Ending the occupation, the 2006 elections, and tactics

The pressure for troop withdrawal is growing, so much so that earlier this summer Democrats introduced two resolutions in the Senate. One, authored by Senator Kerry, envisions a short exit strategy and a role for the international community. The other, which has the support of nearly 40 Democratic senators and may be re-introduced this fall, calls for troop withdrawal beginning this winter, but the flaw is that it leaves the process open-ended, which is precisely what Bush does.

Nevertheless, the fact that a majority of Senate Democrats are supporting this resolution constitutes an important shift in their approach to the Iraq occupation. Much work by the peace majority still needs to be done, but the playing field is far more favorable for organizing a congressional majority in favor of ending the occupation than it was even a few months ago.

We should welcome these changes, even though they don’t go far enough. Communists and other left-minded people should not only give space to people to change their positions on the occupation; we should also applaud such changes when they go in a progressive direction, even if they are not identical to our positions.

Of course, we don’t support an open-ended occupation, no matter which party proposes it. And, needless to say, we don’t support a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq, which is obviously the Bush administration’s plan.

A long-term U.S. presence is not a force for a democratic, stable and peaceful Iraq.

Most Iraqis gave up long ago any thought that the U.S. military is a liberating force. The occupation breeds popular resentment. It adds to the turmoil. It strengthens the political positions of the most reactionary forces in Iraq, like former Saddam Hussein/Baathist elements and Islamic militias. And it isn’t — and this becomes increasingly clearer every day — preventing the slide of the country into civil war and chaos.

The occupation gives the Bush administration the ability to exploit and exacerbate sectarian divisions in this battered country, with an eye to establishing a regime that caters to U.S. corporate/geopolitical interests and allows a permanent U.S. military presence there.

Thus, an end to the occupation would not only remove the Bush administration from the driver’s seat in Iraq, where it now sits. It would also open up possibilities for more progressive political dynamics in Iraq and in the rest of the world.

Inside Iraq, the pressure on various political forces would inescapably be in the direction of a cessation of violence, and of national unity. Not everyone in Iraq would be happy with this, for sure, but no one could ignore it altogether either. Once the U.S. announces that it is leaving, Iraqi political forces that have used the occupation to legitimize their killing of innocent civilians, fomenting of inter-ethnic and religious strife, and wrecking of the economy and infrastructure would find themselves on the defensive — unless, of course, the sectarian conflict, which is growing bloodier and bloodier each week, has reached a point of no return.

Outside Iraq, an announcement that the occupation is coming to a close would give the world community and the United Nations the opportunity to contribute positively to the stabilization, democratization and reconstruction of Iraq.

While there are no guarantees that withdrawal of U.S. troops would shift the country from civil war to civil harmony, democratic development, and economic and social reconstruction, it is the only course of action that has any chance of yielding something positive.

Some in the U.S. peace movement and the left, however, are against any kind of exit strategy that isn’t “immediate.” While this position may be correct in the abstract, it is too inflexible as a political approach. There is no good reason to counterpose a more advanced political demand — in this case, immediate withdrawal — to other demands of progressive and center forces that are positive but not as far-reaching. In fact, the most advanced demands of the progressive and center forces — not the demands of the left — are the basis for building the broadest possible mass unity and a congressional majority to end the occupation.

The main choice is not between immediate pullout and phased withdrawal. Rather the choice is between a concrete phased exit strategy and permanent occupation. Those are the main parameters of the debate in Congress and the nation.

If you don’t live in Iraq or the U.S., you don’t have to pay too much attention to the tactics of struggle. It is enough to say “U.S. out of Iraq now” and leave it at that.

If, however, you live here (or in Iraq), it isn’t quite that simple. You can’t stand aloof from the discussion of other alternatives besides immediate pullout — some of which may stand a much better chance of capturing congressional and public support than “out now.”

When millions of Americans and growing numbers of members of Congress are looking for a way to extricate us from Iraq, political realism and tactical flexibility should dictate that left and progressive-minded people rally support for the best of the alternative exit strategies. Otherwise, our voice will have little effect in the public square, legislative halls and election arena.

Of the ways to influence this debate, none is more important than the November elections. Bush, Rove and gang are turning the fall elections into a referendum on the war and occupation. If they keep control of Congress, they will take it as a mandate to continue the occupation for the next two years. If, on the other hand, the Democrats regain control of the Congress, it will be interpreted as an unambiguous and massive repudiation of Bush’s strategy of occupation and a signal to the new Congress that the removal of U.S. troops must be at the top of their legislative agenda.

Though elections are still a ways away, I can’t imagine that White House policymakers are sitting comfortably. For their tactic of turning U.S. occupation of Iraq into the pivotal issue in the fall elections appears to be backfiring. Why? Because it rested on the expectation that the situation in Iraq would stabilize this summer and fall. But so far this isn’t happening. Indeed, all hell is breaking loose there — more chaos, more sectarian violence, more deaths.

Thus, Republicans could easily lose control of the Senate and House, as voters register their opposition to the Iraq occupation by turning them out of office.

Were this to happen, it would be a body blow to the policy of preemptive war and occupation. Bush would be completely on the defensive as far as the occupation of Iraq is concerned (and everything else, for that matter).

On the other hand, the anti-occupation bloc in Congress would be immeasurably strengthened. Based on the mandate of the election results, this bloc could press for a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops.

As for those who have been sitting on the fence, the pressure on them would be to climb off and join the fight for an expeditious end to the occupation.

Finally, not only would congressional Republicans be the minority in Congress and thus unable to set the legislative agenda, but their case for occupation and permanent military presence in Iraq would be discredited.

In short, the political dynamics between proponents of occupation and supporters of withdrawal would change qualitatively in favor of the latter.

Thus, the stakes in the outcome of this election are high — so high, in fact, that I would argue that the best way for the American people to register their opposition to Bush’s Iraq policy is to deliver a stinging blow to Republican hopes of retaining control of the Congress in November.

Sam Webb (swebb@cpusa.org) is national chairman of the Communist Party USA. This article is based on remarks to the CPUSA’s National Committee meeting in June.