Strategies to End the War
While there has been public opposition to the war in Iraq for the past five years, there have been few attempts to map out a specific strategy to get our troops out. As crucial as many of the efforts have been, they have largely taken place in a vacuum--isolated events, be they marches, occupations, or blockades, rather than part of an overarching strategy. This article is an attempt to lay out some foundations for an effective antiwar strategy. Hopefully the discussion it generates will help contribute to a broader, deeper, and more effective strategy than one person can come up with alone.
Strategies to end the war
Why are we in Iraq?
1) Oil/Economic access to the Middle East
2) Geo-strategic positioning
3) Continued profit for the military/industrial complex
It's in the interest of our entire political apparatus to perpetuate this war.
We must make it impossible for the military to wage this war, not convince our
politicians that it's immoral.
Three major elements contributed to the success of the Vietnam anti-war
1) Active, public opposition to the war—marches, Iraq Moratorium, walkouts,
2) Vietnamese military resistance to the occupation
3) GI resistance to the war
What are our current challenges to building an effective anti-war movement?
1) Disengagement of the mainstream American public
2) Few feel the effects of war at home—there is no draft, no rations, more
controlled media, etc.
3) Disillusion with the efficacy of the anti-war movement. Almost five years
after the largest coordinated global protest in history, and after five years
of marches, office occupations, die-ins, camps, we seem to have had no effect.
4) Iraq is of much higher value to the ruling class than was Vietnam; it will be
more challenging to force a withdrawal.
What are our current assets for the anti-war movement?
1) Mainstream opposition to the war—68%. While this sentiment isn't currently
active, it can be mobilized.
2) A general disillusionment with the political process, corporate control, and
both parties. While currently that translates into apathy, it also leaves us
with the possibility of mobilizing larger groups of people to act outside of
the political system.
3) Growing GI resistance, the growth of IVAW, and active-duty organizing.
4) A resurgence in student activism, counter-recruitment efforts, etc
Given these factors, how can we effectively organize to end the war? Mass
marches alone will clearly never do it; at the same time, a simple increase in
militancy, "bringing the war home," will also not do the trick. The collapse of
the first SDS in 1969, and the rise of the Weatherman faction, brought an
increase in militancy, but at the expense of organizing, outreach, and a faith
in the power of mass movements. Mass marches may not challenge the power
structure, but they do contribute to movement building, incorporating new faces
and providing other options for action beyond marches. They also provide us with
an opportunity to push the rhetoric of the mainstream "peace" movement to the
left, as well as for IVAW to take a more prominent position in the movement.
Furthermore, without the large, "liberal" antiwar movement, more radical
actions like resisting port militarization, shutting down recruiting centers,
and beyond would have no context, and would be easily dismissed. Our job should
not be to isolate ourselves, dismissing the mainstream antiwar movement as
inefficient and hopeless, but to recognize the necessity of their efforts, and
work to move direct, militant actions into the mainstream.
While marches do serve a purpose, we know that's not enough. So what kind of
strategy can we map out to guide our actions and our planning? In all of our
actions, regardless of immediate goals, we should keep in mind how they will
affect the strength of our groups and of the movement as a whole. If we manage
to contain military equipment in a port for two weeks, or two months, but do it
in such a way that it alienates the rest of the antiwar movement as well as
those opposed to the war but not yet active, is it effective? For all of our
actions, and all of the various tactics we use, we should consider them within
the entire context of the antiwar movement. How will our actions help to build
a stronger movement, incorporate more people, and increase the militancy and
effectiveness of the movement?
So given those thoughts, I'd like to turn briefly to the various elements that
the war in Iraq currently depends on, and how we can remove those various
elements until the entire effort collapses. This is, of course, simply a
partial list, but hopefully it will serve as a starting point.
1) The troops; without cannon fodder, we cannot wage this war, or any other war.
2) Money; without a constant source of funds for the war, the effort could not
3) Equipment; without Strykers, weapons, transports, etc., we cannot wage this
4) Private contractors; More than ever before in history, our military effort
depends on the use of private military contractors for support. Whether it is
Blackwater protecting diplomats or KBR providing logistical support on bases,
without the support of these companies the military mission would collapse
5) Lack of significant, sustained, and mass opposition to the war.
Given these five factors, what tactics could we use to remove each pillar of
support, and how can we frame those tactics in an overall strategy to continue
movement building and end the war?
There is already work being done in this area, and an increased focus, but more
work is necessary. Counter-recruitment campaigns, supporting GI resistance
through high-profile campaigns such as Ehren Watada as well as Sanctuary City
efforts and building support networks for soldiers gone AWOL are all crucial
parts of this effort. In addition, we should support active-duty outreach with
IVAW, create resource centers and distribute literature outside of military
bases. Our goal should not simply be to support specific resisters or "convert"
individuals (though those are both necessary), but to help create a culture of
dissent and resistance within the military, and make it mainstream and
Much of the energy from the mainstream antiwar movement has been directed
towards legislators, asking Congress to refuse to pass bills that include
funding for Iraq. While these tactics have been overwhelmingly ineffective thus
far, and hold little promise for the future as well, we should still recognize
them as valid parts of the overall antiwar effort. Some of us might start from
the position that Congress will not end this war; the majority of the public
does not start from that position, and needs to be shown that it is the case.
The efforts of the mainstream antiwar movement should be recognized as vital
for radicalizing larger portions of the population, and showing people that
certain venues for change have been exhausted. This grants us credibility to
try more radical tactics, countering criticisms that we should just try voting
or calling our Congresspeople.
The actions take in Olympia, Tacoma, and Gray's Harbor have been inspiring in
showing what can be done to actively prevent equipment from being sent to Iraq.
At the same time, we must recognize that all of the equipment being shipped
ultimately made it to or from Iraq. The most important aspect of these actions
is inspiring similar actions in ports across the country, not preventing one
Stryker from reaching Iraq. When it becomes common for communities to
physically blockade military shipments is when the tactic will become truly
Equipment is researched, created, transported, and fixed in more places than
ports, though, in and by more people. Actions like those taken in Pittsburgh
against the National Robotics Engineering Center are other examples of events
that raise the profile of resistance; at the same time, single-day blockades of
businesses will not change their policies, or end the war. Civil
disobedience/arrest intensive actions can also exclude certain communities.
While these actions are crucial, and should continue, they should be part of
broader campaigns to make making and moving military equipment as inconvenient
as possible. During the Vietnam War there was also sabotage of key equipment by
active-duty soldiers. If a ship is unable to sail, it will be unable to
4) Private Contractors
The military effort in Iraq is now completely dependent on private companies
providing support services and security. While there has been an increased
awareness of Blackwater thanks the Jeremy Scahill and specific scandals, and
while there have been symbolic actions against war profiteers, there has not
been a concerted effort to force these companies out of Iraq. Blackwater is
running into serious opposition in Potrero, California, where it is attempting
to construct a new training base. This opposition should be supported and
publicized, but Blackwater is hardly the only firm operating in Iraq. Targeting
smaller firms that provide specific services and forcing them to withdraw from
Iraq has a better chance of success. While these corporations are making, quite
literally, a killing by operating in Iraq, they are still vulnerable. Companies
are ultimately beholden to their shareholders, dependent on financiers, and
subject to economic and public pressure. Divestment campaigns, forcing
secondary and tertiary companies to cease dealing with the target, and
targeting specific individuals with the power to effect change in the companies
policy all have the potential to force individual companies out of Iraq, and
thus to make the military mission in Iraq more difficult.
This tactic would take a great deal of effort, but may be worth it. First,
comprehensive research on which companies are providing what services (some of
this research is done) and which companies would be susceptible to pressure
(Boeing won't cancel its military contract; companies providing laundry
services to military bases might, etc.). Second, a public campaign with
specific events: protests, pickets, petitions, actions, boycotts, etc.
formulated to raise awareness about the specific companies and move opposition
to them into the mainstream. This would serve to create public pressure on the
company. Third, a concerted effort focused on shareholders, financiers, and
beneficiaries of the company, attempting to force all of them to withdraw from
dealing with the companies (a la the South African divestment campaigns of the
1980s). These actions would pressure corporations economically, threaten their
shares in the stock market, etc. Fourth, a campaign or actions focused on
pressuring specific individuals, whether the board of trustees or friends of
the directors, to raise the social cost to individuals with the ability to
change the direction of the company. This last step could also take inspiration
from the radical animal liberation/rights movement, which has waged successful
campaigns against individual corporations/projects.
5) Significant, Sustained, and Massive Opposition to the War
While mass marches don't actually change anything, small-scale local actions
also will not. We need people to realize that ultimately, we hold all of the
power in this country, as long as we act in solidarity. The war cannot continue
if there is no one to fight it, if no one works for the companies making
weapons, if no one pays taxes, or if everyone refuses business as normal. We
shouldn't abide by the "just keep waiting, eventually we'll have enough people
to do something" mentality, but neither should we resort to the "it's up to us,
we're the only ones radical enough to effect change" mentality, which is
isolating and ultimately arrogant. Instead, each of our actions should seek to
incorporate more people in the movement as well as those already radicalized,
especially those communities not widely represented in the antiwar movement. It
may, at times, be worth sacrificing specific tactics or intermediate goals for
the sake of bringing more people in and getting them more deeply involved in
the movement. Our role should be to show people that ending the war is
possible, that marches are not isolated but part of a larger strategy, that
there are various ways to get involved and various degrees of commitment that
they can make, and to recognize as valid the commitments that they do make,
while pushing their comfort limits but not smashing them.
This is simply an outline, a beginning point to generate more discussion about
real strategies to end the war. It is written by one person, and is thus
extremely limited. Hopefully the discussion it generates, and the contributions
from others, will serve to create a truly comprehensive, effective, and feasible
strategy to end this war and get us out of Iraq, before the war ends us. We've
been operating without strategy, lashing out in the dark, for almost five years
now. Let's end this war.
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