Building Mass Opposition to the War on Iraq

What Next for the U.S. and European Antiwar Movements?

by Michael Livingston

As preparations build for mass demonstrations in the U.S. and around the world for September and October, we are posting two articles by Editorial Committee member Michael Livingston, who was in Spain this summer. Even though the articles were sent to us in mid-July and we were unable to post them immediately, they are still relevant because they discuss the ongoing challenge of mobilizing masses of working people against the war on Iraq and exposing the lies about “weapons of mass destruction.”

The European antiwar movement organized demonstrations that brought millions of people into the streets before the start of the invasion of Iraq. Now that the invasion is over and we have entered a phase of increasing resistance to the Anglo-American occupation, what will the movement do? Trying to find an answer to this question, I attended a talk organized by the Social Forum of Segovia (Spain) on Wednesday, June 25.

Social Forums exist throughout Europe and are the backbone of the global justice movement in the European Union (EU). The Social Forum of Segovia was one of the main organizers of the largest demonstration in Segovia’s history. In February, in conjunction with demonstrations around the world, 12,000 marched through the streets of Segovia, a town of 55,000. At the same time in Madrid, some 70 miles away, more than one million marched. (Madrid’s population is approximately 5 million according to the most recent census.) In Barcelona, almost 2 million marched that same day. Approximately one out of every five Spaniards demonstrated. Public opinion polls showed between 80% and 90% opposition to the war. Demonstrations took place in hundreds of other Spanish cities and in the rest of Europe and the world, including the U.S.

The talk featured two Spanish Brigadistas, members of a nine-person Spanish peace brigade that was in Iraq during and after the invasion. The European antiwar movement started sending peace brigades to Iraq during the anti-sanctions campaign. They got the idea from the U.S. anti-sanctions movement (especially the anti-sanctions organization Voices in the Wilderness). The two speakers presented a political and historical analysis of the war and talked about their personal experiences. Their presentation was followed by a lively 90-minute discussion.

The talk took place in the “free space” of a local anarchist collective. The 30-plus attendees included many of the organizers for the antiwar demonstrations, a mix of trade unionists of all ages and anarchist youth with piercings and tattoos.

While the speakers gave an excellent historical and political overview, two points stuck out for me in the talks by the brigadistas. First, they saw very little evidence of the Iraqi army before and during the invasion, especially around the capital. According to what they say and the people they talked with, the Iraqi army was weak and almost on the point of collapse before the invasion. The news reports they got in Iraq from CNN and the BBC, suggesting a powerful army ready to battle to the death, did not reflect what they saw first hand. Second, U.S. troops seized and destroyed the medical records at a number of hospitals during and right after the invasion. They could only speculate on why the invaders would do this, feeling that maybe it was to hide the number of Iraqis killed and injured or maybe it was to hide the effects of the previous war and 12 years of sanctions (including the effects of depleted uranium on the people of Iraq).

The discussion was lively. Many activists pointed out that the war was not just an imperialist war, but an inter-imperialist war directed as much against Europe and Japan (which both rely heavily on Middle East oil) as against Iraq.

A lot of time was spent on discussion of what to do next. Some, including the two speakers, argued for a solidarity movement with people and organizations within Iraq, a movement patterned after the strong movement in the EU in solidarity with the PLO. Others pointed out that the organizations that they would be in solidarity with have not really emerged yet in Iraq, and when they do, they will most likely be declared terrorist organization (and consequently, under EU law, any support given to these organizations would be a crime).

Others argued that continued demonstrations (even if they may be on a smaller scale than before the war) and agitation around the lies told about weapons of mass destruction were what was needed.

All agreed that while the invasion was over, the war was not. All expressed a strong commitment to continue, especially given the fact that Spain has sent several thousand troops now to Iraq and plans to send thousands more. (Aznar has promised up to 3,000 Spanish troops.)

I left the talk feeling both upbeat and sober. I was upbeat knowing that the U.S. antiwar movement had a powerful and sophisticated ally in the European antiwar movement. I was sober realizing how much work we have to do still in the U.S. to get many millions into the streets.

Liars, Liars, Pants on Fire

[The following is a contribution toward the public education and agitation needed to expose the lies around “weapons of mass destruction”—the main pretext for the war on Iraq.]

Bush, Blair, and Aznar, the three chief salesman who sold us on the invasion of Iraq, have now all been outed as liars. Where are the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that the three claimed to exist? Were the three just “mistaken”?

The first to be outed was José Maria Aznar, the prime minister of Spain. On June 23 the Spanish press reported that the intelligence reports from NATO’s intelligence division and from the Spanish spy agency CNI (reports Aznar used to justify his repeated claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that were an immediate threat to Europe) DID NOT SHOW THAT IRAQ HAD WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. Instead, the reports said that Iraq may be pursuing a biological and chemical weapons program, but there was no evidence that Iraq was actually doing so. This is like saying that George W. may be beating his wife, Laura, but there is no evidence that he is doing so.

Aznar was punished at the polls for his support of the war (and for his attacks on the social safety net of the Spanish people in the local and “state” elections in March. A coalition of the PSOE (the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, a social democratic party) and the IU (the United Left, a formation dominated by the Spanish Communist Party but including other groups) won in a majority of towns and states, suggesting a shift away from Aznar’s PP (People’s Party). But the PSOE is unlikely to investigate Aznar’s lies, because the PSOE itself is now deeply involved in a scandal involving two socialists elected to the Madrid State legislature. (The state of Madrid includes Madrid proper and its outlying suburbs and rural areas.) The socialists refused to support their party, preventing socialist control of the state legislature, and they are reported to have ties to real estate interests that have contracts with the state government. The scandal is damaging the PSOE and may result in new elections soon for the state legislature.

Meanwhile in England, Blair had his own problems. The BBC continued to assert that Blair had lied, and a report released by a fact-finding commission in June criticized him for lying about the purchase of uranium, the plagiarizing of a graduate student’s research report found on the Internet, and other abuses, but held that generally he had not misrepresented intelligence reports. (See the report following this article about a motion passed on September 10 by the British Trades Union Congress condemning the war and calling for “Troops Out of Iraq!”)

The fact-finding commission’s report was generally a whitewash. While it listed some outright lies it ignored the big question: WHY WERE THE INTELLIGENCE REPORTS COMPLETELY WRONG? This is not hard to answer—spy agencies are not impartial seekers after truth but highly politicized organizations that serve the needs of the ruling class and its government. The reports were wrong because they demonstrated, not the truth, but what Blair and his war clique wanted them to demonstrate. Blair said on July 9 that he hoped find evidence of weapons of mass destruction would be found before the next elections. Given how much is at stake, we should not be surprised if the U.S. or England plants some evidence. They certainly have the means, motive, and opportunity to do so. And it wouldn’t be the first time such things have happened.

Finally we come to Bush. After his departure for Africa, the White House announced that yes, it had been mistaken about the alleged purchase of uranium by Iraq from the African nation of Niger (a story the Bush administration got from Blair). Defense Secretary Rumsfeld also admitted that there had been new evidence of WMDs, that they merely reinterpreted the old evidence in a new light. While some Democrats called for an investigation, it is unlikely that a congressional investigation would reveal anything more than was done in the case of Blair. Yes, we can show that Bush lied on several specific issues, but the larger issue is still WHY WERE THE INTELLIGENCE REPORTS COMPLETELY WRONG?

Although it was the Hitler regime in Germany which first developed the concept of The Big Lie, Bush and Company could have given Hitler’s propaganda minister lessons. Their idea seems to be: “If you lie often enough and with enough conviction, invoking God for good measure, you can persuade a large majority.” In Bush’s case, his continued claims that we will find weapons, or that we have found them (remember the photos of the semi-trailer “weapons labs” presented by Secretary of State Colin Powell at the UN) have confused or convinced many. In a Washington Post/ABC poll conducted in late June, 25% of the respondents expressed the belief that Iraq used chemical and biological weapons against U.S. troops during the invasion.

The European antiwar movement has had more success in exposing these lies, partly because they did not face the powerful propaganda campaign carried out by the Bush administration with the willing cooperation of the major capitalist media (including most reporters—for example, the New York Times recently experienced a scandal involving false reports, not just by a junior reporter, but by one of there most experienced reporters). The more the U.S. antiwar movement can expose the lies and educate people, the more the continued support for the war will crumble. Along with undermining the support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, this will undermine the strong initial support for a war against Iran. In the same Washington Post/ABC poll showed 56% of the public in favor of using force against Iran if it has nuclear weapons.

As the occupation drags on opposition will grow within the U.S. The war is not over, and the antiwar movement is not over. As a great American philosopher once said: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”