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December 2011, Week 3

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Sat, 17 Dec 2011 15:03:31 -0500
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In Iraq, Peace at Last

    America owes a debt of gratitude to the
    activists who opposed the Iraq war from the
    start, and who kept the pressure on.

By Tom Hayden
Los Angeles Times
December 15, 2011

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-hayden-iraq-withdrawal-20111216,0,960064.story

As the United States completes its withdrawal from
Iraq, it is worth pausing to remember the determined
peace activists who opposed the war from the start,
including one who took up their cause and became
president.

On Friday, some of them will gather in Chicago at the
Federal Plaza, where in October 2002 Barack Obama, then
a member of the Illinois Senate, stepped onto the stage
to oppose the looming Iraq war. The plaza should be
remembered as the place where the long march to peace
began.

At the time, neoconservatives were riding high. Not
only had the president, George W. Bush, embraced many
of their ideas; powerful figures in the Democratic
Party were echoing them as well. Obama was not among
them.

"I don't oppose all wars," he said that day, noting
that he would take up arms himself to prevent a repeat
of the Sept. 11 attacks. "What I am opposed to is a
dumb war."

Obama expressed outrage at "the cynical attempt by
Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair
weekend warriors in this administration to shove their
own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective
of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne." The
saber-rattling, he said, represented an "attempt by
political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a
rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a
drop in median income, to distract us from corporate
scandals and a stock market which has just gone through
the worst month since the Great Depression."

It was a brave stance to take for an ambitious
politician at a time when American support for war with
Iraq was building. He went on to become the first
president to campaign on a promise to end an ongoing
American war, and the peace movement helped put him
into office.

In the years leading up to the 2008 election, there
were at least 10 national antiwar demonstrations that
drew more than 100,000 participants each. The movement
helped Rep. Barbara Lee to rise from a lone war
opponent in Congress to the leader of a bloc of as many
as 200 representatives calling for an end to the wars
in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Those combined forces - the
peace movement and lawmakers who opposed continuing the
Iraq war - created a political climate that enabled
Obama to end the Iraq war over the objections of many
in the Pentagon and most of his Republican presidential
rivals.

Obama's position on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
shifted occasionally during the decade, illustrating
the powerful conflict of forces in play. In 2008, he
seemed ready to accept the advice of the establishment-
oriented Iraq Study Group, which recommended leaving a
residual force of 10,000 to 15,000 troops in Iraq.
After being elected, though, he surprised everyone by
announcing in early 2009 that all U.S. forces would be
pulled out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

In recent months, the administration seemed to be
considering leaving behind a few thousand troops to
continue training Iraqi forces, but it abandoned the
idea after failing to reach a deal with the Iraqi
government on legal immunity for the American troops.

Some peace activists view the fact that thousands of
advisors and contractors will remain in Iraq on the
U.S. Embassy payroll as evidence of a secret plan to
continue the war by other means. But the war is as over
as a war can be, and the peace movement should
celebrate. Removing troops from Iraq will save tens of
billions of dollars a year, and it will also save
lives.

Now the challenge will be to bring the war in
Afghanistan and the drone strikes over the border in
Pakistan to an end as quickly as possible. Obama may
have convinced himself that these are not "dumb wars"
carried out by mindless conservatives, but the PhDs at
the Pentagon and the State Department cannot prevent a
deepening calamity.

This year, Rep. Lee orchestrated a Democratic National
Committee resolution calling for a more rapid Afghan
withdrawal, but so far the president has committed only
to handing over responsibility for security to Afghan
forces by 2014. The peace movement should push for a
faster pace.

And if the president finds himself nostalgic for
battle, I'd remind him of some largely forgotten - and
prophetic - words from his 2002 speech: "You want a
fight, President Bush? Let's fight to make sure our so-
called allies in the Middle East - the Saudis and the
Egyptians - stop oppressing their own people, and
suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and
inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that
their youth grow up without education, without
prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of
terrorist cells.

"You want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to wean
ourselves of Middle East oil through an energy policy
that doesn't simply serve the interests of Exxon or
Mobil."

Those are the kinds of battles even a peace movement
could embrace.
________________

Tom Hayden, a former California state senator, is the
author of "The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack
Obama."

Copyright c 2011, Los Angeles Times

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