Today more Americans are dissatisfied with the War in Iraq than ever. Roughly half the country disapproves of U.S. policy in Iraq. The major arguments against the war have been proven correct: no weapons of mass destruction or weapons programs have been discovered. George W. Bush’s promise to deliver a free and stable democracy to Iraq seems unlikely at best, cynical at worst, in the context of ongoing war profiteering by administration-linked corporations such as Halliburton. The notion that the Iraqi war is part of a broader War on Terrorism has been dashed, as international terrorist organizations use Iraq as a rallying point against the United States, and as American resources that might have gone to combat terrorism are soaked up by the Iraqi campaign. While the initial phase of the war may have been a swift American victory, the remaining months and years of occupation are proving to be a grinding, bloody conflict.
Americans are frustrated with the given explanation for war and the cost — human and financial — of the occupation. This frustration has generated a groundswell of support for the Democratic presidential candidates who have, to varying degrees, criticized President Bush for his policies in Iraq, though four of these candidates struggle to explain why they voted for the authorization of force.
While the candidates debate, the conflict rages on. American soldiers continue to come home in flag-draped coffins. Electricity remains blacked-out in Baghdad, and the entire country continues to descend into chaos, all for a cause that has been proven to be nothing but smoke and mirrors. The Bush administration believes that Americans should “tough out” the duration of the conflict. Unlike the soldiers who endure the day-to-day horrors of keeping up the occupation, Bush was unwilling to spend more than two hours in Iraq for Thanksgiving.
But where is the peace movement? Where are the millions who last winter marched against the imminent war? This is an appropriate question to ask today, a National Day of Action on college campuses. The Campus Antiwar Network, a national coordinating body, called today’s event the first step toward rebuilding the peace movement. Today, on college campuses from San Diego to Boston, there will be demonstrations, art installations and educational events aimed at raising consciousness about the problems of the Iraqi occupation. The Yale Coalition for Peace asks that students wear white arm bands as a sign of protest against the failures of the occupation.
The peace movement has been largely dormant for months now, after President Bush, in a move designed to break the back of the movement, declared the end of hostilities in Iraq. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted in a memo that the military venture in Iraq will be a “long hard slog,” undermining the “Mission Accomplished” idea of Bush’s triumphant speech in May and supporting the rationale for a revived peace movement.
But at the national conference of the Campus Antiwar Network this October, delegates from dozens of schools argued out the end of the peace movement or its revival. Some who were initially opposed to the war believe that “once we’re in, we’re in,” and that there is no alternative to the current occupation. Others proposed that the United Nations should replace the United States and Britain as the occupying power. Still others want an end to all foreign military involvement in Iraq.
The peace movement must now address a status quo problem, not prevent a future war. Inevitably there is a diversity of opinions as to the best alternative to the current policy. To paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, there is only one way to go backward, but there are many ways to go forward. Though individuals in the peace movement may disagree about how to go forward, they are certain the movement should lead the nation forward beyond the occupation.
Let today’s Day of Action revitalize the peace movement. What matters is not that those who are dissatisfied with the Bush strategy are divided, but that we are united in our dissatisfaction. The peace movement should be at least as important as the 2004 elections in our nation’s discourse. Unless people are educated and agitated about the crisis in Iraq, how can one expect Bush to be swept out of office next year? How can one expect a Democratic president to keep his promise and end the occupation swiftly and peacefully? A peace movement is an independent, bottom-up, democratic force. Whether you favor UN involvement or full-blown withdrawal from Iraq, wear an arm band today, and show the Bush administration just what students think of its war. By wearing one, you do not subscribe to a single solution to the problem. You merely signal your dissent.
Jared Malsin is a Freshman in Berkeley College. He is a member of the Yale Coalition for Peace.