We can end this war!

To end the war and occupation in Iraq, the peace movement must continue to press Congress to bring the troops home and support every effort to move them to act. Congressional Democrats under pressure from the peace movement have introduced various bills and resolutions that begin to move us in this direction.

The introduction of Sen. John Kerry’s Senate Joint Resolution 33 is the latest illustration of the power of the peace movement. It marks a significant advance in the movement to end the occupation despite its many flaws and assumptions.

The resolution calls on Bush to immediately convene a summit of Iraqi leaders, representatives of the United Nations, the Arab League and neighboring countries to reach a political solution for Iraq that will include forming a unity government. It further calls for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops. The resolution sets May 15 as the deadline for notifying the Iraqis of the beginning of troop withdrawal if Iraq is unable to form a unity government. The deadline will be December 2006 otherwise.

Some might question the importance of a resolution that, like other Democratic bills in Congress, presumes that the U.S. has the right to make demands of the Iraqis and dictate the forms of their government.

Some might question the fact that the bill leaves open the door for leaving minimal troops in Iraq long-term.

These and other criticisms are valid. Kerry’s is certainly not a resolution the peace movement would draft if we had the chance.

So why should the peace movement support this resolution and similar bills in the House? If our demand is to bring the troops home now, why should we support legislation that sets deadlines for withdrawal?

Although the movement calls for the immediate end of the occupation, it has also focused on pressuring, persuading and bird-dogging congressional representatives to take action. And rightly so.

The peace movement has made a difference in expanding the base of elected officials who will act. Small but real victories have been won. Roadblocks are now in place to the neoconservatives’ plans to control the Middle East, including its oil. Even problematic bills like John Murtha’s helped rally opposition to the occupation and divided Bush’s support.

The peace movement’s demands resulted in the passage of Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s amendment to the House war appropriations bill that cuts funding for permanent bases in Iraq. Now the Senate Appropriations Committee has cut funds for permanent bases from the Senate version, which will be voted on later this month. Isn’t this a major victory? Doesn’t it lay the basis for permanent withdrawal?

Rep. John Murtha’s bill, introduced last fall, sent shockwaves through the country. It became one factor pushing the opposition sentiment to new highs. The bill called for rapid withdrawal of troops with redeployment in the region. Of course, most in the peace movement oppose U.S. troops staging for war anywhere in the region, but many legislators who were riding the fence could support Murtha’s bill. Plus, the bill put the debate about withdrawal into the mass media for the first time. The terrain shifted, and the debate moved from how to wage the war to how and when to withdraw the troops. Isn’t that a victory? Didn’t that bring us one step closer to full withdrawal?

The U.S. and Iraqi public, a growing number of legislators and broad sections of the military (even generals!) support the withdrawal of troops. But there remains major disagreement on the process, timeframe and conditions of withdrawal. The peace movement must explain why the continued presence of U.S. troops is the root cause of the crisis in Iraq, while supporting all legislative and other efforts that move us closer to the goal of total withdrawal. Kerry’s resolution is a good example.

Of course no single piece of legislation will end the occupation. It is up to the movement.

Kerry’s resolution was introduced the same week that 24 referenda calling for immediate withdrawal passed in Wisconsin. That’s no accident. There is a direct connection between the evolving antiwar sentiment in Congress and the work of the peace movement. Rep. Jim McGovern recently told peace activists, “I feel there is movement [in Congress]. How much movement depends on the grass roots.” Local referenda, “peace voter” initiatives, lobbying and other actions that pressure Bush and Congress to represent the majority peace sentiment are key to laying the basis for total troop withdrawal.

If our goal is truly to end this occupation as soon as possible, we must use every available tool to build broad unity and divide the support for the war. To refuse support for the Kerry resolution or other measures that fall short of our ultimate goal is to put the goal on indefinite hold.

Judith Le Blanc (jleblanc@cpusa.org) is national co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, the country’s largest peace coalition, and a vice chair of the Communist Party USA.