Protest the war this Friday

Collective action is needed to end the Iraq war. Ordinary people must put pressure on policymakers.

by Nathan Paulsen

On Friday thousands of students from dozens of high school and college campuses will gather at the University to demonstrate their opposition to the Iraq war. The reason for protest is self-evident.

To date, the Iraq war has cost the lives of more than 2,390 U.S. soldiers and 100,000 Iraqi civilians, according to a study published in the The Lancet, a medical journal. More than $275,000,000,000 has been spent in Iraq while critical social services are slashed at home and the hurricane devastation in the South remains in a state of disrepair because of a lack of money.

Real Politics 1001: The U.S. Congress is not pouring thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars into Iraq for the sole purpose of spreading democracy and establishing an independent Iraqi state. U.S. military forces are not killing, maiming and detaining Iraqis in order to guarantee their freedom.

The moving force behind the Iraq war is oil, plain and simple. There is no other motivation for the ongoing occupation more urgent than the need to secure a compliant state in the Middle East that will safeguard oil interests for future generations. After all, petroleum is the only commodity on earth that single-handedly could bring the most powerful empire in human history to its knees.

During the second half of the 20th century, the United States became progressively more dependent on a constant flow of cheap petroleum to fuel economic growth and the American way of life. Each year since the early 1970s we have had to import a larger share of our oil resources from abroad to cover the difference between rising demand and shrinking domestic production. The United States now imports more than 60 percent of the 20 million barrels of oil we consume each day. In the years ahead the Middle East is projected to supply an ever-increasing part of the world’s energy needs.

Since the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration more than 60 years ago, the main goal of U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East has been to maintain control over the region’s rich oil reserves.

The latest twist in this decades-long saga – the decision to invade and occupy Iraq – is an unmitigated disaster: The presence of foreign armies on Iraqi soil is contributing to the rise of fundamentalism, destabilizing the region and increasing the threat of terrorism. The national debt incurred to fund the occupation in Iraq will push down living standards for generations. Upon completion of a successful mission in Iraq, the carbon emissions released from Middle Eastern oil reserves will hasten global warming, leading to more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, failing harvests and species extinctions beyond our wildest dreams.

After three years of endless casualties, stalled reconstruction and sectarian violence, there are still only a handful of politicians who have called for a withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq. This is in spite of the fact that the American public, Iraqi citizens and U.S. soldiers are united in their desire to have the occupation come to a swift end.

Following a comprehensive review of public opinion concerning the Iraq war in November 2005, USA Today concluded: “When it comes to public opinion, Americans’ attitudes toward Iraq and the course ahead are strikingly similar to public attitudes toward Vietnam in the summer of 1970, a pivotal year in that conflict and a time of enormous domestic unrest.”

According to a secret poll conducted on behalf of the British Ministry of Defense in August, 82 percent of Iraqis are “strongly opposed” to the presence of coalition forces. Less than 1 percent of Iraqi citizens believe U.S. soldiers are helping to improve security in their country and nearly half support attacks on British and American soldiers.

Even U.S. soldiers are getting impatient with the Iraq war. The latest poll – conducted by the highly regarded Zogby International – found that 72 percent of U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq think the United States should withdraw within a year. Of those, 29 percent want an “immediate” withdrawal from Iraq.

By protesting the war en masse at noon Friday on Northrop Plaza, students are representing the majority opinion and sending a powerful message that wars for oil and empire no longer will be tolerated.

The story of the civil rights movement is a living example of the strength of collective action. Martin Luther King Jr. could have spoken endlessly about equality and given the most impassioned speeches in American history – but if he were standing alone, Jim Crow segregation might well be with us today. It was because Dr. King was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of likeminded people that he was able to change history and win landmark civil rights legislation.

Similarly, the Iraq war will not come to an end without ordinary people bringing additional pressure on policymakers through mass protests. Taking to the streets and engaging in a bit of democratic rabble-rousing is not only strategically effective, it is the least we can do to demonstrate our disgust with the illegal and immoral war that is being waged in our names.

Nathan Paulsen welcomes comments at [email protected]