Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal

Anthony Arnove, Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal (New York and London: The New Press, 2006).

Read this book! Better, buy a dozen and give them to your friends and family. Even better, pass them out like leaflets at your local high school or community college.

I hope I am not assuming too much. I assume you are passionately against the US war in Iraq. If I am wrong, there is all the more reason for you to read this book. Read it carefully, and then go to the footnotes, and read the sources. Then you will probably want to follow the advice above.

In this short, no-nonsense little book, Anthony Arnove lays out point by point why the United States should immediately withdraw from Iraq. One after the other he addresses, and demolishes, the arguments of reactionaries and liberals alike for the US invasion of Iraq, and for the continuing occupation. His arguments are well researched and well documented from the mainstream press.

At the very start of the book Arnove explains why immediate withdrawal, rather than a timetable or some other murky half-way measure, should be the goal:

All of these [half-way measures], in the end, are recipes for continued occupation and blood shed, for one simple reason: the people who will decide when the U.S. military and its allies are prepared to leave are the very people who started the war in the first place and now have so much at stake in winning it.

Veterans of the antiwar movement of the 1960s and ‘70s might find this book to be basic ABCs, but newcomers to the antiwar movement might be electrified by the blinding light of the book’s facts and its cogent, common sense arguments.

Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal is self consciously modeled after Howard Zinn’s 1967 classic, Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal. In fact Zinn wrote both the foreword and the afterword for Arnove’s book. In 1967 I personally had never heard of Howard Zinn, or his book. I wish I had. I was a high school sophomore, and was one of the very few opponents of the Vietnam war at my school in San Jose, California. Every day at lunch a small knot of kids gathered to debate. I argued against the war; a born-again Christian argued for it.

The next year, we continued. We started to take carloads of kids up to Berkeley and San Francisco to attend demonstrations. But I never came across Zinn’s great book. If only some closet leftist teacher had given it to me, the high school antiwar movement in San Jose would have grown faster, and would have been bigger.

Arnove’s book could do that job for the antiwar movement today. It provides the weapons and ammunition needed by the front line shock troops in the battle against this war: not Kalashnikovs and bullets, but the simplest basic truths — facts, analysis, and arguments that are probably more difficult to find in the post 9-11 George Bush era USA than guns and bullets.

In just over 100 pages Arnove uses the statistics and words of the US government and its allies to prove most of the key points. Chapter one shows that the war in Iraq is offensive, not defensive. It is “a war of choice” motivated by a global grab for oil rather than any of the advertised motives.

Arnove provides all the evidence anyone might need to conclude that the occupation of Iraq is a devastating, brutal, and racist crime against humanity. He then examines the myth that the United States is a benevolent hegemon and shows this myth to be a continuation of earlier imperialist eyewash, nothing more than a new version of the “white man’s burden.” He follows with a brief overview of Iraq’s most recent history of struggle against imperialism, and attempts to analyze the reality of today’s resistance movement.

His next-to-last chapter, “The Logic of Withdrawal,” is the strongest part of the book. It lays out eight reasons why the United States should leave Iraq immediately, answering the most common arguments for the US war and occupation. It covers the issues of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, international law, democracy in Iraq, making the world safer, preventing civil war in Iraq, rebuilding Iraq, honoring US soldiers who have died in Iraq, stability in Iraq, etc.

The final chapter, “Out Now,” suggests the geostrategic importance of Iraq for US military planning and future dominance of the region, and goes on to offer a road map for building an anti-war movement powerful enough to reverse US military occupation of Iraq and US imperial plans in the Middle East. In this chapter Arnove draws lessons from the war in Vietnam. He concludes that the United States was defeated because of the mass resistance of the people of Vietnam, the resistance of US soldiers and veterans, domestic opposition on a massive scale, international protest and opposition, and the economic consequences of the war (inflation and deficits). He then goes on to show how these five factors are in play today in Iraq.

He also goes on to make a critical assessment of the antiwar movement in the United States, and to propose how the movement could go forward. He makes his most telling criticism when he writes, “The US left made a terrible and costly mistake in supporting the presidential campaign of John Kerry, giving up its political independence and political principles to support a prowar candidate. Kerry called for sending more troops to Iraq…”

Although the author identifies himself with the International Socialist Organization, nowhere does he sink into sectarian jargon. And yet he does not avoid the most contentious issues within the antiwar movement.

Is there anything wrong with this book? I think that Arnove misses a key point about the US defeat in Vietnam: the cold war. The United States was constrained in Vietnam by the existence of the Soviet Union in a way that it is not constrained today. The weakest point of Arnove’s excellent book, however, is its last page. Here Arnove very briefly gives his tactical and strategic ideas for what the antiwar movement should do. He writes, “Millions of people sympathize with the aims of the antiwar movement but have not been mobilized for actions. We need to involve these wider audiences in our movement…” Right on, I say. But then he goes on a paragraph later to write, “We should also no longer confine our civil disobedience to the day after major mobilizations when most protesters have gone home.” These two ideas are in conflict, a point that was fully debated during the movement against the war in Vietnam. Mobilizing all of those people who never attended a demonstration in their lives means that organizers cannot risk involving them unknowingly, or unwillingly, in civil disobedience or in police repression of civil disobedience.

From where I sit in Bogotá, Colombia, it is pretty hard to tell what is happening on the ground in the belly of the beast. The antiwar movement appears to have disappeared, except for traces on the internet. No doubt many of its activists have become sucked up into the congressional election activities of the Kerry wing of the Democratic Party. But the brutal invasion of Lebanon by Israel must be causing consternation and debate. Probably my high school experience of cafeteria debate is about to be repeated in hundreds of thousands of school cafeterias when schools reopen after the summer vacation. Most likely, the antiwar movement in the United States will explode onto the streets in April, 2007. This is the traditional time for mass protests, and the diversion of Democratic Party “peace candidates” will have been finished in November. Anthony Arnove’s little book could help make the protest more powerful.

Reviewed by Ted Zuur
Bogotá, Colombia

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