Labor Advocate Online

Now the Shoe Is Off the Other Foot
by Bill Onasch

Remember those scenes, during the first hours of "liberation," of Iraqis pounding photos of Saddam Hussein with their shoes? This, of course, is among the highest insults in most Arab cultures.

Recently I ran across a striking graphic: an Arab man whacking the burned out wreckage of a U.S. Army truck with his sandal. Others around him purportedly were chanting "Iraq is strong!"

I have no doubt that both scenes represent genuine, wide spread, and deeply held sentiments among the peoples of Iraq. Except for the privileged caste of top level Baath Party bureaucrats most people were glad to see the hated dictatorship on the run.

I’m sure that most of the rank-and-file GIs and Tommys were convinced they were on a mission of liberation and would be cheered by a grateful people. They imagined the kind of welcome that Allied troops got marching into Paris in 1944.

But, except for a few stage-managed photo ops for the embedded journalists, the reception has been far different. Almost from day one there has been suspicion and hostility rapidly evolving into mass demonstrations. Increasingly there have been hit-and-run guerilla attacks, claiming the lives of dozens of American and British troops. The GIs, and their families, must feel very confused and bitter.

Any feeling of elation about the fall of the dictatorship was dampened from the beginning because of the thousands of civilian casualties; the widespread looting; loss of electricity, running water, and telephones; closed hospitals and shortages of medicine; and the general insecurity among most workers and soldiers of not knowing when they might get another paycheck

Bush promised that Iraqis would be allowed to quickly form their own new democratic government. But the overseers quickly reneged on that pledge.

More than that was the perceived disrespect of the occupiers. The U.S. brass hats ensconced themselves in Saddam’s abandoned palaces. What should have been preserved as national treasures were turned in to four-star accommodations for the occupiers.

Much fury was generated by body searches of Iraqi women by American soldiers and bringing search dogs—considered unclean by most Muslims—into their homes.

The current American viceroy, L. Paul Bremer, has told the world that freedom must include economic freedom—and that means the market economy. Iraq’s extensive state economy will be privatized, sold off mainly to U.S. corporate interests. Some companies are already bringing in unskilled labor from South Asia—willing to work even cheaper than the hard-pressed Iraqi workers. So much for Bush’s promise to hold these assets in trust for the Iraqi people.

Already some are beginning to make ominous comparisons to the American experience in Vietnam. There are of course many differences. The occupiers in Iraq do not yet face the massive, disciplined popular resistance that eventually forced U.S. withdrawal from Indochina.

But clearly the Iraqi peoples will not become docile subjects of their new imperial rulers. Workers are moving to revive the trade union movement. Independent newspapers are promoting democratic debate, new political formations are aligning. And armed resistance can be expected to continue for some time.

It’s time American workers recognize the shoe is off the other foot. The only acceptable way to support our troops is to bring them back home where they belong. Instead of allowing our bosses to rip off the assets of Iraq we should support Iraqi workers trying to organize legitimate, effective trade unions. Instead of squandering tens of billions on this occupation to enrich American corporations we should be funding our schools, health care, transit, and all the other vital public services now being slashed.

The Bush Doctrine, which has received solid bipartisan support, can only lead to a state of permanent war, with death and destruction on the battlefields and erosion of liberty and living standards here at home.

Only the working class can save ourselves from this threat. No one will do it for us.

Fortunately there is a beginning of a new working class opposition to the Bush Doctrine (or Lieberman or Gephardt Doctrines). The Labor Party and US Labor Against the War have developed a good analysis and program and have begun to accumulate some forces that can make a difference.

We need to rally around them.

June 29, 2003