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Antiwar Questions and Answers


1. As anti-war sentiment grows and the anti-war movement gains momentum, what are the most important priorities for peace and justice organizations?

To build a movement able to marshal sufficient numbers of sufficiently informed and committed people to compel ruling elites around the world, and ultimately in the U.S., to restrain or even terminate their war designs out of fear of the repercussions  of their not doing so.

To ensure that this broad international antiwar movement persists beyond the crisis in Iraq, and that it grows strong enough to make less likely further wars and international violations elsewhere.

To ensure that this movement’s power and humanity are both optimized by connecting it to wider issues of economic, gender, race, ecological, social, political, national, and international justice.

 2. From progressive organizations, you sometimes hear the demand, "Let the inspections work." Is this a sensible demand? Should the Left back inspections?

The demand "Let the inspections work" has three meanings, one that the Left should endorse, one that is reasonable but inadequate, and one that is immoral and quite dangerous.

In reverse order, the immoral and dangerous version is the one that translates to: not enough evidence has yet been collected to convince all the naysayers that war is appropriate, so let’s give the inspectors a little more time and then go to war. This version is not meaningfully different from Bush’s position, since he needs a few more weeks to have all his troops in place in any event.

What makes this position so immoral and dangerous is that it assumes, contrary to fact, that there is a serious threat which only war can address, and it ignores all the horrendous costs of war.

Iraq may or may not have hidden chemical or biological weapons, but so do many nations, and the prospects of Iraq being able to use any such weapons against its neighbors, let alone the United States, are essentially nil, given Iraq’s weakened state, and the massive military forces on its borders (even before the current build-up). Yes, such weapons might be launched in the event of a U.S. attack, but this is a very different matter from there being a realistic threat of offensive Iraqi use.

Any war to disarm Iraq, whether now or a few weeks hence, will risk terrible consequences that could not possibly be justified by the need to eliminate the minor external threat posed by Saddam Hussein. While no one can know what will happen in any war, surely the dangers are immense:

Death and destruction in Iraq. The UN is preparing for half a million Iraqi casualties (see the leaked internal UN document at http://www.casi.org.uk/info/undocs/war021210scanned.pdf). Medact, the UK affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War — winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 — estimates a possible half million deaths (assuming no nuclear weapons are used; see "Collateral Damage: the health and environmental costs of war on Iraq – Report," http://www.medact.org/tbx/docs/Medact%20Iraq%20report_final3.pdf). And despite claims that the attackers will be careful to avoid "collateral damage," the British Defense Ministry "admitted the electricity system that powers water and sanitation for the Iraqi people could be a military target, despite warnings that its destruction would cause a humanitarian tragedy." (Independent, Feb. 2, 2003)

Instability throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Of course, instability is not automatically a bad thing, but it’s hard to see how the massive protests throughout the region, and the resultant repression, will improve the prospects for decent societies. Fundamentalists have already won provincial elections in Pakistan as a result of the U.S. war in Afghanistan; their strength is likely to grow in that country and beyond.

Weakening the fragile institutions of international law and promoting the might-makes-right policy of the Bush administration. Regardless of whether the UN Security Council ultimately gives in to Washington’s bribery and threats, it’s clear that this is a war favored almost exclusively by the United States. Attacking Iraq will establish the precedent that preventive war is a permissible doctrine in global affairs, reversing decades of slowly building small checks on foreign aggression. Bill Keller of the New York Times (Feb. 9, 2003) says he supports this war, but not all the other wars that Bush is likely to pursue. But nothing will make those next wars more likely than giving Bush a free hand for this one.

Encourage the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Any state watching the United States at work is likely to conclude that there can be no safety from U.S. attack by conventional means and hence only the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction offers any hope of deterring Washington’s next effort at regime change.

The reasonable but inadequate version of the slogan "let the inspections work" is intended as an argument against war. It says that the inspections can accomplish the goal of rendering Iraq incapable of constituting a threat to anyone beyond its borders and thus war is totally unnecessary. In the past, a less elaborate version of such inspections have destroyed far more weapons of mass destruction in Iraq than all the U.S. and coalition bombing during the first Gulf War, together with all the subsequent U.S.-U.K. bombing in 1998.

In the abstract, of course, inspections and war are not the only two ways of dealing with the problem of weapons of mass destruction. As a practical matter, however, these seem to be the only short term possibilities. That is, at the moment, inspections are the only realistic alternative to war. There are some aspects of UN policy toward Iraq that the Left clearly must condemn – for example, the sanctions, which cause catastrophic harm to Iraqi civilians while strengthening, rather than weakening, Saddam Hussein. (Hence, along with our call for no war, we will often call as well for an end to the sanctions.) But to call for an end to the inspections — given that it is the only real hope for preventing war — would be foolish.

Some argue that the inspections will inherently lead to war and have always been intended to do so. This indeed may be Washington’s hope, but there is no reason to believe that other UN members who have backed inspections — such as France, Germany, China, Russia, Mexico, and Syria — intend that the inspections will lead inevitably to war.

This said, however, it must be acknowledged that there are serious problems with the inspections. The inspectors are much too solicitous of Washington; the demand that Iraq permit U-2 overflights while at the same time U.S.-U.K. warplanes patrol Iraqi skies (authorized by no Security Council resolution) is unreasonable, even though now acceded to. Most importantly, however, the inspections imply that there is only one country in the world which seems to require inspections. Thus, to simply say "Let the inspections work," without further elaboration is not an adequate slogan.

The desirable version of "Let the inspections work" is not only that the inspections make any war against Iraq wholly unnecessary, but that inspections of Iraq should be considered as part of a larger effort to prohibit weapons of mass destruction from the entire Middle East (as called for in Article 14 of Security Council Resolution 687, the resolution which originally provided for the disarmament of Iraq following the first Gulf War) and indeed globally. What applies to one should apply to all, in short.

 3. What should the Left be calling for in response to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, etc.?

There are two parts to the Left response to terrorism. First, the U.S. Left ought to demand that its government cease carrying out and supporting terrorism. Terrorism, of course, is not confined to Muslim fundamentalists crashing planes into the World Trade Center. It is terrorism also to bomb Afghanistan knowing that reputable aid agencies warned of a potential humanitarian catastrophe. It is being a state sponsor of terrorism to provide arms to Turkey’s murderous campaign against the Kurds in the 1990s or to Colombia’s military, which are known to be connected to paramilitary death squads, or to the Israeli occupation forces who use U.S. assault helicopters and much more against the Palestinian civilian population. Hence, the greatest step the United States government can take to reduce international terrorism is to stop supporting it.

As for anti-Western terrorism, there are some fruitful approaches to reducing this and some counter-productive approaches. The most important of the fruitful approaches is changing U.S. foreign policy. Al Qaeda leaders and others like them may have no other goal than provoking an apocalyptic confrontation between the Muslim world and the West from which they hope they will emerge victorious. But many of their followers, recruits, and sympathizers are motivated by U.S. policies that can, and on their own merits should, be changed. Among these are the U.S.’s unwavering support for Israeli oppression of Palestinians, the devastating sanctions on Iraq, and the backing for corrupt and authoritarian regimes throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Other secondary but more immediate approaches to dealing with anti-Western terrorism are police measures, including going after financial networks, money-laundering banks, and the like. The U.S. Government version of police action, on the other hand — turning the country more and more into a police state through the USA Patriot Act (and an even more atrocious Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, which is apparently already being prepared within the Justice Department [text available at http://www.publicintegrity.org/dtaweb/report.asp?ReportID=502&L1=10&L2=1 0&L3=0&L4=0&L5=0]) — probably makes things worse even just regarding terrorism, alienating the very people whose allegiance must be secured, much less regarding the overall character of our society.

Most counterproductive of all is military action, with massive bombing, leading not only to many corpses, but many more terrorists. The New York Times reported on June 16, 2002, based on conversations with senior government officials, that "Classified investigations of the Qaeda threat now under way at the FBI and CIA have concluded that the war in Afghanistan failed to diminish the threat to the United States…. Instead, the war may have complicated counterterrorism efforts by dispersing potential attackers across a wider geographic area."

As for how we should deal with weapons of mass destruction, one should note first that chemical, biological, and nuclear warheads are not the only weapons of mass destruction. Far more people have died — and are still dying — from the diseases attributable to the U.S.-British sanctions than from "all so-called weapons of mass destruction throughout history." (Karl and John Mueller, in Foreign Affairs, May-June 1999).

Confining ourselves to weapons of mass destruction as typically understood, the acquisition of WMD by one state generally encourages, rather than discourages, their acquisition by others. So the best method for dealing with Iraqi WMD — both from the point of view of justice and efficacy — is in the context of global or, barring that, regional disarmament.

One of the biggest obstacles to any such disarmament, however, has been the United States. U.S. officials are today openly talking about using nuclear weapons and have scientists working around the clock to find ways to make these weapons more usable. The United States is a party to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which sets up a class of "have" and "have-not" nations, with the U.S. in the privileged "have" category, but Washington has refused to meet its obligation under the treaty to move towards disarmament; it has refused, for example to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which "have-not" nations consider a minimal litmus test indicating a country’s commitment to the NPT.

The United States is also a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). As a report for the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies noted,

"After signing the treaty in 1993, Washington largely ignored it, escaping national embarrassment only with a last minute ratification just four days before its entry into force. Moreover, the United States took steps to dilute the Convention by including waivers in its resolution of ratification and implementing legislation exempting U.S. sites from the same verification rules that American negotiators had earlier demanded be included in the treaty."

Among the exemptions were the U.S. President’s right to refuse an inspection of U.S. facilities on national security grounds. (See Amy E. Smithson, "U.S. Implementation of the CWC," in Jonathan B. Tucker, The Chemical Weapons Convention: Implementation Challenges and Solutions, Monterey Institute, April 2001, pp. 23 29, http://cns.miis.edu/pubs/reports/tuckcwc.htm).

The United States is also a party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), but efforts to improve compliance with the treaty floundered after Washington blocked continued discussions. (See Jonathan Tucker’s Feb. 2002 analysis, http://www.nti.org/e_research/e3_7b.html).

 4. Should we, and if so how should we, emphasize the economic costs of the war?

The reason to oppose a war, first and foremost, is that it is immoral, not that it will cost a lot. What is wrong with mercilessly bombing Iraq, or Afghanistan earlier, or Iran or Syria or Korea in the future, is not that doing so costs a lot, but that doing so kills and maims innocent victims by the thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands or more, for no purpose other than the defense and expansion of imperial prerogative.

If costing a lot were a reason to oppose war, no war could ever be warranted. The issue isn’t that the war costs a lot to finance, and that those costs imply a degree of loss for U.S. citizens. The issue is that if the war on Iraq, and the war on terrorism as well, is perpetrated further, it will be on behalf of defending the wealth and power of corporate and political elites, and it will be at the expense of everyone else — abroad and at home.

Yes, it is relevant that war spending crowds out education spending, health spending, housing spending, cultural spending, and much more. But the real economic point is that this is ultimately seen by elites as just another virtue of war spending, and not a debit.

All these forms of social expenditure benefit the population broadly, which includes working people and the poor and which causes these groups in particular to become stronger, better insured against fear of unemployment and workplace reprisals, and better able to develop and attain their own agendas in their communities, workplaces, and in society.

This effect of social spending is contrary to enlarging the power and wealth of those at the top and instead shifts power to those below. Military spending, on the other hand, does the opposite, enhancing the profits and power of those at the top, without empowering workers and poor people below
So most certainly the aggressive tilt of the U.S. budget toward military rather than social expenditures should be a focus of leftists precisely to explain the motivations and logic of the capitalist economic and social system we live within and to oppose it per se, but we should not imply that the reason war is wrong is primarily because it hurts our pocket books.

 5. What are the links between oppressions at home and the war abroad?

Oppressions at home include hierarchies based on race, gender, class, or political power. It is precisely to benefit those at the top of such hierarchies that wars abroad are fought.

War is corporate globalization writ violent. Corporate globalization is capitalist market competition writ international. The connection between war and the basic institutions we live within is unbreakable. Ultimately, to be effective and consistent opposition to war and to domestic injustice have to be mutually connected and supportive. That is why the main antiwar coalition is about peace and about justice, not about either one or the other.

6. Why does the "peace movement" seem to be disproportionately white and middle class?

In the U.S., polls show that African-Americans are more skeptical of war than the population as a whole. Some of the most important anti-war efforts – the city council resolutions opposing war – have taken place in cities where whites are a minority. In fact, of the 25 cities with population of over 100,000 that have passed anti-war resolutions, 15 have white minorities. Of these 15, 6 have an African American majority and 6 an African American plurality.

There are no good statistics on participants at anti-war demonstrations. There have certainly been many Arab-Americans at these demonstrations, and a much larger percentage of African Americans than during the anti-Vietnam demonstrations. Nevertheless, it’s probably still the case that current demonstrations are disproportionately white and middle class. But to a considerable extent this is a function of which sectors of society can most easily take the time and expense to travel to major anti-war events.

 7. What can social change organizations do to break down internal race, gender and class disparities?

There are two sides to this question. On the one hand, there is the need to reach out to underrepresented constituencies with information and organization. This much is obvious.

On the other hand, there are things that need to be done to our movements and their agendas. They need to be congenial to and welcoming of and in fact empowering for the constituencies in question.

If a movement’s events are hard to reach, hard to participate in, or especially culturally or socially off-putting for people with jobs, people who are at risk, etc., then the participation of those sectors of people will be relatively reduced. Movements need to be multi-tactical both because a diversity of tactics enhances impact generally, but also because different groups will be attracted to and able to participate in different types of events. A variety of options therefore need to be available.

But there is another issue. Movements whose internal structure and culture and manner are off-putting to a constituency — that make the constituency wonder about the movement’s commitments, values, and aims — are not going to hold their members. If a movement is sexist in its internal division of labor, cultural tone, decision-making methods, tactics, and so on…then women will have a hard time retaining commitment and energy for it. And the same holds if a movement’s internal division of labor, or cultural tone, or decision making methods, or tactics, and so on, embody or reflect assumptions and commitments that are racist or even just racially very narrow, or classist or even just narrow in class terms.

To have movements that are rooted deeply in the constituencies they most need to include to be successful will require that our movements not only address the issues of these constituencies, not only provide means of participation suited to these constituencies, but also empower, make welcome and comfortable, and reflect the values, aspirations, and even just the styles and manners of these constituencies.

8. As we respond to the current crisis, how can we make choices that will ensure that we have a stronger, larger, and more deeply connected movement six months from now?

There is a tendency in all organizing to focus, very understandably, on the immediate present. We want to get some task done. In this case we want to prevent a war — or perhaps if that fails, to end one. People often feel that making the most narrow formulations possible is the best bet for reaching out as widely as possible. It can garner the largest crowds, they think. It can avoid debates, they feel. And so on. This is mistaken, however, on a few counts.

First, it is wrong about the short run.

It is very doubtful that utilizing a narrow appeal generates more numbers, given the likely impact on diverse constituencies of being narrow — which is to say, of ignoring what most moves them.

But more, the issue isn’t just attracting crowds. Elites aren’t going to count our numbers and if certain totals are reached then change their positions. Elites are assessing their interests. They are asking, if we pursue the ends we seek, against the dissent, will it be on balance in our interest, or is there something about the dissent which would tip the scales so on balance it becomes against our interest?

The number of dissenters is a factor, yes. But even more important is the trajectory of dissent. Is it growing, or stabilized? Smaller but growing is more of a threat than larger but stable. More tellingly, what is the character of the dissent? Is it single issue, so that when this crisis passes so too does the dissent pass? Or is the dissent becoming more fundamental? Are elite policies producing movements that will oppose them at every turn, impeding policies beyond those now in question?

A reason to transcend narrowness is ultimately to reach and retain more people to our movements. But it is also to build movements that are truly threatening from the perspective of elites trying to decide how to respond. It is multi-issue movements, multi-tactic movements, broad and diverse movements, and particularly movements that threaten to persist and keep growing that raise costs that elites must take note of, and, when the movement threat grows large enough, that they will give in to.

So the first requirement if we wish to be powerful in six months is to be broad in our consciousness raising and focus, in our agenda and methods.

The second requirement essential to attaining longevity and power was raised above. Not only do we need to attract people and develop a stance that raises social costs to elites, but we also need to develop lasting relations that don’t collapse either when an issue recedes in importance, or when people feel burned out or peripheral.

Thus, the second requirement for effectiveness into the future is to have movements that are congenial to and that empower diverse constituencies through their program but also by means of their internal organization and culture, not to mention meeting people’s needs.

 9. Should we be doing more to link to international movements?

In a word, yes. The international opposition to this war, and war in general, and to corporate globalization, and to racism and market exploitation — and so on — is currently magnificent in scale, breadth, diversity, and energy. The U.S. Left is but a part of all that. It is an important part, because of the role of the United States itself, but in many respects it is also a relatively modest part, in size and wisdom. Movements in the United States can benefit immensely by learning from those abroad and also by way of receiving aid and cooperation from those abroad.

10. How do we measure success?

Too many people think that success is a function of numbers of people, or whether some short term goal is attained or not — such as closing down an elite meeting. It isn’t. What we are doing is, or ought to be, always conceived and measured in terms of the overall struggle for peace and justice, not a momentary aim.

The issue is does our work leave the situation better or worse, each day, each week, than it was before. At the end of an event, for example, the measure of success is not only whether our work has displayed to elites a movement that is growing and dissident, but do we have more people ready to work on the next project? Is the overall consciousness of people raised, both people inside the movement and also the broader public, of course? Are its members’ commitments to the movement enhanced, and are new people moving toward the movement? Have we won gains in social conditions which put us in a better position to win still more gains? Are our organizations stronger in size and assets as well as improved in their quality? These are the kinds of measures of success on which we should always be focused.

On Feb. 15/16 there will be antiwar demonstrations all over the world. The final tally could be events in as many as 300 or even 500 or more cities. Many millions of people will take part. But the true mark of success won’t be the total size, but the number of people who understand what they are doing as part of an on-going process, and whether that process has been enriched and empowered by the events so that attaining the same levels of dissent in the future is easier, and attaining higher levels in terms of both size and commitment is likely.

 

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