Within what could generally be called the anti-war movement, there is a debate on whether or not to continue the demand for the US to pull its troops out of Iraq or to press for change in the role the military is playing within the country. We speak with Nation reporter Naomi Klein and Erik Gustafson of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center. [includes rush transcript]
Two years ago this month, the Iraqi capital Baghdad fell to US ground forces as they spread out across Iraq. Today, with more than 140,000 US troops on the ground the question of where this occupation is headed is one that is being hotly debated in Congress and in many communities in the US. The body bags continue to come home, Iraqi civilians continue to pay the highest price and the resistance hold power in significant portions of the country.
Following the elections in Iraq earlier this year, a number of people and groups that were opposed to the invasion began to speak positively about the prospects for some positive developments.
And within what could generally be called the anti-war movement, there is a debate on whether or not to continue the demand for the US to pull its troops out of Iraq or to press for change in the role the military is playing within the country.
Last month, when demonstrations were held across the world to commemorate the 2nd anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, a small number of peace groups criticized the protests, particularly the ones on military bases, saying they were aimed at the wrong target. The Education for Peace in Iraq Center issued a statement saying that the protest organized by United For Peace And Justice was not about ending the war in Iraq, saying instead it was about pulling U.S. forces and abandoning the Iraqi people.
To debate this issue, we are joined by Naomi Klein. She is award-winning journalist and author of Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate–and–No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. She has the cover story in this week"s Nation magazine called, "The Rise of Disaster Capitalism." In our Washington DC studio we are joined by Erik Gustafson, a Gulf War veteran and founder and director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center.
- Naomi Klein, award-winning journalist and author of Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate and No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies
- Erik Gustafson, a Gulf War veteran and founder and director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to turn now to Iraq, what you’ve been talking about, and talk about the issue of what should happen next. Two years ago, this month, the Iraqi capital of Baghdad fell to US ground forces, as they spread out across Iraq. Today with more than 140,000 US troops on the ground, the question of where this occupation is headed is one that’s being hotly debated in Congress and in many communities in the United States. Body bags continue to come home, Iraqi civilians continue to pay the highest price, and the resistance hold power in significant portions of Iraq. Following the elections there earlier this year, a number of people in groups that were opposed to the invasion began to speak positively about the prospects for some positive developments. And within what could generally be called the anti-war movement, there’s a debate on whether or not to continue the demand for the US to pull its troops out of Iraq or to press for change in the role the military’s playing within the country. Last month when demonstrations were held across the world to remember the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, a small number of peace groups criticized the protests, particularly the ones on military bases, saying they were aimed at the wrong target. The Education for Peace in Iraq Center, known as EPIC, issued a statement saying that the protest organized by United for Peace and Justice was not about ending the war in Iraq, saying instead it was about pulling US forces and abandoning Iraqi people.
We’re joined by two people to debate this. Yes, Naomi Klein is with us, award-winning journalist, author of Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate and No Logo. She’s got the cover story in The Nation. We’re also joined by Erik Gustafson. Erik Gustafson is a Gulf War vet, founder and director of EPIC, the Education for Peace in Iraq Center. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Erik Gustafson, let’s start with you. What should happen now? Why are you opposed to the US troops being pulled out immediately?
ERIK GUSTAFSON: Well, that’s one thing I want to make very clear. It’s not about being for or against withdrawal. The Education for Peace in Iraq Center, of course, wants to see US forces withdraw and to see a process that moves in that direction. However, the question is whether or not US forces can leave tomorrow. And the answer is, no. Iraq’s security forces are insufficient to provide the security that the Iraqi people need. We would leave a tremendous vacuum behind. And all of the Iraqis that I talked to, while there is — I mean, they are unanimous in wanting to see Americans leave and wanting to see the Bush Administration make a declaration that the US has no claim on the resources or territory of Iraq, which the administration still refuses to do. But in terms of pulling out tomorrow, most Iraqis fear the chaos, fear what would happen next. They know that many of their families, their neighborhoods are not secure. There aren’t police to be able to maintain the law and order that’s required. And there aren’t security forces to guard against a tremendous power vacuum. The question would be, who would step into the power vacuum? We have terrorism going on in Iraq. We have militias, Islamist fundamentalist militias. Is that what we’re going to pass Iraq’s future on to? I don’t think so. I think that there has to be a process.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein.
NAOMI KLEIN: Those forces are already controlling Iraq. The resistance largely controls Baghdad at this point, a situation where there are between 50 and 60 attacks a day. The militias that Erik is warning about already control large sectors of Iraq, because providing security for the people of Iraq has never, from day one, been a priority of this occupation. We saw the abandonment immediately by allowing the looting to take place and only guarding the Ministry of Oil, and it’s only gotten worse. You know, when I was in Iraq a year ago, this was the most persistent complaint — was spiraling crime. And that’s actually how the militias were created. They were created as a response to the fact that US Occupation never, ever prioritized giving security to Iraqis. The other issue is this idea that somehow US forces are helping to train Iraqi police, and that it’s just a problem of training. What’s actually happening is that there is — is that the greatest liability for Iraqis to gain control over their own country security-wise, is the fact that the security forces have been embedded in the occupation itself and are seen as an extension of the hated and loathed occupation. So they get attacked as collaborators and slaughtered. They’re not provided with any protection, and so on. So the best way for them to build up their own force and their own credibility, which is really what’s needed, is a clear break with the occupation, which means immediately announcing a withdrawal of troops and setting up a transition plan. The first step has to be the announcement of troop withdrawal.
AMY GOODMAN: Erik Gustafson?
ERIK GUSTAFSON: I think if you listen to a lot of Iraq’s leaders, if you listen to even the demonstrations like Muqtada al-Sadr, when he had the recent demonstration on the anniversary, keeping in mind, of course, that Sadr’s group doesn’t speak for all Iraqis, but you listen to the demonstrations, they do not call for immediate withdrawal. If you want to act in solidarity with Iraqis, you need to be for withdrawal, you need to be pushing for a major policy changes that need to continue in Washington, but you cannot say that immediate withdrawal is what Iraqis are calling for. That’s not what they’re calling for, and they fear what would happen.
NAOMI KLEIN: Erik, what you have just described is the position of the US peace movement. And I think you’re setting up a straw man here. I mean, nobody believes there’s going to be —
ERIK GUSTAFSON: That’s not —
NAOMI KLEIN: — withdrawal tomorrow. It’s that there has to be a clear policy demand, which is an end to the occupation. Iraqis have been extremely clear about this. A majority of Iraqis voted in the election for a political party, the United Iraqi Alliance. The second plank of their platform was calling for a timetable for withdrawal. Then you have all the people who boycotted the elections because they believed that a clear statement about withdrawal was the prerequisite for having elections, that you couldn’t have elections before you had that commitment. So immediately after Iraqis have expressed this through opinion polls, through protests, through their votes, the first response from the Bush administration and from Blair is, well, of course, we have to honor the Iraqis who took this risk by staying the course and not having any timetable of withdrawal. That is the political context, Erik, in which you are working, total defiance from the Bush administration, talk of keeping 170,000 troops in the region until 2007. You need a very clear, unambiguous statement that we are against this occupation, that we want it to end now. That’s the starting point for any actual anti-war movement.
AMY GOODMAN: Erik Gustafson?
ERIK GUSTAFSON: I think you’re absolutely right. It has to be about ending the occupation. But as soon as you say immediate withdrawal, as a solidarity organization, I mean, EPIC is a solidarity organization, and I’m talking with Iraqis all the time. And they — there’s a disconnect going on in terms of the peace movement and the Iraqi community. And that disconnect needs to end. Every time you say immediate withdrawal, you strike fear in the hearts of so many Iraqis. So we need to be much clearer. We need to be talking about a major policy shift. And I think where all of the peace movement can get behind, as well as Iraqis, where there can be genuine solidarity, is demanding that the Bush administration make a declaration that it has no claims on the territory or the resources of Iraq and intends to withdraw. Then, I think you will start to see progress. But the other thing that’s very — that I need to make very clear is part of the confusion is as though we’re still on the original script. We are not on the original script. If we were still on the original script that the Bush Administration may have had in mind, that Paul Wolfowitz and other ideologues had in mind, Paul Bremer would still be in Baghdad. We would not have had the elections that just occurred. Iraq’s oil resources would be privatized. That’s not what’s happening. The Iraqi people are pushing back, and we need to be supporting them in pushing back and also understanding that there is a transition that needs to be supported, and if the institutions of Iraq are left weak, if there’s a power vacuum that we leave behind, then we will have done the most irresponsible thing. You cannot fix a mistake with another mistake.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think what Erik is not giving enough credit to is the extent to which the occupation is breeding the violence and instability and chaos that he’s describing. I talked about how the Iraqi forces are seen as an extension of the occupation. But the reconstruction itself, because it was handed over to foreign contractors, is also seen as an extension of the occupation. And so, the anti-imperial sentiment — the anti-imperialist sentiment in Iraq is so strong, that it actually makes it harder for Iraqis to take on the actual fascist forces in their countries, because there is this feeling that anything that is hurting the occupation has to be in some way supported. So there isn’t a clear ability to go after the people who are targeting other Iraqi civilians, who are targeting Shias, to go after foreign fighters who are interfering. And so, taking out the major provocation, which is the occupation itself, actually frees the hand. Because one of the things that’s happened, that’s very, very distressing is you have something like the women’s movement in Iraq being set back decades. Another example of strengthening the hands of very regressive forces in Iraq who are now able to say, women’s issues, democracy itself are actually being imposed by foreigners, being imposed by Americans. And that really weakens the hands of people who are fighting the more destructive aspects of political Islam in Iraq and strengthens the hand of somebody like Sadr, who if he were in power, would be a very dangerous person, I believe. So it’s a really complicated construction.
But one thing, Erik, one statistic that I just saw is that there are 17,000 Iraqis in prison right now, which is 12,000 more Iraqis than there were in November. And that’s just one example of the violence that is so much a part of being a foreign occupier, the sort of panic and increased repression, the increased need to control anything resembling democracy, the throwing out of Al-Jazeera, for instance. So we’re not seeing a trajectory where Iraqis are getting greater freedom and greater rights. What we’re actually seeing is the opposite. We’re seeing less press freedom. We’re seeing more people in prison. We’re seeing more torture.
AMY GOODMAN: Erik Gustafson, final comment. We have about 15 seconds.
ERIK GUSTAFSON: The transitional government has still not been established. There’s been elections, there’s a prime minister, there’s a president, vice presidents. But there’s not a transitional government yet. There’s so much still that has to be done in order for us to be able to pull out and leave a stable Iraq behind. And it’s also critical to recognize what Iraqis are doing. You have 64 Sunni clerics and scholars who issued a fatwa, a ruling, calling for their members, their followers, to join the Iraqi security forces. There are positive steps where we’re starting to see Iraqis come together, and we need to be supporting that process.
AMY GOODMAN: Final, Naomi Klein.
NAOMI KLEIN: We absolutely do, we need a real solidarity movement, which means demands like completely erasing Iraq’s debt, giving Iraq control over their reconstruction money, because the presence of US troops is abandoning Iraq. It’s abandoning Iraq to violence, to daily humiliation, and checkpoint killings. That is abandoning Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Naomi Klein has the cover story of this week’s Nation magazine called "The Rise of Disaster Capitalism." And Erik Gustafson, a Gulf War vet, founder and director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center.