By David Swanson
As news stories are leading those still aware of the war on Iraq to believe it’s over, it was encouraging to see Busboys and Poets restaurant in Washington, D.C., packed Sunday evening for a four-hour forum on actions needed to actually end that war, make reparations, and deter future wars of aggression. The event was advertised with the following description:
“Is the U.S. military really leaving Iraq or just rebranding? What is the toll of seven years of occupation on Iraqis, U.S. soldiers and our economies? What is the status of Iraqi refugees around the world? Is it still possible to hold accountable those who dragged us into the war or committed crimes such as torture? What role did Congress and the media play in facilitating the invasion/occupation? We’ll also look at the role of the peace movement — its strengths and weaknesses — and draw key lessons to make our work for peace, including in Afghanistan, more effective.”
Serving as moderators for the event were Andy Shallal, an Iraqi artist and the owner of Busboys and Poets, and Felicia Eaves, a peace activist. The event began with playwright and performer Kymone Tecumseh Freeman reading from “Letters from Iraq,” which set the tone for the event with the view of the crime scene from one of its participants, a U.S. soldier.
The first of two panels included:
Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies
Raed Jarrar, Peace Action
Manal Omar, author
Gene Bruskin, US Labor Against the War
This first panel focused on the perspective of Iraqis and the state of the disaster in Iraq. Bennis gave her usual excellent overview. I say usual because of course we’ve been holding these events for a decade now, but Bennis provided new reason for energetic engagement by describing plans for a major march on Washington on October 2nd that will bring the peace movement together with those focused on jobs and economic justice, something that’s been badly needed since before the current wars began, as the funding of global militarism has been hollowing our country out from the inside. See: http://www.onenationforpeace.org
Raed Jarrar rebutted the idea that Iraqis are in any way grateful for what the United States has done to their country. Iraqis, he said, see this invasion as the 21st foreign invasion of their country and as evil as any of the other 20. As all the panel’s speakers made clear, Iraq is now in worse shape than in 2003. There’s no safety, no electricity, no water, and millions of Iraqis are unwelcome in the nations they’ve fled to but unable to return home. The Iraq of the 1980s with its advances in education and women’s rights is long gone. Manal Omar described grandmothers with college education and foreign travel whose granddaughters are illiterate and have never been far from their homes. Gene Bruskin described the heroic efforts of Iraqi workers to organize, claim their rights, and block the privatization of resources — the efforts to privatize being a key reason why Iraqis still lack electricity. Jarrar stressed that Iraqis want a fully sovereign national government to provide their nation’s services. They want electricity, but do not want it in the way the government overseen by the United States wants to provide it.
Jarrar was very hopeful about the new Iraqi Parliament, expecting strong resistance to the occupation, but he also argued that there are no grounds to complain that the occupation isn’t ending now, that it is supposed to end by December 31, 2011. Jarrar seemed fully confident that, in some sense, the occupation would end by that date, although leaving behind a major presence in the form of the world’s largest embassy, additional consulates, and soldiers and mercenaries whose presence would be justified as guarding those locations. However, Bennis pointed out that Congress played no role in the creation of the unconstitutional treaty through which Bush and Maliki set the deadline for complete withdrawal, giving reason to question our ability to properly enforce compliance with it, assuming — as I do — that such enforcement will in fact be needed.
Congresswoman Donna Edwards spoke next. She raised a fear I share that between now and the end of next year President Obama will attempt to put in place a new treaty to extend the occupation. She also spoke of the upcoming elections. I wish she’d advocated electing congress members who would defund the wars, or even Democratic congress members who would defund the wars. Instead she advocated electing Democrats because a Democratic majority would make all the difference. My concern is that we have had that majority in the House for the past five years. We have 115 congress members who will oppose war funding, 103 of them Democrats. We need to build those numbers, I think, more than any others. And we need to establish our ability to follow through on commitments to unelect those who vote for the war funding.
Head-Roc, a hip-hop artist, performed next, his subject matter dealing with the attacks on public school funding, affordable housing, and child care in Washington, D.C., and the rest of this country — the areas defunded by the funding of wars, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the rest of the corporate agenda driving our government.
The second and last panel included:
Josh Stieber, Iraq Veterans Against the War
David Swanson, author
Bill Fletcher, labor leader, scholar
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK and Global Exchange
Stieber discussed, from the point of view of a soldier who believed the war lies and came to reject them, the incoherence of the bundle of excuses for this war that we’ve all been offered. On the one hand this is a war to kill evil Muslims. On the other hand it’s a war to spread human rights. We help people out by bombing them, something Stieber said many U.S. soldiers end up joking about, most of them quickly losing any belief in the morality of their cause.
I argued for voting out of office those who fund the wars, and for holding the war makers criminally and constitutionally responsible, including through launching an effort to impeach Jay Bybee and open up a congressional review of war lies and the crime of aggression.
Bill Fletcher picked up where Head-Roc had left off, arguing for the need to make peace not just a preference people have when a pollster asks them, but something that resonates with them as central to the betterment of their daily lives. He pointed to the Chicano Moratorium exactly 40 years earlier as a movement to learn from.
Medea Benjamin inspired, as always, with tales of recent activism by CODE PINK to oppose the war funding, to build alliances, and to hold accountable war criminals including Karl Rove and Erik Prince. And she pushed for participation on a massive scale in the march on October 2nd:
Sunday’s event, which benefitted from lots of questions and participation from everyone in the room, was sponsored by the wonderful organizations CODEPINK, Peace Action, Institute for Policy Studies, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Global Exchange, Just Foreign Policy, Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), U.S. Labor Against the War, ANSWER, World Can’t Wait, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, War is a Crime, Rivera Project, and the Washington Peace Center.