You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.

Why the antiwar movement should demand...
U.S. troops out now!

September 19, 2003 | Page 8

SHOULD ANTIWAR activists call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq? Should they support a phased withdrawal, followed by a United Nations (UN) occupation? These key issues are being debated out in the antiwar movement. PAUL D'AMATO explains why Iraqis will never be liberated until all foreign troops are forced out.

TED GLICK, a leading antiwar activist, recently wrote an article titled "The United Nations and Iraq," which makes the most coherent case for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops and its replacement by a UN-led occupation. He argues that we must take a "a position beyond 'U.S. Out' and 'Iraq for Iraqis.'"

For Glick, however, "beyond" doesn't mean adding on to these demands, but negating the demands themselves. Glick argues that immediate U.S. withdrawal will produce chaos and civil war. "It is reasonable to expect that an Iraq left to itself to sort out its form(s) of governance if/when the United States leaves would be an Iraq that would experience significant internal struggles, including armed struggles and possibly civil war," he writes.

Lurking behind these arguments is the fear that the Iraqis might erect an Islamic state if the U.S. withdraws too quickly. Glick proposes that there be some kind of phased U.S. troop withdrawal, followed by a UN-led occupation force--"perhaps a joint UN/Arab League force, without any U.S. or UK participation," he suggests, that would run Iraq for an unspecified time until Iraq could be handed back to its own people.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE FIRST thing to be said about this argument is that both the U.S. and the UN are responsible for the chaos in Iraq, dating back decades. How can we argue that the destroyers of Iraq--both the U.S. and the UN--be allowed to stay in this country another day? For what purpose?

The U.S. intends to stay as long as it takes to suppress the resistance and put in place a regime and an army that will be faithful to U.S. interests. Every extra day that the U.S. is able to spend in Iraq is a day it moves closer to that goal.

If we replace a real analysis of what is being done to Iraq with wishful thinking about a kinder, gentler occupation, we're merely giving cover for it. Glick insists that this demand isn't the same as supporting Bush's call for "UN participation on the ground in Iraq while the U.S. continues its occupation. The peace movement must be clear and firm in its opposition to this plan."

But the only condition on which the U.S. will accept greater UN involvement is on the basis that the U.S. retains command and control of the occupation. As in the 1991 Gulf War, the UN would be a fig leaf to cover U.S. authority, nothing more.

Secondly, we should be clear that a call for any kind of occupation is a pro-occupation position--i.e., a denial of the right of self-determination for the Iraqi people, on the grounds that Iraq must not be left "to itself."

If the UN were to take control of the occupation, what in fact would this mean? First of all, the U.S. and Britain are on the main governing body of the UN, the Security Council. Therefore, any demand for a UN occupation without their participation is a contradiction in terms.

And what of the other members of the Security Council--China, France and Russia? All of them are vultures, hovering over Iraq in the hopes of extracting concessions from the U.S.--i.e. a piece of Iraq's oil wealth, in return for their support.

Glick himself admits that the advocates of immediate withdrawal argue "very accurately" that "the United Nations is complicit in the Iraq tragedy via its imposition of economic sanctions for 12 years prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion, both of which have devastated Iraqi society." He also concedes, "And they argue--with legitimacy--that the UN going into Iraq this summer while the U.S. was occupying the country was a mistake, giving support to that occupation."

Yet in spite this record, Glick asks us to support a UN occupation of Iraq. In effect, he is asking Iraqis to accept the murderers of their children as rulers over their nation in order to prevent chaos!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE IDEA that Iraq is in need of some kind of "enlightened Western intervention to solve their problems"--to quote a response to Glick that activist Lucy Herschel wrote on the United for Peace and Justice listserve--"is another version of the 'White Man's Burden.' From British colonialism, to the CIA helping Saddam Hussein into power, to the U.S. occupation and its UN endorsement today, Western intervention is the main thing standing between Iraqis and their ability to run their own country democratically," Herschel wrote.

The justifications for colonialism have always run along two interrelated lines. First, the "natives" are not capable of managing their own affairs; and second, "abandoning" them would lead to further brutality and dictatorial rule. "To abolish the colonies," remarked the right-wing German social democrat Eduard David in a debate on colonialism in 1907, "would mean giving them back to the native peoples. What then would occur in the colonies? They would not experience humane rule but a return to barbarism."

What is disconcerting is how much this argument is reflected in Glick's reasoning. The assumption of the "white man's burden" is that the big powers (for it is they who run the UN) have both the moral authority and the political right to intervene to "sort out" the rest of the world--and secondly, that they are capable of intervention for something other than the purposes of plunder.

The experience of the Vietnam War taught antiwar activists to be "knee-jerk" anti-imperialists, opposed to Uncle Sam sending troops anywhere. The U.S. then launched, under the guise of "humanitarian intervention," a series of interventions designed precisely to erase the "Vietnam Syndrome"--from Somalia to Kosovo. A whole section of the left bought into the reasoning that the U.S. is capable of benign intervention in certain instances.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

AS SOON as we in the U.S., whatever our intentions, begin making our opposition to the conquest and occupation of Iraq conditional, then we are in practice acknowledging the right of the U.S. and other powers to decide Iraq's fate. In effect, we would be saying that we are "for" Iraq's independence from U.S. and foreign rule, but only on the condition that the Iraqi people can behave themselves.

The argument that a U.S. withdrawal might strengthen political Islam in Iraq is upside down. U.S. imperialism is in large part responsible for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region.

Over the last century, the U.S. government has attempted to use various means--from dictatorial client regimes, to Islamist proxy armies (in Afghanistan) to direct military intervention--in order to protect its oil interests. It alternately backed Islamist movements as a counterweight to secular anti-imperialist movements, and it has now turned on the Islamist organizations.

But the continued U.S. dominance of the region breeds Islamic opposition. A precondition for the development of a secular, democratic society in the Middle East is the complete end of imperialist control over the region.

Those like Glick who put forward a UN occupation argue that the movement must offer "realistic" solutions to the U.S. occupation. But it is Glick and Co. who are unrealistic--in believing that the UN could be a benign force, rather than what it really is: the light blue coating over a red-white-and-blue occupation. "When Glick talks about the 'best of a series of bad options,'" writes Herschel, "he completely discounts the idea that the solution to Iraq's problems could come from within Iraq itself."

The solution for Iraqis cannot come from above--through the mechanism of one or another combination of imperialist powers. It can only come through the struggle of ordinary Iraqis themselves--and from mass movements outside Iraq linked together with them in international solidarity.

Home page | Back to the top