apparently considers the prerequisites of meaningfulness: "freedom from debt for Iraq, a total abandonment of Bremer's illegal economic laws, full Iraqi control over the reconstruction budget". Quite possibly that they want many other things. But haven't quite a few Iraqis been telling and showing us that, first and foremost, they want the Americans out, period, not only if the departure is meaningful? Doesn't their first priority seem to be, not some search for meaning, but the killing of America's soldiers and lackeys? Is there something unclear about this message, or something I missed? Have the Iraqis expressed passionate longings for the American left to pick and choose among the factions in their country?

Throughout, Klein lacks precisely what she says we should have: the courage to be serious. What sort of courage does it take to demonstrate for True Democracy? Klein has not even asked the hard question. If she wants democracy so much--because, just like Bush and Blair, she absolutely knows those pitiful little Iraqis are pining for democracy--just when and how should the US withdraw its troops? Presumably the answer must be: once they have made Iraq safe for democracy. This would mean withdrawing once the 'democratic Iraqis' are strong enough to prevail over the undemocratic Iraqis, who seem to be quite powerful and well-organized. This would certainly require US military assistance, perhaps for years, or the introduction of other military forces to do the same thing, e.g. getting the UN or NATO to spell off the American invaders. (If Klein thinks that, somewhere in the universe, there are decorous, respectful, virtually nonviolent troops ready to somehow neutralize Klein's and Bush's 'bad guys'; this is another fantasy.) So Klein's courage consists in asking for pretty much what Bush is giving her.

Yes, Klein is sincere, she wants real democracy, she supports the truly democratic elements, and Bush is insincere. But in the end it is a difference that makes no difference. If you insist on bringing democracy to Iraq--always protesting that this is what the Iraqis themselves want--you will have to beat the anti-democratic elements you both deplore, and this will mean US bases and American soldiers shedding Iraqi blood. Any sincerity infusing these policies, and their ultimate objectives, are so much posturing over the same vicious meddling.

Getting Serious

The courage to be serious would mean something quite different. It would mean, not this bloodless, venti-decaf-latte substitute for passion, but real hatred of America's actions and single-minded, furious determination to get every last 'coalition' soldier off Iraqi soil, as soon as possible, by any means necessary. No ifs ands or buts about democracy, just get them out. Anyone who really believed in the Iraqis' right to their own damn country would not be fussing about whether their projected form of government or mode of self-determination matched American leftist ideals. This in none of our business, not least because it is mere insolence to presume that we know what the Iraqis want or how they should get it. It takes years to know a country, and, if one doesn't live there, at least long study, bolstered by fluency in the country's language. Only American yahoos, of all political stripes, would think otherwise.

"How to end the war?" Neither I nor Klein know how, but trying involves real, angry, nasty opposition, something a government might be concerned about. It cannot be built on a demand for withdrawal hedged with cherrypicking among which Iraqis 'give us our marching orders'. Real opposition requires something beyond reasoned persuasion; the utter impotence of the utterly reasonable left has shown as much. It is not a matter of discovering what documents which neocon produced in 1990. It is not a matter of billions and billions of emails, insulating us from the world like so much pink fiberglass. It is not a matter of blandly 'building constituencies', but of using the constituency that we already have, that we are. It is a couse of action which demonstrates that this war disgusts us, that we will stop at nothing to end it, and that we couldn't care less if it tears our country apart. The US should just leave, now, and we should all just shut up about democracy in Iraq. Decisions about policing belong to Iraqis and perhaps international agencies, whether or not these agencies have the slightest commitment to a democracy, and not to Americans of any political stripe. That's a clear message on which clear, resolute, all-out opposition can be built.

The courage to be serious also means not 'supporting our troops'. This support really has become obnoxious. We have just been treated to dozens of Vietnam commemorative pieces. The best of them make some mention of the three million Vietnamese we killed, and perhaps the Vietnamese children who, thanks to Agent Orange, must live some sort of life in hideous deformity. But on the left as on the right, it is all too common for the piece to be built around some loveable Vietnam vet. A recent Nation article, for instance, we meet

"Mike Sulsona, a former Marine... just back from his first trip to Vietnam since the war. He was excited because he surprised himself by liking it there this time and because he was pleased with the research he did for a play he wants to write about an Army tank driver."

We learn that

'Back in Ho Chi Minh City, the old Saigon, Sulsona was rolling his chair down a crowded sidewalk before his return to New York. He almost collided with a Vietnamese man, also in a wheelchair, rolling in the opposite direction, trying to sell lottery tickets. Recognizing each other by their differentness from everyone else and similarity to each other, the two paraplegics stopped rolling. The Vietnam veteran and the Vietnamese veteran wheeled their chairs to face each other as they might once have done with weapons.

'Neither knew many words in the other's language, but they spoke briefly, haltingly, enough for Sulsona to determine the other man had also been in the war. "Suddenly, we began laughing," Sulsona said. "Heavy belly laughs. I have no idea if he was in the South Vietnamese Army fighting for our side, or in the Viet Cong, or had come down with the North Vietnamese Army... Does it make a difference? We were laughing and laughing and couldn't stop, couldn't help ourselves, just a couple of guys who got fucked up in the war. ...Neither of us could stop laughing. I mean, what was all that about, anyway?"'

Heck, that sure is a nice send-off for bathing a country in fire and poison: let's pause and reflect on how gosh-darn crazy war is. It's exactly the slimy, war-is-hell-and-we're-just-human cop-out that endears so many to the Korean-war wackiness of M*A*S*H, which first aired three years before the fall of Saigon.

This is not compassion; it is cowardice. Unless you are a third force, with decisive power to affect the world situation, in a war you must take one side or the other. The left is no such third force. We are for the American invasion of Iraq, and the troops that effect it, or we are against it. To be serious is to acknowledge that one can't always pick and choose. We could not have seriously said, "we support the war against Hitler, but oppose Stalin", because that, taken seriously, would have been silly. Are you going to fight Stalin? Then you help Hitler. Are you not going to fight Stalin? Then who gives a damn what you 'oppose'?

If we support the troops, that means we don't want them to be killed, and we support their efforts to protect themselves, at least until such time--months, years?--as they can withdraw. In other words, we are against the Iraqis who attack them. We are for the deaths of the attackers, and anyone else who gets caught in crossfire as American troops fight back. If not, how is our support 'meaningful'?

We make patronizing excuses for 'our' soldiers: they are poor, ignorant, oppressed, deceived by recruiters, they are canon-fodder, they are everything that has formed the backbone of evil armies since the dawn of history. They are everything, that is, but adults, responsible for their decisions. As a consequence of these decisions, they have come thousands of miles to kill and mutilate people who did them no harm. If we--to use Klein's idiom--'meaningfully' support 'our' troops, we 'meaningfully' support the rape of Iraq, however much we bleat about the right and proper, partisan and time-consuming way to bring the boys home. The courage to be serious means the courage to make hard choices. Do we have it?

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(*) Yes, some of the bases look permanent. Sure, the US government would like to have them forever, who wouldn't? Countries like to be powerful, and seize on the opportunity to extend their power. But it is quite a stretch to suppose that the US invaded Iraq for these bases when, at far less cost of every kind, they could have built them elsewhere in the region.

Michael Neumann is a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. Professor Neumann's views are not to be taken as those of his university. His book What's Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche has just been republished by Broadview Press. He contributed the essay, "What is Anti-Semitism", to CounterPunch's book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. In September 2005, CounterPunch/AK Press will publish Neumann's new book, The Case Against Israel. He can be reached at: