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WHAT WE THINK
Support for the occupation collapses as Iraq policy unravels
Why isn't Bush on the run?

July 2, 2004 | Page 3

GEORGE W. Bush made the war on Iraq the central issue of his presidency. So why isn't he on the run?

From the collapse in justifications for the war, to the legal memo claiming presidential authority to order the torture of prisoners of war, to the handover of Iraqi "sovereignty"--held in secret and ahead of schedule to avoid attacks from the resistance--Bush's Iraq policy has unraveled.

"The grand designs that launched the war are now long gone, replaced by a process of trial and error," wrote Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. The idea of using Iraq as a model for the Bush Doctrine--pre-emptive wars and "remaking the Middle East" by invading Iran and/or Syria as well--has been shelved. The New York Times, observing Bush's failure after begging NATO for troops to shore up the occupation, noted Washington's "diminished diplomatic strength."

The real achievements of the Iraq war have been at least 9,000 Iraqis killed, more than 830 U.S. soldiers dead and 5,000 wounded, many critically--not to mention a shattered economy and deepening social crisis in what was once one of the most economically advanced countries in the region.

The "liberation" of Iraq has boiled down to this: the installation of Iyad Allawi as prime minister--a longtime crony of Saddam Hussein-turned-CIA collaborator whose "political party, the Iraqi National Accord, is filled with former members of Hussein's feared security services," as the Christian Science Monitor put it. Allawi revealed his Saddam-style authoritarianism last week by talking about declaring martial law and postponing elections--until his embarrassed backers in Washington hushed him up.

The Iraqi resistance will continue--and the fake handover of "sovereignty" will be exposed every time U.S. troops kill Iraqis or rampage through Iraqi neighborhoods and towns.

So with the antiwar movement's arguments vindicated and Bush on the defensive, why aren't we seeing the kind of activism that took place before the war? There two main reasons--the pressure to get in line behind Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and the complicated political questions raised by the occupation.

Before the war, millions of people hoped that it would be enough to say, "No!"--and even the New York Times noted the existence of the "superpower" of "world public opinion." But when Washington launched its war for oil and empire anyway, the issues got tougher--for example, whether to demand an immediate pullout of U.S. and "coalition" troops. Support for this demand, in turn, raised other issues: whether or not to back the Iraqi armed resistance and the right of Iraqis to self-determination.

Many activists who opposed the war have hesitated to support the demand to bring the troops home now. Some claim that the U.S. has an obligation to stay and reconstruct Iraq after two wars and a decade of sanctions. Others fear that an Islamist government could come to power and restrict the rights of women.

In fact, U.S. "reconstruction" consists of getting oil flowing to boost the fortunes of Halliburton and other U.S. oil giants, privatizing Iraqi companies to benefit U.S. multinational corporations, and using loans and aid as levers for long-term control of the Iraqi economy.

As for the possibility of an Islamist government taking over, the U.S. has no right to choose for the Iraqi people how they will be governed. Iraqis have the right to determine their own government--and the armed struggle against the U.S. occupiers stands in a long tradition of Iraqi nationalism that ousted the colonial rule of the British and their puppets.

Unfortunately, many leading antiwar activists who could be making these arguments and organizing anti-occupation protests are silent. Having decided to back "anybody but Bush," they've lined up behind John Kerry, whose policy on Iraq mirrors that of the White House.

Even the antiwar Green Party, which nominated Ralph Nader as its presidential candidate in the 2000 elections, refused to endorse Nader this time, in favor of a candidate who will pursue a "safe state" campaign strategy to avoid taking votes from Kerry. Yet Kerry, while critical of Bush's handling of Iraq, doesn't want to give up the U.S. stranglehold on the oil-rich Persian Gulf--a priority for former Democratic Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as much as Republicans Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes.

One positive development is the planning for a big antiwar demonstration in New York City during the upcoming Republican National Convention. This will be one of the few calls this year for national action that can mobilize large numbers of those who oppose the war. It will be important to make this demonstration as big as possible.

But beyond this, by focusing on the anti-Bush electoral drive, movement activists have missed the opportunity to organize against the root cause of the Iraq war--U.S. imperialism's drive to dominate the world. That's a task that will remain no matter who is in the White House next January.

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