Last night at the Wealthy Street Theatre, Stan Goff declared that the United States will lose the war in Iraq during a lecture titled “Is the Military Losing the War in Iraq.” Goff, a twenty year military veteran who retired as a Special Forces Master Sergeant and served in eight conflict areas during his military career, shared his insights into the reasons for the Iraq War to a crowd of approximately fifty people during a speech that covered a variety of topics including the ongoing Iraq War, the need for resistance to the war, and imperialism.
Goff began his talk by describing that the United States military exists as a tool to project power outside of its borders and that the military is necessary for the United States’ continued functioning as an imperialist power. The military not only secures the United States’ economic dominance but also functions as a surrogate economy that allows the United States to support entire industries (for example military contractors) artificially. Consequently, the United States’ role in Iraq is not one of liberation but rather is one to secure influence in the Middle East both for its own access to oil as well as a means of competing with China’s need for oil. The United States, especially the so-called “neocons” that are running the government, see the war as opportunity not only to secure permanent influence through the establishment of military bases in Iraq but also as a way to “position” the United States for the post-Cold War period. Thus, the bases in Iraq become essential because the United States was expelled from its bases in Saudi Arabia; resulting in the US government and military justifying their presence by issuing proclamations of “successes” in Iraq designed to maintain the continued acquiescence of the United States population and the shift towards Rumsfeld’s “metrics” or body counts where the numbers of insurgents killed are touted as indicators of success.
Goff went on to make an effective argument for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, an argument enhanced by his experiences in fighting insurgencies in the military and his activism in the national Bring them Home Now coalition. He dismissed supporters of the occupation and critics who argue that it is “too hard” to leave Iraq, stating that the reality of leaving is quite simple—an executive order could be issued and the United States military could be gone within a month. He said that there is no need for an “exit strategy” and that the continued presence of the United States is doing nothing to improve the mess that we created. Goff argued that Iraqi self-determination should be the paramount concern and that the expulsion of US forces is a necessary precondition for self-determination. He went on to say that while Iraq is a colonial creation and consequently somewhat of an artificial entity, the Iraqi people have created a national identity and that a civil war is by no means a forgone conclusion. Goff, like Mary Trotochaud who spoke on Saturday, described how sectarianism and factionalism is being played up by the US military and government because it serves their needs by providing an ongoing justification for the occupation. He also expressed his faith in the Iraqi people who have a 6,000-year-old history, arguing that their experience was considerably greater than that of the 400-year history of the United States. On a similar note, Goff reminded the audience that while Hussein’s regime was deplorable in most respects, Iraqis had succeeded in developing a highly advanced society before the 1990 Gulf War with free public education through graduate school, equality for women, and free public healthcare.
The lecture also emphasized that regardless of what people in the United States do to end the occupation; the people of Iraq will succeed in their struggle. Goff talked briefly about the Iraqi insurgency and its ongoing military success and the certainty that their success will continue given that 80% of the country is opposed to the US presence. He described how the insurgency has the initiative in the war and is forcing the United States to respond, saying that the United States has only had “successes” in temporarily quashing resistance when it has decimated entire areas. One example given was the November 2004 assault on Fallujah in which some 6,000 Iraqi civilians were killed, and while the US claimed the “pacification” of Fallujah as a victory, such actions are motivating the current insurgency and providing new recruits. Goff traced the insurgency’s roots to the April 2003 events in Fallujah and Najaf when the United States killed unarmed demonstrators in both cities and faced a rebellion that ultimately resulted in the US handing over control of Fallujah to resistance fighters and capitulating to demands by Iraqis for elections. Goff briefly touched on the tactics of the insurgency, and while the targeting of US troops is an obvious choice, he described how the insurgency also has to target the “eyes and ears” of the occupation in the form of Iraqi police collaborating with the US.
For Goff, the ongoing occupation of Iraq demands resistance and he outlined three efforts that could be undertaken by those organizing against the war—pressuring Congress, doing counter-recruitment work, and focusing on getting Democrats to turn against the war. With regard to pressuring Congress, Goff not only called on people to lobby and communicate with their Congressional Representatives in order to get them to support the “US Out of Iraq Caucus” and vote against funding the war, but also communicated the need to force Congressional Representatives to take these positions by occupying their offices and supporting the efforts of those that engage in civil disobedience targeted at Congressional Representatives. Countering military recruitment was also encouraged, with Goff saying that as a former soldier he hated to advocate working against the military but that he understands that the war will end when the military is degraded to the point where the war is unsustainable and counter-recruitment work, which has the goal of convincing people not to join the military, will help to end the war. He also outlined a third and potentially “dangerous” strategy of working against Democrats running for office by threatening to withhold votes for them if they did not take a stand against the ongoing occupation of Iraq. Throughout his talk Goff placed little faith in Democrats who he said signed onto the war en masse and are every bit as committed to maintaining US power in the world as Republicans. He also said that while Democrats may not support the war, he believes that they might consider supporting it simply because it makes President Bush look bad and that they care little for anything other than their own power. Goff also encouraged people to attend demonstrations and argued that while many people think they are having little effect, they have succeeded in shifting the majority of public opinion against the war. The real question Goff argued is how to motivate those against the war to take action, a question that remains open but is one that necessitates moving beyond the traditional confines of the antiwar movement.
Like the war in Iraq, antiwar organizing needs to be understood through an imperialist context and as such, Goff advocated antiwar organizing not simply to end the war but as a strategy to build a better world. He asserted that stopping the war is an exercise of popular power—and is an exercise that is possible—but that the trick is to not give up the power to the elites once the movement succeeds in stopping the war. He described how the activists that came out of the Vietnam era retreated once they convinced themselves that they had succeeded and that this failure to radically transform society was responsible for the current situation. Goff encouraged activists to work to “transform the whole system” and to understand that the Iraq War is part of an imperialist system under which a variety of struggles are inexorably linked. Activists, particularly those coming from a white, middle class background, need to realize this Goff said and need to find ways to connect their movements to those of people fighting imperialism both around the world and inside the United States. Goff talked about how Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan peoples’ struggle is effectively fighting US hegemony in the world and that with his implementation of social programs and offer to extend loans to Argentina and Brazil to pay off their IMF debts, we may be witnessing the unraveling of the US empire. The people in the United States can also play an important part in the struggle against imperialism and while many in the United States may not understand that the US is an imperialist power, it is a fact that is painfully understood by people of the color who are being actively colonized and militarized by the government. Goff described how in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina it was made even more obvious that the US does not care about people of color and that while homes are being destroyed in New Orleans, entire “cities” are being built on US bases in Iraq in a matter of weeks.