Tom Hayden: strategy for ending iraq war
A Strategy for Ending the Iraq War
“When you’re in the middle of a conflict, you’re trying to find pillars
of strength to lean on”. – US military officer, Iraq, May 19, 2005)
INTRODUCTION. In January 2005, a group of fifty peace activists from
the Vietnam and Iraq eras issued a global appeal to end the war. The
appeal proposed undermining the pillars of war (public opinion,
funding, troop recruitment, international allies) and building the
pillars of peace and justice (an independent anti-war movement linked
to justice issues, a progressive Democratic opposition, soldiers and
families against the war, a global network to stop the US empire). This
is an update on implementation of the strategy - see one-page guide for
organizers at end.
OVERVIEW. The tide is turning. Public support for the war is down, as
are the President’s ratings. Anti-war Democrats are back. Military
recruiting is hitting a wall. The US strategy of Iraqization is
failing. National anti-war actions are scheduled for late September.
The bad news is that the good news is so recent. For six long months,
the media and the Democrats have given the President a free pass, and
the anti-war movement has floundered.
The war is not over – we should remember that the Vietnam War continued
for seven years after President Johnson was forced to resign.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION. Among friends and local activists, practice
discussion of these multiple scenarios with plans for responding to
1. Status Quo/Quagmire. How do we expand local anti-war coalitions, and
double membership of local groups, going into the 2006 elections?
2. Bush escalates (e.g. sends more troops, invades Syrian border, bombs
Iran, resumes draft). In any of these cases, is more radical action
called for? How will it impose a cost on Bush, how will it expand the
3. Bush mimics Nixon, promises peace, withdraws 10,000 troops as Iraq
adopts constitution and elects new government. Would this defuse the
anti-war movement going into 2006? Or will we be in a mode to keep on
the offense? How will we argue that the strategy will not bring peace?
4. What do you need to respond? In each scenario, what resources or adaptations does your local group need to respond?
Analysis of the current situation
On the battlefield: a sinking quagmire
It is risky to base an analysis on battlefield reports, especially
given the Pentagon’s propaganda, the media’s limitations, and the
general lack of information about the Iraqi insurgency. Anything is
possible, but clearly a sense of panic has set in among Washington
decision-makers since the installation of the new Iraqi client regime a
few months ago. For example, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel says the war
is being lost (NYT, June 21). Baghdad is “effectively enemy territory,
with an ability to strike at will, and to shake off the losses
inflicted by American troops.” (NYT, January 20, 2005) US casualties
from guerrilla bomb attacks have reached "new heights", with 700
attacks with improvised weapons killing 71 Americans during the past
six weeks (NYT, June 22). Military analysts recognize that the US
cannot hold the territory it occupies. The airport road remains a
nightmare. These are the classic contradictions of an occupying power
trying to prop up an unpopular regime against a nationalist-based
resistance. The training and deployment of Iraqi counter-insurgency
troops (Iraqization) has failed so far, with US commanders saying it
will take several years. “American troops have been conducting
nighttime patrols to make sure the Iraqis stay awake”, according to an
unusually candid front-page NY Times article (June 19). Sen. Biden was
informed privately that of 107 Iraqi battalions, only three were
fully-operational (June 6).
Against all evidence, however, senior correspondents like the Times’
John Burns continue to see the war through the filters of previous
conflicts. Burns calls the Syrian-Iraqi border a new “Ho Chi Minh
Trail”, ignoring the fact that there is no North Vietnam, no China, no
Soviet Union serving as a “rear base” for the insurgents, but
inadvertently lending support to the argument that the US should send
more troops to seal the border. More unfortunately, Burns has penned an
opinion piece called “The Mystery of the Insurgency” (May 15) which
says “counter-insurgency experts are baffled”. Sounding like Mr. Kurtz
in Conrad’s Heart of Darknesss, Burns cannot simply conclude that the
US invasion itself is the cause of a fiery Iraqi nationalism, because
that would imply that US withdrawal might lessen the violence.
Perhaps the most significant factor on the ground is the rise of an
Iraqi movement calling for US withdrawal and ending the occupation. The
peace movement should consider calling for US peace talks with the
Iraqi peace movement.
In January of this year, a Brookings Institute report showed 82 percent
of Sunnis and 69 percent of Shiites favored a “near-term US withdrawal”
(NYT, Feb. 21, 2005). Just before the Iraqi elections, US intelligence
warned that the winning faction would press for a withdrawal date.
(NYT, Jan. 19, 2005). This was considered “grim” news and efforts were
taken to squelch the peace sentiment. Next Harith al-Dari, a prominent
Sunni cleric, along with the Muslim Scholars Association, called for a
US withdrawal timetable, saying “We do not insist that the Americans
withdraw at once, as long as they stay in their bases and cease to
marginalize our political life.” (NYT, March 29, 2005)Then 100,000
Iraqi Shiites, the winners in the election, demonstrated on the streets
of Baghdad calling for US withdrawal. (NYT, April 10). A few days
later, the leader of a “hard-line” Sunni group “who says he has links
with insurgent fighters” was rebuffed when he tried for weeks to open
talks with American officials on behalf of the insurgents. (NYT, April
15, 2005). Last week 82 Iraqi members of the 285-member US-dominated
parliament sent a letter calling for US withdrawal to Speaker Hajem
Al-Hassani.(Journal of Turkish Weekly, June 19). “It is dangerous that
the Iraqi government has asked the UN Security Council to prolong the
stay of occupation forces without consulting representatives of the
people who have a mandate for such a decision”, the letter said.
And as the HuffingtonPost reported yesterday, the London Sunday
Times is describing secret and "deniable" talks between American
intelligence operatives and insurgent groups responsible for suicide
The only conclusion one can draw from these scattered reports is that
the Bush Administration is threatened by any peace sentiment among
Iraqis before the US somehow defeats the insurgents. This leaves an
opportunity for anti-war critics to call for cease-fire talks (publicly
and back-channel) in support of the Iraqi majority. Many guerrilla
conflicts have been suspended when the guerrillas’ legitimate demands
were recognized as part of a political process. Secretary of State Rice
seeks “inclusiveness” by inviting fifteen token Sunnis to the table
while the US military occupies their neighborhoods. Instead she must
understand “inclusiveness” to mean the inclusion of the majority of
Iraqis who will at least tolerate the insurgency until the US agrees to
end the occupation.
The US may be missing an opportunity for back-channel talks about
guarantees that the withdrawal will be peaceful, that oil supplies will
be protected, and that Israel will not be attacked from Baghdad. No one
can know – but Secretary Rumsfeld is proud of saying “we have no exit
strategy, only a victory strategy.”(NYT, April 13, 2005) That’s what
Americans in Saigon kept saying until they were jumping on helicopters
from rooftops in 1975. The possibility cannot be discounted that the
Green Zone will be attacked and overrun in an offensive like that in
Saigon in January 1968. What then?
The US Military Recruitment Crisis Deepens
The single greatest achievement of the anti-war movement is the
pressure on military recruitment as well as support for dissenting GIs.
The previous generation of anti-war activists forced an end to the
draft, which may be an obstacle too great for the President to
surmount. That earlier generation has become the parents of this
generation’s draft-age youth, a fact which deeply disturbs a Pentagon
hoping to eradicate “the Vietnam Syndrome.”
“The Pentagon is especially vexed by a generation of more activist
parents who have no qualms about projecting their own views onto their
children.” (NYT, “Parents Emerging as Military Recruiters’ Big
See also: on recruitment “death spiral”, NYT, May 13, 2005; “Army
Recruiters Say They Feel Pressure To Bend the Rules”, NYT, May 3, 2005;
“Army Recruiting More High School Dropouts to Meet Goals”, NYT, June
11, 2005. And then there’s this: at least 37 Army recruiters have gone
AWOL since October 2002, NYT, Mar. 27, 2005)
The recruitment crisis is connected to a morale crisis on the
battlefield itself. The first fragging (and killing) of American
officers by an American soldier since the 2003 invasion was reported
last week. (NYT, June 18)
“Coalition of the Willing” Weakens
You might not know it from the media, but the “coalition” having troops
on the ground in Iraq has declined from 34 to 20 nations. The US’ two
staunchest allies, Britain’s Blair and Italy’s Berlusconi, suffered
politically in recent elections due to their pro-war stances. And the
last paragraph of a New York Times article datelined Baghdad on March
13 reported that Ukraine was pulling out its 150 troops by October.
It’s not just the “old Europe” that is opposed to sending troops, but
America’s very own new allies inside the former Soviet Union.
Second to the US in troop commitments is not a government or country at
all, but over 20,000 stateless mercenaries from former repressive
armies in South Africa, El Salvador, Colombia, the US and the UK, all
paid for by American taxpayers.(LAT, June 11, 2005).
“Coalition of the Willing” allies like Pakistan and Uzbekistan are
increasingly in the news for torture and other human rights violations,
drawing fire from concerned Congressmen who question whether the US
trained those responsible for the recent massacre of hundreds in
Uzbekistan, where terror suspects have been “rendered” by the US. (NYT,
May 29, 2005)
Little noticed is that the US alliances in the war on terrorism are
provoking violence elsewhere. For example, one thousand US troops are
training African countries to combat terrorism to “get ahead of the
power curve”, which has led to an Algerian attack killing 15
Mauritanians who were denounced as “agents of America in the region.”
(June 10, 2005). The secret low-intensity warfare continues, provoking
more anti-American hatred across the Islamic world.
Finally, Congress Wakes Up
The leadership of the Democratic Party – Reid, Pelosi, even Howard Dean
– have been absolutely AWOL during the past six months, driving local
Democrats and activists to despair and confusion. Thanks to local
activists and Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), Democratic
conventions in California, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, passed anti-war
resolutions at their conventions. But the party line was to dissociate
from the Iraq issue altogether, stranding a courageous handful like
representatives Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee who offered a withdrawal
resolution in late January.
All that changed last week. The doves have found their wings. Rep. John
Conyers led important hearings on the Downing Street Memoranda which
showed top Bush officials were “fixing the evidence to fit the policy.”
Over one hundred Democrats, including Pelosi, signed Conyers’ letter
demanding answers from the Administration. Five hundred thousand
petitions were carried by Conyers and others to the White House. Maxine
Waters led a rebellion against Pelosi behind closed doors which
resulted in the formation of a fifty-member “Out of Iraq” caucus. Five
House Republicans broke ranks from the Administration for the first
time, including the South Carolina Congressman who once proposed
renaming French fries “freedom fries”. The Congress voted to protect
public libraries from the Patriot Act.
An emboldened anti-war movement plans national actions for September 26.
Move.on, which was AWOL for months, tending to follow opinion rather
than lead, joined the Conyers effort to solicit petitions from its
members. Win Without War, similarly dormant for months, scheduled
meetings and press conferences enthusiastically. The United for Peace
and Justice official working group on pressuring Congress will hold its
first meeting next week.
The grass-roots anger directed at the party leadership was having an
effect, as reported by many members after visiting their
constituencies. Public opinion was running sixty percent in favor of
partial or total withdrawal. Hundreds of Iraqis and Americans had been
killed since the installation of the new Iraqi government. The Downing
Street documents proved once again that the reasons for war were
fabricated. The Abu Graeb scandals were destroying the reputation of
the Pentagon. Bush was declining in the polls. And so the politicians
decided to show up.
All cynicism aside, that is great news. The climate has changed, at
least for now. The rank-and-file of the anti-movement have an
opportunity to move Congress from fence-sitting to forward motion.
A major moral force all along has been the military families, who
unswervingly insist on accountability from the Administration and will
not quite whatever the ups and downs of the war’s course.
It has to be recognized strategically that ending the war will require
a left-right alliance. Those in the centrist establishment tend to be
blinded to reality by their power, which results in muddled analysis
and rhetoric (an explanation for Senator Biden, Senator Kerry, or the
New York Times editorial writers). For example, when the library
amendment to the Patriot Act passed with 38 Republican votes, one House
strategist complained of “the crazies on the left and the crazies on
the right, meeting in the middle.”(Washington Post, June 16, 2005).
The anti-war groups now will confer on how to deepen grass-root
organizing in selected congressional districts around withdrawal,
ending taxes for torture, military recruiting, etc. A key issue will be
the costs of the war, easily available on costsofwar.com on city,
state, and federal levels. For example, the up-to-the-second total cost
of the war now is $178, 136, 219, 056 (that actually was thirty minutes
ago). That’s one billion dollars per week. These same funds could have
- nationally, health insurance for 46.4 million people, or Head Start
enrollments for 27 million kids, or 8.6 million four-year college
scholarships, or 3.5 million new elementary teachers, or seven years of
fully-funded global anti-hunger efforts;
- the portion paid by Los Angeles taxpayers would fund 91, 851 four-year public university scholarships.
Carry those facts to the congressional district offices, PTA meetings
and recruitment centers, and there will be effects. Some activists are
discussing the construction of Iraq-style prison cages outside of
congressional and/or recruitment offices – and leafleting passers-by
from the inside. The tactical possibilities are endless.
Not only can the war’s end be hastened, but beyond the left-right
alliance, the peace movement can contribute to the reconstruction of a
locally-grounded new progressive movement conscious of the links
between empire and domestic priorities. This would be a historical
development of lasting importance. For example, out of the Vietnam
experience came an American public suspicion of plans to police the
world and executive secrecy that lasted beyond Watergate until human
rights became an accepted principle of American policy. The same
progressive momentum can be achieved through the ending of the Iraq
war; in fact, it already has begun.
A Note of Caution
Unfortunately, the anti-war movement depends on the costly quagmire
continuing in Iraq. Americans become frustrated at the sight of failure
on television, failure coming home in coffins, failure of politicians
to tell the truth. They are not against forcing a Saddam Hussein from
power, even by questionable methods. They are not against using force
and violence if they feel threatened or if the cause seems just. And by
definition, they cannot oppose secret wars that go unreported on
Thus, Iraq is a moment of illumination that may not come again soon. It
is on television as long as Americans are dying. It can also illuminate
how power works in this country for this post-Vietnam generation.
So what will Karl Rove do?
He can escalate, de-escalate, or wait and see if the insurgency wears
down and the Iraqis adopt a constitution and elect a government. It is
no accident that the Administration’s current (public) blueprint ends
in December, the beginning of the 2006 American election year. While
Rove mulls the options, the peace movement should be undertaking an
exercise in grass-roots scenario planning so that activists are
prepared for any eventuality. (see proposal above).
For perspective, here are some facts from the Vietnam era, all drawn
from historians George Herring and Chester Poch in 1968, The World
After the Tet Offensive in January 1968, President Johnson dismissed
the impact to reporters by joking that “there may have been a sargeant
asleep with a beer in his hand and his zipper open, or a man in a jeep
with a woman in his lap.” Privately, however, the Administration was
going nuts. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs disclosed that an American
defeat “was a very near thing”, that rural pacification efforts were
destroyed, and that part of the countryside had fallen into enemy
hands. The White House organized a “progress campaign” to target the
media and public opinion with good news. For example, they deliberately
under-estimated enemy combat strength by 120,000. By November 1967
fifty-one percent of the American people still believed the US was
making progress. By January 1968, LBJ’s critics outnumbered supporters
by 47 to 39 percent. But the combination of the presidential campaigns
of Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, and the Tet Offensive resulted in
the President sending Robert McNamara, the Wolfowitz of his era, off to
the World Bank, and a few weeks later Johnson offered his resignation.
But the war continued for seven more years, during which time a
majority of its casualties were inflicted.
How this could have happened is another story, having to do with
divisions in the anti-war opposition and the machinations of Richard
Nixon and Henry Kissinger. History, in other words, could repeat itself
Hopefully this scenario is wrong, but it is important always to hope for the best and plan for the worst. #
ENDING THE IRAQ WAR, AN ORGANIZER’S GUIDE.
The strategy is to undermine the pillars that make the war possible, while building new pillars of peace and justice.
The Pillars of War
1. public opinion. Goal: to achieve a solid majority who believe the
costs have outrun any benefits. Primary method: targeted education and
outreach. Issues: casualties, budgetary cost, prison torture,
contractor corruption, unilateralism, country becoming less safe.
2. Military recruitment. Goal: to limit the troops available to fight.
Primary methods: increase pressure against military recruiters by
parents and young people, support dissenting soldiers, oppose diversion
of reserves and guard.
3. Congressional opposition. Goal: to increase bipartisan questioning
of war and amendments to limit or end taxpayer funding. Primary
methods: build anti-war coalitions in targeted congressional districts,
demand hearings and accountability, pressure for withdrawal timetable
and funding cuts. Issues: go to costsofwar.com for information on the
4. Left-Right Alliance. Goal: encourage Republican and “red state”
opposition to while building up progressive anti-war forces among
Democrats, independents and Greens. Primary methods: stress costs in
blood, taxes and reputation, expose fabrications that led to American
deaths, work closely with military families. For Democrats build
grass-roots opposition through groups like Progressive Democats of
5. Coalition of Willing. Goal: reduce allied troops in Iraq, increase
military isolation of US. Primary methods: publicly defend countries
that pull troops, support global peace and justice movement pressure on
UK, Italy, etc., condemn coalition with known human rights abusers like
The Pillars of Peace and Justice
• build a long-term anti-empire, pro-democracy movement as permanent force
• link peace with domestic budget cuts
• link with working class through counter-recruitment
• link with environment/consumer through energy conservation/renewables
• link with civil liberties through anti-torture, anti-Patriot Act
• link with spiritual community through anti-Christian extremism
• link with conservatives through economic and security costs
Iraq Research and Education Project, 10536 Culver Blvd #H2, Culver City 90232
- Tom Hayden
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