As another calendar year turns, those active in the 1970s and 1980s will have duly noted the recent deaths of Jeane Kirkpatrick and Gerald Ford—prime supervisors of U.S. imperialist terror—and their Third World counterparts, the butchers of Baghdad (Saddam) and Santiago (Pinochet). Whatever the symbolic or practical value of prosecuting various politicians might be, we wince despondently at the way these men slipped away from the world without answering for the stain they left upon it; save Saddam, whose violent fanfare of a death in the midst of an ongoing occupation served no actual justice for Iraqis. Ariel Dorfman, Chilean activist and novelist describes Pinochet’s funeral at which Francisco Cuadrado Prats, the grandson of one of his victims, “walked up to Pinochet's coffin and deliberately, calmly spat on the dictator's face as he lay there in full consolation.
Iraqi blogger Riverbend offered this in her summary of “the worst year yet”: “A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted.” For his part, the unmoved U.S. commander-in-chief has for the first time acknowledged mistakes during his tenure: not enough attacks, raids, and killing. More, please. Iran and Syria remain on notice; there’s no leash on this one.
This year also marked the death of the 3,000th U.S. soldier in Iraq, the number of those killed on September 11, and merely a month’s death toll for Iraqis. Still, there is a sense of invigoration for the antiwar movement, as public opinion and their votes have rejected the Bush team and his war, and further expose and intensify division within the political class over military failures. The consensus is that the next few months offer a decisive strategic opportunity. That is why it is most important that in our education, action, and movement-building, we discuss concretely what that strategy will be.
Do we pragmatically focus on the U.S. Iraq policy in particular or do we grapple with a broader U.S.-U.K.-Israel agenda for the ‘new Middle East’? Should we lower our short-term sights from ‘end the occupation’ to arguably a more winnable goal of Democratic resistance to the ‘surge’ and more military-spending? Questioning whether Congress is either willing or able, where do we see the trajectory of intra-government political power going this decade, as voices across the political spectrum document the alarming move towards greater theocracy and fascism? And, at least as a brief exercise in articulation we must go back to Activism 101: what tactics actually work and what movements actually win?
We must be both daring and sober, at the same time humble and fierce. While we don't support the death penalty, perhaps the world’s balance will turn soon enough to insist Suharto, Sharon, Kissinger, and Cheney answer in other ways for their worst crimes; perhaps more importantly, the world’s people can chart a course to ensure such crimes never again come to pass.