There has been a real shift in public opinion against President Bush and his war in Iraq since he declared victory in Iraq on May 1.
A growing questioning, anxiety, and out-right opposition is building up against the U.S. occupation of Iraq and even Bush’s entire “war on terrorism.” The Bush administration is, in fact, facing a serious crisis.
Bush’s approval ratings are hovering around 50% – the lowest since Dubya stole the White House – and a majority of the population (52%) believes the country is heading in the wrong direction. In a late October USA Today opinion poll, only 45% said they would vote for Bush next year, down from 56% in April.
Only 47% approved of his handling of Iraq, a sharp drop from 80% in April. Thirty-nine percent supported withdrawing some U.S. troops from Iraq and an additional 18% wanted to withdraw all the troops, versus only 14% who wanted to send more troops. Various November polls found that only half the population now thinks it was worth going to war, down from over 70% in April.
A massive 60% of people polled opposed Bush’s request for $87 billion for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Public anger at this bill was so strong that Congress only agreed to pass it with a “voice vote” so that no members of Congress could have their individual vote recorded!
A major reason behind this shift in public opinion is the exposure of the President’s two main justifications for the war as blatant lies. The U.S. military has occupied Iraq for over 7 months, and they still have not found a single weapon of mass destruction. Bush was also forced to admit that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had no links with the Al Qaeda terrorists. It has become apparent to millions of Americans that Bush has put U.S. troops in the line of fire to secure oil, profits, and power for his corporate friends.
Enormous anger is also building up among the troops themselves and their families. At a very early stage relative to previous anti-war movements, this has taken an organized form with the rise of the “Military Families Speak Out” and “Bring the Troops Home Now!” campaigns, which have moved to the forefront of the emerging movement against the occupation.
U.S. imperialism is already over-stretched militarily. To maintain troop levels in Iraq Bush is facing the unpalatable choices of either extending the length of soldiers’ tours or calling up more troops from the National Guard. Extending soldiers’ tours would only further undermine the morale and deepen the anger of rank-and-file soldiers. To avoid this, he has called up 58,000 reservists to serve a long 18-month tour in Iraq. However, uprooting reservists will have huge repercussions on their families and communities.
Against this background there are important signs of the re-emergence of the anti-war movement. Forty to fifty thousand people marched on Washington D.C. on October 25 demanding an end to the occupation in the first national anti-war demonstration since the fall of Baghdad in April. This protest signalled the beginning of a new period of mass protests within the U.S. against the occupation.
This reality, along with the growing anger of workers due to the economic crisis, is sending shock-waves of fear through the Bush Administration and the Republicans, who are increasingly worried about their election prospects in 2004. Bush is now desperately trying to devise an “exit strategy” in order to extricate himself from the Iraqi morass. But this will not be easy. The U.S. is now ensnared in an extremely complex, costly and bloody conflict.
Withdrawing from Iraq without leaving behind a stable, pro-American regime (an extremely unlikely prospect) would be a devastating, shattering blow to Washington’s prestige. However, if the U.S. stays in Iraq, it will face a continuing guerrilla war, mass resistance, and growing U.S. casualties and costs.
Emerging Mass Anti-Occupation Movement
The anxiety and outrage at Bush’s occupation have developed quite rapidly as the U.S. has suffered 400 deaths and 9,000 injuries. But as long as the occupation continues, these numbers will inevitably rise. What will be the political consequences at home when the U.S. suffers 600, 800 or 1,000 deaths in Iraq?
After the experience of Vietnam, Americans have a very low tolerance for U.S. casualties in wars abroad. The development of massive protests before the Iraq war, regularly involving 100-500,000 people, clearly demonstrated that the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as horrifying as they were, did not erase the “Vietnam Syndrome” from the consciousness of the U.S. population, as some commentators were predicting. Ironically, the war and occupation of Iraq are tremendously re-enforcing it, shattering the White House hawks’ dreams of using the Iraq war to decisively overcome the Vietnam Syndrome.
Based on the current trends, the political conditions are ripening for the development of a massive movement against the occupation in the U.S., possibly reaching the size of the anti-Iraq war movement or even the enormous anti-Vietnam War movement which shook U.S. society to its foundations.
The movement against the Iraq war last year involved an important number of workers, but it was somewhat isolated from the majority of the working class. There is far more potential for the movement against the occupation to connect with and tap into a much broader working class anger at the injury and death of U.S. soldiers and the enormous costs of the occupation, at the same time that workers are facing economic insecurity, unemployment, budget cuts in social services, and a healthcare crisis. The 60% public opposition to Bush’s request for $87 billion to occupy Iraq and the growing anger among working class soldiers, reservists, and their families are only early signs of this tendency.
Workers’ Anger Growing
Underlying the growing opposition to the occupation is a rising discontent among workers at their worsening economic conditions.
Official government figures show 9 million workers are unemployed, though the real numbers are far higher. Since Bush took office, a staggering 2.7 million jobs have been lost. Bush could end up presiding over the largest loss of jobs of any president since Herbert Hoover.
Last year another 1.7 million people slipped below the official poverty line bringing the total to 34.6 million, one out of every eight Americans. The number of Americans dependent on food stamps has risen from 17 million to 22 million. Forty-four million people have no health insurance, and tens of millions more are underinsured. Since 2001 the uninsured have grown by 10%, or four million people.
This is on top of the largest budget crisis for state and local governments since World War II, which big business politicians are trying to resolve through major cuts in social services such as education and health care, and by raising taxes on workers and the middle class.
Anger at these worsening conditions burst onto the surface with a rash of strikes in recent months, most notably by the strike of 70,000 grocery workers in California, as well as 12,000 grocery workers in the Midwest. This strike demonstrated a tremendous determination by workers to defend their healthcare benefits, which have come under attack by big business all across the country. This was reflected in the widespread public support for the strike. Working-class Californians understood the grocery workers’ strike was a battle to defend healthcare benefits for all workers from greedy, profit-hungry corporations.
2,800 bus mechanics also struck for over a month in Los Angeles, largely over health benefits, shutting down the public transit system for 500,000 people in the nation’s second largest city.
In another sign of the growing anger throughout U.S. society, 100,000 workers demonstrated for immigrant rights in New York City on October 4. This was reported to be the largest immigrant rights protest in U.S. history, which is especially significant considering the post-9/11 war-time context in which immigrants have faced increased racist violence, arrests, and even deportations simply for having once lived in a predominantly Muslim country. The rally also demanded the repeal of the Patriot Act, an important sign of the changing mood towards the “War on Terror.”
Another indication of the deepening anger in U.S. society was the public outcry over the summer against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to further deregulate the giant media monopolies. Millions of letters, emails and phone calls bombarded Congress demanding a repeal of the FCC ruling, which eventually succeeded in compelling Congress to try to overturn key aspects of the FCC decision, despite strong objections from the Bush administration. This marked one of the few times Congress voted to reverse a deregulatory measure in the last two decades.
Bush was dealt yet another rebuff when he attempted to undermine workers’ overtime pay. Bush’s proposed changes to labor regulations would have stripped 8 million workers of their right to overtime pay (Economic Policy Institute). The AFL-CIO trade union federation organized a campaign which succeeded in pressuring Congress, including a number of Republicans, to vote down the proposed legislation for the time being.
Bush Regime in Crisis
The last three years have been eventful, volatile years with a number of sharp turns and sudden changes: the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the war on Afghanistan, the mass movement against the Iraq War culminating on February 15, 2003 (estimated to be the largest day of international protest in world history), Bush’s victory in Iraq, and now public opinion beginning to turn against Bush and the occupation.
The experience of these dramatic events has changed the consciousness of ordinary people. As Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter recently acknowledged: “President Bush’s reward-the-rich ethos is creating class consciousness among working people for the first time in years” (Newsweek, 11/24/03).
Only a few months ago it was widely believed that a supposedly popular George W. was guaranteed re-election in 2004. Now it is clear that it won’t be so easy with the mounting problems in Iraq and at home. The continually widening gulf between rich and poor, the intensifying polarization between the ruling class and the working class, and events in Iraq could ignite an explosive recoil against Bush.
However, a Democrat in the White House would not offer any real alternative to Bush for working-class and young people. All the main Democratic Presidential candidates support the occupation. They regularly attack Bush’s Iraq policies, but only from the point of view of trying to convince the ruling class that they have a better plan to carry out the occupation and defend U.S. capitalism’s interests, by sending more U.S. troops, securing more international forces, etc.
The Democrats oppose ending the occupation and immediately bringing the troops home because it would mean a crippling blow to the credibility of U.S. imperialism. When forced to choose between the interests of U.S. workers and young people on the one hand and U.S. prestige on the other, the Democrats choose U.S. prestige – no mater how many U.S. soldiers and Iraqis are killed, no matter how many billions the occupation costs.
What about the Democrats’ economic policies? The Democrats all support and defend the capitalist system. This means profits come first, with the inevitable consequence of accepting layoffs, budget cuts in social services, and no health care for millions.
Workers and young people need a completely different kind of party from both the Democrats and Republicans – a new mass party that stands up for the interests of the millions, not the millionaires. Socialist Alternative is fighting for such a party – a party that would mobilize and unite the anti-war movement, trade unions, civil rights, environmental, and women’s organizations.
If you are against Bush, the war, and capitalism, you should join the socialists. Economic crisis, wars and instability are all the norm under this capitalist profit-driven system that is wracked by crisis. To permanently end war, unemployment, poverty, sexism, and racism we have to fight to end capitalism and establish a democratic socialist world.
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