Anti-war organizing that began within days of September 11th and kicked into high gear in the run-up to Bush’s war in Iraq is paying off. In the last two or three weeks, sparked by the Downing Street Memo, but grounded in years of careful and intensive local and national organizing (along with growing official recognition that military “victory” in Iraq is impossible), we have seen a major tipping point in anti-war sentiment in public opinion, and resulting shifts in congress. The most significant aspect is that a large majority of people in this country now believe some or all U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq. New polls put that figure at 60%. The uncertainty within the peace movement about calling for U.S. troops to be brought home has faded, and there is greater clarity than ever on the demand. After UFPJ was able to mobilize 3300 messages to congress in less than 24 hours, an unexpected 128 members supported the Woolsey amendment calling for a troop withdrawal plan and amendment; soon after, almost 50 members of Congress joined the new “Out of Iraq Caucus,” which will escalate the anti-war challenge inside the Democratic party. Even Republican opposition is growing, with Walter “Freedom Fries” Jones and Ron Paul joining Bill Abercrombie and Dennis Kucinich to introduce a bill calling on Bush to announce a plan for a withdrawal from Iraq that would begin by October 1, 2006.
The Bush administration is on the defensive. Confronted in the Senate with the widespread assessment that the U.S. is losing in Iraq, Rumsfeld was reduced to a pouting schoolboy’s “We are not!” retort (a line powerfully reminiscent of Nixon’s famous “I am not a crook!”). Only two days later Rumsfeld was on the defensive again, claiming that a report in the British press on U.S. officials meeting with representatives of the Iraqi resistance was “overblown.”
The widening public support for anti-war positions, and especially for the demand to bring home the troops, are strengthening anti-war organizing in general and United for Peace and Justice in particular. The events being planned for September 24-26 will reflect that rising strength. Our new challenge is to grab the openings made possible by the shifts in public and official opinions, to reach out broadly to build stronger alliances and expand our movement.
Globally, the broad peace and justice mobilization of which the U.S. movement is a key component, is expanding in breadth and strength. Important work is underway linking the issue of the war with international activists responding to the September summit on global poverty at the United Nations. That summit, focusing on the 2000 UN Millennium Goals (specific anti-poverty goals that aim to halve global poverty by 2015) will face a world-wide mobilization demanding implementation of the largely failed five-year plans as well as criticizing the Millennium Goals as massively insufficient to answer the challenges facing the world’s poor. Importantly, activists in groups such as GCAP (the Global Call Against Poverty) and others, are also taking up the issue of war and how it causes poverty – recognizing that ending one requires ending the other. A new report by the Palestinian Stop the Wall coalition (http://www.stopthewall.org) called “The World Bank and ‘Sustainable Development’ of the Palestinian Ghettos” will be released at the time of the July G-8 summit, helping to build closer links between the anti-occupation movement for Palestinian rights and the global justice movement.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent visit to the Middle East exposed key fault lines and failures in U.S. policy in the region. Her speech on “democracy” in Cairo was particularly significant in her acknowledgement of past and present failures. “The United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither,” she said. The timing may have been linked to the Iranian elections which Rice and Bush had dissed even before they were held. Despite serious flaws, the elections in Iran were seen by many as more democratic than the limited processes underway in Egypt and Saudi Arabia which the U.S. had heralded as major accomplishments, leaving Washington open to renewed charges of hypocrisy. Rice’s statement was significant – but there is no evidence that the Bush administration is prepared to walk the walk of real support for democracy in the strategic region. That would require not just talking the talk, but real changes – like making aid to Egypt conditional on real moves towards ending government repression; curbing Hosni Mubarak’s unofficial dynasty of power, and allowing all opposition parties including those the U.S. doesn’t like; stopping the massive export of U.S. arms to Saudi Arabia; enforcing the Arms Export Control Act equally throughout the region including Israel; and holding Israel accountable to its massive violations of international law and human rights instruments. So far none of that seems close to anyone’s agenda.
Bush’s inability to get John Bolton confirmed by the Senate represents a huge failure for a power-driven president with little concern for congressional, public, or even mainstream Republican views. If Bush uses a recess appointment to send Bolton to the UN, perhaps as soon as the July 4th weekend, it would be a huge violation of the spirit of the Constitution for an administration priding itself on “strict construction” of the Constitution. Recess appointments were originally designed to fill emergency vacancies in an era when congressional sessions were short, recesses were long, and it took six months to get across the country; using recess appointments as a political end-run to install an unacceptable candidate during a five-day weekend was clearly not what the drafters intended.
Overall the anti-Bolton campaign has been an enormous success, engaging large numbers of grassroots activists and organizations and giving congressional Democrats some much-needed backbone. There remains, however, a key example of Bolton’s disqualifying behavior that has yet to be brought to the center of the campaign, and no one in congress seems prepared to open the subject. Broken first in U.S. News and World Report (May 9, 2005), the story describes how some State Department analysts were concerned that Israel’s July 2002 use of a U.S.-supplied F-16 bomber in an assassination attempt in Gaza might violate the U.S. Arms Export Control Act. The bombing, at 3:00 a.m. in a crowded Gaza neighborhood, killed Israel’s designated target, Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh, and also killed 14 civilians, 13 of them young children. The officials wrote a “split” memo to Secretary of State Powell outlining their concerns but also including an opposing view. Bolton got hold of the memo, deleted all references to the concerns regarding AECA violations, and sent a memo to Powell essentially reassuring him there were no violations to worry about.
The Israeli-Palestinian summit ended in failure. The focus was supposed to be on coordinating Israel’s “disengagement” from Gaza, but there was no motion towards that end. Israel used the opportunity to announce an end to its four-month suspension of its official assassination policy; Reuters quoted an Israeli security source saying, “the attempt yesterday to kill an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza signalled the resumption of the targeted killing policy.” Going even further, Eival Giladi, Israel’s Gaza coordinator announced that during the disengagement, the Israeli military “may have to use weaponry that causes major collateral damage.”
It appears that even aside from Israel’s direct threat of military attack, Sharon is eager to insure some kind of tele-visible trauma regarding the Gaza withdrawal – scenes of Israeli soldiers pulling crying children and weeping women from their settlements, tearful settlers watching bulldozers destroy their homes, etc. The goal would be for Sharon to be able to tell Bush “you see how difficult this was for Israel? You see how big a political risk I took? I cannot risk any further division in Israeli society, so you cannot even ask me for any further freeze or withdrawal of settlements in the West Bank.” The result, since the U.S. already signed on to the plan in the April 2004 Bush-Sharon letters, will be Sharon’s “permanent interim solution” consolidating the occupation with widespread annexation of West Bank land, and keeping Gaza imprisoned under siege without control of its borders, airspace, sea, or transit in and out.
We have a huge amount of work to be done. But we have reached a new tipping point. Now we have to take advantage of it, and the gains in the Iraq work will strengthen everything else. The September 24-26 events in Washington DC will be key.