The Only Way Out of Iraq
Troops and Teachers: It is Time to Stand Yourselves Down
By Rich Gibson
San Diego State University
“GENERAL, YOUR TANK IS A POWERFUL VEHICLE
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect
It needs a driver.”
Bertolt Brecht, “German War Primer”
The Iraq Study Group from the usual insiders is done, and shelved, its silly propositions about bargaining with Iraq and Syria set aside until after the requisite Bush holiday break , a one-sided timeout that won’t count for the front-line troops of any of the many sides at battle in the Middle East and Afghanistan today. But, hang on, a new plan is in the works and should troops die waiting for it, their sacrifice will be celebrated by hiding the body.
The savants are hard at it, desperately searching for a way to connect the reality of the imperial control of oil resources and a key geopolitical region to some stretcher about democracy, freedom, the eradication of terror, or a method to combat the horrors of radical Islam (forget the Holocaust horrors of radical Christianity and its many armed wings, like the Catholic Church or the Salvation Army).
The U.S. empire cannot leave Iraq because of the oil, because of the Middle East’s geographical importance, because the U.S. ruling classes cannot afford to be seen as militarily, not just weak, but completely incompetent.
But the U.S cannot stay in Iraq because the people of Iraq know, at base, the US is there to rob them, and hence US troops, dedicated to winning hearts and minds as they may think they are, are rightly seen as thieves.
The U.S. political leadership, that bi-partisan joint Republican and Democratic force for the rich that sent troops to field the oil, can easily see that the US public, fickle to the core, has turned against this war and its war-criminal instigators (wildly popular not long ago) after losing less than three thousand troops, about one-quarter of a bad day of Picket’s Charge at Gettysburg. The politicos know the press and the public are near wit’s end.
The bi-partisan political leadership cannot impeach George Bush because they know what happened during the Nixon implosion: the massive two decades long contempt for government as a secret cloister for the moneyed, the disdain for the military, the Freedom of Information Act, the Open Meetings Act, the investigations into covert military operations and exposure of the deadly measures taken against those who truly battle the empire. The Nixon embarrassment will not be allowed to happen again as all elites lost; they remember well. A partisan Democratic assault would be calamitous for the aristocracy and besides, the muddled public has no more faith in a Democratic plan for withdrawal from Iraq than a Republican one.
Now, Bush calls for a minimum of 70,000 more troops, a vast permanent expansion of the military. It’s likely he will get most of that (Washington Post 12-20-06, US Not Winning In Iraq, by Peter Baker).
The greatest likelihood is that the invasion of Iraq, which cannot be split apart from the earlier invasion of Afghanistan (clearly not to catch bin Laden, but as a staging area for the entire Caucusus oil region), has triggered a process that will spin into World War III, unless someone with the wisdom and interest quickly intervenes. How can we learn who might do that?
In early 2002, writing for the Rouge Forum News, I said,
“This war is not a war against terrorism, against Islam, or against Osama bin Laden. This is an international war of the rich on the poor, an oil war, a continuation of the perpetual war to meet the incessant demands of capital, a system that thrives on war, exploitation, massive worldwide unemployment, low wages, and the imperial theft of raw material. The Perpetual Oil War that is now promised to the world must be stopped by the mass actions of conscious citizens, students, workers, sailors, soldiers, educators, much as the last major war was ended.”
Not surprisingly in a society steeped in spectacles, opportunism, racism, ignorance, and cowardice, no such mass movement arose, though sporadic outbursts like the California Grocery Strike, the Detroit Teachers’s wildcat strikes, the Mayday marches of immigrant workers of 2006, the transportation strikes in Los Angeles, the anti-racist citizen uprising in Benton Harbor, Michigan, all may serve as indicators that people who are positioned in such a way that they must fight to live, probably will fight, even if they do not make the best of sense about what they do. Even so, these outbursts will not be the impetus to halt the desperate Empire’s determination to rule through slaughter.
Who got the US out of its last debacle, Vietnam? Most surely, the Vietnamese played the centripetal role, changing American hearts and minds through armed propaganda. Above all, the Vietnamese ran the US out of Vietnam, in one of the most cowardly retreats in history.
Still a key part was played by US troops who disobeyed orders, mutinied on troop ships so militantly that the ships couldn’t leave port, “fragged,” officers who ordered men into deadly, useless, forays into the bush, and who returned home to lead the anti-war movement, contemptuously tossing their medals onto the steps of the Capitol. The complete collapse of the US forces only trailed the mutinies of the mythical South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam forces who were either double agents, or unwilling to die for a false cause.
Iraq is not Vietnam. The Vietnamese were formidable opponents with centuries of experience fighting invaders. They had supply centers and centers for manufacturing weapons inside and outside the country. They had real supply lines to allies in the USSR and China–a variety of external resources. They had wise strategic and tactical leadership motivated by a popular mix of peasant nationalism and egalitarianism, a forward-looking enlightenment vision.
The Iraqis have none of that, yet they have fought the vaunted US military to a standstill, a fact that must make imperial rivals salivate. The Iraqis, like the Vietnamese, expose not only the US military might as a paper tiger when confronted by even the most rudimentary forms of peoples’ war, but strategically and morally impoverished, unable to even maintain the support of a citizenry confronted with but the most mild of wartime sacrifices.
The US citizenry is not about to take any kind of direct action to withdraw troops from Iraq, in part because the citizens still buy the notion of “our” country when it is clearly, “their country,” and because the war, to date, has had such a limited economic and social impact: war means work, after all, jobs are plentiful if health benefits are not, and there is no draft to set campuses aflame–and the ruling classes learned the volatile nature of a draft in Vietnam; it’s the last option on their list.
Who is now positioned to act? Two groups:
1.The US troops, and their handful of allies, and perhaps some of their officers as well.
2. School Workers, especially classroom teachers and professors.
It now must be abundantly clear to US troops, dodging those deadly Improvised Explosive Devices every day, living surrounded by unknown enemies, eating strange manufactured food, breathing what they must have heard is depleted uranium, that while their Commander-In-Chief takes a Christmas holiday from strategic thinking, perhaps overwhelmed by the voluminous nature of the Iraq Study Group’s 160 tedious pages (and, as only one ISG member ever left the Green Zone, few pictures), the troops will be sucking sand and risking lives for a war that nearly all agree is lost, for a cause that has nothing to do with improving a single troop life. It is time for those troops to declare their own holiday stand down, withdraw to the bases, refuse to fight. Disobey.
The other group well positioned to act against World War III is the US education worker force, the most unionized and politically active group in the US. School workers could close the deadly pipeline of schools to the military by teaching against imperialism, organizing boycotts of the regimented curricula and high stakes tests that seek to turn teachers into missionaries for capitalism, and they could help drive the military off the campuses—on the grounds that schools mean a struggle for the truth, and all militaries require the opposite.
While no one ever won money betting on the collective courage of teachers, it is conceivable that they will recognize that endless war means the quick end of their health benefits, despite elite efforts to pay them off, and they will also see that the middle school kids sitting in front of them, full of hope, will have no hope, only to be cast into what might be the most cynical meat grinder of war in history. Surely personal ties of teachers and students count for something—or perhaps not. There is only very limited history of mass radical action by teachers, Oaxaca to the contrary.
It is not hard to imagine the next US maneuvers: to simultaneously contract and expand the wars by withdrawing troops in Iraq to the massive bases Haliburton recently built there, protecting the oil fields and the pipelines, ruling for the time being from the air for the most part, allowing the country to dissolve into tribal/religious war, and waiting to pick up the pieces----while nearly at the same time saving face and power by launching an attack on Iran, perhaps under the cover of Israel.
Careening like a rack of billiard balls thrown into perpetual collisions, the multiple wars threaten reason and human existence.
Will a mass stand down of the military, and a boycott in the education forces, halt the madness of opposing religous warriors attacking infidels? Perhaps not. But it could inspire the dispossessed of all those regions to turn on their own rulers—as every society is split along Master and Slave lines–and settle their own scores with their own real enemies.
In the long run, nothing will stop these wars but a complete transformation of a social system, capitalism, that thrives on exploitation, inequality, racism, and tyranny. People will have to be positioned in such a way that they grasp the absolute necessity of making serious sacrifices to win a society based on equality, reason, democracy, and mutual care.
In the interim, troops and teachers against the war could help to change, and understand the world, the crux of the pedagogical project.
1. Bertolt Brecht , A German War Primer