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Why we say:
U.S. out of Iraq now!

April 23, 2004 | Page 5

WITH THE U.S. occupation of Iraq facing its most intense crisis yet, ERIC RUDER explains why we call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"SO WHAT should the U.S. do?" is a question that opponents of the occupation of Iraq are often asked. Many people agree that the U.S. war on Iraq is unjust and that the growing violence in Iraq is further proof that the U.S. shouldn't be there.

But at the same time, they think that the U.S. can't just leave. The U.S. has a responsibility, goes the argument, to see through what it started. To leave now would be to turn our backs on a mess that we created. But demanding that the U.S. immediately withdraw its troops does not mean ignoring Washington's responsibility to the people of Iraq.

The debt that the U.S. owes Iraq is enormous. Iraq has been devastated over the course of two wars and more than a decade of economic sanctions that strangled the economy. The country is littered with radioactive debris from depleted uranium weapons, a generation has been plunged into malnutrition, and Iraq's sophisticated medical facilities have seen the clock turned backward to a time when routine surgeries were performed without anesthesia or sterile instruments.

This is the real legacy of the U.S. in Iraq--no matter how many times George W. Bush claims, as he did during last week's press conference, that the U.S. is a "liberating power." Last year, Congress allocated an astonishing $186 billion for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan--and only $33 billion of it was for reconstruction.

The U.S. should leave and give the rest of its military allocations--no strings attached--to the Iraqi people. And that would still only begin to approach what the U.S. government owes the Iraqi people.

With the Iraqi resistance reaching new heights, Bush has been forced into ever more tortured justifications for staying in Iraq. "I have directed our military commanders to make every preparation to use decisive force, if necessary, to maintain order and to protect our troops," said Bush.

But the best way--by far--to protect U.S. troops is to bring them home now. To justify deadly force by claiming the need to protect troops who have no right--moral or otherwise--to be in Iraq is utterly twisted.

When Bush lashed out at the Iraqi resistance forces, he said, "The violence we have seen is a power grab by these extreme and ruthless elements." What a fraud! It was Bush who used lied to justify a violent "power grab" in Iraq that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis.

The Iraqi resistance to this tyranny more and more enjoys the support of the vast majority of Iraqis, who have only become more hardened in their opposition to the U.S. as they bear the brunt of punitive measures carried out by U.S. forces "teaching a lesson" to resistance fighters.

But doesn't the U.S. at least have an obligation to stay until elections can be organized in Iraq? According to the Bush administration, the practical obstacles to democratic elections are significant, requiring the U.S. to stay for the foreseeable future until the details are worked out.

But the U.S. itself is chiefly responsible for delaying elections--because it fears that the outcome won't serve its economic and strategic goals. "[E]ven while U.S. occupation officials were pointing to the lack of a census as an obstacle to a vote, they were quietly vetoing a detailed plan to conduct one in time for elections," writes Seth Ackerman of the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

"In December, the New York Times revealed that census experts in the Iraqi Planning Ministry had compiled a comprehensive proposal to hold a national population tally followed by elections within the space of 10 months...But the Americans secretly rejected it and never told the Iraqi Governing Council of its existence."

The U.S. has blocked elections from taking place because they fear the result. So much for remaining in Iraq to promote democracy.

The administration and its media mouthpieces have perpetuated the myth that civil war and chaos would be the result of a U.S. withdrawal. But chaos and the threat of civil war are the result of the occupation.

U.S. officials played on divisions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq to try to prevent a united opposition--and then claimed that only their forces were "maintaining peace" between rival groups. But this claim rings increasingly hollow with every new example of Shiites and Sunnis joining forces to fight back against the U.S. occupation.

All the talk about Iraq descending into chaos without the U.S. to bring stability amounts to a 21st-century version of the "white man's burden"--the justification for early 19th and early 20th-century colonialism. At that time, every colonial power justified its domination of less powerful countries with claims that it was bringing democracy and civilization to "savages" who were "incapable" of self-rule.

Calling for a United Nations (UN) takeover of the occupation as a kinder, gentler alternative to the U.S. doesn't change the insulting notions at the core of the idea that Iraq will "descend into chaos" without outside intervention. What's more, this call ignores the reality of whose interests the UN serves.

In fact, the Bush administration is hoping the UN will take a major share of the responsibility in Iraq--because Washington now feels that a UN administration will have more credibility. Because of its dominant influence at the UN, the U.S. can still accomplish its core goals. After all, under the UN's current plan, the U.S. military would stay in Iraq to keep "law and order." And the U.S. would be in a position--as a member of the UN Security Council--to veto any UN proposals that it didn't approve of.

The history of Britain's colonial drive to dominate Iraq in the early 20th century also teaches an important lesson about bringing in "international institutions" to serve as a fig leaf for imperialist powers. The British military invaded Iraq, making the same claims as the U.S.

"Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators," said Gen. Frederick Stanley Maude. But inevitably, the Iraqi resistance to their would-be colonial masters began. In fact, it began after the decision to bring in the League of Nations--the precursor to the UN--and make Iraq a "mandate" instead of a direct colonial possession of Britain.

The U.S., the UN and all foreign troops should leave Iraq. Iraqis themselves should determine their political leaders, how to organize elections and how to rebuild the country. The U.S. government shouldn't be allowed to choose who runs Iraq. Nor should we in the antiwar movement make any demands about this.

We may even disagree with the politics of those who do come to govern Iraq. But that's what self-determination means--Iraqis get to decide. To demand anything else of the U.S. government other than its immediate withdrawal would give it the political justification to continue the pursuit of its war aims--which it has always cloaked with lofty phrases about democracy, freedom and justice.

Opponents of the U.S. war and occupation have a responsibility to do all we can to force our government to get out now. We don't want another U.S. soldier to die for oil and empire--and we want people of Iraq to have the right to self-determination, so they, and they alone, decide their future.

Howard Zinn's 40-year-old case for...
The logic of withdrawal

IN 1967, HOWARD ZINN published Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal to make a simple case--that the U.S. should get out of Vietnam immediately. At the time, many antiwar activists were hesitant to make this demand, preferring to call for "negotiations" rather than what they considered the "impractical" position of immediate withdrawal. But Washington did undertake negotiations--at the same time that it escalated the war in the name of preserving U.S. "prestige" around the world.

Here, Socialist Worker reprints excerpts from Zinn's short book that are especially relevant to today's antiwar movement.

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

A UNITED States military presence is a danger to the Vietnamese and to us. Its withdrawal is neither "abdication of responsibility" nor "isolationism." Our bombing and shooting are irresponsible. In the future, we can show our responsibility by giving economic aid, when invited...

The United States, thus, cannot gain anything for Vietnam by negotiating, and it should not gain anything for itself. Since this country does not belong in Vietnam, it has no moral basis for negotiating any status for itself--certainly not military bases or troops; Vietnam has had enough of that...

For the United States to withdraw unilaterally, leaving the negotiations to the various groups in Vietnam, would avoid the present impasse over negotiations. This impasse is founded on a set of psychological realities which protract the war. The National Liberation Front, imbued with the spirit of patriots driving off an invading army, is willing to continue its guerrilla tactics until the United States is worn down.

Besides, the Geneva experience taught it to distrust international agreements; it is confident of its skill in the jungles of Vietnam, not so confident it can outmaneuver great powers at conference tables...Many critics of our policy, who know very well that the United States should leave Vietnam, do not want to ask for immediate and unilateral withdrawal.

This is not because they find powerful reasons against it, but because it is not a good "tactic," not "popular," not acceptable to the president and his staff. I believe this is based on a false notion of how political decisions are made--the notion that citizens must directly persuade the president by the soundness of their arguments.

This makes two assumptions which I think are unfounded. One is that the interests of the citizens and the president are the same, so that if they both think straight, they will be led to the same conclusions...The other assumption is that the president is a rational being who can be persuaded by rational arguments.

We have seen--and our recent foreign policy illustrates it--how our highest officials have become the victims of the myths which they themselves help to perpetuate. The so-called "realists" who urge us to speak softly and so persuade the president are working against the reality, which is that the president responds to self-interest rather than to rational argument.

Citizens can create a new self-interest for the president by persuading enough of their fellow citizens, who will then make enough of a commotion to "persuade" the president that he had better make a change. This cannot be effectively done by a citizenry which says only half of what it believes, which dilutes its passion and surrenders its moral fervor. If enough people speak for withdrawal, it can become politically feasible.

Reprinted with permission from Howard Zinn and South End Press.

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