Global Policy Forum

A Milestone in the Global Struggle


Speech at the Beirut International Assembly of Anti-War and Anti-Globalization Movements

By Walden Bello

Transnational Institute
September 17, 2004

We are assembled here in Beirut at a critical moment. It is a moment marked by crosscurrents: In Iraq, the US gets deeper and deeper into a Vietnam-style quagmire, with the number of American soldiers killed since the March 20, 2003 invasion passing the 1,000 mark in the first week of September. Yet in Palestine, the Zionist Wall continues to be built at the rate of a kilometer a day. A year ago, on September 14, 2003, some of us in this hall were in Cancun, Mexico, dancing with joy at the Convention Center as we celebrated the collapse of the Fifth Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization. Today, the WTO, the supreme institution of corporate-driven globalization, is back on its feet with the adoption last month of the Geneva Framework Document designed to speed up the economic disarmament of developing countries.

In New York a few weeks back, we saw massive repudiation of George W. Bush and his pro-war policies by over 500,000 people that marched in the streets of New York. Yet, today, polls show that the same George Bush has a 10 per cent lead over John Kerry in the lead-up to elections the results of which will have a massive impact on the fate of the world in the next few years.

The future, comrades, is in the balance, as we meet in this historic city, with its glorious history of resistance to Israeli aggression and American intervention. As you know, many more people wanted to come to Beirut to be with us. The size, breadth, and diversity of our assembly here today underline the strength, the power of our movement. It would be useful to briefly review our history over the last decade to gain an appreciation of where we are today.

March from Marginalization

Less than 10 years ago, our movement was marginalized. The founding of the WTO in 1995 seemed to signal that globalization was the wave of the future, and that those who opposed it were destined to suffer the same fate as the Luddites that fought against the introduction of machines during the industrial revolution. Globalization was going to bring prosperity in its wake, and how could one oppose the promise of the greatest good for the greatest number that the transnational corporations, guided by the invisible hand of the market, were going to shower the world?

But the movement stood firm in the face of the scorn of the establishment during the 1990's, when the boom in the world's mightiest capitalist engine-the US economy-appeared to be destined to go on and on. It was steadfast in its prediction that, driven by the logic of corporate profitability, the liberalization and deregulation of trade and finance would bring about crises, widen inequalities within and across countries, and increase global poverty.

The Asian financial crisis in 1997 provided sudden, savage proof of the destabilizing impact of eliminating controls from the flow of global capital. Indeed, what could be more savage than the fact that the crisis would bring 1 million people in Thailand and 22 million people in Indonesia below the poverty line in the space of a few weeks in the fateful summer of 1997?

The Asian financial crisis was one of those momentous events that removed the scales from people's eyes and enabled them see cold, brutal realities. And one of those realities was the fact that the free market policies that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank imposed on some 100 developing and transitional economies had induced, in all but a handful of them, not a virtuous circle of growth, prosperity, and equality but a vicious cycle of economic stagnation, poverty, and inequality. The year 2001 brought us not only Sept. 11. 2001 was also the year of reckoning for free-market fundamentalism-the year that the Argentine economy, the poster boy of neoliberal economics, crashed, while in the United States, the contradictions of finance-driven, deregulated global capitalism wiped out $4.6 trillion in investor wealth-half of the US' gross domestic product-and inaugurated a period of stagnation and rising unemployment from which the world's central capitalist economy has not recovered till today.

As global capitalism moved from crisis to crisis, people organized in the streets, in work places, in the political arena to counter its destructive logic. In December 1999, massive street resistance by over 50,000 demonstrators combined with a revolt of the developing governments inside the Seattle convention center to bring down the third ministerial of the WTO. Global protests also eroded the legitimacy of the IMF and the World Bank, the two other pillars of global economic governance, albeit in less dramatic fashion. Anti-neoliberal mass movements brought new governments to power in Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, and Bolivia. The fifth ministerial meeting in Cancun, an event associated in many people's minds with the altruistic suicide of the Korean farmer Lee Kyung-Hae at the barricades, became Seattle II. And, in November last year, in Miami, the same alliance of civil society and developing country governments forced Washington to retreat from the neoliberal program of radical liberalization of trade, finance, and investment that it had threatened to impose in the western hemisphere via the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Fighting against Empire

The fight for global justice and equity has been one thrust of our movement. The other has been the struggle against militarism and war. For the movement against imperial intervention, the 1980's and 1990's were not good decades. National liberation struggles retreated, lost momentum, or were compromised in many parts of the world. Of course, there were exceptions, as in South Africa, where the ANC came to power; Palestine, where the first Intifadah handed Israel a political and military defeat; Lebanon, from where the US fled in 1983 after 241 American Marines perished in the bombing of their base located just a few kilometers away from here, and from where the Israelis were gradually squeezed out over the next decade; and, not to forget, Somalia, where the destruction of a US Ranger unit in Mogadishu forced the Clinton administration to terminate its military intervention in October 1993.

The ideologues of globalization promoted the illusion that accelerated globalization would bring about the reign of "perpetual peace." In contrast, our movement warned that as globalization proceeded, its economically and socially destabilizing effects would multiply conflicts and insecurities. Driven by corporate logic, globalization, we warned, would herald an era of aggressive imperialism that would seek to batter down opposition, seize control of natural resources, and secure markets. We were proved right, but it took us some time to gain our bearings.

We were still too disoriented by the events of September 11, 2001, and by the internal politics of Afghanistan to enable us to respond effectively to the US invasion of that country. But it was soon clear that the so-called War against Terror was simply an excuse for implementing a quest for Absolute Military Supremacy or, in Pentagon jargon, "Full Spectrum Dominance."

In late 2002 and early 2003, the movement finally swung into action, becoming a global force for justice and peace that mobilized tens of millions of people throughout the world on Feb. 15, 2003, against the planned invasion of Iraq. We did not succeed in stopping the American and British invasion, but we have surely contributed to delegitimizing the Occupation and made it increasingly difficult for invaders that have brazenly violated international law and many rules of the Geneva Convention to remain in Iraq. The New York Times, on the occasion of the Feb. 15, 2003, march, said that there are only two superpowers left in the world today, the United States and global civil society. Let me add that I have no doubt that the forces of justice and peace will prevail over the contemporary incarnation of empire, blood, terror, and greed that is the USA.

Iraq, the Resistance, and the Movement

Our movement is on the ascendant. But our agenda is massive, our tasks formidable. To name just a few: We have to drive the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan. We must stop Israel's increasingly genocidal policies against the Palestinian people. We must impose the rule of law on outlaw, rogue states like the US, Britain, and Israel. Moreover, we have some way to go before becoming a critical mass that will decisively affect the struggle for national liberation in Iraq. Let me explain. Over the last few months, there have been two defining events in Iraq. One was the expose of systematic sexual abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison facility outside Baghdad. The second was the uprising in Fallujah in April.

The Abu Ghraib scandal, which has angered most of the world and shamed most Americans, stripped the last shred of legitimacy from the US presence in Iraq. The uprising in Fallujah, which saw Iraqi men, women, and children fighters defeat the elite of Washington's colonial legions, the US Marines, was the turning point of the Iraqi war of national liberation. Fallujah was followed by uprisings in other cities like Najaf and Ramadi. It showed that the Iraqi resistance is not one carried out by remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime but one that is widespread, popular, and on the ascendant.

Let me read you a recent account from the New York Times on the conditions in Ramadi and Falluja, which are pretty much a microcosm of Iraq at this point. It says that "American efforts to build a government structure around former Baath party stalwarts…have collapsed." Instead, both cities and much of Anbar Province, "are now controlled by…militias, with US troops confined mainly to heavily protected forts on the desert's edge. What little influence the Americans have is asserted through wary forays in armored vehicles, and by laser-guided bombs…[But] even bombing raids appear to strengthen the [militias], who blame the Americans for scores of civilian deaths."

The question, friends and comrades, is no longer whether Washington will eventually be defeated by the Iraqi resistance. It will be defeated. The question is how long it will hang on to an impossible situation. On the resolution of this issue, our role in the global peace movement has a very important bearing.

Washington hangs on despite the daily attacks on its troops by the resistance. The victory of the Iraqi people's resistance will definitely be hastened by one thing: the emergence of a strong global anti-war movement such as that which took to the streets daily and in the thousands before and after the Tet Offensive in 1968. So far that has not materialized, though opposition to the US presence in Iraq is the dominant global sentiment and disillusionment with their government's policies in Iraq has now spread to a majority of the US public.

Indeed, at the very time that it is most needed by the people of Iraq, the international peace movement has had trouble getting into gear. The demonstrations on March 20, 2004, were significantly smaller than the Feb.15, 2003, when tens of millions marched throughout the world against the projected invasion of Iraq. The kind of international mass pressure that makes an impact on policymakers-the daily staging of demonstration after demonstration in the hundreds of thousands in city after city-is simply not in evidence, at least not yet.

Perhaps a major part of the reason is that a significant part of the international peace movement, particularly in Europe and the United States, hesitates to legitimize the Iraqi resistance. Who are they? Can we really support them? These questions have increasingly been flung at the advocates of an unconditional military and political withdrawal from Iraq. Let us face it: the use of suicide as a political weapon continues to bother many US and European activists who were repelled by statements such as that of the Palestinian leaders who proudly asserted that suicide bombers were the oppressed people's equivalent of the F-16. Let us face it: the fact that a large part of the resistance in both Iraq and Israel is Islamic rather than secular in inspiration continues to bother many western peace activists. Yet there has never been any pretty movement for national liberation or independence. Many Western progressives were also repelled by some of the methods of the "Mau Mau" movement in Kenya, the FLN in Algeria, the NLF in Vietnam. What western progressives forget is that national liberation movements are not asking them mainly for ideological or political support. What they really want from the outside, from progressive like us, is international pressure for the withdrawal of an illegitimate occupying power so that internal forces can have the space to forge a truly national government based on their unique processes. Until they give up their implicit conditioning of their actions on the guarantee that a national liberation movement tailored to their values and discourse will be the one to come to power, many US and western peace activists will continue to be trapped within a paradigm of imposing their terms on other people.

Let me be clear. We cannot promote conditional solutions--even one that says US and Coalition troop withdrawal only if there is a UN security presence that takes the place of the Americans. The only principled stand is: Unconditional withdrawal of US and Coalition military and political forces now. Period. But if the future in Iraq itself continues to hang in the balance, the Iraqi resistance has already helped to transform the global equation. The US is weaker today than it was before May 1, 2003, when Bush declared victory in Iraq. The Atlantic Alliance that won the Cold War no longer functions, largely because of the division over Iraq. Spain and the Philippines have been forced to withdraw their troops from Iraq, and Thailand has now quietly followed suit, contributing further to US isolation. The situation in Afghanistan is more unstable now than last year, with the US writ extending only to the outskirts of Kabul. Militant Islam, which the US now considers its enemy no. 1, is now more vigorously spreading throughout Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. In Latin America, we now have massive popular anti-neoliberal and anti-US movements in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Bolivia that are either in government or are making it difficult for governments to maintain their neoliberal, free market policies. Hugo Chavez has frontally challenged imperialism in its own backyard, and he remains in power owing to the organized support of the Venezuelan people. More power to him!

Owing to its hubris, the US is suffering from that fatal disease of all empires-imperial overstretch. Our role, to echo that great Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, is to worsen this crisis of overextension, not only by creating or expanding movements of international solidarity against the US in Iraq, the US-Israel axis in Palestine, and the creeping US intervention in Colombia. It is also to give birth or reinvigorate struggles against the US imperial presence in our own countries and regions. For instance, the struggle against the US bases in Northeast Asia and the renewed US military presence via the so-called War on Terror in Southeast Asia is one that we from Southeast Asia must rededicate ourselves to.

Towards a New Global Economic Order

Struggle against imperialism and war is one front of our struggle. The other front is the struggle to change the rules of the global economy, for it is the logic of global capitalism whose fountainheads are the US, the European Union, and Japan that is the source of the disruption of society and of the environment. The challenge here goes beyond simply disempowering institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, though this task must not be underestimated-witness, for instance, the recent resurrection in Geneva of the WTO, which many of us thought had suffered a major blow to its foundations in Cancun.

The challenge is that even as we deconstruct the old, we dare to imagine and win over people to our visions and programs for the new. Contrary to the claims of the ideologues of the establishment, the principles that would serve as the pillars of a new global order are present. The primordial principle is that instead of the economy, the market, driving society, the market must be--to use the image of the great Hungarian scholar Karl Polanyi-"reembedded" in society and governed by the overarching values of community, solidarity, justice, and equity. At the international level, the global economy must be deglobalized or rid of the distorting, disfiguring logic of corporate profitability and truly internationalized, meaning that participation in the international economy must serve to strengthen and develop rather than disintegrate and destroy local and national economies.

The perspective and principles are there; the challenge is how each society can articulate these principles and programs in unique ways that respond to their values, their rhythms, their personality as societies. Call us post-modern, but central to our movement is the conviction that, in contrast to the belief common to both neoliberalism and bureaucratic socialism, there is no one shoe that will fit all. It is no longer a question of an alternative but of alternatives. And unless there is a new global order built on the principles of justice, sovereignty, and respect for diversity, there will be no real peace.

Two Challenges

But let me end by returning to our urgent task, which is to defeat the US in Iraq and Israel in Palestine. We are all here not to celebrate our strength but, most important, to address our weaknesses over the next few days. Let me just say that one of the challenges that we will be addressing is how we get beyond spontaneous actions, beyond coordination that remains at the level of coordinating international days of protest. The enemy is extremely well coordinated at a global level and we have no choice but to match that level of coordination and cooperation. But we must match it in with a professionalism that respects our democratic practices-indeed, we must confront it in ways that turns our democratic practice into an advantage. The other challenge that I would like to highlight is that of closing the political and cultural gap between the global movements for justice and peace and their counterparts in the Arab and Islamic worlds. This is a gap that imperialism has exploited to the hilt, with its effort to paint most of our Arab and Muslim comrades as terrorists or supporters of terrorism. We cannot allow this situation to continue, which is the reason we are holding this meeting in Beirut. Indeed, let me say that unless the global movements and the Arab movements forge tight, organic ties of solidarity, we will not win the struggle against corporate-driven globalization and imperialism.

So, friends, the future of the struggle is in the balance-a balance that will be affected by what happens here in Beirut in the next few days. Will we advance, stay in place, or retreat? The answer is one that depends on each one of the over 300 registered delegates that have come here from all over the world. I am cautiously confident. Why? Because I know the goodwill is there, the tolerance for differences is there, and the political will is there to achieve unified action to overcome the forces of injustice, oppression, and death.

I thank you.

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