In the four years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, public debate within the U.S. antiwar movement on whether to support the Iraqi resistance has rarely taken place. Consequently the recent polemic between Alexander Cockburn and Phyllis Bennis (a leader in the United for Peace and Justice Coalition) is an extremely positive development and should be welcomed. It is an important debate that needs to take place at all levels within the U.S. antiwar movement.
Some weeks ago Alexander Cockburn wrote of the need for the U.S. antiwar movement to openly support the resistance ( "Support their troops?", CounterPunch). In her reply, "Why the Anti-War Movement Doesn't Embrace the Iraqi Resistance" , Bennis correctly argues that the basis of unity in the movement should not be "Victory to the resistance", but the demand "Troops out now". But Bennis goes further and argues that anti-imperialists have no responsibility to raise support for the Iraqi resistance. Bennis says that the Iraqi resistance is illegitimate (with some arrogance, she refers to the Iraqi resistance in quotation marks) and is therefore undeserving of support. This conclusions rests on a number of erroneous arguments, concentrated here in one paragraph of her article:
"...As a whole, what is understood to be "the Iraqi resistance" against the U.S. occupation is a disaggregated and diverse set of largely unconnected factions, in which the various often-antagonistic armed movements (including some who attack Iraqi civilians as much as they do occupation troops) hold pride of place. There is no unified leadership that can speak for "the resistance," there is no NLF or ANC or FMLN that can claim real leadership and is accountable to the Iraqi population as a whole. There is no unified program, either of what the fight is against or what it is for. We know virtually nothing of what most of the factions stand for beyond opposition to the U.S. occupation - and from my own personal vantage point, of the little beyond that that we do know, I don't like so much."
Essentially, Bennis objects to the alleged lack of unity among the resistance forces. For the sake of argument, let's suppose what Bennis says is true: competing organizations within the Iraqi resistance are incapable of reaching the level of political unity required to form a common resistance front, program, and central political and military command. What does this prove if not the difficult conditions of work that the Iraqi partisans face? Bennis ends up arguing that without a national liberation front there can be no national liberation movement. But this is to ignore the historical development of national liberation movements throughout the 20th century, which in each case formed unified liberation fronts through a protracted process of resolving political, social, and military contradictions among numerous organizations.
It is also an inconsistent argument. Apply the same logic to the U.S. antiwar movement and see what results. Given the numerous political differences within the different coalitions and political organizations that make up the U.S. antiwar movement (not to mention the serious class and racial divisions), one could accurately state, "There is no unified leadership that can speak for [what is called 'the U.S. antiwar movement'], there is no [common front] that can claim real leadership and is accountable to the [American] population as a whole. There is no unified program, either of what the fight is against or what it is for."
Yet it would be absurd to use this as a basis for writing off the importance of the antiwar movement in U.S. society. The U.S. antiwar movement may lack a single unified command, but it certainly has a large social base, an ability for coordination in action, some political unity, and the ability to impact events in U.S. society. Likewise, the absence of a single liberation front uniting the entire Iraqi resistance in no way precludes the existence of dynamic resistance movement, with a large social base, acting towards a common strategic goal. In fact, such a dynamic, coordinated and popular resistance movement is precisely what exists in Iraq today.
In any case, the facts on the ground are quite different from what Bennis tells us. Over the years the Iraqi resistance has developed from hundreds of smaller organizations to a handful of large, powerful political and military fronts. (According to Abdul Jabbar al-Kubaysi, the secretary general of the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance, there are currently eight resistance fronts that comprise the Iraqi resistance.) This is very much an ongoing process: just last month, the formation of the Patriotic National Islamic Front for the Liberation of Iraq (July 2007) marked yet another major advance in the unification of the Iraqi resistance. It will take some time to form a single, unified political and military command for all of the Iraqi resistance, but its formation is question of when, not if.
The fact that well over 100,000 attacks have been carried out by the Iraqi resistance against the U.S. occupation forces in the past four years (currently about 1100 a week) should be enough to indicate the steadfastness, strength, and popularity of the resistance. The frequency and intensity of these attacks would be inconceivable without a high level of inter-organizational political unity, coordination and cooperation. Further, it would be impossible to fight a guerrilla war of this scope without the broad support and involvement of millions of ordinary Iraqis. Bennis implies that the resistance lacks such popular support, claiming that "some [resistance groups] attack civilians as much as they do occupation troops." (One might might recall that during the Vietnam war the U.S. government told the same lies about the Viet Cong–whom Bennis then supported.) But once again, Bennis' claim is not supported by facts. According to the Department of Defense figures, U.S. troops are subjected to 75% of the resistance attacks, Iraqi puppet security forces to 17%, and civilians, 8%. Clearly the overwhelming majority of resistance attacks are aimed squarely at the U.S. occupation and its puppets in occupied Iraq.
Bennis writes, "We know virtually nothing of what most of the factions stand for beyond opposition to the U.S. occupation - and from my own personal vantage point, of the little beyond that that we do know, I don't like so much." Actually, we don't need to know any more than that. Again, why is Bennis applying double standards? The basis for unity in the U.S. antiwar movement is "troops out now." Why does Bennis demand a higher level of unity for the Iraqi resistance before it would be deemed acceptable to support? In the same article, Bennis says that the future of Iraq is up to Iraqis to decide. This applies to the resistance as well. It is the Iraqi people's resistance. We don't get to pick and choose the cloth it is cut from.
In her article, Bennis points out that it was solidarity with the resistance in Vietnam that raised the level of consciousness among millions of people in the U.S. about the nature of the imperialist war in Vietnam. "That was then, this is now," writes Bennis. On the contrary, just as it did during the Vietnam war, this solidarity must become a key component of our work in the antiwar movement. Grasping the nature of the Iraq war, its causes, consequences, and possibilities for resolution, is a prerequisite to building a consistent and powerful antiwar movement that can strike hard at the foundations of the U.S. war machine. A critical part of this process is raising understanding and support for the resistance in Iraq. It is disappointing that an important leader of one of the largest antiwar coalitions in the U.S. would dismiss the importance of this solidarity work and take an openly hostile view towards the Iraqi people's resistance.
Bennis is wrong to separate the resistance from the people. The Iraqi resistance is the legitimate, just, and heroic expression of an occupied people struggling for liberation. It should be recognized as such and firmly supported by those who oppose U.S. imperialism and stand for an independent, sovereign, and liberated Iraq.
August 11, 2007
The author is an antiwar activist and member of Students for a Democratic Society in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In March 2007 he attended the first international solidarity conference with the Iraqi resistance in Chianciano, Italy.