What we won

IssueFebruary 2008
Feature by Milan Rai

The 15 February 2003 demonstrations, showed, as The New York Times observed, that “there may still be two super- powers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.”

On the other hand, the grassroots mobilisation failed to prevent the invasion of Iraq. Media support? The heavy reporting of the British demonstration on 15 February seems to disprove the idea that the mainstream media opposes, under-reports or belittles grassroots movements. A Daily Telegraph columnist was allowed to make an appeal to the readers of the “newspaper of the armed forces” to attend the march.

The Times published a special supplement on the demonstration. Do these and other examples of media support not show that the media really are “democratic”, reflecting the views of the public, their readers? Perhaps. On the other hand, the scale of the coverage could be taken as an indicator of the level of dissent among British elites - for self-interested reasons - reflected by the elite media. What we won

The picture becomes clearer when we look at the media treatment of the effect of the early 2003 grassroots mobilisations. Elsewhere in this issue (p9), Gabriel Carlyle points out that just days before the war broke out on 19 March 2003 the British government was frantically preparing contingency plans to withdraw British troops from the invasion force. Things had reached such a state by 11 March 2003 that British defence secretary Geoff Hoon was forced to ring US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld to explain that the British government might not be able to take part in the invasion - because it might lose the parliamentary vote due on 18 March.

Elsewhere in the world, popular movements played a key role in shaping the course of events. One key goal for the Blair government was to secure a UN security council resolution that could be interpreted as authorising the war (to try to neutralise the anti-war movement). In the event, Washington and London did not manage to bribe and intimidate the smaller “middle six” states on the security council - Chile, Mexico, Angola, Cameroon, Guinea and Pakistan - into voting for them. One important reason was the fever pitch of public mobilisation in many of those countries. Turkish democracy.

The most extraordinary case of nonviolent power came in Turkey. Despite Turkey's military, political and economic dependence on the US, and despite the offer of $26bn in loans and grants, public opposition to the war grew until it reached 94% of the population. US military planners wanted to use Turkey for both the land and air invasions of Iraq. At a tumultuous vote in the Turkish parliament on 1 March 2003, the government failed to gain enough votes for war, and US planners were forced to re- think. (How is it that Turkey managed this, but Britain did not?) The Financial Times observed that the scale of public opposition “may have been the deciding factor”. 50,000 people marched in Ankara on the day of the vote - the biggest demonstration for 20 years. MPs were lobbied on their mobile phones by their constituents during the debate.

Media silence All these examples of people power, of the influence of the anti-war movement, have been almost entirely absent from the media discussion of the run-up to the war, reported but effectively censored (by the techniques discussed last issue). As we remember 15 February 2003, we, the global anti-war movements, must balance our evident failures against our uncelebrated victories and near- successes. We must resist the dreary defeatism of the mass media.