Democracy, “Regime Change,” and the Anti-War Movement

I would like to thank the Life After Capitalism group for organizing this gathering, a time of urgent need for international solidarity. This is indeed a frightening moment, when my government is trying to take advantage of the horrible events of September 11 to assert its predominance in an even more total way than it has up until now. Yet we just might be able to stop them. When I say “we,” I mean the movements in different countries, mutually reinforcing, that have already succeeded in putting the war juggernaut on the defensive. In January we marched in Washington D.C. and other U.S. cities; around the world last month more than a million people took to the streets to oppose and resist this war.

With the rebirth of the peace movement in the United States and globally, it is a time for thinking about our basic principles, as well as about strategy and tactics. Can we separate peace from justice? No. As the well-known slogan in the U.S. civil rights movement says, “No justice, no peace.” Can we separate peace or justice from democracy? Equally impossible, I would maintain.

These “inseparabilities” must inform how we in the peace movement behave, and how we speak. Of course we need to point out that for its own manipulative reasons the Bush administration is exaggerating the immediate threat posed by Saddam Hussein to people in the United States and the Middle East. But we in the peace movement also need to say that cruel dictatorships like Saddam Hussein’s and fundamentalist terrorists like Al Qaeda are both dangerous and reactionary. This doesn’t justify the U.S. role in the Middle East and its threat of war on Iraq. In fact, one of our fundamental complaints about U.S. foreign policy, in addition to the fact that it is unfair and inhumane, is that it promotes dictatorship and terrorism.

The U.S. has never supported a genuine democracy that protects human rights in the Arab world. In fact, until a little more than a decade ago, Saddam Hussein was among the many tyrants who could boast of U.S. support, along with dictators around the world including Greece, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Indonesia and Turkey. We, the anti war, social justice and human rights movements, are the authentic promoters of global democracy. And it is we who can express real solidarity and give political support to democratic movements throughout the Arab world. The U.S., with its one-sided support to Israel and its historical and current friendliness with authoritarian regimes (these days often authoritarian regimes with formal democratic structures), is nothing but a transparent hypocrite.


The Hypocrisy of U.S. Claims to Promote Democracy


        Despite occasional throwaway lines to the contrary, it is clear that the U.S. government has no intention of bringing democracy to Iraq. In a revealing moment, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said earlier this week that the post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi government should be “something that we might call a democracy but which is respectful of minority rights but certainly not a US template or a UK template or another type of democracy template… It will have to be something that is uniquely Iraqi.” Translated from Rumsfeldese, this means no democracy worthy of the name for post-war Iraq. (Financial Times, 1/21/03, “Paris, Bonn stress political risks of premature action”)

        Where, then do we in the peace and justice movement stand on “regime change”? We are unhesitatingly for it, not only in Iraq, but also in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait  just as we supported regime change in Pinochet’s Chile or Marcos’s Philippines. But we favor such change not through U.S. military intervention, but through the efforts of popular movements.

        In fact, we are for “regime change” at home as well, even though we live in a (more or less) democratic country. Yet one of the hard facts we have to recognize is that the presumed instrument of regime change in the United States, the Democratic Party, has proven utterly unwilling to confront the Republicans on the issue of the war on Iraq, as well as on most other domestic and foreign policy issues. Now that we have a rising and rapidly expanding American anti-war movement, some of these Democrats may find their voices  but don’t count on it, and certainly don’t count on them to consistently represent our views. That’s why, in order to achieve lasting regime change at home, we need a new political party in the United States, free of corporate control and committed to progressive domestic and international positions.

        Returning to the theme of democracy, it is the movements for peace and social justice who can support, without fear, democratic international institutions. We reject the thoroughly undemocratic nature of the International Monetary Fund, where countries cast their votes in proportion to the amount of money they contribute. Likewise, we reject the undemocratic structure of the United Nations, where the five permanent members of the Security Council — the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia– have a veto over not only the General Assembly but even over the Security Council itself. We wouldn’t dream of accepting such an arrangement domestically  giving any individual member of a self-selected and self-perpetuating group of five decisive veto power over the decisions of the majority of Congress, for example. Why should the people of the world accept such a blatantly anti-democratic set-up in the institution that is supposed to be charged with the power to make decisions about war and peace and resolving international conflict?

        It may turn out  and we all must hope that it does even though it is highly unlikely  that in the case of this war against Iraq the Security Council doesn’t give the United States what it wants. But we still need to demand a basic democratic overhaul of the United Nations. And to make this democratization effective, we need to work, through solidarity and political support, for the success of democratic movements within the member countries of the U.N. Finally, we are all too aware of the profoundly distorting effect of unequal distribution of wealth and power on even the most formally perfect of democracies  so for this reason, as well as out of simple humane concerns for equality, we peace and social justice activists need to support movements for egalitarianism around the world.

        The organization I am with, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, has been circulating a statement that embodies and applies these principles, entitled “We Oppose Both Saddam Hussein and the U.S. War Against Iraq: A call for a new, democratic U.S. foreign policy.” This statement has gained thousands of signatures, including Michael Albert, Medea Benjamin, Noam Chomsky, Ariel Dorfman, Barbara Ehrenreich, Daniel Ellsberg, Janeane Garofalo, Robin D.G. Kelley, Mel King, Tony Kushner, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Ashkan Mojdehi, Toni Morrison, Ros Petchesky, Katha Pollitt, Barbara Ransby, Adolph Reed, Adrienne Rich, Matthew Rothschild, Arundhati Roy, Edward Said, Lydia Sargent, Saskia Sassen, Richard Sennett, Stephen Shalom, Alan Sokal, Art Spiegelman, Kurt Vonnegut, Immanuel Wallerstein, Cornel West, and Howard Zinn. (Arundhati Roy signed after the Porto Alegre conference was over.) The statement follows:


We Oppose Both
Saddam Hussein and the U.S. War on Iraq
A call for a new, democratic U.S. foreign policy


We oppose the impending U.S.-led war on Iraq, which threatens to inflict vast suffering and destruction, while exacerbating rather than resolving threats to regional and global peace. Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who should be removed from power, both for the good of the Iraqi people and for the security of neighboring countries.  However, it is up to the Iraqi people themselves to oust Saddam Hussein,  dismantle his police state regime, and democratize their country. People in the United States can be of immense help in this effort — not by supporting military intervention, but by building a strong peace movement and working to ensure that our government pursues a consistently democratic and just foreign policy.

We do not believe that the goal of the approaching war against Iraq is to bring democracy to the Iraqis, nor that it will produce this result. Instead, the Bush Administration’s aim is to expand and solidify U.S. predominance in the Middle East, at the cost of tens of thousands of civilian lives if necessary. This war is about U.S. political, military and economic power, about seizing control of oilfields and about strengthening the United States as the enforcer of an inhumane global status quo. That is why we are opposed to war against Iraq, whether waged unilaterally by Washington or by the UN Security Council, unaccountable to the UN General Assembly and bullied and bribed into endorsing the war.

The U.S. military may have the ability to destroy Saddam Hussein, but the United States cannot promote democracy in the Muslim world and peace in the Middle East, nor can it deal with the threat posed to all of us by terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda, and by weapons of mass destruction, by pursuing its current policies. Indeed, the U.S. could address these problems only by doing the opposite of what it is doing today — that is, by:

·       Renouncing the use of military intervention to extend and consolidate U.S. imperial power, and withdrawing U.S. troops from the Middle East.

·       Ending its support for corrupt and authoritarian regimes, e.g. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Egypt.

·       Opposing, and ending U.S. complicity in, all forms of terrorism worldwide — not just by Al Qaeda, Palestinian suicide bombers and Chechen hostage takers, but also by Colombian paramilitaries, the Israeli military in the Occupied Territories and Russian counterinsurgency forces in Chechnya.

·       Ending the cruel sanctions on Iraq, which inflict massive harm on the civilian population.

·       Supporting the right of national self-determination for all peoples in the Middle East, including the Kurds, Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Ending one-sided support for Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

·       Taking unilateral steps toward renouncing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, and vigorously promoting international disarmament treaties.

·       Abandoning IMF/World Bank economic policies that bring mass misery to people in large parts of the world. Initiating a major foreign aid program directed at popular rather than corporate needs.

A U.S. government that carried out these policies would be in a position to honestly and consistently foster democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere. It could encourage democratic forces (not unrepresentative cliques, but genuinely popular parties and movements) in Iraq, Iran and Syria, as well as Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Turkey. Some of these forces exist today, others have yet to arise, but all would flower if nurtured by a new U.S. foreign policy.

These initiatives, taken together, would constitute a truly democratic foreign policy. Only such a policy could begin to reverse the mistrust and outright hatred felt by so much of the world’s population toward the U.S. At the same time, it would weaken the power of dictatorships and the appeal of terrorism and reactionary religious fundamentalism. Though nothing the United States can do would decisively undermine these elements right away, over time a new U.S. foreign policy would drastically undercut their power and influence.

The Administration’s frantic and flagrantly dishonest efforts to portray Saddam Hussein as an imminent military threat to people in this country and to the inhabitants of other Middle Eastern countries lack credibility. Saddam Hussein is a killer and serial aggressor who would doubtless like nothing better than to wreak vengeance on the U.S. and to dominate the Gulf Region. But there is no reason to believe he is suicidal or insane. Considerable evidence suggests that Saddam Hussein is much weaker militarily than he was before the Gulf War and that he is still some distance from being able to manufacture nuclear weapons. But most important, unlike Al Qaeda, he has a state and a position of power to protect; he knows that any Iraqi act of aggression now against the U.S. or his neighbors would bring about his total destruction. As even CIA Director George Tenet has pointed out, it is precisely the certainty of a war to the finish against his regime that would provide Saddam Hussein with the incentive he now lacks to use whatever weapons he has against the U.S. and its allies.

Weapons of mass destruction endanger us all and must be eliminated.  But a war against Iraq is not the answer. War threatens massive harm to Iraqi civilians, will add to the ranks of terrorists throughout the Muslim world, and will encourage international bullies to pursue further acts of aggression. Everyone is legitimately concerned about terrorism; however, the path to genuine security involves promoting democracy, social justice and respect for the right of self-determination, along with disarmament,  weapons-free-zones,  and inspections. Of all the countries in the world, the United States possesses by far the most powerful arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. If the U.S. were to initiate a democratic foreign policy and take serious steps toward disarmament, it would be able to encourage global disarmament as well as regional demilitarization in the Middle East.

The Bush Administration has used the alleged Iraqi military danger to justify an alarming new doctrine of preemptive war. In the National Security Strategy, publicly released on September 20, 2002, the Bush Administration asserted that the U.S. has the right to attack any country that might be a potential threat, not merely in response to an act of military aggression. Much of the world sees this doctrine for what it is: the proclamation of an undisguised U.S. global imperium.

Ordinary Iraqis, and people everywhere, need to know that there is another America, made up of those who both recognize the urgent need for democratic change in the Middle East and reject our government’s militaristic and imperial foreign policy. By signing this statement we declare our intention to work for a new democratic U.S. foreign policy. That means helping to rein in the war-makers and building the most powerful antiwar movement possible, and at the same time forging links of solidarity and concrete support for democratic forces in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

We refuse to accept the inevitability of war on Iraq despite the enormous military juggernaut that has been put in place, and we declare our commitment to work with others in this country and abroad to avert it. And if war should start, we will do all in our power to end it immediately.

We welcome support from people in the U.S. and around the world. To add your name, please go to www.cpdweb.org


Joanne Landy is Co-Director, Campaign for Peace and Democracy (U.S.) [email protected]

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