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A crucial question for activists
The case for immediate withdrawal

April 29, 2005 | Page 3

THE REPUBLICANS and Democrats can agree on one thing--the U.S. can't withdraw its troops from Iraq right now.

According to the Bush administration, U.S. forces have to help Iraq complete its transition to democracy, and prevent a slow spiral toward civil war.

Despite occasional criticisms of Bush's rush to invade, the argument from mainstream Democrats isn't much different. "Now that we're there, we're there, and we can't get out," said Howard Dean, the new chair of the Democratic National Committee. Last week, Dean lectured 1,000 members of the ACLU on the "dangers" of an immediate withdrawal. "I hope the president is incredibly successful with his policy," declared Dean.

Unfortunately, some voices in the antiwar movement have adopted the same attitude. For example, Erik Gustafson, director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, criticized nationwide antiwar protests on March 19--the second anniversary of the invasion--for "abandoning the Iraqi people." "The only responsible way out of Iraq is through nation-building," he said.

The national antiwar coalition United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) is promoting liberal Democratic Rep. Lynn Woolsey's proposed congressional resolution advocating U.S. withdrawal.

Only Woolsey's resolution isn't for immediate withdrawal. Instead, it calls on the Bush administration to "develop and implement a plan to begin the immediate withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Iraq"--a tortured formulation designed to avoid a simple call for an immediate exit. As Woolsey insisted at a February 9 press conference, "Let me be clear--I am not advocating a cut-and-run strategy. It would be irresponsible for the United States to abandon the Iraqi people. We must play a role in facilitating their transition to stable democracy."

All of this highlights a debate that antiwar activists must confront--should we be for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq now, or something else?

For starters, it should be said that an overwhelming majority of Iraqis--85 percent, according to Iraqi pollster Saadoun al-Dulaimi of the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies--now favor the withdrawal of U.S. troops as soon as possible. The antiwar movement in this country ought to champion the sentiments of this vast majority.

The case for delaying the withdrawal--that U.S. forces are providing security or promoting democracy--is completely wrong.

The U.S. military is the single greatest source of violence and chaos in Iraq--and has been from the beginning. For example, when looting of government buildings broke out after the fall of the former regime, U.S. forces looked on--except at the Iraqi Oil Ministry, where Marine guards were posted. And while U.S. officials portray Iraq as menaced by "terrorists," the truth is that survey after survey--from the Iraqi Health Ministry to the British medical journal The Lancet--has found that occupation forces are responsible for the vast majority of all civilian killings in Iraq.

In fact, every moment that the U.S. stays in Iraq, it erects more barriers to the development of Iraqi self-government. First, the U.S. is building more than a dozen permanent military bases throughout the country--in order to rule Iraq well into the future, and by extension the rest of the Middle East.

"One of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights with [the Iraqi authorities]," retired U.S. Gen. Jay Garner, who oversaw the occupation until May 2003, said last year. "Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century. They were a coaling station for the Navy...That's what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East."

The U.S. is also determined to accomplish another aim before any withdrawal--the privatization of Iraq's economy. That was the point of U.S. overseer Paul Bremer's notorious "100 orders" governing domestic Iraqi affairs.

"By almost any mainstream economist's standard, the extreme--in fact, stunning," wrote economist Jeff Madrick in the New York Times. "It would immediately make Iraq's economy one of the most open to trade and capital flows in the world, and put it among the lowest taxed in the world, rich or poor. And it abolishes almost all restrictions on foreign investment. It would allow a handful of foreign banks to take over the domestic banking system."

If this seems a far cry from bringing democracy to Iraq, that's because the U.S. always uses such rhetoric as a cover for its real agenda. Those in the antiwar movement who support Woolsey's resolution--and other similar calls for "responsible withdrawal"--are moving away from the position that has long guided organizations and movements opposed to U.S. military intervention around the world.

The basic right of self-determination for Iraq--that Iraqis themselves should determine their own future--needs to be reasserted. The U.S. military is the chief obstacle to Iraqis having this right.

It's not more "sensible" or "compassionate" to call for "eventual withdrawal," while hoping that U.S. forces will "bring democracy" or aid in building institutions of Iraqi self-rule--something that the U.S. military machine has never done, anywhere in the world.

The antiwar movement needs to stand fast on its call for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq.

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