Saturday, July 02, 2005

American Left Debates Iraq and the anti-war movement

Two American left journals, The Progressive and New Politics recently featured debates about the left, the antiwar movement, and Iraq.

In the June Progressive Erik K. Gustafson, the executive director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), based in Washington, D.C. argues that "Abandonment of Iraq Is Wrong," while Norman Solomon executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy says "US Out of Iraq Now.

The summer issue of New Politics has a wide-ranging symposium of reactions to three differing perspectives on Iraq in their Winter issue by Barry Finger, Wadood Hamad, and Glen Perusek.

Below are links to individual articles in the New Politics symposium and brief excerpts to give the tenor of the piece.

Anthony Arove editor of Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War and a member of the editorial board of International Socialist Review.

It is especially important that the left should reject the racist and elitist idea that it is for us in the United States to decide the future of Iraq. Contra Hamad and Finger, it is not our job to dictate to the Iraqi people what form their resistance to occupation must take -- let alone to require that it be "rational," as Hamad suggests in language less from Hitchens than from Samuel Huntington, or that a movement facing the greatest military power in history must use "peaceable means" against its enemy.
Barry Finger, a member of New Politics editorical board
...we must position ourselves toward that process of struggle which can develop a leadership able to mobilize the masses and attract international support in its resistance to the American occupation without sacrificing the Iraqi nation to the resurgent forces of jihadist fascism.

That is, we support an anti-imperialist movement that does not jeopardize the demands and just aspirations of the working class, of women and gays, of secularists, of national minorities and democrats to the cause of national salvation. We recognize that a nation "redeemed" by authoritarian movements, whether clerical or Baathist, would leave Iraq an empty shell; independent after a sense, but an Iraq whose independence in the absence of popular democratic participation would be a mockery of "self-determination" by any socialist standard. It is to the latent national leadership of these groupings of the oppressed that we counterpose both to the defeatist consciousness of those socialists-in-retreat who, reluctantly or zealously, look to imperialism to clear a path to democracy and to those slow learners and outright nitwits on the left for whom pleading the cause of "the armed resistance," however reactionary its social program and aspirations, is an adequate and sufficient political orientation.
Wadood Hamad, research physicist, political theorist and activist, currently living in Vancouver, Canada.
Ignoring nuanced Iraqi politics and societal dynamics has shamelessly led segments of the left to cheer for a thuggish, reactionary insurgency set on a fruitless course to curtailing, and potentially halting, U.S. hegemonic policies. No crystal ball is needed to understand Iraq -- or indeed the Middle East, just a rational reading of history and a commitment to the inviolable sanctity of human life. Human beings, not machine guns, build progress. The rightist view of democracy as a commodity that can be exported using laissez-faire economics has infected those leftist segments in a serious way. It prompted them to ignore local (mal)development and the necessity to overhaul a highly corrupt regional power structure; and, in a naïve way, they have come to share the neocon's basic principle of ethnonationalist development.

Thus, elections in Iraq have been a mammoth achievement not because, but in spite, of U.S. desire. It was Sayyed Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite religious authority, who, over U.S. objections, was unwavering in his demand to their eventually taking place.
Peter Hudis, a member of the editorial board of News and Letters
... that many today are "stuck between two inadequate visions" -- either apologizing for U.S. imperialist actions or "cheering any misguided ‘apparent' resistance to imperialism." Avoiding these false alternatives is not only needed to develop a successful antiwar movement; it is needed to ensure that the idea of freedom is not forsaken by today's radicals.

...the secular, democratic left in Iraq today is weak and marginalized. That is all the more reason for us to extend an active hand of solidarity with it. Even if it were true that pro-democratic leftists in Iraq lack a "mass base," we should do what we can to strengthen these forces, hammered as they are by the two terrorisms of the U.S. occupation and the fundamentalists.
Letter from Tom Unterrainer, Nottingham England
The antiwar movement needs to make a turn from pure objection to the continued occupation -- a strategy that either explicitly or implicitly advocates "victory for the [reactionary] resistance" -- toward solidarity with democratic forces in Iraq. The question needs to be raised in trade union and labor organisations, in antiwar groups and in the wider press. In so doing, socialists will fulfil their obligations as internationalists and democrats and re-emphasise the centrality of the working class to our perspective. The fact that we have to carry this message into such movements is an indication of how far some have drifted from the ideas of socialism towards a reactionary anti- imperialism.
Joanne Landy co-director of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy
Those of us who advocate immediate withdrawal of the United States and its dwindling number of allies from Iraq make a mistake, however, if we try to assure people that withdrawal will necessarily produce a positive outcome. It may be that the grotesque polarization fostered by the U.S. war and occupation has already succeeded in legitimizing and strengthening reactionary elements in the resistance to the point where they will be able to impose their retrograde agenda on the Iraqi people. But one thing is for sure: the longer the U.S. stays in Iraq the less likely a democratic, secular outcome for Iraq becomes. The only hope for democrats in Iraq is a speedy end to the brutal occupation of the country. And the only hope for democrats internationally is to break out of the terrible symbiotic relationship between the U.S. empire and the reactionary forces that feed off of its brutality, by opposing both of them.

The link to Glen Perusek's summer article ("Empire and Resistance") isn't working, so from his Winter contribution
The search for a secular left in Iraq today is to start off on the wrong foot. It would be better to recognize that all political tendencies are likely to bear an Islamic inscription, and that this fact alone scarcely commits them to any particular political outlook.

Socialists in the Marxist tradition have historically held that in conflicts between imperialist countries and colonies or quasi-colonies, the right to national self-determination is the prime concern.
Staughton Lynd a veteran peace activist, historian, and labor lawyer.
We should demand immediate withdrawal of United States forces, the dismantling of all United States bases, and an end to all attempts by United States corporations to penetrate the Iraqi oil industry, without "endorsing" the Iraqi resistance.
Stephen R. Shalom, a member of the New Politics editorial board
THE ANTIWAR MOVEMENT NEEDS to demand the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and an end to the U.S. domination of Iraq, not because we don't care about Iraqis, but precisely because we do care. And while we support any people's right to resistance, we should not "support the Iraq resistance."
There is also a longer version of Shalom's essay, which has an interesting first two paragraphs.
A little over two years ago, anti-war demonstrations of unprecedented magnitude rocked the globe and the New York Times termed the anti-war movement "the world's second superpower." Unfortunately, no one could mistake the anti-war demonstrations that took place this spring for the "world's second superpower."
On some level this fall-off from February 2003 was inevitable. Opposition to war then was a no-brainer, while the current occupation raises tough questions: now that the United States government has devastated Iraqi society, what should be done? Some of those who argue that the U.S. needs to stay in Iraq are unreconstructed imperialists, but some make this argument out of a genuine sense of concern for the Iraqi people. But however sincere they may be, those who take this position are wrong in their belief that the occupation can help Iraqis, and the anti-war movement needs to explain to them why this is so.
It's good to see that Shalom acknowledges this. I'm not sure that Shalom that makes a convincing case, that is a case that would convince the liberal and left authors of A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq.
That's a dialogue that is insufficiently explored in the New Politics symposium. Still, I recommend reading both discussions.

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