April 6, 2005 - "Masses of Americans are against this war and are looking for a way to express that", Ahmed Shawki, the editor of US journal International Socialist Review, told the audience at the Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference (APISC) in Sydney on March 25. Next to Shawki on the platform was Stan Goff, a former US Special Forces soldier who is a leader of the Bring Them Home Now! campaign.
Both Goff and Shawki, who is a central leader of the International socialist Organization, which is heavily involved in the anti-war movement particularly on campuses, were keen to impress upon Australians that the prospects for organising in the US against the war are good.
Shawki emphasised that the mobilisations across the US, while not the size of those that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq, show that the movement has not died. The largest mobilisation of US public opposition to President George Bush's war drive was during the massive worldwide anti-war protests on February 14-16, 2003, when hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of US cities, including an estimated crowd of 400,000 people in New York City.
After Washington launched its invasion in March 2003, however, demonstrations rapidly shrank, although some sizeable mobilisations — 250,000 in New York City on March 22 — greeted the war's start. After the fall of Baghdad, in April 2003, the protests against the occupation were much smaller than those that had challenged the US government's war drive.
Goff argued that the drop in the movement's size could be partly explained because the movement that had mobilised in February 2003 had been not so much "anti-war as anti-Bush", and many would have had fewer qualms about the attack on Iraq if the US had obtained support from the UN.
But since Bush's declaration of victory on May 1, 2003, US opposition to the continued presence of US troops in Iraq has grown under the impact of successful guerrilla attacks by the Iraqi resistance and the revelations of the White House's WMD lies.
In speaking to GLW, Shawki argued that the low-point of the movement came during the 2004 presidential election campaign, when the majority of its liberal leadership joined the "Anybody but Bush" ("ABB") campaign, supporting the candidacy of Democrat Senator John Kerry, despite Kerry's pro-war stance.
Not only did the self-appointed spokespeople for the movement endorse a candidate who supported the occupation of Iraq, Shawki argued, but the logic of the ABB campaign led them to refrain from even criticising Kerry's policies, while launching rabid attacks on the anti-war presidential campaign of Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo.
When Bush won the election, demoralisation swept through even sections of the movement that had rejected Kerry's pro-war campaign.
Although the liberal leadership of the movement may, for a time at least, have made their peace with the US empire, anti-war sentiment among the US population has been more enduring.
Since the start of this year, almost 200 US troops have died in Iraq, the continuing toll fuelling opposition to the war. A Washington Post-ABC News telephone poll conducted January 12-16 found that just 45% of US residents "strongly" felt that the war with Iraq was not worth fighting. Another 10% felt "somewhat" that it wasn't worth the cost to the US. (In August 2003, 61% thought the war had been worth fighting.)
The January poll found that 58% disapproved of the way Bush was handling the situation in Iraq and a massive 70% of respondents felt that there had been an unacceptable level of US casualties.
Shawki told the APISC that the anti-war sentiment in the US is bigger than the main national anti-war coalitions and that local groupings unknown to the coalitions and to the left have organised significant protests. During the March 18-20 protests against the occupation of Iraq, there were demonstrations in every US state. Protests were held in 765 towns and cities according to United for Peace and Justice, from Superior in Wisconsin, to Hoover in Alabama, to Truth or Consequences in New Mexico.
During a public meeting on the Iraq war held the day before the APISC began, Goff drew comparisons between the growth of anti-war sentiment among GIs during the Vietnam War and today. During Vietnam, opposition to the war reached a level that destroyed the US military's effectiveness as a fighting force.
Goff spoke of the importance of activists with a military background organising against the war, in order to reach soldiers who were less suspicious of veterans than others.
The sense that their comrades are dying for no reason has not yet reached the same level among US forces in Iraq as it did in Vietnam, according to Goff, but there is growing opposition to the war among soldiers, fuelled both by a sense of moral outrage at the acts they are being asked to commit in Iraq and an unwillingness to die for the sake of corporations like Halliburton. A whole movement has sprung forth to support anti-war GIs, Goff is one of the leaders of the effort to organise families of soldiers stationed in Iraq to call on the US government to bring the troops home.
Part of strengthening the movement against Washington's wars, Goff argued at the APISC, should be increasing the "unity of progressive forces" and consolidating the anti-imperialist wing of the movement. The struggle against the war should be used to help "refound" the left. What is needed isn't just an anti-war movement, Goff said, but an "anti-empire" movement that can challenge Washington's program for world domination. Shawki told the meeting that socialists need to be able to explain that "war is part of this system, part of this empire".
While opposition to Bush's war continues to grow, the right-wing of the anti-war movement has tried to split the movement over the question of Iraqis' right to take up arms against the occupation. Some, such as Erik Gustafson, of the Education for Peace in Iraq Coalition, even oppose the occupation's end because, as he put it in a March 19 statement, "The only responsible way out of Iraq is through nation building".
A contrasting opinion to this support for the US occupation of Iraq and capitulation to neocolonial racism was put forward by Sharon Smith in the April 1 US Socialist Worker. Smith argued that "'Troops out now' is a demand that encompasses the interests of both U.S. troops and of Iraqis fighting to determine their own future. Yet in the heart of US imperialism, Iraqis’ right to resist occupation has unnecessarily divided the antiwar movement. While a broad-based movement must be the goal, this cannot be the excuse for diluting the politics of the antiwar movement so that its principles become indistinguishable from those of the apologists for US occupation."
From Green Left Weekly, April 6, 2005.