Factions on the Left have called for “Support for the Iraqi Resistance” and criticized those who don’t endorse the call. For example, at this year’s Left Forum, Anthony Arnove and Tariq Ali debated Stephen Shalom and Joanne Landy on this issue, with the first two arguing for supporting the resistance. Some commentators even refer to this resistance as “freedom fighters in Iraq.” My sympathies are with the other side. While one might argue for some abstract “right to resist occupation,” what is going on in Iraq now hardly fits under this category. Those referred to as the resistance can in no way be referred to as “freedom fighters.” To claim otherwise is to distort the term “freedom” beyond any recognition.
At a minimum, those who argue for supporting “the resistance” are under obligation to tell us which resistance they have in mind. Do they support the Wahhabi extremists, who, whether or not under the label of Zarqawi, have launched a war against the Shia involving numerous mass bombings of civilians with no involvement in occupation? Do they mean the ex- and current Baathists who strive to revive the Saddam Hussein regime, albeit with new leaders? Is it those among the Sunni groups who are fighting both to hold on to the Sunni’s traditional dominant role in Iraq and to resist efforts to consolidate power and resources (i.e., oil) in Shia and Kurdish hands? Or perhaps they mean the al-Sadr forces who criticize the occupation, while striving to establish an Iranian-style Islamic state in which, as happened in Basra, university students were brutally attacked for having a picnic with members of the opposite gender? Or, rather, is it some mythical resistance created out of half-remembered scenes from the Battle of Algiers?
Despite the romance that the pro-resistance leftists imagine occurring in Iraq, we have there a complex power struggle between factions defined by religious sect, tribal allegiances, and party membership. While the claims of foreign involvement are exaggerated by the Americans, several of the surrounding countries — Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey at least — no doubt have their favorites and their enemies to be countered. None of the major factions vying for power have a universalist view aimed at the greater good of all Iraqis. To support the resistance is to take sides with one or another of these contending factions.
My general belief is that the “Left” should stand for a few basic principles: freedom, real grassroots democracy, equality (esp. economic), and the pursuit of truth. We of the Left should be interested in those who appear to be furthering these principles. [I never know exactly what it means to “support” some group.] Correspondingly, those who fundamentally do not accept these principles should not be part of our Left. Of course, there can be major differences on strategy, tactics, even the exact form of what societies would embody them.
Saddam Hussein did not support any of these principles and was in no way an ally of the Left. Those Iraqis the Left should be interested in were opposed to Saddam, while now being opposed to the occupation. George Galloway, as was pointed out by Greg Palast, appears to have been a chum of Saddam’s. That means he’s no comrade of mine and he shouldn’t be of any Left concerned about improving people’s lives. I thoroughly enjoyed Galloway’s demolishing of the Senators at the Washington DC committee hearing, as entertainment. I suspect I’ll feel the same about his debate with Hitchens, if I ever get around to watching it. But, the fact that he utters some things with which I agree doesn’t make him a comrade. He appears to be clever at papering over his checkered history. For example, when before the Senate committee, he referred to a history of anti-Saddam statements. But these were apparently made prior to 1990, when Saddam was a US ally. I haven’t seen any such statements since 1991. This is disingenuous.
Same goes with Castro and Cuba. Castro is a dictator, a fairly brutal one. His government has definitely done some good things. Can’t we keep both these facts in mind? How does it help the world to have radicals spouting pro-Cuba nonsense, ignoring the sorry state of democracy there? Of course, noticing the stench that accompanies dictatorship doesn’t mean we have to close our eyes to anything good that happens there.
During the Cold War, there were socialist groups who refused to side with either the capitalist West or the Stalinist countries, with slogans like: “Neither East nor West, but (Revolutionary) Democratic Socialism.” My sympathies were definitely with them: I was fervently against the Vietnam war. (I have a permanent knee injury from an antiwar demonstration in 1970.) But I was also strongly against the North Vietnamese regime, which was far from democratic and brutally suppressed internal dissent.
It seems very hard for people to maintain complex realities, that neither side in a conflict may be desirable or furthering human freedom. But that’s the only option that holds a potential for creating a better future. After 40 years of “national liberation” struggles creating new dictatorships, some of which are even worse than the previous regimes, the poverty of “the enemy of my enemy is a friend” should be apparent to all.
Another reason an enemy of the Empire may not be our friend is that many of these Empire enemies are likely to kill us if given the chance, e.g., if they assume power. Supporting such a “friend” is a sure-fire way to turn Left politics into a suicide pact. The Iraqi resistance is overwhelmingly against any Left or progressive forces and has attacked them ruthlessly, which is why virtually all Iraqi unionists and women’s organizations oppose this resistance as either neo-Baathist or Islamic fascist. To support this resistance is to accept the death of many of these progressive forces bravely fighting against all odds for a better Iraq.
As to Iraq now, there are no good alternatives. Our natural allies are trade unionists, women’s rights groups, etc. They are fighting a valiant fight, but appear to be losing. I expect many will be in exile soon, as this may be their only alternative to likely death. But these are the folks we should support and aid. Not the so called “resistance,” which, increasingly, is a fight of a minority both against occupation and against losing their privileges, and whose victory would be a disaster for most Iraqis. Most unionists call for an end to the occupation, but also oppose the insurgency. These are our friends.
If the Left stands for anything, it should be a truly different and better world. We know where the alternatives lead. And radicals must speak the truth, no matter who it offends. Who else will?
Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst and a faculty member at the Institute for the Study of Violence of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is a member of Roslindale Neighbors for Peace and Justice and founder of Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice. He maintains the Iraq Occupation and Resistance Report web page.