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David Swanson: U.S. Out of Iraq Forum

U.S. Out of Iraq: Forum Features Conyers, Woolsey, Lee, Ellsberg


By David Swanson

A forum held in a US House of Representatives office building on April 28 brought together leaders of the movement to withdraw US troops from Iraq, including Congresswomen Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee, both California Democrats and Co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Woolsey is the sponsor of H. Con. Res. 35, a resolution calling for the withdrawal of troops to begin immediately.

LINKS:
Woolsey Calls for U.S. Soldiers to Come Home
Photo gallery with 58 photos

Woolsey and Lee only stayed for part of the forum, but their remarks made clear that they support the position of the events' organizer, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), http://www.ips-dc.org. They want to end the occupation, right away. Congressman John Conyers spoke as well and remained for the entire second panel of a two-session event, inviting participants up to his office afterward. While he began by expressing some ambivalence about immediate withdrawal, Conyers later said that he had found those who argued for it very persuasive.

Other speakers included Daniel Ellsberg, who famously released the Pentagon Papers to the media during the Vietnam War, and Marcus Raskin and Carl LeVan, whose resumes include co-editorship of a new book called "In Democracy's Shadow: The Secret World of National Security." http://www.reiters.com/index.cgi?ses=16949098&f=p&ISBN=1560256966 Other contributors to the book and leaders of the peace movement participated as well.

The full event will be aired on Free Speech TV and on various radio stations. The two panels are described here in reverse order.

PANEL 2:

Congressman Conyers opened the second panel and began with the idea that getting out of Iraq is going to be more difficult that getting out of Vietnam.

But Conyers quickly moved into discussing problems with the "war on terrorism." He said that very little attention was being paid to domestic terrorism, and that removing the ban on assault weapons in the U.S. opens a huge door for terrorists. "The contradictions are ironic as always, but also really painful," he said, "because we're working against even our stated goals."

Conyers said that his staff had been able to identify only four people who have been convicted of terrorism, and that he is not convinced the United States is trying to capture Osama Bin Laden.

Conyers spoke against the war, saying, "The use of force to bring peace rarely ever works on a long-term basis." But he warned that "the day we move out [of Iraq] is the day anybody with mischief on their mind will move in."

Conyers acknowledged that many believe the United States is the cause of much of the violence in Iraq. "If we move out, much of the violence and terror will abate. I hope that's true and that I can be persuaded of it."

While uncertain as to what should be done, Conyers was clear about what was needed: a people's movement. That, he said, was what ended the war on Vietnam. "I want to invent a way to do it without using dates," he said, arguing that setting dates had not worked in the case of Vietnam.

Next to speak was Daniel Ellsberg, who said "Is Iraq different from Vietnam? Of course it is. It's a dry heat. And the language we don't speak is Arabic." But, Ellsberg pointed out, the language spoken by our collaborators, such as Ahmad Chalabi [now appointed to head the oil ministry] is English, just as in Vietnam.

Ellsberg said that Americans are seen by everyone in Iraq, and correctly, as foreign occupiers, but that Americans don't realize that - as they didn't in Vietnam. Because we could not see that, he said, we had no better chance to ever win in Vietnam than did the French or the Japanese or the Chinese before them. "That is true in Iraq now."

The elections failed to bring the Sunnis into the process, Ellsberg said.

"Americans will be dying and killing in Iraq as long as they are there. The question is how long will that be?"

In Vietnam, "Nixon kept the [American] people with him by a continuous hoax that he was in the process of leaving Vietnam." That was never the intention, Ellsberg said. "He foresaw a permanent military presence in Vietnam." Nixon was forced to give that up, according to Ellsberg, by the public, by Congress cutting off the funds, and by luck (including the revelations of Watergate).

"It will be much harder and longer to get out of Iraq," Ellsberg said, because of the oil and because of the US alliance with Israel. "It is hard for me to foresee when we will leave the oil of the Middle East to people who are not our collaborators."

It will take a long time to get out, Ellsberg predicted, whether under Republicans or Democrats. But it is not too soon to start talking about the need to get out, he said. Woolsey's resolution is important, he said, not because it will be passed by a majority anytime soon, but because if we are ever to get out or to avoid additional wars, we have to see clearly that it's better for us and for the Iraqis for us to leave.

This is true, Ellsberg warned, not because the future will be peaceful and free of problems after the US troops leave, but because as long as we stay, "the people we choose to be collaborators will be targets of terrorism." We unify the resistance forces, he said. "And that precludes the possibility of a peaceful Iraq."

People who call for getting out now, Ellsberg cautioned, will be called defeatists, appeasers, weaklings, losers, cowards, and pro-terrorist. The opposite is true, he said. The war strengthens terrorists.

We must, Ellsberg advise, find the courage to stand up and be willing to be called cowards and defeatists. He praised those congress members who have signed H Con Res 35, and he solicited a round of applause for Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who cast the sole vote in Congress against allowing the president to decide to attack Afghanistan.

Although she stood alone on that vote, Ellsberg said, she and Woolsey and Congressman Dennis Kucinich stood with 132 congress members and 22 senators in voting against the war on Iraq. Senators Byrd and Kennedy, Ellsberg said, expressed shame at that time for having voted for the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, sending troops to war in Vietnam on the basis of a lie. They urged their colleagues not to make the same mistake.

Ellsberg urged those present to find the courage take that kind of stand.

Following Ellsberg, Woolsey and Lee spoke, in turn. The forum took place on the 15th anniversary of the creation of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which they co-chair, and which they are currently making plans to strengthen by hiring a director.

Congresswoman Woolsey said that she had looked to Conyers for leadership since she arrived in Congress, since the days when there were over 100 reliable progressive votes to these days when that number is under 50. (Thirty-three have co-sponsored her resolution on ending the war.)

Woolsey said that she had been against the war from the start, and that she had for a time accepted the idea that pulling troops out of Iraq would mean abandoning the people of that country. But, she said, the voters of Iraq said they went to the polls because they wanted to end the occupation.

Over 1,000 US soldiers have been killed since Bush declared "mission accomplished" she said, while hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed and wounded. "And we cannot count the number of our troops who have been mentally and physically wounded. And we're doing nothing in this Congress to make things better for them, because we're going to deny it."

Picking up on Ellsberg's comments, Woolsey declared, "I don't care what label anybody puts on me. The best way to support our troops is to bring them home!"

Insurgents are given an excuse for killing by our presence, Woolsey said. "We have to internationalize this," she said, not so that the rest of the world can help the United States, but so that they can show the United States that there is a better way - "without the U.S. thinking that the Iraqi oil belongs to us."

Bush claimed a couple of weeks ago that 150,000 Iraqis have been trained and equipped, Woolsey said. "If so, then what are we doing there?"

Woolsey said that three new congress members had co-sponsored her resolution this week, one of whom complained that his constituents had cornered him and left him no choice. Another told her that he'd received 3,000 communications from his constituents asking him to sign onto the bill.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee spoke next and said that, as a member of the International Relations Committee, she was concerned that our only foreign policy is a military policy, and that it includes preemption. She said she and others had introduced a resolution to repeal the use of preemption, and that Bush's policies had made the world a more dangerous place.

Over 60 - 65 percent of our resources are going into military spending, Lee said, much of it wasted on Cold War weapons and build-up of the military-industrial complex. Meanwhile we are cutting school funding.

"Can you imagine what good we could do just with the $300 billion spent on this war?"

Lee said that she and Woolsey want to use the Progressive Caucus inside Congress to help build a multi-racial progressive movement outside Congress. She encouraged those present to work with them to build that inside-outside strategy.

Next to speak was Phyllis Bennis of IPS, who began by saying that Congressman Conyers might be right that it would be more difficult to get out of Iraq than it was to get out of Vietnam, but that we still had to do it, and that we already had a majority of Americans believing the war was a mistake - something that took much longer in the case of Vietnam.

The best way to end the occupation, Bennis said repeatedly, is to end the occupation. "Nothing else will end the violence and killing....The US troops have become the problem, not the solution." They do not receive most of the casualties, she said, because they are harder to reach. But with 70 percent unemployment, Iraqis desperate for work are lining up in hopes of finding some, and they are being targeted as collaborators. They are dying because they are easier to reach than the US soldiers.

"We owe Iraq an enormous debt," Bennis said, for the war and for the sanctions that killed even more people. "We owe reparations."

Bennis also cited the need for the National Guard back here in the nation, where the Governor of Montana has requested that those from his state be sent home to be available to fight forest fires.

She also pointed to the need for money in this country, and the need for work and income among Iraqis. They should get the jobs, she said, not mercenaries. "Don't call them contract workers. They're mercenaries." This argument will be made in June when six leaders of Iraqi labor unions and federations tour the United States. http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org

International support is nearly gone, Bennis said, citing Italy's move to withdraw troops.

International respect is gone as well. "The whole world knows the war was illegal," Bennis said, citing a statement by Kofi Annan and the recent revelation of a memo in the UK warning of possible illegality prior to the war.

Patrick Resta, an Iraq war veteran and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, spoke as well, focusing his comments on the poor job the United States is doing of training Iraqis.

Joe Volk, of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, also spoke, and argued that Congress should, as a first step, consider a simple resolution expressing the intent to withdraw from Iraq, without specifying when. This, he thought, would force those congress members who want to remain in Iraq permanently to say so out loud, which in turn would inspire anti-war activism among their constituents. http://www.fcnl.org/iraq/index.htm

The final speaker was Eric Leaver of IPS who said that "immediate withdrawal" would take 6 months to a year, but that it must be done, because "The US has a deadly version of the Midas' touch." Those who work with the occupiers are tainted.

Leaver recommended that the United States:

1) immediately decrease the number of troops in Iraq, and cease all offensive operations, pull troops out of major cities and move some to the borders

2) declare that the United States has no intention to maintain a long-term presence or bases in Ira

q3) hand reconstruction services over to the Iraqis, helping to stem the high unemployment

Leaver recommended setting a timetable for full withdrawal, because the Sunnis have said that they would negotiate and become part of the government on that condition. In the meantime, he favored having training of Iraqis handled by the State Department, as is the norm, rather than by Defense Department private contractors, as is the case in Iraq now.

Leaver said that exit polls found 82 percent of Sunnis and 69 percent of Shiites want the US out. "Withdrawal should be the first step in a long commitment to this country," he concluded.

Congressman Conyers spoke again briefly to thank all the speakers and to say that he had remained through the entire panel because, "I was riveted by the logic."

PANEL 1:

Prior to that panel, there had been another on a broader range of topics:

Raskin, co-founder of IPS, spoke first and provided some historical context. Following World War II, he said, there was a period of about a year in which the United States championed the idea of a war crimes tribunal, the idea of personal responsibility for war. But that notion lost out to the Cold War, he said. Then in 1973-74, 39 members of Congress sponsored a bill toward that end, to internalize within the United States, as Raskin put it, the model of Nuremburg. But the departments of defense and state objected, and the bill did not make it out of subcommittee.

Raskin urged impeachment of Bush and legal action against him and recommended to Congressman Conyers that he think in terms of impeachment, and to others that we bring cases in federal court, even if they'll lose.

Norman Birnbaum, author and professor at Georgetown University, spoke about a "Foreign Policy Intellectual Complex" that he sees paralleling the work of the military industrial complex, by promoting militarism through universities, publicists, and centers of research. Birnbaum referred favorably to a letter that anti-war leader Tom Hayden recently sent to Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean opposing Dean's support for continuing the occupation. Progressive Democrats of America is collecting signatures on a petition to Dean at http://www.pdamerica.org/petition/iraq-exit-petition.php

Jeffrey Lewis, a research fellow at the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Maryland and editor of www.armscontrolwonk.com, discussed the Moscow Treaty, signed by Bush and Putin. Lewis said that, contrary to Bush's claim, this treaty does not "liquidate the legacy of the Cold War," but maintains the Cold War obsession with deterrence. The treaty limits the United States and Russia to 1,700 - 2,200 offensive nuclear weapons, includes no verification procedures, and actually takes effect the same day it expires, December 31, 2012. In addition, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has testified that reductions required by the treaty will not be met unless full funding is appropriated for the Nuclear Posture Review.

That Review, Lewis said, helps show that China is now "supplanting Russia as the primary target of US nuclear planning." If the United States drops below 2,200 weapons, Rumsfeld has said, China will "sprint to parity" - from the approximately 100 weapons it has now. On the contrary, according to Lewis, the new US policy will encourage China to develop weapons, not deter it.

Miriam Pemberton of IPS discussed Rumsfeld's hiring of consultant Gary Anderson to devise metrics for measuring the overall success of overt and covert actions, economic actions, and the "winning of hearts and minds."

"Where have we heard that before?" Pemberton asked. Anderson's report to Rumsfeld noted that using the phrase "global war on terror" might prejudice the tactics chosen toward more martial actions. Pemberton seconded that sentiment, saying "Terrorism is a serious problem, but it is not one that is solvable by military force."

In fact, she said, the State Department will no longer produce an annual report on terrorism, because terrorism is increasing. So, Rumsfeld will try to measure success in fighting terrorism while avoiding the most obvious measure: whether there is more or less terrorism.

Pemberton has a proposal on the IPS website at http://ips-dc.org to shift funding from military approaches toward diplomacy. The trend in recent years has been so far in the other direction, she said, that we are spending nine times as much money on military operations as on all non-military relations.

Pemberton noted that during the Cold War, that war was used as the justification for funding education and technology. "Now that the Cold War is over," she said, "isn't there any other purpose than national security that can mobilize our resources for a public purpose, such as building an environmentally sustainable economy?" - a project that some would argue is central to making the nation more secure, even if totally foreign to the Bush-Administration-Media-Complex's notion of "national security."

*************

David Swanson is a board member of Progressive Democrats of America. His website is http://www.davidswanson.org


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