On the south lawn of the Texas Capitol, across the street from the Governor's Mansion where George W. Bush spent six years taking care of business, a rambunctious crowd of 10,000 gathered on Saturday, Feb. 15, to register their disapproval of the former governor's plans to conduct a pre-emptive war on Iraq. The Austin rally, followed by a march the mile down Congress Avenue and across the Colorado River, was just a blip on a day of protests that drew an estimated 10 million people in 600 cities around the world to oppose Dubya's war plans. A million gathered in both London and Rome, a half-million in Berlin and 300,000 gathered in New York City in defiance of a Republican ban on political marches. But Bob Jensen, an associate professor at the University of Texas and a nettlesome critic of Bush and American foreign policy in general, took special satisfaction in the Austin turnout that showed there was substantial dissatisfaction with Bush even deep in the heart of Texas. "We're saying no to the boy from our hometown," he told the cheering crowd.
US Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who helped to marshal the Democratic opposition to the use-of-force resolution in December, warned that an attack on Iraq, which apparently had nothing to do with al Qaeda's attacks on 9/11, would only increase the likelihood of more terrorist attacks on Americans. "Mr. President, the policies you are pursuing in the name of our security are wrong-headed and will make our families less secure," he said. He also ridiculed the recommendations that families stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting to guard against bioterror. "Duct tape and plastic sheeting will provide the same level of protection as duck and cover did in the 1950s," he said.
Lisa Krebs, a UT student and leader of the Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice, noted "Before the dust had even settled from 9/11 we were told the war could last 50 years," and now people were talking about the possibility of forcing regime change in places like Brazil, which recently elected a socialist president.
"This administration is talking a gamble," she said. "They know they can't risk an extended war with casualties but they're gambling that when the first bombs are dropped the opposition will disintegrate and we'll all fall in line and support the war. But that's not a precedent we can afford to set."
People gave war the raspberry on all seven continents, including Antarctica, and 150 cities in the US.
New York City had the largest turnout in the US with more than 300,000 demonstrators, despite Republican attempts to suppress the rally. GOP Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to permit a march past the United Nations to Central Park and a federal judge okayed the ban although a police commander's testified that he had no reason to expect violence. US District Judge Barbara Jones noted that "the nation and the city are currently at the second-highest security alert," raising the possibility that the Bush administration could ban any assembly simply by raising a terror alert. At the urging of the Bush administration, a three-judge appeals panel upheld the permit denial.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a speaker at the rally, was incredulous: "I really cannot believe that a major city in the leading democracy in the world can refuse people this particular right."
The mayor tried to restrict the rally to the UN plaza, with room for 10,000 participants. Overflow crowds were forced into "pens" that police installed for miles down First Avenue. Bloomberg has banned all protest marches since September 2002, although ethnic celebrations such as St. Patrick's Day parade are still allowed.
In Los Angeles, 30,000 chanting marchers filled Hollywood Boulevard for four blocks. "None of us can stop this war," said Martin Sheen, who portrays a fictional president on NBC's The West Wing. "There is only one guy that can do that and he lives in the White House." On Feb. 21, the LA City Council approved an anti-war resolution, the largest of more than 90 US cities to do so.
The largest turnouts in the US, based on media tallies, included 20,000 in Seattle, Wash.; 10,000 in Philadelphia; 7,500 in Minneapolis, Minn.; 7,000 in Raleigh, N.C.; 4,500 in Santa Fe, N.M.; 5,000 in Santa Cruz, Calif.; 5,000 in San Diego, Calif.; 5,000 in Dallas; 3,500 in Colorado Springs, Colo.; 3,000 in Chicago; 3,000 in Houston; 2,000 in Detroit, Mich.; 1,500 in Lansing, Mich.; and 1,400 in Portland, Maine. A hundred thousand turned out in Montreal, Canada. The estimated one million in London was the largest such assembly in British history. In San Francisco on Feb. 16, the crowd estimate ran from 65,000 (Hearst's San Francisco Chronicle) to 200,000 (police)..
Although the demonstrations were peaceful for the most part, some violence was reported, including an incident in Athens, Ga., where a passerby in a car hurled a brick into a small group of children at a rally that drew 500 people. A 10-year-old boy was struck in the leg, but wasn't injured, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. The car looped around the block and another brick was thrown. That piece struck a protest organizer, who also wasn't injured. Police checked a tag number provided by witnesses, but it reportedly wasn't valid.
Over 200 unions from 53 countries representing 130 million workers have signed the International Labor Declaration circulated by US Labor Against War. National union executive boards that have endorsed resolutions opposing the war include AFSCME, American Postal Workers Union, Communication Workers of America, Industrial Workers of the World, Service Employees International Union, UNITE, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers and United Farmworkers of America. Many local unions and labor councils also endorsed anti-war resolutions. [See www.uslaboragainstwar.org.]
The outcry against the war threatens some of Bush's European allies. Conservatives Jose Maria Aznar in Spain and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy have dropped in the polls, while support for Tony Blair his plummeted. Back in these United States, the last two months have taken a heavy toll on Bush's popularity. A Harris Poll after the rallies showed Bush with a 52% positive rating and a 46% negative rating. Republicans in Congress rated only 43% positive, although that was little comfort for Democrats in Congress who were rated 38% positive.
In Europe, Chicago Tribune correspondent R.C. Longworth wrote Feb. 17 that affection and admiration for America co-exist with a rising anger toward Bush and his policies, especially toward Iraq. "There's really no huge cultural divide between the United States and Europe," a senior European Union official said. "But there is a divide between the neo-conservative establishment in Washington and mainstream thought in Europe."
Bush was unmoved by the size of the protests. "It's like deciding, well, I'm going to decide policy based on a focus group," he said. Condoleezza Rice labeled protesters as "appeasers" and US Ambassador to the UN John D. Negroponte said the administration wanted to hear what peoples and governments say, but he added, "In the end our behavior is going to be determined by our concern about the disarmament of Iraq, and considerations of the national security of our own country and others."
US Undersecretary of State John Bolton also raised alarms in meetings with Israeli officials on Feb. 17 he has no doubt America will attack Iraq, and that it will be necessary to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea afterwards, according to the Israeli paper Ha'aretz.
Meanwhile, UN weapons inspectors complained to CBS News about the quality of US intelligence and accused US operatives of sending them on wild-goose chases. And Newsweek reported that Hussein Kamel, the highest-ranking Iraqi official ever to defect from Saddam Hussein's inner circle, told CIA and British intelligence officers and UN inspectors in 1995 that after the Gulf War Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them.
While Bush proceeded with preparations for war, regardless of the cooperation of Iraq's neighbors or the blessings of the UN Security Council, envoys of Muslim nations warned the UN during a general session debate Feb. 19 that the Middle East could face political, human and economic havoc if the US makes good on its threat. Iranian envoy Javad Zarif summed up the regional fears with the statement that "the extent of destabilization in the region and uncertainty in Iraq in the case of a war may go far beyond our imagination today."
The US skipped a Feb. 15 meeting called by Switzerland to discuss the relief work that will be needed if there is a war. Neutral Switzerland invited 30 countries to the conference, including the five permanent Security Council members, other major donor countries and Iraq's neighbors. Four of the permanent Security Council members -- Britain, France, Russia and China -- attended the two-day Geneva conference. The Bush administration refused, on grounds that UN agencies already have made preparations and it was unclear how the meeting would help. Aid officials, however, noted it was the first time Iraq's neighbors have met with relief agencies and rich donor countries to discuss what to do if war breaks out.
The UN expects war to create anywhere from 600,000 to 1.5 million refugees. Food supplies in Iraq could run out within six weeks of the start of a conflict and drinking water supplies could be cut or polluted, aid officials say. The UN has appealed for more than $100 million since December to get food and other humanitarian supplies in place in case of war. The US and Britain have contributed $15 million and Washington has pledged an additional $40 million.
Turkey sought $32 billion from the Bush administration in exchange for the use of Turkish territory as a base for the invasion of northern Iraq. The Turks reportedly secured $15 billion and the Bush administration's go-ahead to occupy the Kurdish region in northern Iraq to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdish nation. US officials also may have undermined a UN-brokered deal over the divided island of Cyprus, when an agreement in principle was within grasp, as US officials promised Turkish military leaders to push for a better deal for the Turks in Cyprus if Turkey agreed to help the US against Iraq.
Turkey could give the US invasion the cover of a secular Islamic state's participation. US diplomats hope that would make the invasion more palatable to other Islamic nations, but the Turkish public overwhelmingly opposes a war that likely would wipe out the regional economy and result in hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Kanan Makiya, a prominent Iraqi exile in the US, angrily exposed the US plans for a post-Saddam military government in Baghdad that would place Americans at the head of Iraqi ministries and American soldiers patrolling the streets of Iraqi cities. He wrote in the Feb. 16 London Observer, "The plan, as dictated to the Iraqi opposition in Ankara last week by a United States-led delegation, further envisages the appointment by the US of an unknown number of Iraqi quislings palatable to the Arab countries of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia as a council of advisers to this military government.
"The plan reverses a decade-long moral and financial commitment by the US to the Iraqi opposition, and is guaranteed to turn that opposition from the close ally it has always been during the 1990s into an opponent of the United States on the streets of Baghdad the day after liberation," he predicted.
Patrick Cockburn in the London Independent, reporting from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he interviewed Kurdish leaders, says they now "fear that a US-led war against President Saddam might be the occasion for a Turkish effort to end the de facto independence enjoyed by Iraqi Kurds for more than a decade."
Quentin Peel, international affairs editor of the Financial Times, wrote Feb. 17 that the US has the most to lose by its "dangerous game of diplomatic blackmail with the rest of the Security Council." The UN does "the dirty work for" the US, acting as a buffer when the US exercises global power," but Bush "seems hell-bent on undermining the institution it most needs. It is a strange way to run the world." Britain and France also have a lot to lose, Peel writes, as the Security Council is "their last real claim to a global role, a vestige of the old empires they once ruled." Tony Blair rejects the advice of the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, which, like many in the CIA, fear the destabilizing consequences of war. But Blair fears the UN will lose its authority if it refuses to sanction US military action. The French reply the organization will be condemned to irrelevance if it rolls over for Washington.
Paul Krugman of the New York Times noted Feb. 21 that the administration has turned the foreign aid budget into a tool of war diplomacy. "Small countries that currently have seats on the UN Security Council have suddenly received favorable treatment for aid requests, in an obvious attempt to influence their votes. ... But it's clear that the generosity will end as soon as Baghdad falls.
"After all, look at our behavior in Afghanistan. In the beginning, money was no object; victory over the Taliban was as much a matter of bribes to warlords as it was of Special Forces and smart bombs. But President Bush promised that our interest wouldn't end once the war was won; this time we wouldn't forget about Afghanistan, we would stay to help rebuild the country and secure the peace. So how much money for Afghan reconstruction did the administration put in its 2004 budget?
"None. The Bush team forgot about it. Embarrassed Congressional staff members had to write in $300 million to cover the lapse. You can see why the Turks, in addition to demanding even more money, want guarantees in writing. Administration officials are insulted when the Turks say that a personal assurance from Mr. Bush isn't enough. But the Turks know what happened in Afghanistan, and they also know that fine words about support for New York City, the firefighters and so on didn't translate into actual money once the cameras stopped rolling."
They also saw Ari Fleischer declare that Iraq could pay for its own reconstruction -- even though it may be years before the country's oil fields are producing at potential. "Off the record, some officials have even described Iraqi oil as the 'spoils of war,'" Krugman wrote.
Joe Conason of Salon.com wrote that principled opponents of the impending war should be troubled by reports that Iraqi officials believe the demonstrations expressed support for their regime -- and as a result have stalled their cooperation with UN weapons inspectors.
"The [Washington] Post report is highly credible because this kind of lethal illusion is characteristic of Saddam. Wily but unwise, he mistakenly assumed that the West and the UN would do nothing if he invaded Kuwait in 1990, and like many dictators, he is reportedly isolated from the truth about negative world opinion of him. Apparently he also shares the Bush administration's jaundiced view of the antiwar movement as 'defenders of Saddam,' which could well be his fatal error."
Conason urged war protesters to demand that Iraq comply with the weapons inspections by emailing the Iraqi UN mission (MissionOfIraq@nyc.rr.com) and the Iraq News Agency (email@example.com). "If those email systems are crashed by a few million messages demanding immediate cooperation with UNMOVIC, perhaps some bureaucrat will be brave enough to tell Saddam."