Cautious Optimism For The Anti-Occupation (Not Win The Occupation) Movement

The size and clear political message of the October 25 anti-occupation of Iraq rallies in the U.S. and worldwide should be cause for cautious optimism amongst anti-war activists. I’m not even going to get into the numbers game, because I think there’s been more than enough collective hand-wringing on this question since the watershed February 15 demonstrations. OK, forget it, here’s the numbers game for the D.C. protest: the cops said 40-50 thousand, the organizers said 100,000, and the New York Times discarded any pretense of objectivity and reported 10,000. In this case the authorities were closer to the mark than the world’s newspaper of authority.

Regardless, October 25 was the largest international mobilization against the occupation of Iraq since last April, and — at least from the view north of the 49th parallel — the unity in action achieved between the United for Peace and Justice and the International ANSWER coalitions appears significant. The participation of GIs and their families is also a major development, coming as it does amidst growing reports of demoralization in the ranks of U.S. occupation forces. The slogan “Bring The Troops Home” is beginning to resonate at some level within the economic conscript army, the GIs and their families. This unity and GI participation bode well for the size of future actions, such as the March 20, 2004 demonstration that will mark one year since the bombing of Iraq began.

Another cause for optimism about the current anti-war movement is the definitive inclusion of the issue of Palestine. The strenuous efforts by some to divorce the issue of U.S. support for the Israeli occupation from its more general drive for hegemony in the Middle East were roundly defeated in anti-war coalitions worldwide. Gone are the days of the vulgar single-issue line, where the very real concern about having a clear focus for action was conflated with a policy that bordered on censorship of related issues and causes.

To understand the more modest numbers we are mobilizing today, however, we have to be honest: some forces that were “anti-war” before the war started aren’t anti-war or anti-occupation today, despite the mountain of criticism they continue to shovel on the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq. Their criticism is in the realm of tactical advice on how to safeguard U.S. interests in the world; it is criticism, however sharp, of a friend who has gone awry.

To make this assertion concrete, let’s examine the case of Scott Ritter. A proud Republican Party member, former Marine and U.N. inspector in Iraq, Ritter might seem like an obvious straw man to knock down. However, his views are worthy of scrutiny, if only for the prominence he attained in relation to the anti-war movement, even speaking at the 2 million-strong February 15 rally in London. A year ago Scott Ritter was a staple on both the mainstream media and at public meetings around the world. Ritter’s message to any and all who would listen was that there was not a shred of credible evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), let alone evidence for the preposterous allegation that Iraq presented an “imminent threat” to the United States. Anti-war groups around the world hosted Ritter and lauded his message on the question of WMDs. As Ritter’s credibility was attacked relentlessly by the pro-war forces and he was unceremoniously dropped from the CNN/corporate media circuit, his status and credibility grew amongst those opposed to the war.

A year later, the illegal and unjust war that millions around the world attempted to prevent has become an illegal and unjust occupation. And on WMDs, Ritter has been proven so obviously correct that Bush and his administration have basically dropped that pretext, shamelessly changing the justification for the war after the fact. Ritter can indeed say:  ‘I told you so’.

Ritter, however, is no ally of the anti-occupation movement. A recent piece of his in the Christian Science Monitor takes the form of an urgent advisory to the current administration as to what it will take to defeat the Iraqi resistance:

“What I saw – and passed on to US intelligence agencies – were what might be called the blueprints of the postwar insurgency that the US now faces in Iraq. And they implied two important facts that US authorities must understand: 

-The tools and tactics killing Americans today in Iraq are those of the former regime, not imported from abroad. 

- The anti-US resistance in Iraq today is Iraqi in nature, and more broadly based and deeply rooted than acknowledged.”

Ritter then concludes lamentably: – “The firestorm of anti-US resistance in Iraq continues to expand – and risks growing out of control – because of the void of viable solutions. Unless measures are taken that recognize that the tattered Hussein regime remains a viable force, and unless actions are formulated accordingly, the conflict in Iraq risks consuming the US in a struggle in which there may be no prospect of a clear-cut victory and an increasing possibility of defeat.”[1]

The article is undeniably advice on how to win the occupation. “US authorities must understand:. Much like the “anti-war” commentary of General Wesley Clark on CNN last winter, Ritter’s tone and content is that of a critical advisor to the U.S. administration and military commanders. The U.S., Ritter insists, must understand the resistance in order to combat it effectively. It’s also interesting that in this article he admits to spying for the U.S. as he has previously admitted his close collaboration with Israeli intelligence agencies, in contravention of the mandate of U.N. inspectors. Just another reminder of the U.N.’s role in violating Iraqi sovereignty, and another reminder of why we must be highly critical of the Dennis Kucinich-style call for “U.S. out, U.N. in”.

In order to avoid being the self-righteous Canadian inhabiting Michael Moore’s imaginary egalitarian-peaceful-utopian Canada, it is important to note here that this country’s “non-participation” in the war on Iraq was disingenuous to say the least. In a political sleight of hand Prime Minister Chretien announced that Canada would not send troops to Iraq, in apparent recognition of the fact that a majority of the country opposed the war. Meanwhile, Canadian battalions were quietly deployed to Afghanistan to free up more U.S. forces for the Iraq campaign.

Getting back to Ritter, his insights are useful at least in debunking the idea that the resistance is made up of “foreign terrorists”. The resistance, which has indeed been provoked by a different stripe of foreign terrorists (think red, white and blue), clearly has much more broad-based support than the U.S. administration would like to admit. The more dangerous assertion that Ritter makes is the equating of the resistance with the remnants of Hussein’s Baathist regime. This is another standard refrain of Rumsfeld et al., which of course is designed to deny the legitimacy of resistance to U.S. occupation forces. Basically, Ritter’s two key assertions are contradictory. On one hand he equates the resistance and its tactics with the former regime; on the other he states that the resistance is “broad-based and deeply rooted”. This ignores the many Iraqi voices that have made clear that they are fighting against foreign-rule and for self-determination –not for a return to anything like Hussein’s regime. Rather than being a highly coordinated project of the former regime, the resistance at this stage appears to be a highly decentralized operation, with a multitude of political tendencies and tactics being deployed. This decentralization, as Tariq Ali has noted, is the classic first stage of guerilla war [2]. It is still far from a coordinated national movement such as the National Liberation Fronts that emerged in Algeria or Vietnam. The resistance, which makes some in the anti-war movement squeamish, is a legitimate response to occupation and re-colonization.

Importantly, the resistance has bought activists in the United States and worldwide time in our efforts to educate and mobilize. If the Wolfowitzian fantasies of a unanimously embracing welcome for U.S. forces in Baghdad had come to fruition, the tanks might already have been well along the road to Damascus. The movement here must use this time wisely, and maintain the determined even keel that the building of a long-term movement requires. The highs and lows, the bouts of inspiration and demoralization, can be hard to avoid. In our enthusiasm we can overstate our power as a movement. This was an easy error to make, especially given the shocking size of the anti-war rallies last year. The line that we are ‘the other superpower’, for instance, has already begun to seem a little cliché. Frankly, given the real balance of power in the world, the frequent invocation of the phrase feels almost embarrassing. A more realistic assessment might speak of the potential other superpower, whose might is also hinted at by other mass struggles for justice such as the social explosion that recently toppled Bolivia’s pro-IMF, pro-US President ‘Goni’ Sanchez de Lozada. A much more dangerous error, and the one that the launching of the Iraq war in the face of such global opposition was designed to have us make, is to believe in the lie of the invincibility of U.S. imperialism. We are a long way off from a Saigon 1975 in the Middle East, but such a victory against the forces of war and Empire is not precluded. All that we can do to contribute is continue the steady, patient work required to build as broad as possible a movement against occupation. We will have to do this with or without the Scott Ritters, Hollywood celebrities, and politicians of all stripes, so many of whom have shifted from an anti-war to a win-the-occupation position.

Derrick O’Keefe is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Group and the StopWar.ca Coalition in Vancouver, Canada.


1. Christian Science Monitor, November 10, 2003.

2. Tariq Ali, ‘Resistance Is The First Step Towards Iraqi Independence,’ The Guardian, November 4, 2003.

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