Michael Schwartz (Tomdispatch)
On February 15, 2003, ordinary citizens around the world poured into the streets to protest George W. Bush’s onrushing invasion of Iraq. Demonstrations took place in large cities and small towns globally, including a small but spirited protest at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Up to 30 million people, who sensed impending catastrophe, participated in what Rebecca Solnit, that apostle of popular hope, has called “the biggest and most widespread collective protest the world has ever seen.”
The first glancing assessment of history branded this remarkable planetary protest a record-breaking failure, since the Bush administration, less than one month later, ordered U.S. troops across the Kuwaiti border and on to Baghdad.
popular protest is more like a river than a storm; it keeps flowing into new areas, carrying pieces of its earlier life into other realms.
And it has since largely been forgotten, or perhaps better put, obliterated from official and media memory. Yet popular protest is more like a river than a storm; it keeps flowing into new areas, carrying pieces of its earlier life into other realms. We rarely know its consequences until many years afterward, when, if we’re lucky, we finally sort out its meandering path. Speaking for the protesters back in May 2003, only a month after U.S. troops entered the Iraqi capital, Solnit offered the following:
“We will likely never know, but it seems that the Bush administration decided against the ‘Shock and Awe’ saturation bombing of Baghdad because we made it clear that the cost in world opinion and civil unrest would be too high. We millions may have saved a few thousand or a few tens of thousand of lives. The global debate about the war delayed it for months, months that perhaps gave many Iraqis time to lay in stores, evacuate, brace for the onslaught.”
Whatever history ultimately concludes about that unexpected moment of protest, once the war began, other forms of resistance arose — mainly in Iraq itself — that were equally unexpected. And their effects on the larger goals of Bush administration planners can be more easily traced. Think of it this way: In a land the size of California with but 26 million people, a ragtag collection of Baathists, fundamentalists, former military men, union organizers, democratic secularists, local tribal leaders, and politically active clerics — often at each others throats (quite literally) — nonetheless managed to thwart the plans of the self-proclaimed New Rome, the “hyperpower” and “global sheriff” of Planet Earth. And that, even in the first glancing assessment of history, may indeed prove historic.
The New American Century Goes Missing in Action
It’s hard now even to recall the original vision George W. Bush and his top officials had of how the conquest of Iraq would unfold as an episode in the President’s Global War on Terror. In their minds, the invasion was sure to yield a quick victory, to be followed by the creation of a client state that would house crucial “enduring” U.S. military bases from which Washington would project power throughout what they liked to term “the Greater Middle East.”
In addition, Iraq was quickly going to become a free-market paradise, replete with privatized oil flowing at record rates onto the world market. Like falling dominos, Syria and Iran, cowed by such a demonstration of American might, would follow suit, either from additional military thrusts or because their regimes — and those of up to 60 countries worldwide — would appreciate the futility of resisting Washington’s demands. Eventually, the “unipolar moment” of U.S. global hegemony that the collapse of the Soviet Union had initiated would be extended into a “New American Century” (along with a generational Pax Republicana at home).
This vision is now, of course, long gone, largely thanks to unexpected and tenacious resistance of every sort within Iraq. This resistance consisted of far more than the initial Sunni insurgency that tied down what Donald Rumsfeld pridefully labeled “the greatest military force on the face of the earth.” It is already none too rash a statement to suggest that, at all levels of society, usually at great sacrifice, the Iraqi people frustrated the imperial designs of a superpower.
Consider, for example, the myriad ways in which the Iraqi Sunnis resisted the occupation of their country from almost the moment the Bush administration’s intention to fully dismantle Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime became clear…
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Michael Schwartz, Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency. His analyses of America’s Iraq have appeared regularly at Tomdispatch.com, as well as Asia Times, Mother Jones, and Contexts. His forthcoming Tomdispatch book, War Without End: The Iraq Debacle in Context (Haymarket, June 2008) explores how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to dismantle the Iraqi state and economy while fueling a sectarian civil war. His email address is Ms42@optonline.net.
Copyright 2008 Michael Schwartz