You Can Make a Difference: an Antiwar Speech

Iowa City

College Green Park

September 9, 2007

Peace Fest



Thank you Iowans for Sensible Priorities and University of Iowa Antiwar Committee for inviting me to speak. 


We are coming up on the sixth anniversary of 9/11 and in the so-called mainstream media pundits are asking when we will have finally and sufficiently commemorated the jetliner attacks of 2001.


I have a different question.  I want to know when enough Iraqi people will have died and when enough Afghan people will have died and when enough U.S. soldiers will have died at the hands of an American Empire whose chief operatives exploited 9/11 as an opening to escalate their quest for global dominance.  Those operatives and their allies are still using 9/11 as an opportunity to silence dissent and deepen inequality at home. 


As many of you know, tomorrow David Patraeus, the leading U.S. General in Iraq and a man in whom George W. Bush says he’s placed his trust…in two days Patraeus is going to report on the supposed “progress” of the war on Iraq.


I think it is highly offensive that the Bush administration chose this anniversary period as the time when Congress and the nation is supposed to respectfully listen to Patraeus testify in support of this senseless policy.


It is offensive because of course Iraq had nothing to do with al Qaeda or 9/11. 


It’s offensive because the Bush administration and its many enablers used 9/11 as a false pretext for launching what most of the world knows to have been a monumentally illegal and significantly oil-motivated invasion of that country.


And it’s offensive because this criminal occupation is fueling the fires of the very Islamic rage that gave rise to 9/11 and which will certainly generate future terrorist attacks on Americans at home and abroad.


We’ve already got a pretty good sense of what’s going to happen with Field Marshall Patraeus’ big trip home. Patraeus is going to betray us and serve his political masters by telling Congress and the American people that “the Surge” is “working.”  By this he will mean to say that Washington‘s escalation of the illegal and immoral war of aggression against Iraq is “reducing violence in Iraq.”


And the Democrats or at least most of them are going to fall in line.  They’ll make some noise and pound their chests a little but they’re basically going to go along to get along.  They’ll play ball with the Escalation, hold their breath and wait for the first Tuesday in November in 2008, continuing their betrayal of the popular antiwar sentiment they rode to majority power in the Congress last November.


As Paul Krugman noted in the New York Times last Friday, “Democrats will look at Patraeus’ uniform and medals and fall into their usual cringe.  They won’t ask hard questions out of the fear that someone might accuse them of attacking the military.  After the testimony, they’ll desperately try to get Republicans to agree to resolution that politely asks President Bush to maybe, possibly withdraw some troops, if he feels like it” (Krugman, “A Time to Take a Stand,” New York Times, 7 September, 2007. p.A29).


Never mind that the Invasion is a monumental, mass-murderous war-crime.  More than simply a “mistake,” it a great and brazenly imperial transgression that has killed probably a million Iraqis by now along with a US GI body count that has long ago surpassed the 9/11 death toll.


Never mind that this crime has been sold on criminally fraudulent grounds from the beginning – from the false claims on “weapons of mass destruction” to the absurd claim that the U.S. invaded to export democracy and freedom to the preposterous claim that we are reducing violence and preventing civil war in Iraq.


Never mind that the violence is actually NOT abating in Iraq.  “Estimates based on morgue, hospital and police records suggest that the daily number of civilian deaths is [now] almost twice its average pace from last year…A recent assessment by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office [finds] no decline in the average number of daily attacks” (Krugman, “A Time”) 


Never mind that General Patraeus has a well-known history of “making wildly overoptimistic assessments of [so-called] progress in Iraq” (Krugman).


Never mind that Republicans will accuse Democrats of being unpatriotic and soft on National Security no matter what the Democrats actually do.  As Krugman notes, “Democrats gave Mr. Bush everything he wanted in 2002; their reward was a [campaign] ad attacking Max Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, that featured images of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.” 


Never mind that any plan that depends on Dick Cheney or George W. Bush “recognizing reality” is a total fantasy.  Bush and Cheney are committed messianic militarists who actually think they can make reality up as the go murderously along. Bush probably seriously believes God has told him to wage an epic war against the people and nations of the Middle East.  


And never mind that the American public hates the Iraq war and wants to see it ended as quickly as possible. As Krugman notes, “the American people are disgusted with the Democrats not because they think congressional leaders are too liberal, but because they don’t see Congress doing anything to stop the war.”  The majority Demcoratic Congress’s approval rating is actually lower than Bush’s because of this great failure.


Anybody who thinks that we’re going to make everything okay and end the war and create peace and justice in Iraq and world by getting Democrats into power in Washington…anybody who thinks that needs a serious reality check.  Osama bin Laden may be a vicious fundamentalist mass murderer, but he was unfortunately correct when he told the American people last week that the Democrats have done nothing substantively really to end the war.  They’ve continued to fund it all along.


And I’m sorry to say this too, but bin-Laden – butcher that he may be – was right when he said that the Democrats are beholden to the same military industrial corporations that do so much to influence the Republicans in the direction of permanent war.


If he’d wanted to get really radical, bin-Laden could have gone further; he could have pointed out that the Bush doctrine of aggressive and unilateral interventionism is a very bipartisan affair.  The Democratic Party has long participated in the development of the doctrine over many years strategic imperial planning.   They might cast themselves as alternatives to President Bush, the fact is that prevailing Democratic doctrine is not that different from the Bush-Cheney doctrine.  Many Democrats, including senators who voted to authorize the war in Iraq, have long embraced the idea of a militaristic foreign policy based on American global supremacy and the presumed right to intervene wherever and whenever the U.S. sees fit.


The ongoing four and a half year Iraq invasion is so bipartisan it’s not funny.


That’s part of why I encourage everybody here to take a properly skeptical attitude towards the upcoming presidential and congressional elections that we know so much about in Iowa because of the early Caucuses. I happen to agree with Noam Chomsky that we shouldn’t ignore American elections.  We should pay attention to the admittedly all-too limited spectrum of choices made available to us under the American system and try to make reasonably sensible choices on which candidates will do the least harm.  And we should not forget that one of the two business parties – the Republicans – is openly and strongly committed to “dismantling and destroying whatever progressive legislation and social welfare has been won by popular struggles over the last century.”


But at the same time, we should not think for one second that these limited-spectrum elections - especially limited in the realm of foreign policy – ought to be the primary focus of our political activities. As Chomsky notes, “the urgent task for those who want to shift policy in a progressive direction is to grow and become strong enough so that they can’t be ignored by centers of power.  Forces for change that have come from the grass roots and shaken the society to its core include the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s movement and others, cultivated by steady, dedicated work at all levels, every day, not just once every four years…The main task it create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome” (Noam Chomsky, Interventions [San Francisco: City Lights, 2007], pp. 97-100).


Don’t believe the bullshit artists in the dominant media and in the university world.  Don’t believe the know-it-all politicians and pundits and professors who tell you that your beliefs and actions are irrelevant when you struggle against this current war and the broader empire and global economic system of which this war is just one expression. Don’t believe them when they tell you that weighty matters like U.S. foreign policy are beyond your meaningful sphere of knowledge and influence. 


All of us have the power before we leave to make the world a better place than when we entered it.  All of us have the power to fight meaningfully and significantly for peace, justice, freedom and democracy. We especially have that power when we act with others in solidarity, when we collectively resist concentrated power in organized, democratic and militant ways, remembering that popular government derives its only legitimate authority from the people and that the people, united can never be defeated. Thank you.



Paul Street is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004).  Street’s latest book is Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007). Street can be reached at [email protected]


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