Movement will end occupation

More than 1,800 people attended the walkout, the largest demonstration since the war began.

Nathan Paulsen

Disclosure: I work with and have worked in the past with the Anti-War Organizing League.

As the United States enters a period of deepening social crisis, government officials are busy waging war against the Iraqi people in a vain attempt to establish a stable Iraqi regime that will safeguard American oil interests. In a mere 2 1/2 years, the Iraq war has cost tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. Meanwhile, public schools are losing funding and popular social programs cut for lack of resources. Given what is at stake, Washington cannot be expected to withdraw its occupying armies from Iraq until there is sustained mass action in America’s streets demanding an end to the war.

The desire of our nation’s political elite to “stay the course” in Iraq is firmly rooted in more than half a century of foreign policy. In the mid-1940s, the U.S. Department of State referred to the Middle East as a “stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” The first line of National Security Directive 54, which authorized the use of force against Iraq in 1991, states explicitly that “access to Persian Gulf oil” is “vital to U.S. national security.” With the world oil peak looming in the not-so-distant future, control of the relatively untapped Middle Eastern reserves is of growing consequence. As international fallout from intensifying competition for scarce petroleum resources mount, it is hard to overestimate the geopolitical significance of command over the world’s second largest oil reserves.

It is harder still to overestimate the ecological devastation and social disruption that will flow from the cheap Iraqi oil that a successful occupation will make available. Instead of providing adequate funding for the development of renewable energy sources, which might have mitigated some of the more catastrophic affects of global warming, government officials have chosen unending war in the Middle East.

While career politicians and their corporate backers have a vested interest in occupying Iraq for years to come, workers and students do not. Military spending intimately impacts our daily lives by exacerbating an already dire financial situation at all levels of government. The Iraq War has cost taxpayers more than $200 billion, with an additional $7 billion in expenses accruing every month. As long as war is raging in Iraq, working Americans will be left to pick up the tab. The Democratic and Republican parties prioritize the funding of counterinsurgency operations over meeting long-neglected domestic needs. The same Congress that voted unanimously in favor of a $50 billion emergency war-spending bill sought two weeks ago to cut student loan subsidies, child support enforcement, Medicaid and food stamps. A recent New York Times article details the “de facto privatization of higher education” caused by a steep decline in funding for public colleges and universities across the country. At the University, President Bob Bruininks’ realignment plan to lay this financial crisis on the backs of working people has resulted in years of double-digit tuition hikes, the closure of General College and attempts to force concessions from some of the University’s lowest-paid employees.

Fortunately, the United States government has failed spectacularly in its attempt to forge a client state in Iraq. The depth of Iraqi opposition to the occupation was uncovered by an August 2005 poll commissioned by Britain’s Ministry of Defense. The study found that 82 percent of Iraqi citizens are “strongly opposed” to the presence of occupying forces. In the predominantly Shia province of Maysan, 65 percent of respondents believe that attacks against American and British soldiers are justified. Whatever else one might say about the occupation, it cannot be said to be popular among Iraqis.

With no end in sight to the ongoing military stalemate between occupying forces and the Iraqi resistance, those who are opposed to the occupation have little choice but to organize a grassroots movement demanding an end to the war. Among the most important lessons of the Vietnam experience are that social movements composed of ordinary citizens do make a difference. While many of us have undoubtedly been lulled into a false sense of our own powerlessness by more than three decades of state propaganda, the stories of our struggle and our past is still alive. On nearly every major campus during the Vietnam era, students faced riot police, billy clubs, teargas, jail and academic discipline to stand against the war in mass actions. Tens of thousands of young people in the military also joined in the protest. They published literally hundreds of underground anti-war papers, deserted en masse, organized and attended demonstrations, refused to obey orders, served lengthy prison sentences for insubordination and fragged (killed) superior officers. Ultimately, these efforts paid off. The movement constrained the military options of policymakers, quickened troop withdrawals and severed congressional funding for the war through popular political pressure.

While the Nov. 2 walkout was a step in the right direction, it is only the beginning of what will be years of continuing struggle to end the Iraq occupation. The Anti-War Organizing League is sponsoring a forum on the past and present of the local anti-war movement at 6 p.m Dec. 6. in 125 Blegen Hall. The event will also include original footage of University anti-war demonstrations from the Vietnam era.

Nathan Paulsen welcomes comments at [email protected]