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Anthony Arnove: "The character of our movement is changing"

February 16, 2007 | Pages 9 and 10

AFTER THE huge antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C., on January 27, several hundred people packed into the back room of Busboys and Poets bookstore for a spirited, standing-room-only forum featuring author Anthony Arnove and Kelly Dougherty of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Kelly served in Iraq immediately after the U.S. invasion as a member of the Colorado Army National Guard. After her return, she co-founded Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). She is now IVAW's executive director.

Read Kelly Dougherty: "Our lives weren't important compared to profits"

See and hear this event

The Traprock Peace Center has posted video and sound recordings of the forum at Busboys and Poets--along with a lot of crucial information for activists on the struggle against war and empire.


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I REALLY want to thank Kelly and all the comrades here from IVAW, who are really the vanguard of the antiwar movement. Even if they weren't at the front of the march, and they should have been at the front of the march, they were the forefront of the politics of this march.

From the beginning, IVAW has had three very simple demands, and I just want to reiterate them, because I think they're the demands that the antiwar movement needs to coalesce around.

-- The first demand: Immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq. You notice that it's not that we have a plan how in 12 months, or maybe 18 months, or maybe three years, if certain benchmarks are met, if certain conditions are met, and if at such point a committee decides, then we'll withdraw. It's a very clear demand--we have no business staying in Iraq.

-- The second demand: Reparations and other compensation for the destruction and corporate pillaging of Iraq so that ordinary Iraqi people can control their own lives and future. This is not an isolationist position that doesn't care what happens to Iraqis. It's acknowledging the immense destruction and harm in Iraq.

As Kelly pointed out, this didn't begin in March 2003. There's a long history before March 2003, of twelve-plus years of sanctions, the 1991 Gulf War, the Iran-Iraq War and all of the years that the governments in Washington supported the dictator Saddam Hussein as he carried out his worst crimes. In fact, they supplied the lists that the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein used to slaughter the left in Iraq, so that they could rise to power.

Reparations to the Iraqi people is the IVAW's second demand, and it's a demand that all of us have to be adding to the demand for immediate withdrawal.

-- And the third demand: Full benefits, adequate health care, including mental health, and other supports for returning servicemen and women.

What you can do

Go to the Iraq Veterans Against the War Web site for news and updates about war resisters and other initiatives. Active-duty soldiers can register their discontent by signing the Appeal for Redress. Troops who need advice about their rights should go to GI Rights Hotline Web site or call 800-394-9544 from the U.S. or 510-465-1472 from outside the U.S.

Anthony Arnove's Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal is essential reading for every antiwar activist. Anthony is also the coauthor with Howard Zinn of Voices of a People's History of the United States, and editor of Iraq Under Siege.

For an excellent history of the GI rebellion during the U.S. war on Vietnam, read David Cortright's Soldiers in Revolt, newly republished by Haymarket Books. David Zeiger's Sir! No Sir! is an inspiring documentary about the Vietnam soldiers' revolt, and is available on DVD, along with many other supplemental materials.


When these maniacs talk about supporting our troops, we have to be very clear what they mean. What they mean is supporting the government--no matter how many troops they kill, no matter how many lives they destroy, no matter how many Iraqis they murder, no matter how much destruction they wreak, no matter how many veterans they abandon. That's what they mean by "supporting our troops."

Genuine support of the troops means bringing them home, supporting them here in this country, and providing alternatives so that people don't have to feel that the only way they can get an education, get a job, get health care is to join the military.

There's a book that everyone has to read: Soldiers in Revolt. We really have so many lessons to learn from the struggle of GIs during the Vietnam war. There's also a film everyone needs to see called Sir No Sir, a documentary that's out now with a director's cut that has amazing supplementary material.

Soldiers in Revolt was originally published at the end of the Vietnam war by David Cortright, who was active in organizing GI resistance. And it documented a history that has been kept away from us--a history that has been deliberately manipulated.

We grew up on the myth that the antiwar movement was a bunch of hippies, stoners and students, and that the veterans and the American working class all supported the war, and they were spat on by the antiwar movement. It's a complete lie. Soldiers and working-class people were in the vanguard of leading the struggle against the Vietnam war, and bringing an end to that war. This book documents that history, which we have a lot to learn from.

Kelly mentioned the group Appeal to Redress. The way that group got its inspiration was from a soldier reading David Cortright's book, in the new edition which Haymarket Books published recently, with new material from Cortright and from Howard Zinn, the people's historian. That material connects the struggle against the war in Vietnam to the struggle against the occupation of Iraq today, and encouraging support for those soldiers who are speaking out.

That is very important. We have to understand that there's a relationship between the soldiers in Iraq, and what we're doing here in this country. There's an organic relationship between the numbers of people who were out on the streets today, and giving confidence to those voices within the military who are beginning to speak out, organize and question, and who are the basis for ending this occupation.

If you go back to the Vietnam era, that solidarity existed in people coming to see that the civil rights struggle at home was connected with the struggle against the war in Vietnam, and see the racism within the military and against the Vietnamese people--the same kind of racism that we see being used against the Iraqi people, and against Arabs and Muslims today.

The war abroad goes hand in hand with the war on working people, a war on poor people, a war on immigrants and a war on all of our civil liberties. We have to make those connections. And the stronger we are, the more support we can lend to the soldiers, whose voices are so decisive. IVAW's work is so decisive, and all of us have to support it however we possibly can.

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WE'RE ALMOST four years into the occupation of Iraq, and you have to laugh because the media says, "Oh, you're talking about a hasty withdrawal from Iraq."

First of all, as Kelly pointed out, we've been there for a lot longer than four years. The United States was bombing Iraq. Their presence in the Middle East goes back a long time. It's not just this occupation, but the occupation of Palestine goes back more than 40 years.

So this isn't a hasty withdrawal that we're talking about. The United States had no right to invade in the first place, and it should get out immediately now.

But all of the reasons that they put forward for why we should stay in Iraq are as bogus as the reasons for why they said we had to go in.

Let's spend a moment on democracy. First of all, right now, we're in Washington, D.C. Would anyone like to speak to the level of democracy here in Washington, D.C.? We just had an election in November where the majority of people in this country said they want the troops to come home and they reject the policies of this administration. And we have a president who says he doesn't give a damn, and a Congress that doesn't seem to have heard us either. Is that a democracy?

We have an opposition party whose form of criticizing the occupation of Iraq is to pass a nonbinding resolution criticizing the escalation of an additional 21,500 troops--but not questioning the fundamental presence of the United States as an occupying power in Iraq. It's not about the 21,500 additional troops alone. It's a whole package.

You cannot fund the war, you cannot support 132,000 troops in Iraq, as Hillary Clinton is doing, and say you're against the war. You're not--you're for the war.

The other argument we hear, of course, is that there will be civil war if the United States leaves--as if today, the United States has not created a civil war in Iraq. They say there will be violence and bloodshed if the United States leaves, as if there's not today violence and bloodshed.

The United States has created the world's worst refugee crisis in Iraq. Imagine all of the refugee crises that exist in the world today, and the idea that the crisis in Iraq today is the worst is extraordinary.

The United States is building the largest U.S. embassy in the world in the Green Zone in Baghdad among the former palaces of their friend Saddam Hussein. And there is not one single person in the vast compound who is taking applications for refugees or asylum-seekers from those millions of Iraqis who have been made refugees by this occupation. Not a single person.

Last year, the United States had a cap on Iraqis being able to enter this country. Five hundred was the cap. But guess how many were let in? Two hundred and two Iraqis. Two million have been made external refugees. Half a million internal refugees, as a result of ethnic cleansing that has been encouraged and fueled by the U.S. occupation.

And then they say we have to fight terrorism in Iraq. The reality is that the U.S. is using terrorism in Iraq. It is terrorizing the civilian population in Iraq, not in any way lessening the terror. People are afraid to leave their homes, afraid to go to mosques, afraid to send their children to school.

We have a new discourse that's developing in this country, and it's a very dangerous one--one that we're hearing a lot from a number of Democrats today. Hillary Clinton recently gave a speech in which she said, in explaining that she wasn't going to give unconditional support to the Iraqi government, that they have to meet certain requirements. She asked, "How much are we willing to sacrifice" for the Iraqi people?

The argument we're hearing more and more is that we brought this wonderful gift of democracy and humanity and liberation to these people, but they just don't appreciate this wonderful thing that we've done for them. There's an idea that the tree of democracy somehow cannot take root in the hostile soil of Iraq.

There's a rhetoric developing about how it's the Iraqis' fault. Yes, maybe we made a few mistakes, maybe we should just send a few more troops, maybe we should have had a slightly different strategy, but at the end of the day, it's the fault of Iraqis.

What goes along with that is maybe we shouldn't be so focused on Iraq--we should be more focused on Iran, or maybe we should be more focused on Syria, or maybe we should be sending more troops to Afghanistan. And all this doesn't address the reality that the United States is the fundamental source of instability in Iraq, and every day the occupation continues, life gets worse for the Iraqi people.

Bush talks about escalation, and in some ways, it's easy to look at that and say it's just more of the same. Even if they send the 21,500, it gets U.S. troops back up to 150,000 or 160,000--we've been there before in this occupation.

In November 2005, Bush had his "plan for victory" in Iraq. And before that, Mission Accomplished and all of the other things we were told were going to turn the corner and lead to a solution in Iraq.

This last August, there was Operation Together Forward--14,000 more troops sent into Baghdad. So we have a very concrete, real-world example of a so-called surge. What happened? A more than 43 percent increase in violent deaths for Iraqis in the wake of more troops getting sent in.

But we also have to step back and realize that this is not just more of the same. If you listened carefully to Bush's speech, he said that we have to change the rules of engagement. Up until now, he said, the U.S. has been functioning under overly restrictive rules of engagement in Iraq.

Can you imagine what that means? After Abu Ghraib, Haditha, the home raids, and the violence of this occupation? But, Bush says, we haven't been given the free rein that we need. So there are now new rules of engagement, which are only going to lead to more violence and bloodshed.

Bush also gestured in his speech to the possibility of going into Sadr City and going after Moktada al-Sadr's forces--opening up a much more intense second front of this war that will provoke much greater resistance and opposition, and put U.S. troops in far greater harm's way, and of course involve even more violence, displacement and death for the Iraqis.

This is very much like something that we saw in the late 1960s and early 1970s. When the U.S. was facing defeat in Vietnam, what did they do? They escalated. Within Vietnam, we saw the intensification of the repression of and air war against the Vietnamese people, and the intensification of violence and death on both sides. And we also saw the expansion of the war, and its spread to Laos and Cambodia.

And now today, we hear Bush saying that any Iranian that they find in Iraq can be captured or killed. We hear them saying that Iran is a co-combatant in Iraq. We hear them talking about the supply routes from Iran and Syria, and foreign governments that are meddling in Iraq's internal affairs. God forbid we should allow any country to intervene in Iraq's internal affairs.

But behind the rhetoric, which is laughable, is a very real danger of an escalation and a spread of this war, including possibilities of strikes against Iran and Syria. And remember this summer the U.S. support for Israel's invasion of Lebanon, support for the reinvasion of Gaza, and the strategy of continuing to pursue regional aims through other means, such as the recent bombings in Somalia.

That larger picture is something we've got to keep coming back to. For example, we cannot talk about the occupation of Iraq and ignore the occupation of Palestine. We've got to talk about those two things together.

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WE HEARD a lot today about George Bush. And it's easy to make fun of George Bush and hate George Bush, and we all do.

But I think we've got to see the bigger picture. This is about more than George Bush. This is about more than the Republican Party. This is about more than Dick Cheney and this particular administration. This is about U.S. empire. It's about Democrats and Republicans who have a bipartisan consensus on the idea of the United States being the regional hegemon in the Middle East and projecting its power internationally.

We've got to raise the fundamental questions about that, because so much is at stake for them in Iraq. It's not about democracy, it's not about civil war, and it's not about human rights. It's about the fact that Iraq has the world's second-largest reserves of oil. It's about the fact that Iraq sits in a region with two-thirds of the world's oil reserves and most of the world's natural gas resources. It's about the fact that it's at the crossroads of the energy shipping routes for the world.

They see, down the line, countries of the world emerging as rivals economically and politically and militarily--countries like India, Russia, China and the nations in the European Union--which are far more dependent on energy resources of the Middle East. And the United States wants to dominate those resources--to have leverage and power against countries that could emerge as rivals to the U.S. as the world's sole superpower.

They are determined to hold on to that status, no matter what the price that's paid in the blood by U.S. soldiers, no matter what the price that's paid in the blood of Iraqis, no matter what the price that's paid globally.

But as much as is at stake for them in Iraq, we have to say that much more is at stake for us in seeing them defeated in Iraq.

Who has more at stake: Halliburton shareholders making profits off Iraq, or the people from New Orleans who still don't have homes as a result of what happened in Hurricane Katrina. Who has more at stake: Dick Cheney and his corporate cronies, or the 80 million people in this country last year who went without health care during some significant period of time, and the 45 million who throughout the entire year had absolutely no health care at all.

Who has more at stake: Condoleezza Rice and her neocon friends, or the children who are being told they have no future--we're destroying the environment, and we will fight more wars over the diminishing resources of oil and natural gas, because we refuse to develop any alternatives to the rapacious corporate capitalism that is destroying the planet and leading to more conflicts, more wars, more destruction.

Around the world, people are saying no, as they were in the streets of Washington today. And in other cities: 10,000 on the streets of San Francisco, 5,000 in the streets of Los Angeles, 1,000 in Austin, Texas, 3,000 in Seattle.

The point is also that the character of the movement is changing. We are not on the defensive any longer.

Bush asked the other night: Who could have known that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? We knew. Why were the people in this room not in the New York Times, on CNN?

They want to blame it all on bad intelligence, but we had the intelligence from the very beginning to see that this war is a disaster. And we have the intelligence now to see through politicians who say that they're against the war, but vote to fund the war.

We have the intelligence to know that each day this occupation continues, the more we're at risk, the more Iraqis are at risk, and the more the world's at risk. And we also have the intelligence to know that we can build a movement that can end this occupation and change this world, and we have everything at stake in doing so.

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