How to End the Iraq War
Tom Hayden, USA
November 23, 2004
It is in the nature of truly mass movements that people
choose the paths that seem to promise effective
results, even victories. So it should surprise no one
that much of the energy of the peace and justice
movement flowed into presidential campaigns for Howard
Dean, Dennis Kucinich and ultimately John Kerry (the
As a result millions of people become engaged
politically on grassroots levels, many for the first
time. The peace and justice message was heard more
widely than before.
Under pressure, the Democratic platform opposed the
Central American trade agreement (CAFTA) and promised a
full review of U.S. trade policy. The movement was
unable to push Kerry and the Democrats into an anti-
Iraq position, although Kerry at least voiced a
constant attack on Bush's policy as mistaken. The
pressure of anti-war voices and the Kerry campaign led
Bush to delay the request for a supplemental $75
billion appropriation, the assault on Falluja, and the
U.S.-sponsored Iraqi elections until after Nov. 2.
Once the election was over, the Bush administration
turned Falluja into a slaughterhouse–even as the
Democrats remained silent and thousands of activists
seemed frozen in mourning or internal discussions of
what went wrong.
<\p>There is a lesson here for progressives. Since the
anti-war sentiment was a factor of public opinion
during the presidential race that made Bush defer tough
decisions, the movement needs to create an even greater
force of opposition that will become indigestible, a
kind of gallstone in the stomach of power.
If this seems unlikely, one must remember that the war-
makers are feverishly trying to manipulate the
perceptions of restive Americans. They fear the
multitudes. That is why reporters were embedded at the
beginning. That is why the toppling of Saddam Hussein's
statue on April 9, 2003 was "stage-managed" by the U.S.
Army, according to the L.A. Times.
Even the most recent battle of Fallujah was about "the
American military intend[ing] to fight its own
information war," as the New York Times observed.
According to another Times article, the Fallujah
hospital was shut down on the first day of the
operation because our Army considered it a "source of
rumors about heavy casualties." A senior military
official called the hospital "a center of propaganda"
as scores of patients were being treated.
The importance of public opinion was stated quite
frankly by Robert Kaplan, a leading neo-conservative,
in the Atlantic Monthly last year. The most important
battleground of America's new "combination warfare," he
wrote, is the media:
Indeed the best information strategy is to avoid
attention-getting confrontations in the first place
and to keep the public's attention as divided as
possible. We can dominate the world only quietly,
so to speak. The moment the public focuses on a
single crisis like the one in Iraq it becomes a
rallying point around which lonely and alienated
people in a global mass society can define
themselves through an uplifting group identity, be
it European, Muslim, anti-war intellectual, or
Therefore, public opinion—if strategically focused—
can end this war. To understand this requires a
different analysis than the usual one that assumes that
there will be an "exit strategy" after Iraq is
"stabilized." The war will end either when the U.S.
military "wins" or it will not end at all.
The Iraqi elections are designed to inflate the
currently non-existent legitimacy of the Allawi regime
by co-opting Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties, which
are led mostly by long-time exiles. In this scenario,
the new regime would technically end the occupation and
"request" the U.S. to stay until the country is
"stabilized," which means permanently, i.e. fulfilling
the long-term agenda of the neo-conservatives, now
entrenched more deeply than ever at the pinnacles of
While it is theoretically possible (and in my view,
desirable) that the January election might bring to
power a Shiite-led coalition that would ask the U.S. to
withdraw troops, that is hardly the intent. The U.S.
still plans to permanently remake a new Iraq, plans
that include American military bases, a privatized
market economy, ready access to oil, a prime target for
Western and, especially Christian, proselytizing in the
region. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S.
is already flooding Iraq with satellite dishes and
televisions while privatizing its 200 state-owned
companies: "Bremer discussed the need to privatize
government with such fervor that his voice cut through
the din of the cargo hold."
Instead of assuming that the Bush administration has an
"exit strategy", the movement needs to force our
government to exit. The strategy must be to deny the
U.S. occupation funding, political standing, sufficient
troops, and alliances necessary to their strategy for
A Plan of Action
The first step is to build pressure at congressional
district levels to oppose any further funding or
additional troops for war. If members of Congress balk
at cutting off all assistance and want to propose
"conditions" for further aid, it is a small step toward
threatening funding. If only 75 members of Congress go
on record against any further funding, that's a step in
the right direction—towards the exit.
The important thing is for anti-war activists to become
more grounded in the everyday political life of their
districts, organizing anti-war coalitions including
clergy, labor and inner city representatives to knock
loudly on congressional doors and demand that the $200
billion squandered on Iraq go to infrastructure and
schools at home. When trapped between imperial elites
and their own insistent constituents, members of
Congress will tend to side with their voters. That is
how the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia were ended in
Two, we need to build a Progressive Democratic movement
which will pressure the Democrats to become an anti-war
opposition party. The anti-war movement has done enough
for the Democratic Party this year. It is time for the
Democratic leadership to end its collaboration with the
Bush administration—with its endorsement of the
offensive on Fallujah, the talk of "victory" and
"killing the terrorists"—and now play the role of the
opposition. The progressive activists of the party
should refuse to contribute any more resources—
volunteers, money, etc.—to candidates or incumbents
who act as collaborators.
Thought should be given to selectively challenging
hawkish Democratic incumbents in primaries, and
supporting peace candidacies in 2006 and 2008.
Three, we need to build alliances with Republican anti-
war conservatives. Non-partisan anti-war groups (such
as Win Without War) should reach out to conservatives
who, according to the New York Times, are "ready to
rumble" against Iraq. Pillars of the American right,
including Paul Weyrich, Pat Buchanan and William F.
Buckley, are seriously questioning the quagmire created
by the neoconservatives. Strategists like Grover
Norquist call the war "a drag on votes" and
"threatening to the Bush coalition" that cost Bush six
percentage points in the election. The left cannot
create a left majority, but it can foster a left-right
majority that threatens the hawks in both parties.
Four, we must build solidarity with dissenting combat
veterans, reservists, their families and those who
suffered in 9/11. Just as wars cannot be fought without
taxpayer funding, wars cannot be fought without
soldiers willing to die, even for a mistake. Every
person who cares about peace should start their daily
e-mail messages with the current body count, including
a question mark after the category "Iraqi civilians."
Groups like Iraqi Veterans Against the War deserve all
the support the rest of the peace movement can give.
This approach opens the door to much-needed organizing
in both the so-called "red" states and inner cities,
which give disproportionate levels of the lives lost in
The movement will need to start opening another
underground railroad to havens in Canada for those who
refuse to serve, but for now even the most moderate
grievances should be supported—for example, relief
from the "back door draft" that is created by extending
tours of duty.
Over one-third of some 3,900 combat veterans have
resisted their call-ups, and the Army National Guard is
at 10 percent of its recruitment goal. More generally,
the "superpower" is stretched to a breaking point, with
14 of the Army's 33 combat brigades on front-line duty
in Iraq. Though most discourse on Vietnam ignores or
underplays the factor of dissent within the American
armed forces, it was absolutely pivotal to bringing the
ground war to an end. It already is becoming a real
"gallstone" for the Pentagon again.
Five, we need to defeat the U.S. strategy of
"Iraqization." "Clearly, it's better for us if they're
in the front-line," Paul Wolfowitz explained last
February. This cynical strategy is based on putting an
Iraqi "face" on the U.S. occupation in order to reduce
the number of American casualties, neutralize
opposition in other Arab countries, and slowly
legitimize the puppet regime. In truth, it means
changing the color of the body count.
The problem for the White House is that if the Iraqi
police and troops will not suppress and kill other
Iraqis on behalf of the United States, the war effort
will completely disintegrate. In April, the 200,000-
strong Iraqi security forces assigned to Fallujah
simply collapsed. In the most recent battle of
Fallujah, the Iraqi troops took part in little if any
combat. In Mosul, insurgents seized five Iraqi police
stations, not an uncommon event.
There is no sign, aside from Pentagon spin, that an
Iraqi force can replace the American occupation in the
foreseeable future. Pressure for funding cuts and for
an early American troop withdrawal will expose the
emptiness of the promise of "Iraqization." In Vietnam,
the end quickly came when South Vietnamese troops were
expected to defend their country. The same is likely to
occur in Iraq—or the U.S. can deepen its dilemma
through permanent occupation.
Six, we should work to dismantle the U.S. war
"Coalition" by building a "Peace Coalition" by the
means of the global anti-war movement. Groups with
international links (such as Global Exchange or other
solidarity groups) could organize conferences and
exchanges aimed at uniting public opinion against any
regimes with troops supporting the U.S. in Iraq. Every
time an American official shows up in Europe demanding
support, there should be speakers from the American
anti-war movement offering a rebuttal to the official
Hungary is only the latest government to "bow to public
pressure and prepare to bring its troops home" The
others who have packed up or plan to depart include
Spain, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua,
Honduras, the Philippines, Norway, Poland, the
Netherlands, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Moldova,
and Bulgaria—15 of the original 32. Japan is trying
to limit its troops to non-combat roles.
The most frightening U.S. "ally" is Pakistan, where 65
percent of the population has a favorable impression of
Osama bin Laden and only seven percent a positive image
of President Bush.
But the most important governments with troops still on
the ground are Britain (8,361), South Korea (2,800),
Italy (2,700) and more symbolically, Japan (550) and
Australia (250). Peace movements have achieved majority
or near-majority status in all five countries, with
Britain being the most vulnerable. In addition, both
France and Germany continue to resist the U.S.-
dominated coalition, in part because of the movements
in those countries. Any strategy to mobilize public
opinion across Europe, especially in Britain and Italy,
could complete America's isolation from its historic
allies and the world in general.
With Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggesting that the
Iraq policy is illegal, the Bush administration faces
the danger of being frozen out of international
diplomacy. At some point, the administration will
painfully find that it cannot impose its will on
everyone on the planet.
In short: pinch the funding arteries, push the
Democrats to become an opposition party, ally with
anti-war Republicans, support dissenting soldiers, make
"Iraqization" more difficult, and build a peace
coalition against the war coalition. If the politicians
are too frightened or ideologically incapable of
implementing an exit strategy, the only alternative is
for the people to pull the plug.
Where do mass demonstrations and civil disobedience fit
into this framework? Certainly Bush's inauguration will
be an appropriate time to dissent in the streets.
Nationwide rallies are an important way to remain
visible, but many activists may tire if they see no
strategic plan. The civil disobedience actions at
Bechtel, the San Francisco financial district, and the
Port of Oakland in early 2003 come closer to the
strategy of pressuring the nerve centers of war. Care
will have to be taken during such militant actions to
send the clearest possible message to mainstream public
Time for Action
If this sounds "irresponsible," the "responsible"
people have had their chance—they can still rig the
Iraqi election to install a regime that will ask us to
leave. After that, there's no hope but to begin the
withdrawal one person, one community, one country at a
time, until the president learns there's no there over
Ending this bloodbath is the most honorable task
Americans can perform to restore progressive priorities
and our respect in the world. We have passed the point
for graceful exit strategies. Our policy is to go on
mechanically killing people unless they vote in January
for us to keep on killing people.
By any moral or economic accounting, we now are
worsening the lives of Iraqi since the fall of Saddam.
We have turned innocent young Americans into torturers
in places like Abu Ghraib. When going into battle, we
close hospitals first. We make sure that television and
newspapers are not "able to show pictures of bleeding
women and children being taken into hospital wards"—
this reported on Veterans Day in the Times. Not even
our friends like us anymore, whether we are tourists in
Europe or diplomats at the United Nations.
We bomb Iraq towards an American-style market economy,
passing along a $200 billion war cost and trillion-
dollar debt cost to our children, while our own market
economy has failed most of us: minimum wage, down
thirty percent since 1978; company pensions, holders
down 18 percent since 1979; median job tenure, down
from 11 years to 7.7 since 1978; health insurance
coverage, down from 70 percent to 63 percent since
We may even be making another 9/11-type attack more
likely. What kind of government repeatedly states that
another attack is "inevitable," "not a matter of if but
when," then behaves in way to provoke one?
Our priorities must change.
Both parties now are trapped in the vicious cycle of
the "war on terrorism," just as they were caught up in
the Cold War, be it the nuclear arms race,
opportunistic alliances with dictators, and McCarthyite
suppression of domestic critics. Only the Sixties peace
and civil rights movements could finally shatter Cold
War thinking at that time. It will take another such
movement today to restore America's respect in the
world, take steps towards global justice, and in the
process possibly prevent another 9/11 attack.
(c) 2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights
reserved. View this story online at: AlterNet.
Tom Hayden was a leader of the student, civil rights, peace and environmental movements of the 1960s. He served 18 years in the California legislature, where he chaired labor, higher education, and natural resources committees. He is the author of ten books, including Street Wars (New Press, 2004).