I became the director of Peninsula Peace and Justice Center on August 1, 1990. The next day, Iraq invaded Kuwait. By the end of that first week, President George H. W. Bush had deployed 25,000 troops to Saudi Arabia and I had organized my first anti-war demonstration as director.
Iraq and I go way back.
That first go-round with Iraq was a whirlwind of activity. I organized numerous anti-war rallies in the days leading up to the January start of the war. The largest one in Palo Alto was an emergency demonstration on the night the war started (January 15/16, 1991). One thousand people marched — and marched and marched — throughout Palo Alto that cold January night. Less than two weeks later, a march and rally in San Francisco, which I helped organize as a member of the coalition steering committee, brought 100,000 people into the streets.
For the next decade, right up until 9/11, the focus of our Iraq activity was centered on the brutal sanctions that had been imposed after the war. These sanctions, which, at the time, constituted the most draconian economic penalties ever imposed on a nation, denied Iraq medicines, sufficient food, and materials to rebuild bombed out civilian infrastructure, among a long list of prohibited items. The United Nations estimated that half a million Iraqi children died as a direct result of the sanctions (a horror that Secretary of State Madeline Albright once described as being “worth it.”) This was a war without bombs and those years were spent trying to organize and lobby for the lifting of sanctions.
Then came George W. Bush, 9/11 and the inexorable march to another war on Iraq. More marches and rallies and, because we had the time to organize them, teach-ins. I gave the opening address at a massive teach-in on the Stanford campus in the fall of 2002, just after Congress voted to authorize the invasion. I still remember my opening line from that speech: “An unrepresentative Congress just gave an unelected President unconstitutional authority to wage unprovoked war.” I remember it because it became what I came to think of as my “quote heard ‘round the world.” The line was first quoted in the San Jose Mercury News, which covered the teach-in. Not long afterward, I got a phone call from a reporter at the Los Angeles Times. “May I use that quote?” And it just seemed to keep spreading from there.
This round of anti-war activity led to the largest protest rally that I ever personally organized. On February 1, 2003, as a building action for the worldwide protests scheduled for February 15, over 5,000 people gathered in front of Palo Alto City Hall for speeches, music, and a march through the city. According to the Palo Alto Weekly, it was the largest protest to ever take place on the San Francisco Peninsula. It still holds the record.
Anti-war activities continued throughout the 2000s, with large marches and rallies taking place every year on the March anniversary of the start of the war. The final anniversary protest in Palo Alto was in 2008. Fewer and fewer people came each year as it became obvious that the US occupation of Iraq was taking on a permanent footing.
So yeah, Iraq and I go way back.
Fast forward to now. Following Trump’s assassination of a top Iranian official — in Iraq — the Iraqi parliament quickly passed a resolution to kick US troops out of the country for violating their sovereignty. The vote came 29 years, almost to the day, when U.S. troops first set foot in that beleaguered country.
And what was the reaction of the Trump mis-adminstration to this eviction notice? In a nutshell, “Fuck you.” After basically ignoring the resolution when it was passed, the State Department today put out a statement in response to the Iraqi Prime Minister’s demand that the US send a delegation to Iraq to start planning the pullout. The statement said, “At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal…” Like I said, fuck you.
So, I think that after all these years, the message from the peace movement needs to be, once again, “U.S. Out of Iraq”. It’s great that there were protests against a possible war on Iran. But the goal of “no war on Iran” would be greatly enhanced if there weren’t 5,000 (soon to be 8,000) U.S. troops in Iraq, right next door to Iran. Now is the time to press that point. The slogan at protests from now on should be “No War on Iran – Out of Iraq”.
We need to collectively pressure our own Congress to force the U.S. to honor the expressed desire of the Iraqi parliament and we need to do it while the issue is active. Strong pressure from Iraq and domestic demands just might lead to an end of this tragic decades-long history.
Please call, email or write your Representative and Senators. The message is simple.
U.S. Out of Iraq.