In a few short months, a gigantic anti-war movement burst onto the world’s streets, culminating on February 15, the largest day of worldwide protests in history. Approximately 30 million people protested according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
The anti-war movement pressured governments to speak out against the war, which forced the US to attempt to get the UN’s approval for the war, delaying the war for months. The anti-war movement also saved Iraqi lives by forcing the US to make an unusual extra effort to avoid civilian casualties.
Bush and the world’s rulers were shaken and surprised by the enormous size of the anti-war protests. Nonetheless, the Bush administration perceived its vital interests to be at stake in the Iraq conflict – oil, power and prestige. The Pentagon strategists would not be easily deterred from their plans to increase their control over the oil-rich and strategically pivotal Middle East after repeatedly threatening Saddam and amassing a huge military presence around Iraq.
Stopping the war would have required nothing less than challenging the power of the ruling class head on by mobilizing big sections of the working class to organize general strikes to overthrow Bush and the capitalist system. Only then would controlling the anti-war movement at home have become a higher priority for the ruling class than pursuing their perceived interests abroad. The US ruling class eventually decided to pull out of Vietnam, for example, because being humiliatingly defeated by Vietnamese peasants and “communists” overseas had actually become less painful than facing revolutionary social upheavals at home.
Anger at Occupation Will Grow
The toppling of Saddam’s regime has resulted in smaller anti-war meetings and protests as activists wonder if it is still worth protesting a war that has been “won.” But the military “victory” was the easy part for US imperialism; the hard part is just beginning.
Bush’s approval ratings skyrocketed to 90% after 9/11, but by February 2002, they had slid back down to 54% – pre-9/11 levels. Similarly, the enormous complications that the US government will encounter in post-war Iraq and the worsening economy at home is likely to turn public opinion against further entanglements in the Middle East. These events will breathe new life into the anti-war movement, especially if the White House hawks move aggressively towards attacking another country such as Syria, Iran, or North Korea.
In the meantime, it is vital that the anti-war movement maintain as much of its momentum as possible by establishing links with working class activists and showing the connections between Bush’s corporate agenda abroad and his corporate assault on workers, people of color, and women here in the US.
Given the political turmoil following the collapse of Saddam’s regime, the US may be drawn into occupying Iraq for years. The longer the occupation drags on, the more body bags will come home, the higher taxpayers’ bill will rise, and the more ordinary Americans will oppose the occupation. In mid-April Congress gave Bush $79 billion to pay for the Iraq war, and that’s just the first installment. There may be more American casualties in the post-war occupation than during the war itself as Arabs carry out guerrilla and suicide attacks against US troops who many will view as foreign conquerors.
If the US economy continues to stagnate or slump and corporations announce more layoffs, working people will increasingly resent the government’s investment in the war and the occupation. Moreover, the politicians’ $400 billion military budget and their second gigantic tax cut for the rich has resulted in a rapidly growing budget deficit that will produce a massive burden of debt without stimulating economic growth.
The Republicans and Democrats are trying to make the working class pay for the capitalist system’s economic crisis by slashing budgets for Social Security, healthcare, and education. The anti-war movement, labor unions, and student organizations need to launch determined campaigns to stop all cuts in social services and layoffs by demanding “money for jobs and education, not the occupation.”
The anti-war movement should develop more links with people of color by fighting racist violence and racial profiling of Arab and Muslim Americans. By exposing the government’s attempts to grant itself new powers to spy on us under the guise of fighting terrorism, anti-war activists will gain support. (See page 10) Protestors can target the headquarters of Bush’s corporate sponsors that are profiting off the occupation, government buildings, politicians’ offices, ROTC centers, and military recruitment centers on campuses.
The US is trying to replace Saddam with their own puppet rulers – former US military general and pro-Israeli arms dealer Jay Garner and their Iraqi stooge, Ahmed Chalabi. While removing the top officials of Saddam’s Ba’ath party, the US is using the rest of the Ba’ath officials and their military, police, and bureaucratic apparatus to run their new regime.
Anti-war activists should ask: Is this what Bush calls democracy? What ever happened to the humanitarian relief and reconstruction Bush promised? Why did the US military secure Iraq’s oil ministry and oil fields but not lift a finger to protect Iraq’s hospitals or ancient museums from looting? If Bush claimed that the war on Iraq would help stop terrorism, then why did the war drive more oppressed Arabs to join Islamic fundamentalist and terrorist organizations, making Americans less safe?
The common thread that ties all the occupation issues abroad with the social issues at home is George Bush. The best way the anti-war movement can unite unions, women, people of color and environmentalists – all who have their own struggles against Bush’s corporate attacks – is by building a massive, determined, working class movement in the streets to bring Bush down, to force him out of power.
Some liberals are collecting signatures to impeach Bush. Others are campaigning to replace him with a Democrat. However, these are utopian attempts to find a short cut that won’t fundamentally chance society. The Democrats have utterly failed to challenge Bush’s agenda. Just look at the Senate Democrats who joined Republicans in a unanimous 99-0 vote to support the war, the President, and the troops! The anti-war movement, unions, women, and people of color can most effectively build a movement to bring Bush down by launching a new party – a party for the millions rather than the millionaires.
To stop any new wars, the anti-war movement needs to explicitly challenge the capitalist system and the ruling class’s right to rule head on. We already saw how they won’t drop their war plans lightly.
Similarly, Saddam’s failure to effectively resist US imperialism was not just a result of his weaker military technology. It was primarily because most Iraqis were not willing to defend his rotten capitalist dictatorship. If there were a socialist movement in poor countries like Iraq that harnessed the seething anger of the oppressed masses by rallying them to fight imperialism, end poverty, and have democratic control over their society, then they would have something worth fighting for. That is how the Vitenamese were able to defeat the mighty US. Socialist Alternative is in political solidarity with the Committee for a Workers’ International in 35 countries which is building a socialist movement to do exactly that. Join us!