It has been more than three years since the US invasion of Iraq and, despite the humiliating failure of the war for the US empire, the slaughter continues. Neither Bush nor the Democrats can figure out a way to pull out US troops even though at this point, it is hard to imagine a favorable outcome. Bush just noted that it would be for “future presidents” to decide when to pull out troops — thus, he expects the occupation will continue until at least 2009. Bush can’t declare victory and leave in the face of civil war and insurgency fueled by the presence of US troops. Nor can he afford to admit defeat — admitting the hollow nature of US military power would be too costly for the US empire. The insurgents don’t need to defeat the occupying army — they only need to prevent the US from winning — which they have done. The pathetic Democrats — no matter what they may think — are too scared of being called wimps to say much of anything. Ultimately, most of them support the US imperial project and don’t want to see a defeat for US power any more than Bush.
So even as the US public increasingly concludes that the war is a total failure — begun for reasons that turned out to be lies and maintained at great cost for no comprehensible purpose — the mainstream political system is incapable of ending US involvement in the war. It would appear that this “alternatives-vacuum” would present an ideal opportunity for a third force –independent from the Democrats and Republicans — to organize opposition to the war.
Yet the recent March 18 national day of protest sponsored by ANSWER was a small and ritualistic affair — easily ignored perhaps because it was incapable of disrupting business as usual. Or maybe it was smaller than one might expect given the un-popularity of the war because people have protest-fatigue and are feeling discouraged. Marching down deserted streets on a Saturday in the hope that the media will notice doesn’t seem like a strategy equal to the task of stopping this disastrous war. Some anarchist types commented that they didn’t go because it was organized by the creepy sectarian ANSWER coalition, but isn’t the war worse than ANSWER? The current anti-war efforts aren’t breaking through, but it isn’t totally clear why — just that they aren’t.
This historical moment has all the ingredients for a political shift that could discredit the Republicans, the Democrats, and ineffective, bureaucratic protest machines. Figuring out how to seize this moment is the key task for radicals in 2006 because once the dam of opposition to the war really breaks free, its flood will be capable of carrying away considerable deadwood. The fertile ground for war opposition is demonstrated by the quick rise in prominence of Cindy Sheehan, who came out of nowhere and is now a key anti-war spokesperson. She stumbled on a dramatic tactic at the right moment.
Radicals need to be out in public trying lots of different angles — only by trying lots of experiments can we have any hope of stumbling on the right opportunity at the right moment. With luck, the social pressure that has built up around the war can be harnessed and used generally against the US imperial project abroad, the security state at home, and the US way of life that is destroying the earth every day. It would be a shame if the contradictions created by the war were met with a single-issue anti-war movement rather than a broad uprising against the whole social structure which created the Iraq war and which constantly justifies violence — against human beings and nature — as business as usual.
War and Empire
Maintaining a constant state of war is highly useful for a superpower because it provides the perfect excuse to centralize wealth and power, attack civil liberties, and it keeps regular people from taking aim at their real collective enemy — those in power. For those in power, the bloodshed in Iraq, human rights violations in the US and by US allies, systematic destruction of the environment, and structural poverty and misery are acceptable costs of doing business.
The war on terrorism is the ideal type of war for the US empire because it can never end, since it defines the “enemy” as any social group or individual who opposes the system — how does one forever “defeat” opposition? Even non-violent environmental activists can be labeled “terrorists” and included within the war on terror. Ultimately, anyone who opposes the rulers can be categorized as a terrorist.
Those in power emphasize that terrorism is not a “legitimate” form of social action because it uses violence — a highly Orwellian and illogical argument since the elite’s response to terrorism is violence, death and destruction on a massive scale. Bush denounces those who take hostages in Iraq while the US holds thousands of Iraqis prisoner in their own land. Those in power label any resistance from the oppressed “violence” while any systematic violence carried on by governments or corporations is just “business as usual.” Terrorists are defined as such because they hold the “wrong” ideas, not based on their activities and tactics.
But the war on terrorism alone wasn’t enough of a “hot” war to serve the system’s and Bush’s goals. Bush hoped the invasion of Iraq would “remake” the politics of the Middle East — not, as he claims, by promoting democracy, but by demonstrating that any opposition to US dominance would be crushed.
Thus, the disaster in Iraq — while it is a tragic waste of human life — is in a twisted way a positive development because it has crippled or at least delayed US hopes of empire. Because Bush cannot “win” in Iraq and thus cannot withdraw troops, he is unable to begin a new war with Iran or Venezuela. The US death machine has been taught a lesson it won’t soon forget — with all its sophisticated weapons, it could not ultimately establish control.
Radicals across the globe and here in the belly of the beast have an excellent opportunity to emphasize the paradoxical weakness of the US as a superpower. The disaster in Iraq will be impossible to forget for at least the next generation. Just as the US was inhibited from launching a major war for a generation after being defeated in Vietnam, Iraq has the potential to prevent future US leaders from launching a similar adventure for the next 20 years. It is up to radicals here in the US to repeatedly emphasize the failure of the pre-emptive war policy: Iraq was a war of choice motivated by a lust for power and sold to the public with lies. There is a pattern to US history — the same could be said of Vietnam.
The ultimate success of radical opposition to the war would be to extend the de-legitimization of the US empire from its foreign wars to it domestic abuses and from dramatic examples of violence to the routine, everyday way in which the US empire is destroying the earth and subjugating its population. The disaster in Iraq has much in common with numerous domestic economic, social and environmental policies that benefit a few and devastate everyone else. The key is uncovering the connections between all of these seemingly unrelated structures — shining a light on the power elite and on the system which serves it.
Direct action, creativity and vision is what can separate radicals from the institutional protest machine that has so far been unable to effectively exploit the historical opportunities for social change presented by the crisis in Iraq. Protest marches that come from the heart can create a sense of solidarity and power, but when they become ritualized and obligatory — devoid of passion — they become political wallpaper. The same can be said of “disruptive” tactics that become ritualized and sterile — like a black bloc that feels like a dress-up party with the militancy of a funeral. The key to effective action is not necessarily the tactic itself, but the spirit with which particular tactics are practiced.
Perhaps because disruptive tactics entail more risk, they are more likely to carry genuine feeling. The protest against the WTO in Seattle was disruptive, but even more it was heartfelt.
Tactics and events that are unique, joyful, humorous and exciting are all more likely to get through society’s stabilizing armor and churn up social motion. Now might be the time to think of lots of really funny or outrageous or even fabulous actions. What about having Halloween on the 4th of July with corporate and military zombies dripping with blood?
US activists have a dramatic advantages in destabilizing the US empire since we are, after all, right here in the belly of the beast. We need to figure out how to exploit this advantage by figuring out the social, industrial and economic choke points. Where can a small number of people have a huge effect with a very small investment of energy? What does the system require that can be disrupted? What physical and social locations does the system believe to be “safe” — the system’s guard will be at its lowest at these points.
It is crucial to have lots of different folks in different areas trying different things. Diversity and experimentation can uncover weak spots, plus unexpected actions are highly disruptive to a system that always seeks control and predictability. For example, plenty of folks have been going after military recruiters with mixed results — if this effort begins to become ritualized and stale, maybe its time to switch to targeting military contractors or other aspects of the war machine.
US involvement in Iraq will come to a close — by blocking the war, we can participate in laying the foundation for a new future.
Top US military contractors, 2005
The following military contract are making billions of dollars from the Iraq war arming the US imperial death machine. These corporations have offices, factories and operations all over the US. Thus activists almost anywhere can find good targets for disruptive actions aimed at the US war effort in Iraq. The arms makers here at home are crucial to the function of the US military abroad — they shouldn’t get a free ride here in the US while the slaughter continues in Iraq. Get together with your friends, use you’re creativity and be effective!
Rank Company Leader 2004 Defense Revenue (millions of dollars) % Revenue from Defense
1 Lockheed Martin Robert J. Stevens $34,050.00 95.8%
2 Boeing W. James McNerney, 30,464.00 58.1%
3 Northrop Grumman Ronald D. Sugar 22,126.00 74.0%
4 Raytheon William H. Swanson 18,771.00 92.7%
5 General Dynamics Nicholas D. Chabraja 15,000.00 78.2%
6 Honeywell David M. Cote 10,240.4 40.0%
7 Halliburton David J. Lesnar 8,000.0 39.1%
8 United Technologies George David 6,740.0 18.0%
9 L-3 Communications Frank Lanza 6,133.8 88.9%
10 Science Applications International Corp. Ken Dahlberg 4,686.0 65.2%
11 Computer Sciences Corp. Van B. Honeycutt 3,779.0 25.6%
12 General Electric Jeffrey R. Immelt 3,400.0 21.9%
13 Rolls-Royce Sir John Rose 3,069.0 27.0%
14 Misubishi Heavy Industries Kazuo Tsukuda 2,516.7 9.9%
15 Alliant Techsystems Daniel J. Murphy Jr. 2,516.0 89.9%
16 ITT Industries Steve R. Loranger 2,414.0 35.8%
17 United Defense Industries Thomas W. Rabaut 2,292.0 100.0%
18 Titan Gene W. Ray, Chairman 2,004.0 97.9%
19 Saab Åke Svensson 1,900.0 64.3%
20 Bechtel Group Riley Bechtel 1,742.5 10.0%