Rallying to resist

Published : Dec 03, 2004 00:00 IST

A "Stop the War Coalition" march in London against the Iraq war on October 17. - CARL DE SOUZA/AFP

A "Stop the War Coalition" march in London against the Iraq war on October 17. - CARL DE SOUZA/AFP

Militant solidarity among the world's peoples is the need of the times to challenge and triumph against Empire, led by George Bush.

THERE continue to be credible allegations of fraud, particularly in the vote count in the State of Ohio, but most of the United States, including the Democratic Party, has recognised that George W. Bush has been re-elected to the presidency with a 3.5-million margin of victory over John Kerry.

The terrible truth, however, is that the Republican victory, while not lopsided, was solid. Another phase of the political revolution begun by Ronald Reagan in 1980, the 2004 elections confirmed that the centre of gravity of U.S. politics lies not on the centre-right but on the extreme right. Now, it remains true that the country is divided almost evenly, and bitterly so. But it is the Republican Right that has managed to provide a compelling vision for its base and to fashion and implement a strategy to win power at all levels of the electoral arena, in civil society, and in the media. While liberals and progressives have floundered, the Radical Right has united, under an utterly simple vision, the different components of its base: the south and the southwest, the majority of white males, the upper and middle classes that have benefited from the neo-liberal economic revolution, Corporate America, and Christian fundamentalists. This vision is essentially a subliminal one, and it is that of a country weakened from within by an alliance of pro-big government liberals, promiscuous gays and lesbians, and illegal immigrants, and besieged from without by hateful Third World hordes and effete Europeans jealous of America's prosperity and power.

There are, indeed, two Americas: one is confused and disorganised while the other exudes a confidence and arrogance that only superior strategy and organisation can bestow. The Radical Right has managed, with its vision of a return to an imagined community - a pristine white Christian small-town America circa 1950 - to construct what the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci called a "hegemonic bloc". And this bloc is poised to continue its reign for the next 25 years.

The future of democracy, economic rights, individual rights and minority rights seems bleak in the U.S., but it is perhaps only through a second shock therapy - the first being Reagan's victory in 1980 - that progressive America will finally confront what it will take to turn the tide: an all-sided battle for ideological and organisational hegemony in which it must expect no quarter and it must give none, where it can no longer afford to make mistakes.

BUT while America marches rightward, it fails to drag the rest of the world along with it. Indeed, most of the rest of the world is headed in the opposite direction. Nothing illustrated this more than the fact that in the very week Bush was re-elected, a coalition of Left parties came to power in Uruguay; Hugo Chavez, Washington's new nemesis in Latin America, swept the State elections in Venezuela and Hungary served notice that it was withdrawing its 300 troops from Iraq. Although the American Right is consolidating its hold domestically, it cannot halt the unravelling of Washington's hegemony globally.

The principal cause of what we have called the crisis of overextension, or the mismatch between goals and resources owing to imperial ambition, is the massive miscalculation of invading Iraq. This crisis is likely to continue, if not accelerate, in Bush's second term. The key manifestations of the imperial dilemma stand out starkly:

Despite the recent U.S.-sponsored elections in Afghanistan, the Karzai government effectively controls only parts of Kabul and two or three other cities. As United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said, despite the elections, "without functional state institutions able to serve the basic needs of the population throughout the country, the authority and legitimacy of the new government will be short-lived." And so long as this is the case, Afghanistan will tie down 13,500 U.S. troops within the country and 35,000 support personnel outside.

The U.S. war on terror has backfired completely, with Al Qaeda and its allies much stronger today than in 2001. In this regard, Osama bin Laden's pre-election video was worth a thousand words. The invasion of Iraq, according to Richard Clarke, Bush's former anti-terrorism czar, derailed the war on terror and served as the best recruiting device for Al Qaeda. But even without Iraq, Washington's heavy-handed police and military methods of dealing with terrorism were already alienating millions of Muslims. Nothing illustrates this more than southern Thailand, where U.S. anti-terrorist advice has helped convert discontent into insurgency.

With its full embrace of Ariel Sharon's no-win strategy of sabotaging the emergence of a Palestinian state, Washington has forfeited all the political capital that it had gained among Arabs by brokering the now defunct Oslo Accord. Moreover, the go-with-Sharon strategy, along with the occupation of Iraq, has left Washington's allies among the Arab elites exposed, discredited and vulnerable.

The Atlantic Alliance is dead, and in the coming period, trade conflicts will combine with political differences to push the U.S. and Europe even further apart. Europe is key to the sustainability of the American empire. As the neo-conservative writer Robert Kagan notes, "Americans will need the legitimacy that Europe can provide, but Europeans may well fail to grant it."

Latin America's move to the Left will accelerate. The victory of the leftist coalition in Uruguay is simply the latest in a series of electoral victories for progressive forces, following those in Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil. Along with electoral turns to the Left, there may also be in the offing more mass insurrections such as the one that occurred in Bolivia in October 2003. Speaking of the turn towards the Left and away from the Empire, one of the U.S.' friends, former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda, assesses the situation accurately: "America's friends... are feeling the fire of this anti-American wrath. They are finding themselves forced to shift their own rhetoric and attitude in order to dampen their defence of policies viewed as pro-American or U.S.-inspired, and to stiffen their resistance to Washington's demands and desires."

IRAQ, of course, is the main source of the Empire's unravelling. The Iraqi people's resistance has not just frustrated a U.S. colonial takeover of their country. Equally important, it has shown a new generation of anti-imperialists all over the world for whom Vietnam is ancient history that it is possible to fight the Empire to a stalemate and eventually to victory.

It is unlikely, however, that the Bush administration will acknowledge the writing on the wall any time soon. It will assault the city of Falluja with the desperate illusion that this will destroy the operational centre of the insurgency. Falluja, however, is not an operational centre but a symbolic centre that has already played its role, and its "fall' is not going to stop the spread and deepening of a decentralised resistance movement throughout Iraq. Moreover, the Falluja insurgents are likely to retreat after giving battle, trading, as in Samara, a conventional defence of a city for a guerilla presence that harasses and pins down the U.S. Army and its Iraqi mercenaries.

With 55 cities and towns already classified as no-go zones for U.S. troops, the Bush administration will soon realise that retaking and occupying urban centres en masse simply will not work. There are some 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq today. Simply to fight the guerillas to a stalemate, one would need at least 500,000 troops for the level of resistance that one finds. That will not be possible unless Bush brings back the draft, and this will surely produce the civil disorder that would threaten the current Republican hegemony.

Washington's alternative will be to withdraw to and dig in behind super-fortified bases and sally forth periodically to show the flag. While this would mean de facto defeat for the U.S., it will also mean that the Iraqi people's resistance will not have de jure territorial control from which to declare sovereignty and begin the process of coming up with a truly national government.

SUPPORTING the Iraqi people's struggle for the sovereign space to create a national government of their choice continues to be one of the two overriding priorities of the global anti-war movement. The other is ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and trampling of the Palestinian people's rights. At a moment marked by the conjunction of a resurgent Right in the U.S. and a continuing crisis of Empire globally, what will it take to advance this goal?

First of all, the movement has to graduate beyond spontaneity and arrive at a new level of trans-border coordination, one that goes beyond synchronising annual days of protest against the war. The critical mass to affect the outcome of the war will not be attained without a rolling wave of global protests similar to that which marked the anti-Vietnam War mobilisations from 1968 to 1972 - one that puts millions of people in a constant state of activism. Coordination, moreover, will mean coordinating not only mass demonstrations but also civil disobedience, work on the global media, day-to-day lobbying of officials, and political education. More effective coordination and, yes, professionalisation of the anti-war work must not, however, be achieved at the expense of the participatory processes that are the trademark of our movement.

Second, in terms of tactics, new forms of protests must be engaged in. Sanctions and boycotts are methods that must be brought into play. At the Mumbai World Social Forum earlier this year, Arundhati Roy suggested starting with one or two U.S. firms benefiting directly from the war, such as Halliburton and Bechtel, and mobilising to close down their operations worldwide. It is time to take her suggestion seriously, not only with respect to U.S. firms but also with Israeli firms and products.

Moreover, the level of militancy must be raised, with more and more civil disobedience and non-violent disruptions of business as usual encouraged. Washington and its allies must be told that there can be no business as usual so long as the war continues. The kind of debate taking place in the United Kingdom, whether to push peaceful demonstrations or civil disobedience, is fruitless since both are essential and must be combined in an innovative and effective way.

In the U.S., activists can draw on the immensely powerful tradition of disobedience to unjust law that motivated people such as the abolitionists, Henry David Thoreau, the Quakers, and the Berrigan Brothers. Indeed, this kind of resistance might be the key to stopping not only the imperial drive but also the rush to restrict political liberties and democracy. At no other time than today, when the electoral option is gone, is it more necessary to resist the imperial writ non-violently by invoking a higher law.

Third, it is clear that the U.K. and Italy - the U.K. especially - are the principal supporters of Bush's war policy outside the U.S. Bush constantly resorts to invoking these governments to legitimise the U.S. adventure. What happens in Italy, in turn, affects what happens in the U.K. Both countries have solid anti-war majorities, which must now be converted into a powerful force to disrupt business as usual in these countries ruled by governments complicit in the American war. Both countries have the hallowed tradition of the general strike that, combined with massive civil disobedience, can significantly raise the costs to their government of their support for Washington. When asked why the demonstrations of March 20, 2004, drew significantly fewer people than those of February 2003, many activists in Britain and Italy responded: because people felt their actions were not able to prevent the U.S. from going to war anyway. That sort of defeatism and demoralisation can only be countered not by lowering the demands on people but by upping them, by asking them to put their bodies on the line through acts of non-violent civil resistance.

Fourth, with West Asia being the strategic battleground of the next few decades, it will be essential to forge links between the global peace movement and the Arab world. The governments of West Asia are notoriously supine when it comes to the U.S.; so, as in Europe, forging the ties of solidarity among civil movements must be the main thrust of this effort. This will actually be a courageous and controversial step since some of the strongest anti-U.S. movements in West Asia have been labelled "terrorist" or "terrorist sympathisers" by the U.S. and some European governments. What is important is not to let U.S.-imposed definitions stand in the way of people reaching out to one another to see if there is a basis for working together. Likewise, it is critical for the Palestinian movement and the Israeli anti-Zionist and peace movements to get beyond the labels imposed by governments and find ways of cooperating to end the Israeli occupation. Process has a way of bringing people together from seemingly non-reconcilable political positions. In this regard, the Beirut Anti-War Assembly, which took place in mid-September 2004, with strong representation from the global peace movement and social movements from all over the Arab world, was a significant step in this direction.

As it enters its second term, the Bush agenda remains the same: global domination. Our response is the same: global resistance. There is only one thing that can frustrate the empire's dark aims in Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere: militant solidarity among the world's peoples. Making that solidarity real and powerful and ultimately triumphant is the challenge before us.

Walden Bello is Executive Director of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South and Professor of Sociology and Public Administration at the University of the Philippines.

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