Corpocracy vs the Global Commons

29 July 2005
Article
Speech at a conference "Corpocracy vs the Global Commons", Melbourne, Australia The US Empire is rising, but so too are the challenges to it, said Bennis in her speech at a public meeting in Melbourne recently. The demand to stop the occupation of Iraq comes not only from the peace movement. There is a large group of Iraqi parliamentarians putting forward the demand, and even the US congress has created an "Out of Iraq" caucus. The moral deficit of the illegal US policy in Iraq is increasing, and the coalition backing it, such as it ever was, is dissipating. Bennis urged the peace movement to continue to expose the moral bankruptcy of US policy towards Iraq, to build itself on the basis of international law and move forward to reclaim the UN.

Well, thank you all for coming tonight, thank-you for inviting me, thank-you for giving me the chance that I've never had before to come to Australia, which is quite an opportunity, not least because it gets me away from the US for a time. These days that's not something to sneeze at, although I would say there's both good news and bad news in the US and here as well.

The US empire is rising, that's the bad news. The good news is that in the US and all around the world, the challenges to empire are rising as well. US public opinion is coming close, and its not quite there yet, but it's coming close the public opinion in the rest of the world. The understanding that the war in Iraq was based on lies, that is was as fraudulent war, that it is an illegal war, the invasion was illegal, all of the things that were so widely understood around the world but were never understood by the American people, now we're seeing a shift and this is very important. We now have come to a tipping point on the US policy on Iraq caused by that shift in the how the people in the US understand what this war is all about and what their role has been in making it possible. We now are in a position where 60% of people believe that its time to withdraw all or some of the troops. Where 51% say that it is impossible for the US to win the war in Iraq or to establish a quote "democratic government", whatever they mean by that.

The American Federation of Labor, the largest coalition of trade unions in the United States, at a time when the trade unions are under enormous attack in the US and the number of trade unionists among US workers is down to an all time low, the AFL at its conference last week, for the first time in its history, passed a resolution calling for the rapid withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

This is huge, this is a major advance.

And at the same time we see in Iraq, initially 83 members, and now up to 140 members of the Iraqi parliament, almost half (the Iraqi parliament is 270 members) have passed a resolution, have signed a statement saying that not only do they want the US occupation to end and US troops to go home, not to set a timetable, not to consider withdrawal two years from next Christmas, but to say, we want the troops out. Full stop. The statement also says that the Iraqi government officials who went to the UN and asked that they continue the UN mandate for the US occupation were illegitimate in doing so because they were not taking into account the desires of the people as represented in the parliament. That they had no legitimate rights to ask for a continuation of that mandate.

This is an enormous shift and its causing a tipping point in the US, including in official circles. We now have members of Congress asking how they reach their counterparts in Bagdad. "How can they reach those members of the Iraqi parliament who have signed that statement, where do we go to meet with them, how do we get their cell phone numbers so that we can arrange a meeting in Jordan?" This is very, very different than what we saw 6 months ago when the word ‘withdraw' would not pass the lips of a member of the US Congress. This is a major shift and I think it's a very important one.

The US congress has created the Out of Iraq caucus. It's not all it needs to be – it's not clear yet on what it needs to say we need to get out now, rather than talking about timetables and considering future – but nonetheless this is an advance for those same reasons. Six months ago we could not talk about withdrawing the troops. We could not say that the best way to protect the troops was to bring them home. We could not remind the members of congress the US soldiers were are part of the problem and not part of the solution to the violence in Iraq, and that the comparisons with Vietnam, while they are limited and are not absolute, they are important because they both represent quagmires. The both represent failures of US policy and not successes.

One of the huge parts of that shift, that tipping point, has come from places like Australia, places all around the world. Despite the fact that fewer and fewer governments are part of this coalition of the coerced, the coalition of the killing, what our government likes to call the coalition of the willing, but we know that's not the case, that the coalition itself is collapsing. That the coalition can not stand, that the cost of participation in this war is rising all around the world. It's rising for John Howard, Berlusconi, Tony Blair, it's rising all around the world where governments are still somehow believing that their alliance with George W Bush and his war will somehow protect them from the rage of their own people who are saying ‘get out!' That fighting an illegal war in Iraq based on lies is not going to extend democracy in the Middle East, is not going to keep us, whoever ‘us' is at any given moment, safe. We can look at London to see the fallacy of that argument, and it's becoming clear that that alliance is not providing political protection. Quite the contrary: those aligned with George Bush, even if they win an election as John Howard did, are facing new challenges as the war itself becomes untenable. The US has had to admit that yes of course they are negotiating with the resistance, despite their rhetoric that they will never negotiate with terrorists. We all knew that was rhetorical, we all knew that was false. This is not going to make John Howard's rhetoric any easier.

Australia remains a stalwart partner of George Bush, that alliance remains powerful, it remains strong, and we know that John Howard is sending additional, troops not to Iraq but to Afghanistan. But I don't know if you are aware how important it is to George Bush that those few Australian troops remain in Iraq. This is the kind of thing that is providing the shreds, and it is literally shreds, of credibility for George Bush to be able to say that "we are fighting at the head of an international coalition". The coalition used to have something like 38 countries reluctantly participating. It now has fewer than 15 reluctantly participating and they're dropping like flies.

I've been here for about 49 hours, I've been watching the press for the discussion about what's going on in Iraq what's happening to your soldiers and I don't see it. Other than an interesting effort by John Howard to interview a soldier: he said to that soldier, "so, how long you been here soldier?" and he replied "well, I've been here six months", and the next question was "how do you like it so far?" Excuse me? "how do you like it so far?" This is serious. But I don't know if you are aware how important it is that George Bush is able to say that John Howard supports our war and the people of the great country of Australia are sending their bravest to fight with ours. It's very, very important. When this gets challenged, when you are in the streets challenging John Howard, when you say that the way to support our troops in Australia is to bring the troops home, this is not the news that Bush wants to hear. It is very important that you keep up that pressure to say that John Howard does not represent Australia. He may have won an election but he hasn't won our hearts. And he hasn't won the right to send our troops to participate in an illegal war.

That coalition is collapsing. I would note that the great state of Muldova, which has twelve brave soldiers supporting Bush in Iraq has just announced that they are bringing them home. I'm sort of sorry for that because Muldova has been my great example of the failures of this coalition because it doesn't pass the laugh test. This is not because the people of Muldova don't pass the laugh test but because any government that is sending 12 soldiers and then demanding that the US troops provide extra protection for them is not seriously there for military reasons. Let's be clear. This is to provide political protection to George Bush.

The costs of occupation are rising. And that's a good thing. The costs of occupation are creating huge deficits in US policy. And our job, all of us, we in the US and you here, is to make those deficits worse. Most of that falls to us, and a little bit of it falls to you. We have to look first that military deficit. They can't keep up this level of troop deployment because it makes it impossible for them to deploy elsewhere in the world they want to go. That makes it rough. So what is our job? Its not only to expose the fallacy of ‘military victory' but to engage in counter-recruitment campaigns that makes it impossible for them to get new troops.

And then we have to recruit those young people out of the military and into the peace movement. That's not so easy in the US where people are drafted by poverty into the so-called ‘all volunteer force'. It means we have to find jobs for people in an economy that has been hard hit. This is the first war in US history that was not accompanied by a rise in taxes. Instead there was a cut in taxes that disproportionately affects the rich and overwhelmingly affects the super-rich. They're the ones benefiting from the tax-cuts. Ordinary working people, we're not benefiting. But people are forced into the military as a result of the economic crisis. We have to challenge that and find jobs so they don't end up in the military. We have to make the military deficit worse.

There is a financial deficit. They cant keep up this one billion dollar a week cost of a war in Iraq. That's just Iraq, that's not counting the global war on terror. Seven billion dollars a year, just for the city of New York, of New York City's tax money is going to go to the war in Iraq. All around the US the effects of this war are being felt economically, in lost jobs and cutbacks in social spending. This is very serious and US can't keep it up.

Our job is to make it worse. We have to link up with local communities, we have to particularly link up with communities of colour who are disproportionately affected by this to build a movement that challenges the social cost of this war.

There is a strategic deficit that the US faces in the region. We are not seeing an increase in democracy in the regions as a result of the US efforts, this is not about democracy and freedom and liberty and all these great words, this is about expanding occupation. We now have two occupations in the Middle East. Not only Israel's occupation of Palestine, made possible by US support, we now have the US directly occupying Iraq, and those two occupations have a lot in common. After the attack on Jenin in the Spring of 2002, when over 59 Palestinians, of whom 26 were unarmed civilians, were slaughtered by occupying Israeli forces, then and only then the US went directly to the Israeli Defense Force and said, "we want you to teach our soldiers how to occupy and Arab country. Because now we know you know how to do it right".

This is a dual occupation across the Middle East being put forward in the name of democratisation. We have to challenge that. Not only by challenging that this is about democracy but by building a movement more powerful than ever to challenge US support for Israeli occupation and challenge the very nature of that Israeli occupation of Palestine. The movement we have built around the world against the occupation of Iraq has at its centre a growing and powerful opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

There is also a moral deficit of US policy in Iraq. That moral deficit we are seeing in the international problems of governments and leaders to maintain their troops in support of the US military occupation of Iraq. We have to manage and increase that moral deficit. We have to look at the issue of corporate profiteering and the economic invasion of Iraq so that as we oppose the military occupation we can challenge the economic invasion as well. The economic invasion is being led by US corporations like Halliburton, Bechtel, and a host of other companies who are seizing the money that is meant to be rebuilding Iraq and instead are rebuilding their shareholders bank accounts. That is part of our job as well.

Finally there is the international deficit of legality, legitimacy, of any international credibility for this war. It's taken along time for the people in my country to know what you have all known from the beginning. That this was an illegal war waged in violation of international law, in violation of the UN charter and in violation of every norm of international affairs. Because there is a global movement challenging that war, challenging the expansion of US bases around the world, the US is trying to reclaim the cold war bases that it gave up, in places like the Philippines, in places where it never had bases before, like Uzbekistan. All of a sudden Afghanistan and Iraq are both surrounded by countries filled with US bases and Iraq itself has 14 permanent bases being constructed, not to mention all the temporary ones.

But there is now an international movement saying NO to war, saying that the Bush administration is carrying out war crimes around the world. The war tribunals that just concluded their work in Istanbul after 20 separate hearings in 20 separate countries were part of a global mobilisation that began in Jakarta, Indonesia. It began when the Jakarta Peace Consensus was conceived as a global challenge to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. This global movement came to fruition on the 15th of February 2003, beginning here in Australia, when Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific were the first to have their demonstrations on that singular day, because the sun rose here first. Then following the sun, all around the world, demonstrations began across Asia, into Europe and down throughout Africa and jumping across the Atlantic to Latin America and finally up through the US.

There were millions of people in the streets that day. And the day after, the New York Times did something they almost never do. They told the truth on the front page above the fold. They said that once again there are two superpowers in the world, the US, and global public opinion. That was a huge admission made by the voice of the American elite. But what they left out was that that second superpower was not just the people marching in the streets even though that was the core of it, the strength of it. It became a superpower not only because between 12 and 14 million people in 656 cities around the world marched that day under the same slogan, ‘the world says no to war', but because the movement was powerful enough to force different governments around the world, for different opportunistic reasons of their own, to say ‘no' to the Bush administration's demand that they support the war. The six uncommitted countries on the UN Security Council, not powerful countries like Germany and France, but Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Mexico, Chile and Pakistan. Those were the countries that said no to war. When countries like that said no to war the UN itself was forced to do what its charter said it's supposed to do – stand defiant of the scourge of war. It was only when we had those three parts of the challenge to empire – the people in the streets, the governments in their suits, and the UN itself – saying no to war, that made a superpower. And that's what we have to rebuild today.

The UN is key. Too often it gets used as a tool of US foreign policy. Madeleine Albright before she was the foreign minister of the US, Secretary of State, when she was still an ambassador to the UN, she said those words to a group of editors in the US, that the UN was a "tool of American foreign policy". That wasn't a surprise to those of us who followed foreign affairs, but for a US Secretary of State to admit it publicly to a group of editors? What was she thinking? She was thinking that we didn't care. That we would allow that reality to continue unchallenged, and that's where she was wrong. We proved on February 15 that we could reclaim the UN, that morning in New York.

I'll tell you one story about it. Besides the 500 000 standing outside the UN headquarters, early that morning, just as the crowds were beginning to gather, a small delegation went upstairs to the 38th floor to meet with Secretary General Kofi Annan. That delegation was lead by the great South African leader, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. These two African leaders, both statesmen, Nobel laureates, and old friends, faced each other across a table at a moment when Kofi Annan was under greater pressure than he had ever faced before, with the US threatening to destroy the UN if it did not come on board the US war train and support war in Iraq. So far they had refused and on that day he was under enormous pressure to give in. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said "we are here today on behalf of the people marching in 656 cities around the world and we're here to tell you that those people, marching in those cities around the world, claim the UN as our own. We claim it in the name of the global mobilisation for peace". It was an astonishing moment, it was not a thing that Kofi Annan needed to hear, to have that pressure on top of everything else. But he heard it. He had to hear it. A few hours later in the midst of the rally we got a call backstage on somebody's cell phone. An AAP story had just crossed the wires datelined UN, it was just two lines long – it said, "stung by the outpouring of global criticism, the US and Britain today announced that they would no longer attempt to get the UN on board their move towards war and that any future resolution would not call for UN support for war." It was the voice of the people being heard and it was a stunning moment.

One of the things we have to learn from that is that as we move to reclaim the UN we build our own movement on the basis of international law. International law is not just something for elites, it's not something to be used for governments to beat each other up, it's something for people to use to hold our governments accountable. If we live in countries that call themselves democracies, and Australia and the US both brag about being great democracies, we have to uphold international law because our governments violate it with impunity if we don't. They may violate it anyway, but if we are holding the flag of international law they're not going to get away with it. We saw that in the movement of international tribunals, to hold our governments accountable for war crimes. It doesn't mean that George Bush and John Howard are in jail, but it's a start. Henry Kissinger is not in jail yet, but we know that every time he travels abroad he now has to call the state department to find out if the country he wants to go to might now have charges laid against him. He has had to leave both France and Brazil in the middle of the night because brave judges in those countries both brought charges against him. International law will not be real until Kissinger is in the dock next to General Pinoche, and it won't be real until George Bush is in the dock next to Saddam Hussein. But it's a start. And it only exists when we hold it up. That's the job that we have to challenge empire. We need our movement to build all three components to hold our government accountable, to keep our own movement in the streets and to claim the UN as part of our building a new society. Another world is possible, but we have to build it.

Thank you.