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Questions for the Peace Movement: The U.S. Occupation of Iraq

New Politics; New York Vol. 9, Iss. 4,  (Winter 2004): 19-31.
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IN FEBRUARY 2003, MILLIONS OF PEOPLE in the United States and around the world protested the impending U.S.-led war on Iraq. But today, even among opponents of the war, there is widespread confusion on the question of the ongoing occupation. Many who opposed the war before it began now argue that "Yes, it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first place, but now that we're there, we have to stay - it's our responsibility to ensure democracy to the Iraqi people and protect them from chaos and civil war, as well as to promote global peace and stability." Democratic presidential candidates Howard Dean and Carol Moseley Braun make this argument, and it is an approach shared by many nonpoliticians as well.

In my view, this line of reasoning is seriously flawed, and leads to disastrous consequences; it ignores the deeply destructive, reactionary and inhumane character of the American role in Iraq, and in the world. However, at the same time that the peace movement opposes war and the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq, it also needs to address the question of how to respond to ruthless dictators like Saddam Hussein, to terrorism and to Islamic political fundamentalism.

To clarify how to think about the occupation, it is useful to go back and review the different approaches within the peace movement before the United States declared war. Some, like the International Action Committee and ANSWER, absolutely refused to criticize Saddam Hussein, seeing him, as they had Slobodan Milosevic, as an antiimperialist leader to be defended, even celebrated. A friend of mine who went from New York to an antiwar demonstration in Washington, DC on an official ANSWER bus was horrified when, in a manner reminiscent of the Stalinists in the 1930s, the organizers treated the riders to...