New package for an old war

On a chilly mid-January night, Reno AntiWar Coalition members protested for peace on the sidewalk in front of the Sparks Army recruiting office. The event followed the President’s nationally televised outline for his new strategy for the Iraq War. Bush said the United States will send an additional 21,500 soldiers. “America will change our strategy,” he said, “to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad.”

Bush said he was limiting American involvement in Iraq according to how that nation meets prescribed benchmarks, saying, “America’s commitment is not open-ended. … The Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq’s provinces by November.” (However, the Washington Post later reported, based on congressional testimony by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, that “Bush’s plan does not specifically tie U.S. troop commitments to the Iraqi government’s performance in meeting political and economic benchmarks.")

Truckee Meadows peace protestors said they were disappointed by what they saw as no substantive changes to Bush’s Iraq war policy. Some, however, saw a softening of the administration’s stance.

“I liked the fact that he acknowledged that the present policy has failed,” John Emerson said. His voice rose. “You know, he acknowledged that! And I give him credit for that.”

Emerson was the Democratic candidate for state senator in Washoe District 2 in November. During the campaign, he spoke against U.S. military involvement in the war. He lost to incumbent Maurice Washington.

“[Bush] is terribly optimistic about his so-called new plan achieving the desired results, but I think that’s all speculation,” Emerson said of the President’s speech. “And frankly, I have learned not to trust his judgment.”

Several of the 13 peace protestors in Sparks on Jan. 10 continued their call for an end to U.S. military involvement in Iraq. Some want a phased pullout, some immediate.

AntiWar Coalition member Richard Haber was asked whether his desire for a complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would escalate violence there. “How much worse can it be?” he answered. “You pull soldiers and weapons and ammunition out, you have less weapons and ammunition and soldiers.”

This was not the first time the group has protested the war. In addition to weekly gatherings at the Reno federal building every Monday night since the war began, the group has held rallies each year marking the anniversary of the war’s start and decrying American deaths as the U.S. death toll passed 1,000, then 2,000, and at the beginning of this year, 3,000.

But just how effective are these protests and similar ones throughout the country?

“Four years ago, when I first joined,” Truckee Meadows resident Paula McDonough answered, “people passing by would hurl epithets at us. … Now they mostly toot their horns in support. Some people will go so far as to roll down their window so they can lean out and give us the peace sign! We have seen the change.”

“I have to say, I’m an optimistic person, and even I was unprepared for the routing that occurred on November 7th,” she continued, referring to the Democrats’ recapture of Congress. Some see that as a result of growing antiwar sentiment. “We may have been swimming upstream, but dammit, we spawned!”

Protestors rallied in other cities the night of Bush’s speech and the next day, from San Francisco to New York.

Since the United States began to deploy troops in Iraq in March 2003, Congress has spent more than $350 billion on the war. The Reno AntiWar Coalition says the cost to Nevada has been $2.6 billion.

In addition to the more than 3,000 American soldiers who have died in Iraq since 2003, an Iraq household study by the respected Lancet medical journal estimated in October that 654,965 Iraqis had died from violence since the U.S. invasion, many times higher than Bush administration estimates.

Reno peace activist Russell Davis was asked when he thought the United States might end its military support of the war in Iraq.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I would end with a quote by John Lennon and say, ‘The war is over if you want it.’ “