Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal by Anthony Arnove
We can detect in Anthony Arnove’s book a significant watershed in the anti-war literature on Iraq; while it’s true that many critiques of US/UK foreign policy to date have forcefully indicated withdrawal, here is the first to make it a single issue. The difference is one of timeliness, a will to haemorrhage the slow bleed of approval ratings. The title itself is fashioned to bring things to a head: Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal is a refitting of the influential anti-war tract of 1967 by Howard Zinn entitled Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, a tactic bolstered by the fact that Zinn himself provides both foreword and afterword. Chosen for its cultural resonance, then, the implication is clear; a public inured to comparisons with that South-East Asian debâcle should recognize the slumbering metaphor has awoken, that juncture has recurred. If that sense were only immediate, condemnation would be guaranteed.
Recurred, not returned, of course; nor is Arnove so historically glib. The short text (just shy of two hundred pages) deftly mobilises the spectrum of twenty-first century critique of American Empire, acknowledging for instance the post-Vietnam complicities of the World Bank and the IMF, outlining the intensified exigencies of oil appropriation, debunking the mythifying official narratives of ‘terrorism’ and ‘democracy’. Overall, this work is a neatly condensed reflection of the by now well-established case against the US and the UK, coupled with a concise historical summary of the forging and current reframing of a nation whose very inception and continued existence as such is a brute function of the colonial pretensions of those powers. Its core is an eight-point dismissal of American justifications (‘The United States is Not Rebuilding Iraq’, for instance) and a five-point diagnosis of the requisite elements for ensured withdrawal, drawn from the story of opposition to Vietnam. This work is what it claims to be – an anti-war tract.
Yet I can’t help feeling that the very tactic which lends the book its cultural resonance somehow undermines its momentum; as with Zinn’s book before, the audience is specifically American, and much follows from that. I can’t help feeling that time devoted to condemning Democrat failure to articulate or even embrace an anti-war position could have been devoted more efficiently to detailing government-sponsored war-racketeering (a slim element here), that the culpable negligence of the UN simply slips by, while some of the more vacuous justifications of the Bush administration (we must honour the already-fallen by seeing the thing through) could have been despatched in a couple of sentences rather than, as here, rehearsed over several pages in terms of the confrontation between the mother of American war victim Casey Sheehan and an embarrassed G.W.B. In short, the book is insufficiently un-American. Finally, while there is a steady levelling of criticisms throughout, they are curiously timid in tone, falling far short of the j’accuse sense of offensive which surely the times and such a work dictate.
What renders these shortcomings curious, though, is the inclusion of an appendix – the ‘Istanbul Declaration’ of the World Tribunal on Iraq – whose remit is much more indicting. The World Tribunal on Iraq is a protest body composed of prominent international figures – Arundhati Roy is chairperson, for instance – whose goal is to register opposition on a global scale to the war. The declaration itself heavily suggests a ‘UN in good faith’ ethos, condemning the war as illegal, and calling for the prosecution of war crimes, repatriation of profits, annulment of exploitative laws imposed during the US/UK occupation etc. Tellingly, the UN too is confronted with a list of five charges effectively branding it collaborator in an illegal occupation. One is left to ponder why the clear affiliation with the aims of the Tribunal indicated by the inclusion of the document should not have imbued Arnove’s own text with more militancy; it is not simply a matter of intensity of feeling, it’s a question of cultural resourcefulness.
Ultimately, the argument for withdrawal as such, insofar as it extends beyond a more general critique of the war, rests on the evaluation of the possible outcome; while, as Arnove points out, it is palpably true that US/UK occupation is exacerbating the situation (and by no means only, as is the official claim, because it attracts terrorist insurgents), it is not necessarily so clear that simple withdrawal could rectify the problem, in absence of reparations for instance (as opposed to the euphemistic ‘nation-building’), a rescinding of the American-imposed liberalised trade laws and a restoring of future oil-field rights to the Iraqis themselves – let alone the emplacement of a framework for genuine self-determination which left open the question of ‘statehood’ for the territories now called Iraq. These elements lie underdeveloped in Arnove’s text, this broader perspective left for the appendix to address, and I believe this displacement leaves the message off centre; they are the questions which take the logic of withdrawal beyond the troublesome matter of American popular conscience and address the gameplan so patently lacking in the operations of our governments.