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WHAT WE THINK
Antiwar movement shouldn't fall for Democrats' maneuvers
Why "out now" means now

December 2, 2005 | Page 3

THE NEXT "milestone" on Iraq's alleged "road to democracy"--new elections based on the U.S.-brokered constitution--is weeks away, but nothing can keep a lid on the growing crisis of the occupation.

Even Ayad Allawi, prime minister in the former stooge government imposed by the U.S. occupiers in mid-2004, bemoans conditions in the "new" Iraq. "People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse," Allawi told Britain's Observer newspaper this week. "It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam, and now we are seeing the same things."

By "same things," Allawi means reports of torture, disappearances and secret interrogations that end in death. The consequences of the U.S. military's brute force can be seen throughout Iraq--for example, the hundreds of thousands who fled Falluja during last year's devastating "Operation Phantom Fury," and who continue to live in squalid conditions, according to a report by antiwar journalist Dahr Jamail for the Inter Press Service.

Meanwhile, in mid-November, the latest rulers of Iraq could hardly keep it together at a Reconciliation Conference in Cairo, where attendees battled over the constitution, the insurgency, and the U.S. role in Iraq.

This is the critical backdrop for understanding the furor that erupted in the House of Representatives last week after Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) proposed a resolution stating the U.S. "cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It is time to bring them home."

Coming from one of the first Democrats to support Bush's war plans for Iraq, Murtha's statement is a sign that the crisis of the occupation--and the opposition to the war among millions of Americans who are, in Murtha's words, "way ahead of us"--is finally denting official politics. Opinion polls show that 54 percent or more of Americans want U.S. forces withdrawn promptly from Iraq; 60 percent believe it was a mistake to have sent troops in the first place.

Still, no one in the antiwar movement should think that Murtha's agenda is the same as their own.

His resolution calls not for "withdrawal" of troops but "redeployment" to an "over the horizon" position in Kuwait or elsewhere. It closely resembles a plan issued in September by the liberal Center for American Progress proposing "strategic redeployment" of U.S. forces from Iraq, with 14,000 rapid reaction troops being stationed in Kuwait and another 20,000 troops sent to other "hot spots" like Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.

As anti-imperialist writers Gilbert Achcar and Stephen Shalom pointed out in an article on ZNet, "The antiwar movement cannot endorse U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, whether over or under the horizon. We don't want U.S. troops remaining in the region and poised to go back into Iraq. They don't belong there, period."

Murtha is well known as a spokesperson for sections of the Pentagon establishment, which worry that defeat in Iraq will cripple the military.

Despite these hawkish credentials, though, Democratic Party leaders--especially those with presidential ambitions--were quick to distance themselves from Murtha. "It will matter to us if Iraq totally collapses into civil war, if it becomes a failed state the way Afghanistan was, where terrorists are free to basically set up camp and launch attacks against us," warned Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) warned.

But Clinton's echoing of Bush administration rhetoric is no more outrageous than the timidity of liberal Democrats who are viewed as allies by leading organizations in the antiwar movement.

Until Murtha, none of these antiwar Democrats had proposed anything more than a drawn-out "exit strategy"--promising withdrawal of U.S. troops beginning in October 2006 (Rep. Dennis Kucinich) or December 2006 (Sen. Russell Feingold) or sometime in 2007 (former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle).

And when the Republicans forced a vote on an alternative to Murtha's proposal designed to embarrass the Democrats by calling for "immediate withdrawal" of troops from Iraq, the Democrats fell into the trap and voted against it. The replacement resolution was defeated by a vote of 403-3.

The Democrats objected that the resolution stripped Murtha's language calling for an "over the horizon" positioning of U.S. troops in Kuwait. But Republican intentions aside, there was nothing scurrilous or extreme about the language of resolution, which stated in unvarnished terms the antiwar movement's main demand--immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Yet none of the Democratic lawmakers that antiwar organizations have tended to look to voted in favor.

Afterward, the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA)--which promotes itself as a grassroots liberal pressure group on the Democrats--issued a statement defending the Democrats' decision to vote with the Republicans against their "attempt to trick Democrats into supporting a 'cut-and-run' position on withdrawing U.S. troops."

Apparently, the PDA first called on lawmakers to support the Republican resolution, but a few calls from its friends on Capitol Hill made it reverse course to urge a vote against "an irresponsible caricature of the sensible Democratic position put forth by Congressman Murtha."

The "sensible Democratic position" is far from what the position of the antiwar movement should be--the immediate and complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq has had nothing to do with liberation, and the continuing American presence is neither a stabilizing presence nor a deterrent to civil war breaking out.

Washington's occupation is the chief source of violence and instability in Iraq. Any hope of ending the suffering and chaos depends, first and foremost, on the withdrawal of U.S. military forces. The antiwar movement must set its own agenda, independent of the needs of the politicians in Washington trying to "fix" the war--and call for U.S. troops out now.

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