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Withdrawing Withdrawal Comment, and the Unpeaceful Peace Movement

By davidswanson - Posted on 13 May 2010

By David Swanson

The peace movement, and the progressive blogosphere, can be very unpeaceful places, and it seems like I've spent the past day or two arguing with more people than I've communicated with pleasantly. This is not totally new, of course, but in this case I deserve a good share of the blame for it, so there may be an opportunity to learn a lesson.

The first thing I did was use a reckless headline. I titled an article "Obama Scraps Iraq Withdrawal." Maybe I wanted people to read it. Maybe I was used to the overwhelming indifference to articles about Afghanistan and didn't realize that Iraq was still a hot topic. Maybe I'd grown used to people accepting imprecise headlines when they were about Bush. Primarily, however, I recklessly picked a headline related to stories I linked to in my first paragraph in order to write on a related theme. In any case, I got literally hundreds of angry complaints, all of which were correct. Obama has not announced that there will never be any withdrawal from Iraq.

I doubt very much that there will ever be a complete withdrawal from Iraq unless intense pressure is applied in Iraq or here or in both places. And I think we are being gradually prepared for just how slow and incomplete the withdrawal will be. But I should have made the headline accurate. My article was accurate. And Obama has scrapped his most recent plan for withdrawal, replacing it with a slower one.

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) requires complete withdrawal of all forces by the end of next year, and withdrawal from all towns by last summer. We have not complied in full with the withdrawal from towns or other aspects of the agreement (which is essentially a treaty by another name), and our generals have made statements indicating that they don't view the SOFA as binding. The SOFA has a number of other problems, in that it was approved by the Iraqi parliament only on condition that the Iraqi people get to vote it up or down. They've been denied that vote, a story that has not been reported. And the SOFA was never ratified by the US Senate, as is required by the Constitution if it is -- as I believe -- a treaty given a different name. The constitutionality of legislating three years of war without Congress is also dubious. So is the legalization of the continuation of an illegal war by means of a treaty made with an occupied government.

Many people have misunderstood my concern here. They believe that by questioning the validity of the SOFA I am making it easier for Obama to violate it. But my position is that the occupation should end today. I believe we're violating the UN Charter and any code of human decency every instant we remain in Iraq. And if the occupation has to last another 19 months, and if the SOFA can then help to end it, I'm all for using that lever. But it is a fair point that I have not made that clear and that there is a conflict between questioning and employing the SOFA.

The point I've been trying to make is a different one, namely that because the Congress played no role in creating the SOFA it will, in fact, find it more difficult to object if the president chooses to violate or renegotiate it. Congress has since affirmed its support for this treaty that it was never asked about, but because the power of the purse has been pretty well taken off the table, it's not clear what teeth that affirmation has. Some will recall that Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced a bill rejecting the SOFA as unconstitutional, and not because she hoped to prolong the war. Rather, because she hoped to keep war powers in Congress, given the centuries old knowledge that war powers in the hands of a lone individual will guarantee lots of war.

Of course, President Obama "scrapping" his withdrawal plan is not even strictly new news. He campaigned on a promise to begin withdrawal immediately, pulling out one or two brigades a month for the first sixteen months. He hedged about "non combat troops" and listening to generals, but I don't recall hearing a satisfactory explanation for why that plan was scrapped. Instead there was to be a withdrawal by August 31st leaving 50,000 troops and who knows what other personnel behind. What has been repeatedly delayed and has now been delayed anew is the start of that massive withdrawal. We are now supposed to believe that some 40,000 troops will be withdrawn in the space of two months. I'm sure this can be done, but it is noteworthy that we've been told for almost a decade that any such withdrawal would require many months to accomplish. And, of course, this is all subject to "conditions on the ground" which appear to favor further delays.

When and if those delays are announced, Congress will simply be counted on to pick up the tab. Congress will not be asked. We will not be asked. The Iraqi people will not be asked. It is this situation, in which we are all simply relying on the good will of a president who seems easily swayed by his generals, that I have tried to highlight. This and the presence of major permanent military bases and a so-called embassy the size of the Vatican. Those and the ongoing military and oil interests of our industrial-congressional-presidential complex.

The second thing I've done is criticize the direction that some in the peace movement have taken. I try to do this in a constructive way, but am not always very good at that. OK, I suck at it. We're all passionate about this, which doesn't help. And the result is a lack of trust and additional misunderstandings. Many peace groups, which -- yes -- contrary to many questions I received today, actually do exist, have been lobbying congress members to cosponsor a bill to create a nonbinding requirement that the president create a timeline (any timeline) for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Now, I would support this if it weren't at the same time as a vote to fund an escalation of the war and weren't being proposed as an amendment to that bill (the amendment may or may not happen, in the end). My first objection is one of limited resources. Groups have focused on that bill instead of on opposing the funding. My second objection is that congress members may use their cosponsorship of an antiwar bill as an excuse to vote the wrong way on the funding. My own congressman has already tried a similar excuse, letting us know this week that he voted for a similar measure last year, but refusing to say he'll oppose the funding.

Now, some activists have already persuaded their representative to oppose the funding and are asking him to sign onto the nonbinding timetable as well. That I enthusiastically applaud and admire. And when I stop and think carefully I realize that I would much rather have people pushing the timetable bill than doing nothing to try to end the wars. It may provide an excuse for some members, but most of them would find some other excuse if they had to -- they're pros at that. And any anti-war activism is good anti-war activism. So, I'm going to scale back my attempts to sway people away from pushing bills. But I do want to clear up some misunderstandings.

Here's an article by a peace blogger Josh Mull devoted entirely to disagreeing with me on all kinds of things. This is the result of my own failings to communicate amicably with him and others, leading him to blog about points of confusion that would have been straightened out if he had felt inclined to ask me about them, as well as points of legitimate disagreement.

Mull begins by disagreeing, as most people do, with my proposal that we tell congress members that we will vote against them in November if they keep voting to fund wars. This is so unpopular a position that when a group of us local activists recently met with our congressman, one gentleman assured our representative that we would vote to reelect him no matter what he did, and then asked how we could persuade him to not fund an escalation. The problem is that there are not too many other ways to do it. We can organize, educate, shame, or harass him. We can promise to reward and praise him. But we lack a decent communications system, and he will do what the Democratic Party tells him to do as long as the million dollars they give him for advertisements can be expected to win our votes. I agree with Josh and favor using all tools of persuasion, and I agree that a congress member who's retiring can't be threatened with votes, but I strongly disagree with Mull's notion that threatening to vote for someone who doesn't fund wars is "extremist." Even an official who agrees with us on some domestic issue will not have the funds to pay for it if he's funding wars. Nor will our world be safe to live in. We could fail to persuade with our threats, be forced to follow through, and elect someone worse. But we have no other leverage with which to turn an incumbent into someone good. If they knew we were willing to replace them with someone worse, they'd treat us very differently.

Josh goes on to argue that the nonbinding timetable bill is the way to go because of what it would impose on the president. But that's to imagine it passing the House and Senate and the president himself, and to forget that it's not binding. Most proponents of maximizing the Yes votes for it do not imagine it passing and treat it as a form of rhetorical pressure -- which is essentially all it is even if passed. And I support it, except for thinking that maximizing the No votes on the funding is a stronger message. And Mull suggests that if I object to the SOFA I should approve of the nonbinding timetable bill. There he's right, and I do prefer that legislative actions be taken by our legislature.

And yet I'm confused as to what argument we're having and why, and realize that I probably started it. So, I'm going to continue the mad push for peace with a little more care. I'm thrilled that people actually care whether Obama is withdrawing from Iraq or not. I appreciate them correcting anything I get wrong. I'm glad people are lobbying against the war in Afghanistan, and I'm glad they're passionate about the approach they're taking. And as we've all told each other endlessly for years, but don't always learn: if we could focus on persuading the people outside the movement to join it, our internal disputes would fade away along with all the goddamned militarism.

The Peace Movement needs a kick in the ass every so often to get back to work. If one believes that the Obama Administration is going to resolve our wars and occupations I need to talk to you about a bridge I own in Brooklyn. David, we all will make mistakes and learn from them, but keep on doing what you do and smile at least three times each day.

Joe Walsh-Lone Vet
Individuals for Justice
Protester for 40 years
Portland, Oregon

too, Joe

Jim Morrison -

Successful hills are here to stay
Everything must be this way
Gentle streets where people play
Welcome to the Soft Parade

All our lives we sweat and save
Building for a shallow grave
Must be something else we say
Somehow to defend this place
Everything must be this way
Everything must be this way, yeah

The Soft Parade has now begun
Listen to the engines hum
People out to have some fun
A cobra on my left
Leopard on my right, yeah

The deer woman in a silk dress
Girls with beads around their necks
Kiss the hunter of the green vest
Who has wrestled before
With lions in the night

Out of sight!
The lights are getting brighter
The radio is moaning
Calling to the dogs
There are still a few animals
Left out in the yard
But it's getting harder
To describe sailors
To the underfed

Tropic corridor
Tropic treasure
What got us this far
To this mild equator?

We need someone or something new
Something else to get us through, yeah, c'mon

Callin' on the dogs
Callin' on the dogs
Oh, it's gettin' harder
Callin' on the dogs
Callin' in the dogs
Callin' all the dogs
Callin' on the gods

Political Active Activism

During the 1960s, Fonda engaged in political activism in support of the Civil Rights Movement and in opposition to the Vietnam War.[5] Along with other celebrities, she supported the Alcatraz Island occupation in 1969, which was intended to call attention to Native American issues.[14] She likewise supported Huey Newton and the Black Panthers in the early 1970s, stating "Revolution is an act of love; we are the children of revolution, born to be rebels. It runs in our blood." She called the Black Panthers "our revolutionary vanguard", and said "we must support them with love, money, propaganda and risk."[15] Fonda has also been involved in the feminist movement since the 1970s, which dovetails with her activism in support of civil rights.

"We must support them with love, money, propaganda and risk."
Jane Fonda

I would love to embrace her. I was gung-ho infantry in 1967. In 1969 I left the military demoralized. WarIsACrime. I love my grandchildren and feel that all grandparents worldwide deserve my bliss. I cannot understand our destruction of the fertile crescent! These people were not our enemies. Now they are because of our terrorist activities.

Quote: "The second thing I've done is criticize the direction that some in the peace movement have taken. I try to do this in a constructive way, but am not always very good at that. OK, I suck at it".

Nah, and it's an example of what I disagree with. You don't "suck at it", you're just affirmative, say. Too many peace activists are too soft, say. And I similarly disagree with the view that you're unpeaceful.

I agree that non-binding timelines are unacceptable, or maybe you don't fully see them this way, while I do; however, you certainly seem to rather fully agree that non-binding is bs.

Non-binding is all we've had, so far, and it hasn't done anything good at all, really. It's pacified some peace activists in the US, and some Iraqis, f.e, but the majority of Iraqis have been demanding the withdrawal of foreign forces from their country for several years. Both the Iraqis and Afghans, large majorities of them, have been demanding for complete withdrawal of the war forces of the US and its criminal allies, so Americans don't have any ethical right to demand anything less. Anyone who does not demand that the Congress impose a binding timeline for withdrawal is an egotist who disrespects Iraqis and Afghans, the victims of US-led wars of aggression that have destroyed Iraq, anyway, very totally.

See how the three people interviewed in the following piece on AlJazeera's "Inside Iraq" program, recently, how they speak of what the US has done to Iraq. This EXCELLENT and important interview is a little over 24 minutes.

"VIDEO: Iraq: Who was behind the Assassins? The Mystery Behind the Margaret Hassan Murder
The Responsibility of G. W. Bush and Tony Blair"

by Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck and Michael D. Higgins, April 23, 2010

The following very short video and article for Seymour Hersh's words should certainly help to convince everyone that a binding withdrawal timeline from Afghanistan is not a luxury request, but an absolute must.

"VIDEO: Seymour Hersh: US Troops Executing Prisoners in Afghanistan"

by David Edwards, Raw Story, May 12, 2010


This update is only regarding the above video with Seymour Hersh and not the rest of this post. The clip in the above article is only a little over a minute long and I did some searching for other recent videos with him speaking and found a much better clip than the one in the above article. The longer clip is 8:22 for runtime and is evidently the source the above clip was made from, for it's the same GUC 2010 conference that was held in Geneva.

"Seymour Hersh keynote at Global Investigative Journalism Conference (Highlights)" (8:22) and posted by ejcnettube April 23rd, 2010

That's a much more appreciable video and it's probably posted by the original maker of the video, for the end of the clip gives the names of the cameraman and editor, while adding that the "highlights clip" is from

Hersh therein also speaks about the Obama administration, saying that it's "dominated" by the military with respect to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, while also saying that e is unable to get to the VP's office, which he apparently was able to do during Bush-Cheney, and that he or we don't know much about the Obama administration, except that nothing's really changed in terms of policies. About the only improvements I believe to recall Hersh mentioning are that Obama is a person of the world, while Bush was and is not, and Obama is a better speaker.

He speaks about the administration continuing almost exactly as Bush and Cheney did, with either very little or no policy changes. And he is evidently very concerned about being unable to learn about the admin. like he was capable of doing during the Bush-Cheney terms. As he says, we knew what the Bush-Cheney admin. was during their last two years, bit it's very difficult, like nearly impossible, to know much about the Obama admin., and peril has not decreased and is perhaps greater than before, now.

And he says that Muqtada al-Sadr, the Mehdi or Mahdi Iraqi leader is studying in Iran and that he will become the power force or leader in Iraq, for al-Maliki and Allawi aren't people to be favorably supported as Iraqi leaders. We know why this is true about al-Maliki, but Hersh explains why Iraqis most surely would be against Allawi.


Non-binding timelines for withdrawal of all US-led forces from these two countries, which also means Pakistan, are absolutely unacceptable. Binding is an absolute must and the timelines must be very short. This was true years ago and it has not become less necessary and urgent, since.

Bush said the Constitution is "just a piece of paper" and Congress has silently, but nevertheless strongly supported this view ever since; the majority of Congress, that is. The evidence of this is clear enough. An ancient philosopher I learned a little about during the mid-1980s and who might've been Socrates, said, "Politics is full of hypocrisy", and he was clearly attentive to reality. His words based on truthful observations remain all too often true today.

The majority of members of the Congress don't inspire confidence or trust. The majority of them only assure us that they can't be trusted. We have multi-fold assurance of this; with respect to the wars, the Wall Street robbery of US taxpayer dollars, the 9/11 cover-up that is despotically maintained, and other critical issues. The majority assure us that the only votes they deserve are NON-CONFIDENCE!

Employers don't hire incompetent or unqualified people, but the majority of members of Congress are much worse than incompetent and unqualified. The majority of them are complicit in the many crimes of the federal gov't. So they deserve more than only being fired, but firing would be a good start.

Too many peace activists will likely repeat their past electoral mistakes, again; instead of ceasing to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Until the Congress is finally made a truly Constitutional body, the majority will continue to refuse to work for The People and will continue to work for Big Insurance, Big Finance, Big Oil or Energy, the MIC, etcetera; surely.

Many peace activists who are strongly or wholly partisan to the Dem. Party, however, would surely disagree just because they can not take a break from their partisanship. These are the types of partisan voters who have blindly or nonsensically criticized people wanting to vote for a real candidate like Ralph Nader, f.e. This blind partisanship treats the two main parties as if they're very different, but while they may differ a little, it's clearly not much and really isn't enough to merit caring about the [little] difference there ... [might] be. They both are war parties, Wall Street, banksterism facilitators, etcetera.

The withdrawal of forces must be scheduled for very soon and binding. Non-binding hasn't worked, at all, so far, except to pacify some activists, but seeking to be pacified must not be what we look for, so the answer must be 'NO' to continued non-bindingness.

will check out video

That's for my second post, for the RTAmerica interview with Raed Jarrar and yourself, plus some comments.

And it's post #14, if it doesn't get incremented again.

David Swanson wrote: but I strongly disagree with Mull's notion that threatening to vote for someone who doesn't fund wars is "extremist."

Mary Astor: “I’m an extremist. I’ve always been an extremist… “ sigh.
Humphrey Bogart, laughs: “Well you don’t have to brag about it!”

You’re alright, David.

somehow bogey comes into everything today

and i used to live next to his old house on W 103rd St

Good post! Some good humor is always appreciated, imo.

on the campaign trail, on October 27th, 2007:

"I will promise you this: That if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home, we will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank."

Must be one of those banks that failed.

Anybody bitching about an imprecise headline that was clearly designed to cut through the apathy and get people to pay attention needs to cut the partisan crap and remember that the goal is to end the effin' wars.

Talking Truth the Talking Heads Can't Handle:

come into everything

"Iraq withdrawal, not likely!" (9:45), RTAmerica, May 13, 2010

QUOTE: "RTAmerica — 13 May 2010 — The White House is likely to delay the withdrawal of the first large phase of combat troops from Iraq for at least a month after escalating bloodshed and political instability in the country. September first was the deadline set by President Obama to cut forces in Iraq by half, but now the deadline may be changed after massive amounts of violence that have increased recently. Raed Jarrar and David Swanson give their opinions to Kristine Frazao and unfortunately it looks like broken promises may continue".

What both guests said is good, but Raed Jarrar seems to overlook some important things that have happened since the start of the occupation of Iraq began, though only wherein he says that withdrawal is not based on conditions on the ground. He modifies that initial statement somewhat noticeably immediately afterwards, but doesn't fully modify it. He seems to be sticking only or mostly to what is officially said by civilian leadership, aka politicians, and Obama is not really the decider about withdrawal or, probably anyway, any other war matters.

I agree with David Swanson quite fully, or simply fully.

And the video with Seymour Hersh that I included a link for in my post before this one strikes me as certainly being complementary to what David said in the above RTAmerica interview; and also illustrates why I think Raed was overlooking who is really making the war decisions.

It's the video entitled, "Seymour Hersh keynote at Global Investigative Journalism Conference (Highlights)", and posted at Youtube by ejcnettube April 23rd, 2010. (The link's in my post, above.)

Like Hersh therein said, the Obama administration is dominated by the military when it comes to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, as well as Iran. And as David said in the above interview and has said many times before, it's supposed to be the elected civilian representatives who run or control the military, and the civilian electorate is supposed to determine who gets elected, etcetera, but this isn't how things have been working out.

Seymour Hersh and David Swanson seem to be therein saying the same thing, only in different words; I believe.

It's essential to keep carefully in mind when considering that official policies about withdrawal are stated by the President, etcetera, that it's not Obama who is the real decider about withdrawal and other war matters. I believe that this is surely, at least probably anyway, why he has not lived up to his electoral campaign pledges to start withdrawal immediately upon taking over as President. He is not and has never been the real decider on war matters.

This reality makes it clear that the Congress must become one truly and strongly representative of the Constitution and citizen population. Without this, the President has no real civilian back-up against the military rulers, etcetera.

Bush also wasn't the war-matters decider. This was evident perhaps not a thousand times, but certainly enough times.


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