“Response to ‘Rethinking Iraq’”

Erik Leaver writes in response to Lakshmi Chaudhry’s ‘Rethinking Iraq,’ posted January 6, 2005. Leaver is the policy outreach director for the Foreign Policy In Focus project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

The left’s power over the past four decades has been rooted in citizen organizing and the next four years will be no different. Indeed, The New York Times declared the international anti-war movement as the “Other Superpower.” But this superpower was crushed in its attempt to stop the Iraq War, despite millions joining in the streets across the world to prevent it. Clearly, as Lakshmi notes, people power alone won’t change the Bush administration’s reckless direction.

The anti-war movement, which stalled immediately after war began and as people’s attention was focused on the elections, is gaining momentum again. But it needs to broaden its agenda in order to gain the strength needed to bring the troops home.

More important than numbers and the growth of issues that Lakshmi points out, the movement needs to be more closely engaged with government officials, mainstream community groups, businesses, and the growing number of conservatives, libertarians, and liberals who oppose the Iraq War. That means working with folks across the political spectrum, including the likes of Rep. Howard Coble, a 10-term North Carolina Republican who recently declared his opposition to the war.

Despite deep aversion to the compromises and awkward alliances that accompany such involvement, progressives need the strength of these political elites in order to stop the war.

This strategy demands that the movement develop visionary and proactive policy alternatives to ensure that once the U.S. brings the troops home, the larger progressive agenda doesn’t get lost. I agree with Lakshmi that progressives need to develop a strong critique in the Iraq War beyond, “bring the troops home,” and that we have done a poor job of providing a deeper alternative vision for U.S. security policy.

However, over the past year, Foreign Policy In Focus has moved in this direction with two task-force reports. A Secure America in a Secure World outlined an alternative approach to terrorism. A Unified Security Budget for the United States focused on an alternative security budget.

But progressives have yet to address the central challenge of articulating a grand strategy for U.S. foreign policy that integrates alternatives within a framework that has deep cultural resonance. In part, the problem is that progressives haven’t come to terms with the bigger question (and Lakshmi doesn’t ask): What role should the U.S. be playing in the world? Can we, or should we, as Gary Hart suggests, harness the strength of the U.S.’ empire to promote the ideas that our country was founded upon?

Without delving into the questions regarding the role of the U.S., the movement can’t answer the conflict of principles that she presents; how we can respect Iraqi self-determination while proscribing a plan for promoting democracy and human rights and how can we uphold U.S. responsibilities to the Geneva convention under a failed occupation?

The Bush administration’s wholesale assault on Iraq and disregard for the rest of the world demands that progressives engage in this larger debate. The principles that emerge will guide our work in Iraq and be the gauntlet we will throw down in front of this administration. Such ideas, coupled with action by the “Other Superpower” will bring the sweeping reform needed to make the United States the global partner and leader that the world needs it to be.