Hayden Shows How Not to End the War

The Port Huron Statement, 1962 manifesto of the original Students for a Democratic Society, was a document remarkable for its boldness — but also for its limitations. In it, the crying contrast between the professed ideals and actual practice of the “leader of the Free World” were laid bare; yet they were analyzed in terms of a kind of naïve humanism that seemed to suggest that changing the world was largely just a matter of individuals convincing other individuals to exchange bad ideas for good, resulting in practical prescriptions that were somewhat utopian. Of course, most first-generation SDSers continued to evolve politically in various ways, some better than others. Perhaps more remarkable, then, is that the Statement’s principle author, Tom Hayden, is still at it: almost half a century later, he’s written a book on the Iraq catastrophe betraying essentially no change in approach.

In Ending the War in Iraq, the current war is virtually reduced to a plot hatched by a cabal of wily neoconservatives bent on erasing Vietnam’s mark on US foreign policy. Despite having become standard in some circles, this account is deeply problematic. As Hayden himself notes in passing, American reluctance to engage in direct military intervention had begun eroding well before the current administration, aided most obviously by the 1990 Gulf War, but also by US involvement in the Balkans throughout the following decade. And it was Clinton, not Bush, who throughout that same decade took measures to starve, bomb and subvert Iraq into submission, including codifying the policy of “regime change” with the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. Whatever he might say as a civilian, there is in fact no reason to think that a President Al Gore, presented with the opportunity of 9/11, wouldn’t have started his own Iraq War. That this is the case is doubly attested to by the ease with which so many Democrats — including most Democratic Senators — assented to or even enthusiastically endorsed the invasion.

Indeed, when Hayden attempts to touch at all on the deeper social and material factors driving the war, he falls into crude reductionism. “To imagine U.S. policy more clearly,” he writes, “picture a giant oil tanker with a crew of four — George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, and outgoing Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad — all affiliated with Big Oil. . .” Implicitly, if Americans instead elected a candidate closely affiliated with, say, fast food chains, he or she wouldn’t have such a desire to fight a war for control of an oil-rich country. What this sort of reasoning ignores is that presidents and the states over which they preside depend not just on the support of this or that company or industry, but that of the US ruling class as a whole. In the first place, political campaigns are such expensive affairs that it is extremely difficult to run for any major office without the support of broad swathes of Corporate America. (For example, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Bush’s last presidential campaign received four times as much from the real estate industry as from oil and gas interests — the latter around the same, in fact, as the amount Kerry’s got from financial firms.) More importantly, the upper echelons of the state bureaucracy, the military and law enforcement are always linked by a myriad of social, educational and financial chains to the upper echelons of American capitalism. Given this reality, it is extremely difficult to imagine that the US would go to war purely on behalf of one sector of industry, or even on behalf of war profiteers more generally. A far more likely explanation is that the US invaded Iraq for its strategic importance in securing both US hegemony and the capitalist world system. While Iraq’s oil is not peripheral to this importance, neither is it the whole story.

It quickly becomes apparent, though, why Hayden feels the need to attribute this disaster almost entirely to the calculations of wicked and corrupt Republicans. With the apparent aim of refuting Mike Davis’ description of the antiwar movement as having been “first absorbed by the Dean campaign in spring 2004 and then politically dissolved into the Kerry candidacy,” Hayden inserts in the following chapter a fantasy novella in which Democratic electoral campaigns and their enablers at MoveOn and Air America are imagined not as forces employed to sabotage the movement, but as embodiments of it. Worse, Hayden honestly seems to mistake it for reality, to the point of stubbornly insisting upon it even after presenting what most would take to be damning evidence to the contrary. The antiwar movement dispersed after its pro-war candidate lost? MoveOn gave up on pressing for withdrawal? No big deal, says Tom. After all, Howard Dean told him personally that everything is going to be A-OK. You believe him, don’t you?

Having provided such a confused account of the war and the movement against it, Hayden provides us with his equally confused plan to end the war. This plan — which, it should be noted, has been largely adopted by United for Peace and Justice and many of its affiliates, and was put into practice with the disappointing protests of March 19th — consists of groups and individuals applying “people pressure” to the “pillars” upholding Iraq War policy, including (among others) the mainstream media, US military and financial capacity, and public opinion. At first glance, this approach appears to be little more than stating the obvious: to end the war, the attack those things which make it possible to wage. But the pillar analogy is unsatisfactory. Pillars are solid, unmoving objects that equally uphold a structure. The bases of support for the war, in contrast, are dynamic: at different times, some are stronger or weaker, more heavily guarded or more exposed. Concrete analysis is needed to know what to do at any given moment. For example, attacking war profiteers can have some value, often (for reasons explained above) symbolic; but it can’t realistically have nearly the same effect as, say, revolt within the ranks of the military. The “pillars of war” strategy amounts, in essence, to “diversity of tactics” writ large; and while the latter approach can be rightly asserted against those who would have dissenters in the movement bullied or arrested, it should not be used as an excuse — and it is — to avoid discussing what works and what doesn’t, and implementing plans for action accordingly.

Fortunately, history gives us some idea of where to look for a better orientation. It doesn’t lie in lobbying or prostration before the Democrats, and it doesn’t lie in the heroic actions of an isolated few, nonviolent or otherwise. It lies in the real power of the mass of working and oppressed people to deprive their rulers of the ability to make war. An antiwar movement built on this basis will be difficult to achieve. It will also be an antiwar movement once again worthy of the name.

Sam Waite is an antiwar activist currently living in Takoma Park, Maryland. Read other articles by Sam, or visit Sam's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. dan e said on April 17th, 2008 at 8:23pm #

    very much agree re tom h’s jive; btw wonder if Cindy Sheehan still considers him a pal? Okay, I was pretty rude the way I tried to pull her coat to the “fourflusher” as folks usta say back in Great Falls, but some times you have to put Integrity before Decorum.

    However I was disapptd to see the writer lapse into a variation of the “War For Oil” mythology, which comes straight from Tel Aviv via N Podhoretz & Midge Decter. Continues to amaze me how many “progressives” (I’m not one BTW, I’m a Radical Reconstructionist:) how many Peasnicks continue to ignore Walt/Mearsheimer like it never happened.

    Yes, for all their highly professional scholarship, W/M are trapped in a “Coldwar Liberal” paradigm, but Jas Petras has covered much the same ground, as has Jeff Blankfort — and few are more outspokenly anti-Imperialist than they.

    May I recommend to this writer an investigation of PNAC will expose a minimal involvement by interests deriving share of distributed Surplus Value from petroleum sales? This whole “War Of Terror” against these Islamic neighbors of “Eretz Yisroel” has been a longterm project of the Zionist Power Configuration, to use Petras’ term. Lenni Brenner was more candid: he spoke of Jews In America Today, as well as of 51 Instances of Nazi-Zionist Collaboration.

    No substitute for doing our homework, is there? No rest for the wicked:) Well, Mr Waite has made a good start, lets see if he can take the next step & REALLY become relevant:)

  2. hp said on April 18th, 2008 at 10:35am #

    For a lesson in real live time, simply see how Carter is being ‘handled’ as we speak.

  3. hp said on April 18th, 2008 at 2:27pm #

    Hmm, I also remember Mr. Hayden apologizing (“I was Israeli’s dupe”) for being ‘fooled’ by AIPAC and Israel in general.

  4. bozhidar balkas said on April 18th, 2008 at 2:53pm #

    now that we have zionists and america, i’m nostalgic for fascism.
    asfar as i canmake out there is not much difference beteen democrats and republicans whenit comes to expansionby all means. Hiroshima and nagasaki prove (not show, but prove) that the US ruling class will stop at nothing in order to obtain the planet and d estroy all socialisms.
    and chines socialism with special glee.
    Iraq thus became the seconf stepping stone to all of asia; the first being israel, the 52nd state of ‘rica. thank u.

  5. dan e said on April 19th, 2008 at 11:15am #

    yes but he only went halfway, still supports all the JVP/Zunes/Chomsky nonsense about the Two-State Illusion, besides the nonsense he keeps spouting re Iraq “war” etc.

    The dude’s still One a Them, a foe not a friend. a Pretend Progressive misleader. Only suckers buy his bs.

  6. hp said on April 19th, 2008 at 1:10pm #

    But, but, but, he was so… so….. contrite..
    dan e, I agree.

  7. Teri B. said on April 19th, 2008 at 4:57pm #

    The division in the party isn’t the candidates’ fault – they’re doing what candidates do. It isn’t the voters’ fault – they’re allowed to be divided. Democracy is a good thing, right? Bbut too little in this primary has been about democracy.

    The DNC has caused it, with not only this FL and MI nightmare, but what Dean is doing right now, in trying to stifle the voices of the remaining voters. The media is doing it, by taking sides, slanting coverage, and focusing almost exclusively on rubbish. And the powerful democratic political action groups and other organizations, like moveon.org, dailykos, democraticundergroud, etc. are doing it, by only furthering the agenda of half the party and spitting in the face of the other half. Folks, remember these are the very people who keep saying this primary is divisive and must be ended! NO, THEY DON’T DECIDE ELECTIONS, WE DO! If we give our power to them, we’ll never get it back!
    There are 2 reasons why this this extended primary is great for democrats and America: 1) more people are focused on the issues than ever before and paying attention; and 2) The democratic nominee’s dirty laundry will sound like old news to the public by the time they start attacking McCain – that’s a GOOD thing.

    Obama can dish it out, but he sure can’t take it.

    Listen to Richardson at around 2:00 min.

    Not to mention Obama’s a hypocrite: http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/obamas_oil_spill.html

    She’s been getting hammered at all the debates, and suddenly Obama gets an equal amount of tough questions and the whining is deafening.

  8. Sam Waite said on April 19th, 2008 at 5:40pm #

    My problem with the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis isn’t that it’s mired in Cold War liberalism, but that it rests basically on a pluralist model of governance. That is, it accepts at face value the idea that the American political process consists of negotiation between various “interest groups”. The problem is cast in terms of one “interest group” having disproportionate power.

    Is there a powerful right-wing Zionist lobby in the U.S.? At some level, yes. But *why* is it powerful? Because it’s well-financed and well-connected. And where does it get its finances and connections? At the end of the day, from the U.S. bourgeoisie.

    Furthermore, the Zionist lobby was hardly the only sector of U.S. society clamoring for war. There were many others, and more vocal ones at that.

    Therefore, to place the blame for the Iraq War at the feet of this lobby alone is, I think, misguided.

  9. hp said on April 20th, 2008 at 5:48pm #

    Iraq invasion and occupation goals:

    50% Israel* – plan is and has gone well. Israel’s #1 enemy at the time of the invasion and occupation, according to them, is ruined and no longer a threat.

    30% oil – utter disaster. Remember ‘the oil will pay for the whole shebang,’ theory’? A maximum of 200
    billion, at most. Can you say trillions?

    20% – good old fashioned imperialism.- utter disaster.

    *As far as Israel is concerned, it’s all systems go. As a matter of fact, Bibi just said, a couple of days ago, how much Israel had ‘benefited’ from 911.
    Syria, Lebanon and of course the new #1, Iran, are next, if Israel has anything to say about it and I think it’s pretty much established that they do.

    Incidentally, Israel is still buying oil from Iran, on the sly, despite their ‘total’ boycott, because, hey, they’re Israel and that’s what they do.
    They ‘get around’ their own boycott by having the oil delivered to European ports, where it is then bought by Israelis and imported into Israel by the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline (which keeps its oil sources secret.)
    Sounds like another illegal secret they keep in plain sight with no repercussions in the least. Can you say thermo nuclear weapons?

  10. hp said on April 20th, 2008 at 5:57pm #

    There is a law which says it is FORBIDDEN BY LAW for the USA to give foreign aid to ANY nation which possesses nukes and will not permit inspections of said nukes and their facilities.
    *Except that shitty little country SOMEHOW ignores this along with dozens of UN resolutions and does this and anything else it damn well wishes to do, up to and including the murder of American citizens.
    Hey, what’s a ‘special friend’ for if it can’t rub your nose in it?
    The #1 most detested nation on earth, dragging us down with it.