UNAC conference challenges U.S./NATO war policies

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On April 1 The New York Times reported that the U.S. and the Gulf states, meeting as the “Friends of Syria” in Istanbul, had moved dramatically closer to direct military intervention against the Assad regime. The pro-U.S. Arab nations pledged $100 million to pay the fighters of the Free Syrian Army, and the U.S. pledged satellite communications equipment and night vision goggles.

The Times said that all this, combined with a call on the UN Security Council to set a deadline to announce the “next steps” against Assad, had brought participants “to the edge of a proxy war against Assad’s government and its international supporters.”
This proxy war and the increasing threat of direct military intervention by NATO forces under the auspices of a UN Security Council mandate was but one element of the new and dangerous context in which the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) held its second annual conference, March 23-25 in Stamford, Conn. Five hundred and seventy-five activists registered for the conference, a central goal of which was the building of the May 20 mass protest in Chicago against the wars carried out or planned by NATO.
Joe Iosbaker and Pat Hunt, leaders of the CANG8 coalition organizing the permitted march on the Chicago NATO summit, opened the conference by asking people to stand who were going to be present in Chicago or who were going to help raise funds to get others to the May 20 protest. A sizable proportion of the people in the room rose to their feet.
UNAC’s program of antiwar activity, dubbed the Action Plan, was presented to the conference by Black Agenda Report Executive Editor Glen Ford. This plan, Ford said, “does not shy away from condemning wars that are still acceptable to half of the population because the real reasons for them are obscured by the rhetoric of humanitarianism.” The conference approved the May 20 mobilization with the lessons of NATO’s murderous “humanitarian intervention” into Libya fresh in mind.
The UNAC conference recognized that the U.S. government has placed Iran in its sights as a target for disruption—and possible armed attack. During her March 31 visit to Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Iran must yield to the U.S. challenge to its nuclear program, and that the “window of opportunity will not remain open forever” for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
In the meantime, she said, the U.S. and its allies would increase their economic pressure against Iran.Clinton’s remarks closely followed President Obama’s announcement that news of Saudi oil production goals had cleared the way for the implementation of ever more extreme sanctions designed to hinder Iran’s ability to export oil.
These overt military activities are coincident with other economic measures designed to hold back social transformation in Egypt, where the U.S.-led International Monetary Fund has negotiated a new $3.2 billion loan that will further impoverish and disempower the revolutionary-minded masses of that nation.
 The UNAC conference highlighted Afghanistan as a nation that is still suffering the murderous rampages, night raids, and drone attacks that have accompanied the U.S.-NATO occupation.
Plenary speaker David Swanson reminded the audience that one week earlier Hillary Clinton had told reporters that the war in Afghanistan could not be ended without first winning women’s rights. However, “already we have set up a government that endorses wife-beating,” Swanson quipped. “Perhaps once it mandates invasive ultrasounds, we can leave with honor.” The UNAC Action Plan declares that the Afghanistan war must end now, not in 2014 or after. 
A key element of the conference was education about the history and purposes of the U.S-led NATO military alliance.  The UN Security Council, whose resolutions authorize NATO war-making, Professor Vijay Prashad reminded the crowd, meets under a mural with scenes of everyday life in Northern Europe at the top, and a scene at the bottom in which veiled women and turbaned men are targeted by a field artillery gun. This image, he suggested, revealed much about the UN Security Council’s role. 
Prashad explained that during the last 20 years the U.S. and its allies have worked to codify a new public relations and legal framework for imperialist intervention. This same UN Security Council, he pointed out, has adopted a mandate boosting so-called humanitarian intervention called “The Right to Protect” (R2P).
NATO is now explicitly understood to be the enforcer of R2P and the International Criminal Court the juridical arm. In Libya, all three elements were orchestrated to work together seamlessly for the first time and to ends that were the opposite of humanitarian. Keynote speaker at the UNAC conference Andrew Murray, the chief of staff for the British public services union UNITE and a leader of the UK Stop the War Coalition, emphasized that the outcome was “a racist government of gangsters” who have brought the Libyan people little freedom.
The “Shifting Strategies of Empire,” the plenary that opened the conference, took up not only the attempts by the global 1% to expand NATO’s reach, but also the Obama administration’s decision to send combat troops to sub-Saharan Africa and to boost the U.S. naval presence in seas around China. Bernadette Ellorin of the Philippine solidarity organization BAYAN noted that Obama’s “return to Asia” is only the refurbishing of a U.S. military presence that has dominated the region for over 100 years.
The new buildup, which includes the blasting of the pristine environmental wonder of the Korean Jeju Island to build a new naval port, is designed to pressure nations to look to the U.S. rather than China for trade alliances and economic partnerships. Abayomi Azikiwe, who brought greetings from “the embattled city of Detroit,” recounted the growth of the U.S.-backed multinational forces waging war in Somalia and the U.S. combat troops recently sent to Uganda. For the Black community, Azikiwe said, the relationship between the wars abroad and the war at home could not be more apparent.
Racism and Islamophobia
 The degree to which racism continues to be central to U.S.-NATO war efforts was dramatized by the number of plenaries and workshops devoted to addressing this war at home on Black, Latino, and immigrant people in the United States. Dr. Khalilah Brown-Dean keynoted a lunchtime panel and highlighted the way in which mass incarceration and the criminalization of the Black community was being used to drive African Americans, one of the most antiwar sections of the U.S. population, out of political life. Bruce Dixon described the way that mass incarceration works to disenfranchise Black Georgians.
A workshop on connecting Black community struggles and the fight against war was one of the best-attended workshops at the conference. Another led by a board member of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights connected the massive new surveillance of border regions and immigrant communities in the U.S. with the same in Egypt and other parts of the world where millions of displaced peoples are victimized by the surveillance state. Another immigrant rights workshop focused on how best to integrate immigrant rights and union rights with the overall themes of the upcoming May Day “strike” called by the Occupy Movement.
Attendees also celebrated the heroic strike effort of the Longview, Wash., longshore workers by rising in a standing ovation for ILWU Local 21 rank-and-file striker Mike Fuqua. Local 21, by standing up to the union-busting corporation EGT, inspired and then helped to lead a West Coast outpouring of community solidarity for their militant labor fight back.
At least 175 participants at the conference hailed from the Muslim American community. Abhorrence at the use of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant prejudice to create war fever permeated every aspect of the conference. Plenary sessions and workshops featured activists and educators from a host of Muslim. South Asian, and civil liberties groups—including the Muslim Peace Coalition, Desis Rising Up and Moving, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Muslim Solidarity Coalition, Project SALAM, and the National Coalition to Defend Civil Freedoms.
A special dinner plenary session introduced attendees to such leaders in defense of Muslim rights as Imam Talib Abdurrashid of the Muslim Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York, Cyrus McGoldrick of New York City CAIR, the victimized Guantanamo chaplain James Yee, and Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid—whose decision to found the Muslim Peace Coalition arose out of his desire to partner with the United National Antiwar Coalition in this fight.
Conference meetings with forces that included the Muslim Peace Coalition and Desis Rising Up and Moving developed a proposal, passed unanimously by the UNAC group as a whole, to hold a mass mobilization and demonstration in New York City on June 16 “to protest against the violation of the civil and human rights of all people, the undermining of the Bill of Rights, and the purposeful erosion of our civil liberties.”
How to defend Iranians?
 The continued threats of outright war on Iran and the growing impact of the war by sanctions on Iran generated a passionate discussion about how best to organize on this front. In the past, the antiwar movement has been divided on this question.
Forces organized around the International Action Center  argue that when a country is under attack by U.S. imperialism, all criticisms of the regime under fire by forces in the U.S. should be muted. Our fire, they say, should be exclusively on the U.S. government.
Others, including those who attended the conference from the Iranian feminist collective Raha and the new coalition Harvaar, argue that the U.S. antiwar movement, in order to avoid being used politically by the Ahmadinejad regime, should clearly express solidarity with those actively opposing that regime inside Iran.
Both views were presented in talks at major plenary sessions, in workshops, and in resolutions. All participants in the discussion agreed on absolute opposition to U.S. threats of war against Iran. All sides were opposed to U.S. sanctions, embargoes, and assassination plots. After a sometimes heated debate, the conference voted to reaffirm UNAC’s traditional view that the best position for an antiwar coalition that aspires to mobilize the largest numbers is to support the right of the Iranian people to self-determination. The winning proposal stated that UNAC has full confidence that the Iranian people, freed from imperialist threats, can create a just society without the intervention of U.S. forces.
Such a position, ideally, will allow all political tendencies, no matter what their analysis of the Green movement in Iran, to unify in the streets and create larger actions than would be possible otherwise. As numerous speakers on the question explained, such a stance must be coupled with a commitment to an open, welcoming, and non-exclusionary coalition where all views can be freely expressed on speakers’ platforms, on signage, and on flyers.  
While the ability of UNAC and other formations to mobilize really huge numbers against the U.S.-NATO wars underway is limited by election-year politics and by illusions that Washington is winding down its military engagement in the Middle East and South Asia, the Stamford conference went a long way toward creating the broad alliances that are indispensable to challenging the U.S. war machine.  
> The article above was written by Christine Marie, and it first appeared in the April 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.