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There Is Still Work To Do

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All of us in the peace movement have work to do before the war can end. There are those who believe that last November's election was a "mandate for peace", and that the new Democratic majority can and should end the war in keeping with that mandate. But this attitude inflates the meaning of the mandate, and expects a political party to substitute itself for a social movement. Indeed, the mandate was historic and unprecedented, the first time that American voters clearly cast a vote for peace against a war in progress. The mandate was achieved in spite of considerable efforts by both parties to avoid making Iraq a pivotal issue in 2006 until the latter stages of the campaign.

But what were the peace voters telling us? Post-election polling offers some clues. According to the Washington Post/ABC late February survey:

  • 67% opposed "the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq";
  • 64% said the war was "not worth fighting";
  • 67% opposed Bush's escalation proposal, including 56% who were strongly opposed.
  • 66% would support cutting US aid to Baghdad if the regime there fails to reach national unity and civil order;
  • 70% blamed the Iraqi government, more than the US, for "failing to control the violence".

So that's what the voters, two-thirds of them, were against. What they were for is stickier.

  • 56% thought the US should withdraw troops to avoid American casualties even if order is not restored in Iraq;
  • 53% believed the US should set a deadline for withdrawal, as against 46%;
  • 51% opposed the idea of Congress "restricting funding for the war" to block Bush's plan, versus 46% in favor.

I should add that surveys for the past two years have registered about 30% in favor of the immediate withdrawal option, even as general opposition to the war has risen.

This means that advocates of immediate withdrawal from Iraq somehow have to convince another 20 percent of Americans before they can claim a majority. More work is needed in the "red" states, with unions, military families, conservative isolationists and others. Maybe more civil disobedience is needed to raise the costs of the war.

Or they can adjust their demands to focus on a timetable for withdrawal, consistent with what the American public is beginning to want. Not only the American public, but the Iraqis, 80 percent of whom have been calling for a withdrawal timeline, and 131 members of their parliament. Their own parliamentary committee on sovereignty has even issued a unanimous report- Shi'a, Sunni and Kurds- endorsing a date for the end of the occupation.

In many interviews with intermediaries with the Iraqi insurgents, the demand for a timetable is paramount, too. They will not stop fighting and bombing until the US officially agrees to leave by a date certain. It is believed that any Iraqi public support for fighting the Americans will diminish as soon as it is clear that Iraqis will regain their country.

Sooner or later, the broad Iraqi opposition will force a change of attitude or a change of leadership in Baghdad, one that requests the US to leave and begins the work of reconciliation, reconstruction and post-war security. The same timeframe will see an urgent diplomatic offensive to help stabilize Iraq and its borders. The Americans will be expected to take part in conflict resolution, but not as occupiers.

The potential problem for the peace movement is that the demands for cutting funding, immediate withdrawal, or the troops "out now", seems to conflict with the concept of a timetable which, after all, could take six months, twelve months, even eighteen months during which time critics believe the war would still be funded.

It's difficult in any even to expect a political party, whose main purpose is winning and holding state power, deciding to cut funding when that path is not yet supported by a majority of voters. But the substantial peace bloc is entitled to real and lasting concessions in exchange for their massive support in November.

A proposal to tie funding to a six-month withdrawal deserves an up or down vote, if only to put Congress members on record. But the number willing to cast that vote should be carefully assessed. If it is less than 70, the size of the Out of Iraq Caucus, another anti-war approach may be needed.

This explains Speaker Pelosi's effort to cobble together a unified, though loophole-ridden, plan for withdrawal by 2008, a plan which at this point may lack the votes to pass the House before it faces possible death in the Senate and a veto from the president. Her measure contains dangerous exemptions permitting US forces to fight any Iraqis alleged to be al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and Americans to serve as "advisers" to questionable Iraqi security forces, as happened in El Salvador. Those loopholes need more scrutiny than they have received. But at least the Pelosi measure is tying the Democratic banner to the notion of a withdrawal timeline.

The peace movement should remain independent, fight hard for what it can get, take heart from having an impact, but realize that this battle is going to be a long and twisted one.

At stake is not only the substance of the current legislation but the nature of the national debate on Iraq for the coming year. The peace movement has been the key factor in forcing the Democrats to slowly disengage from the two-party coalition that facilitated the 2003 invasion. The pillar of bipartisan support for this war has fallen, and other pillars seem to be going down as well. The troops are stretched thin, the budget squeeze is real, and international support for the "coalition" is heading towards zero. Even the pillar of the Republican Party is shaky, with senators facing re-election in 2008 wondering if Bush has their interests in mind.

The peace movement should demand a recasting of the funding question to: funding for what? Funding for American body armor is one thing, but funding of death squads another. The real vulnerability of the Bush Administration is taxpayer funding for a sectarian Shi'a/Kurdish regime that harbors death squads, militias, and secret prisons operating under in its own interior ministry, which executes people by the hour, and engages in ethnic cleansing against Sunni neighborhoods. All sides participate in this dirty war, of course, but America is on one side, the side it put in power, the side that seeks to achieve a sectarian state with Sunnis sidelined and women forgotten. There is no support among Americans for funding a corrupt regime in Baghdad which has been propped up by public relations for too long. If the Democrats could focus on de-escalation as opposed to Bush's escalation, and on de-funding the taxpayer-funded dirty war with its American advisers, the regime might unravel sooner than anyone now expects. #

TOM HAYDEN is the author of the forthcoming Ending the War in Iraq [Akashic, June, 2007]. A video presentation of his views is available at http://www.veoh.com/videos/v273051XbqnAHKC, also available through Dal Lamagna's Iraqi Voices Project, Washington DC.