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Are we trying to "win without war"?

By Eric Ruder | January 3, 2003 | Page 7

A GROUP of Hollywood celebrities announced their decision to sign up with the antiwar movement last month, rejecting George W. Bush's drive to launch a pre-emptive war on Iraq. "War talk in Washington is alarming and unnecessary," reads the statement signed by Kim Basinger, Matt Damon, David Duchovny, Laurence Fishburne and dozens more. "Unprovoked war will increase human suffering, arouse animosity toward our country, increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks, damage the economy and undermine our moral standing in the world."

The statement--written by a coalition that calls itself "Keep America Safe: Win Without War"--was released in conjunction with the December 10 national day of antiwar action, and a number of mainstream organizations have now signed on, including the NAACP, National Council of Churches and National Organization for Women.

Obviously, this is a welcome development that shows the gathering opposition to the Bush war drive. But it also raises important questions for antiwar activists. That's because the "Win Without War" statement, while opposed to unilateral U.S. action, accepts important parts of the Bush administration's case for war. "We are patriotic Americans who share the belief that Saddam Hussein cannot be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction," says the statement. "We support rigorous UN weapons inspections to assure Iraq's effective disarmament."

Taken literally, this statement could provide justification for supporting a war that the Win Without War coalition says it is against--since U.S. officials have repeatedly shown their willingness to manufacture a confrontation over weapons inspections as a justification for military assault.

This approach also lets the U.S. government off the hook. After all, Washington spent more than a decade arming Saddam Hussein with the very chemical and biological weapons that U.S. officials now object to.

But there's an even more fundamental question. What does it mean to call for "winning without war"? It implies that it's fine for the U.S. government to pursue its agenda, as long as it doesn't use military means. But for more than 10 years, the U.S. has insisted on strict economic sanctions against Iraq that have taken the lives of more than 1 million people--far more than the 200,000 who died during the 1991 war.

The call for "winning without war" also assumes that everyone in the U.S. shares the same interest in "subduing Iraq." But the massive U.S. military budget dwarfs spending on programs that ordinary people depend on. The CEOs of oil corporations can expect a financial windfall from the drive to topple Saddam Hussein, but working people will find that their own living standards must suffer to feed the Pentagon.

Activists who want to build the strongest possible antiwar movement need to argue for a political outlook that exposes the U.S. goal of dominating the Middle East and the world--whether that takes the form of unilateral war against Iraq, or a United Nations-backed invasion with the support of U.S. allies.

Many activists will already agree with these points. For those who don't, it's important to remember that the movement is in its early stages. The history of previous struggles shows that the people who organize them are changed by the experience--and are often radicalized.

So those who today worry that a war against Iraq may "undermine the moral standing of the U.S. in the world" can come to see that our goal should be to show that the U.S. isn't motivated by morality, but by the rush to dominate the world, no matter what the human cost.

Our enemy is at home. And our task is to stop, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government."

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