February 12, 2003

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Back to the streets

IT'S EASY TO get protest burnout, to feel as if the Bush administration is heading for war in Iraq no matter what the public thinks, that nothing anyone in San Francisco does can make any difference. But it's important to keep some perspective: there has never in modern U.S. history been such an early outpouring of antiwar sentiment. Hundreds of thousands are marching in the streets – and the war hasn't even begun. It's critical to keep the pressure up, to make it clear not just to the Bush administration but also to Congress, the United Nations, and the rest of the world that there's far from overwhelming public support in the United States for invading Iraq.

Despite Secretary of State Colin Powell's carefully scripted presentation to the United Nations, the case for war remains shaky – and gets shakier every day. If the Bush administration is worried about terrorism, it's a virtual certainty that an invasion will make the "homeland" less secure. If the issue is weapons of mass destruction, why is Bush unwilling to let diplomacy run its course in Iraq, when he's quite willing to talk with North Korea (which is far closer to building a deliverable nuclear weapon)? Even if this is all about oil (a terrible motivation), invasion makes little sense: a retreating Saddam Hussein is likely to set thousands of oil wells on fire, creating an environmental disaster and rendering the wells inoperable for months or years.

Meanwhile, a growing number of rank-and-file labor activists are joining the antiwar movement, pointing out (with good evidence) that the war will further damage the economy and cost countless jobs. The war will cost huge sums for years to come, devastating domestic programs. Already, the deployment of tens of thousands of reservists has sent small communities reeling as doctors, nurses, law-enforcement officers, and other crucial public-safety workers are yanked out of town and flown to Iraq.

And many of those people may come home in body bags. Although the prewar talk is all of surgical air strikes and smart bombs, it's going to be almost impossible to subdue the Iraqi regime without inflicting huge civilian casualties (bombing Baghdad would be roughly equivalent to bombing Los Angeles). And U.S. troops aren't exactly going to enter the city hailed as liberators: there will be, at best, huge pockets of bloody resistance, and at worst, widespread (and brutal) block-by-block fighting.

And what's the endgame? Bush has never managed to explain what the administration's long-term plans are for post-Hussein Iraq. Does he intend to simply walk way after forcing "regime change," devastating the social and physical infrastucture and leaving millions or Iraqis impoverished and desperate? Or does he plan to install some sort of military viceroy to oversee an occupying army in a hostile region 10,000 miles from home? If there's a middle ground between those two options, what does it look like? The administration is acting as if the war will simply end in victory and all will be just fine and dandy ever after.

If there is any hope of derailing this disaster, it's in the streets. Last month's march attracted upwards of 200,000 people. This one should be even bigger.

An antiwar march begins Feb. 16, 11 a.m., Market and Embarcadero, and winds up with a 2 p.m. rally at Civic Center Plaza, Larkin between Grove and McAllister. (415) 821-6545 or peace@globalexchange.org.