Thoughts and reflections on the 15th anniversary of the Iraq Invasion

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Comrade Motopu
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Joined: 27-04-07
Mar 20 2018 21:01
Thoughts and reflections on the 15th anniversary of the Iraq Invasion

Today, March 20th, is the 15h anniversary of the Iraq invasion, a war that is ongoing. I’m just jotting down some memories and reflections. I thought others might have thoughts to share too.

I remember talking to a customer at Tower Records where I was working shortly after it had started. She told me she was an NPR (National Public Radio) liberal, and the invasion would be quick and was justified. A coworker, a working blues guitarist, laughed at my participation in street protests in San Francisco, which I attended daily after work. He cheerily told me that the invasion was going great, and that the soldiers had been greeted with celebrating Iraqis blasting rock music in the streets now that they were free. He repeated the certainty the NPR fan had, that the war would be "over in two weeks." Christmas at the latest.

Another coworker, who opposed the war, was upset that protests had blocked the streets, which prevented people from getting to work. He saw protesters as spoiled, self-righteous youth with no idea of the lives of regular working people. I didn’t agree with his take, but later appreciated that, even though the huge anti-war protests were an important step, that broader working class based organizing to shut down production and business could have been far more effective. Coordinating that on an international scale would have been desirable too.

The 2006 General Strike by immigrant workers helped to create a renewed focus on class centered struggle and analysis, as well as the cross border aspects of labor issues and the need to confront capital.

Our store manager at Tower put up massive American flag filling the entire large storefront window the day after 9/11. I complained but was told it was just to show compassion and togetherness, not mindless patriotism or support for military action. Most of the Tower workers, and even the manager, were not in favor of a war. Almost every other business had a flag too, it seemed out of fear of being attacked for lack of one. G.W. Bush made his famous comment that people needed to keep shopping or the terrorists have won. [ https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4552776/bush-shopping-quote ]. A new logo: "America: Open For Business" began appearing everywhere. What a twisted "hair of the dog" argument for addressing the problems created by capitalism: go shopping, support business.

Then there was the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” drumbeat dutifully amplified by most of the corporate media. There were other daily reports from UN weapons inspectors, Leftist scholars, and independent reporters showing clearly there was no evidence WMD. Even if there were, it would not have been reason to attack Iraq. There were accompanying claims that al Qaeda was allied with Saddam Hussein, but they didn’t develop a significant presence there until after the invasion.

The ruling class lies won out over solid research and critical reporting which appeared more on internet sites than people’s television sets. I remember sources like Democracy Now, Common Dreams, and Z Magazine online having daily reporting debunking the pro war line. Even after the invasion started, it seemed that most people thought there had been a UN resolution sanctioning the invasion, but Bush and Blair never got UN authorization of the use of force against Iraq, as UN Resolution 1441 only mentioned “serious consequences” which is not UN code wording for permission to use force. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/16/iraq.iraq

I would check the "Iraq Body Count" website daily, which tallied any casualties they could cross section with multiple media reports. Conservatives called the site "liberal lies" until the Lancet Study came out. That study used door to door interviews, of the same type that had been used to to make scientific estimates of mortality rates from epidemics and natural disasters. Those studies had never been seen as controversial before, but now they were being applied to counting deaths caused by the US led invasion. Suddenly, pro-war conservatives were citing Iraq Body Count as the “real,” much lower total. Lancet’s 2006 study on “excess deaths” stemming from the invasion were 650,000 total. The study was attacked by many as outrageous, but at the time I read their methodology and the defenses against those attacks, and still have not seen a better study to my understanding.

Taking into account the US led UN Security Council sanctions against Iraq, which cause 1 million death, 500,000 of which were children, I’ve always estimated the total excess deaths from sanctions and war to be around 2 million, given that the 650,000 figure (post sanctions invasion only) from Lancet was 12 years ago, even before “the surge” of 2007. The numbers can be debated, but not lowered enough to redefine this as anything but a capitalist crime against humanity on a massive scale.

All the body counting and questions over “legality,” though important, are not at the heart of the issue. Iraq didn’t have anything to do with the 9/11 terror attacks. War was never the right tool to pursue “justice” for the 3,000 murdered. Beyond even the history of US imperialism and intentional destabilization in the Middle East, there will never be a just war fought in the name of a capitalist nation state, even those dressed up as “humanitarian interventions.” I remember a librarian at a high school I was substitute teaching at telling the students that the Iraq invasion was done to “liberate women” from Islamic oppression. No, and neither did it liberate the Iraqi people.

When I did join in the anti-war movement at San Francisco State University in 2003, it proved to be a strange learning experience. The International Socialist Organization (ISO) had a controlled front group called Students Against War (SAW) which was part of a larger ISO front group called Campus Anti-war Network (CAN). At one point they were insisting on the line “Support the Resistance,” a ludicrous position that would justify any group, no matter how anti-working class or reactionary, as long as they were fighting US troops. That was the final straw and I ended up in the non-ISO faction that tried to confront their control over the group. Instead we all left SAW. I think one or two might have occasionally still worked with them.

It turned out to be a good move as I found another project in the 2005 Muni Fare Strike. I met organizers who were much more embedded in a class critique, and steeped in Bay Area radical history. These friends are dear to me to this day, and more people whom I've met through this encounter with "ultra-Left" radicals.

When I moved back to Hawaii in 2006, the "Support Our Troops" yellow ribbon bumpers stickers were ubiquitous. You could not scan your field of vision without seeing one. The words implied that if you were mouthy against the war, you were killing "our" troops. The mass presence of these stickers was a herd inoculation against criticism of the war.

In 2008 I was taking education classes training to be a high school teacher. There were two soldiers in one class who were music educators, and not very nice people really. One of them insisted that the 100% success rates mandated by No Child Left Behind were entirely doable, an indicator of his stupid faith in authoritarian systems based on the business model. He described the invasion of Iraq with "they greeted us with chocolates and flowers." Even if that happened somewhere, is that the whole story?

And the war continues, 15 years on. There are some hopeful signs that more people are critical, not only of wars, but of the capitalist system driving the outbreak of wars, and it's general exploitation of working class people. There are also frightening signs of a growing willingness to simply accept the imperialist and white supremacist baggage of capitalism and to settle for defending one’s own ethnic or national group. I think it’s more likely that workers will develop class solidarity in an inclusive anti-racist and eventually radical way than it is they will choose fascism or reactionary anti-working class ideology en masse. Of course it’s up to the pro-working class anti-racist side to win through continued organizing and struggle.

ajjohnstone
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Joined: 20-04-08
Mar 22 2018 08:49

My experience is a positive one. It reflects much of what you say.

From all my conversations and discussions with the people i work with, for the first time, I didn't need to argue that it was a war in the interest of others and not our concern as workers, that it was a war for control of resources - a war for oil. I didn't need to explain it, they had all come to that same conclusion for themselves.

The million in the UK who marched against the war were joined in spirit by millions more who agreed with the opposition but declined to take to the streets.

Why didn't they march, too?. Perhaps because they correctly deduced that it would change nothing and more than a token one-off protest demonstration was required. As someone said to me, "Why isn't this anti-war movement organising protest marches against it every day?"

Sadly it is also as you infer...the momentum against war did not persist ie Libya and Syria and unlike before when many saw through the media propagana blitz of WMD, the coverage of later wars was presented as humanitarian in intent and many "liberals" were duped.