Hope In Days Of Despair

The crime that began this week is almost beyond imagination. Over the course of the past few months, the Bush administration has tried desperately to garner world support for their invasion, and to find some shred of evidence that Iraq actually poses a threat. They failed utterly on both counts, convincing none but the most gullible, the quislings, and the unquestioning. But no matter to Bush. Thirty million people protest worldwide, including millions of Americans. To George W. Bush this constitutes a “focus group”, one which he feels no need to consider in his war calculus, while continuing to trumpet his war of “liberation”, for “democracy”. The population of Iraq, which has suffered under a twelve-year siege of US-imposed sanctions, does indeed live under a dictator, an abuser of human rights. America has responded to this grave situation by subjecting a population that is 50% composed of children under the age of 15 to two full-scale wars, over a decade of strangling economic sanctions and repeated and consistent bombing raids connecting one war to the next. No support was ever shown for forces pursuing democracy in Iraq—hardly surprising when one asks whether a truly democratic government in Iraq would want to give away its considerable oil resources to big American oil corporations as well as Halliburton and other minor energy companies with key people in the Bush administration that wish to become major oil companies.

The anti-war movement that has grown so rapidly around the world remains our great resource. It feels very encouraging to stop and look for a while at the mammoth force that has been unleashed by Bush’s rush to war. Not the force of the American military, but the force of our movement. The New York Times even found itself forced to acknowledge that the peace movement, along with the US, are the two great powers in the world. Such a movement appearing even before a war starts is an unprecedented event. Concern that the fact that the movement did not stop the war on Iraq from coming to pass would discourage the movement has proven unfounded. Instead, the anti-war movement has exploded in growth, with massive numbers performing civil disobedience in New York, San Francisco and other cities across the US and with protests globally continuing to escalate.

The crucial aim of the anti-war movement has not changed from what it needed to have been all along. As is always the case, elites have the power of the moment. The United States will complete its war in Iraq and will quite likely achieve its objectives there. Iraqi oil reserves will come under the direct control of the United States. Learning nothing from the misery such action has brought upon the people of Israel, the United States will maintain an occupation of Iraq, through its military and what will likely be the puppet government propped up by it. And what will come next? After 1979, the United States lost a leg from its tripod around the oil producing states (Israel, Turkey and the Shah’s Iran). Now it will have been replaced, with Iran penned in between Iraq and Afghanistan, both under the occupation of the United States. Will Iran be next on the Bush/Cheney/Wolfowitz/Rumsfeld/Perle hit list? Perhaps. A pretext for such an attack won’t be difficult to find, as the first attack against American occupation forces by Iraqi Shi’a can easily be used to sell such an attack. Perhaps it will be Syria, widely seen as the center of Arab defiance of Western ambitions. Ongoing tensions in Lebanon can easily provide a pretext for this choice. Or perhaps the United States will find a way to turn its attention toward this hemisphere. One of the less-discussed aspects of the formation of current US policy is the victory of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and his subsequent ability to withstand a US-backed coup attempt in the form of a national strike. Venezuela is a major oil producer, the biggest outside of the Middle East. Chavez’s ascension certainly played a role in US strategic calculus over the past year.

The real point here is that we don’t know what the next step will be. And, in truth, it doesn’t matter. We need to keep in mind that, while our focus is correctly upon the assault upon Iraq, the United States is waging war in other places at the same time. Last week saw the heaviest US attack in Afghanistan in over a year, and the American forces remain there. The United States continues to maintain troops in Columbia. Bush’s partner in crime, Ariel Sharon, has steadily ratcheted up the heat of violence in the Palestinian territories, in order, as one minister put it, to force the Palestinians to “transfer themselves”. It is a war being for more than money, more than oil. It is a war being fought for power.

Our task is to recognize these global links. In our defense of Iraq, we must not forget the Palestinians, who are facing a level of violence they have not seen since 1948 (as, for that matter, are the Israelis). We must not forget the besieged people of Colombia, whose country is being destroyed by a civil war inflamed by US machinations. We must not forget the need to support the relatively progressive governments that have come to power in Venezuela and Brazil. We must not forget the people of Africa, suffering still from the after-effects of colonization, the ravages of the AIDS pandemic and the chaos brought on by continued exploitation of resources and an ongoing tidal flow of small arms into the country. We must not forget that it is the poor of our own countries, all the Western countries, who continue to pay the price for neo-liberal economic policies and the military-industrial strategizing for global control. While money is poured into the military at unprecedented levels, social services are slashed, jobs dwindle and colleges of all kinds become harder and harder for working people to afford.

This is not to suggest that every one of us, individually or in groups, needs to take on all of these issues, of course. Indeed, it is crucial that we do not try. A group like A Jewish Voice for Peace is focused on changing US policy with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict for good reason, even while we, in time of crisis like this one, also take action to oppose the war on Iraq. Rather, it is to suggest that groups working on issues as diverse as racism in the USA, gender equality, heterosexism, and education need as well to come together with groups working on foreign policy issues to form a larger movement. It is, in fact, entirely possible that what we have now is a movement to, at long last, begin to replace Machiavellian politics with a politics based on a shared humanity. For at its root, is that not what we are opposing our government for?

Yes, it is true that many people do not get involved in politics at all until they have some personal interest at stake. Yet, most people, throughout the political spectrum, do wish to see a political system which works for the greater good, which upholds universal moral principles and which is guided first and foremost by a desire to see peace, justice and a decent life for all people. These are not the principles upon which governments work, and, indeed, the very nature of politics is such that such concerns are the first casualties of policy formation. It is the force of the popular will that can change that. This is the opportunity we have now. We capitalize on that opportunity by doing our work, and doing it in diverse ways. There is no single strategy. But there is a great need for us to do our work conscious of what has happened, and what is going on beyond the issue we ourselves are devoted to. While working for peace in the Middle East, we need to be cognizant of the attack on the education system (already in very bad shape, as we know) in the United States, and especially here in California. While working against racism in the US, we need to remember the struggle for the survival of the Ogoni people in Nigeria against the devastation wrought by Shell Oil. We need to remember, and make sure our neighbors remember, the corporate crimes that so quickly disappeared from the headlines last year.

The struggle for peace and justice is the same as the struggle against racism, misogyny, heterosexism, classism, violent nationalism, and ethnocentrism. By keeping those connections in mind, by supporting each other whenever we can, we keep alive the hope that is being kindled in these days of despair by the appearance of a global peace movement. And we can begin re-shaping the political landscape to favor humanity over the interests of a few.

Leave a comment