Iraq war remains major issue

2971.jpg

DENVER — The Iraq war is front and center here at the Democratic Party convention, but front and center like gravity is in our daily lives — a major force but not talked about all the time.

At the major pre-convention labor rallies and caucuses, the economic issues — from health care to jobs to guaranteeing workers the right to organize — have taken center stage. For good reason: the economy is the number one issue for union members and all voters.

Yet when any speaker mentions the Iraq war and the billions of dollars wasted along with the loss of lives, delegates and guests respond with the biggest round of applause.

On a basic level, working people seem to know there is a fundamental connection between the economic recession and the Iraq war. Some are calling it the Iraq recession.

“It’s a travesty that we are spending $20 billion a month in Iraq, that our soldiers are dying there and that when they come back they have to fight for decent medical care. It’s a disgrace and America is ready for a change,” Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told the 150-strong AFSCME convention delegation.

We are for Obama because he’s against the war and with this war we can’t afford good schools, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told 2,000 labor delegates and guests in a fiery speech.

Many are saying that only by electing Barack Obama can the war be ended. And electing Obama will require a big fight on the economic issues and real solutions to the problems faced by millions of Americans.

After all, they say, Obama’s campaign promise of troop withdrawal with a date certain and the widespread support it has received have already set the agenda for the country — so much so that the Bush administration has been forced to respond with a supposed troop withdrawal plan of its own. Following a surprise middle-of-the-night flight to Baghdad, Condoleezza Rice met with Iraqi leaders to propose “aspirational goals” (not fixed dates) to withdraw troops by 2011.

Most here see this as an attempt to take the Iraq war away from the Democrats and Obama as a campaign issue. John McCain has promised to stay in Iraq anywhere from five to 100 years. His position on the war is highly unpopular and a big negative for the GOP campaign.

At the Progressive Democrats of America welcoming session here, antiwar activist Tom Hayden said the Bush “scenario” is an attempt to “take the war off the table for the elections.”

“We won’t be fooled again,” he said.

Reminding the crowd that war and military spending have a negative impact on the economy and domestic spending, Hayden urged the antiwar activists to connect the two.

Thousands of students, veterans, GIs’ families and other peace activists from the Alliance for Real Democracy marched here Aug. 24 to end the Iraq war. Tent State University, an encampment of young people, is hosting a four-day convergence under the theme, “Confront the Democrats. End the War.” Marches, civil disobedience and concerts with Iraq Vets Against the War are all part of their protest.

Others in the nonpartisan peace movement are promoting “Million Doors for Peace” on Sept. 20. This day of action will see tens of thousands of peace volunteers knocking on doors with a petition and message, “End this immoral war, bring our troops home, and invest in America’s future.”

“A lot of the TV pundits say the economy is trumping the war,” said Judith LeBlanc of United for Peace and Justice. “It’s just the opposite, in our experience. The biggest thing that could be done to alleviate the economic crisis for people is to end the war. It just doesn’t make sense to spend billions of dollars on a war when there is such need for investment in people’s lives here.”

Sept. 20 will be the “largest antiwar action ever,” Le Blanc said. “People will be going in their neighborhood, finding out who their neighbors are and identifying voters. Only when people get organized, neighborhood by neighborhood, can we end these Bush policies.”

talbano @pww.org