'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss 

The congressional elections seem like a distant memory. Was it really only about a month ago that the Democrats took control of the House and Senate, carried by a wave of popular sentiment that it is time to get out of Iraq?

Yes, it was, although we can certainly be forgiven for believing that much more time has passed. It just doesn't seem possible that the Democrats could so rapidly abandon a constituency that was so central to their victory.

Faced with the challenge of navigating between rock solid elite support for the war in Iraq as part of a broader based "war on terror", and an electorate that has grown weary of more and more dead soldiers, and more and more wounded ones returning home, many with permanent, debilitating injuries, the Democrats have taken the path of least resistance, cater to the elite. Barely a day passes without some new indication that the Democrats are merely going to craft an Iraqi policy that repackages the Bush Administration's one in shiny new paper.

Before the vote had been completely certified around the country, there was Joe Lieberman, the swing vote in the Senate that the Senate Democratic leadership wanted over Ned Lamont, the vote that keeps them in power, singing duet with John McCain about the need for more troops, not less, the weekend after the election. A week or so later, the House Democrats picked pro-war, pro-occupation member Steny Hoyer for Majority Leader, selecting him over John Murtha, a man who could credibly make the case for withdrawal based upon his credentials as a Marine.

For good measure, to make sure that new Speaker Nancy Pelosi got the message, the House Democrats also placed Illinois member Rahn Emanuel, known for blacklisting of antiwar candidates, in the position of Democratic Caucus Chair. Now, we discover that the newly appointed chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes of Texas, wants 30,000 more troops for Iraq, 10,000 more than sought by Lieberman and McCain.

Shockingly, Reyes regurgitates the same old tired rhetoric that we've heard since they pulled Saddam out of the rabbit hole:

“We’re not going to have stability in Iraq until we eliminate those militias, those private armies,” Reyes said. “We have to consider the need for additional troops to be in Iraq, to take out the militias and stabilize Iraq … We certainly can’t leave Iraq and run the risk that it becomes [like] Afghanistan” was before the 2001 invasion by the United States.

Reyes also stressed that there needed to be greater “political accountability” demanded of the Iraqi government. But on the core issue of the U.S. commitment, Reyes—a Vietnam War veteran who partially lost his hearing in that conflict—even compared his position to that of another Vietnam vet, Sen. John McCain, a staunch supporter of the Iraq war. Like Reyes, McCain also has called for an increase in U.S. troop strength. When asked how many additional troops he envisioned sending to Iraq, Reyes replied: “I would say 20,000 to 30,000—for the specific purpose of making sure those militias are dismantled, working in concert with the Iraqi military.”

When a reporter suggested that was not a position that was likely to be popular with many House Democrats, Reyes replied: “Well again, I differ in that I don’t want Iraq to become the next Afghanistan. We could not allow Iraq to become a safe haven for Al Qaeda, for Hamas, for Hizbullah, or anybody else. We cannot allow Iran or Syria to have a free hand in there to further destabilize the Middle East.”

Iraqis, naturally, have a different story to tell, namely that it has been the refusal of the US to end the occupation that has intensified conflict there. But Reyes, like most American politicians, could care less about them. He only refers to them, the indigenous populace, primarily in the context of being violent enemies. Perhaps, a Central Asian guest worker program might be a good solution, whereby Iraqis are encouraged to leave the shattered remains of their own society, to work elsewhere throughout the region, under close supervision, of course, while the US expands its network of military bases and imports more trustworthy people, say, from South Asia, to run the oil industry.

Unfortunately for us, such a crazy approach makes more sense than anything we hear from Congress, or will soon hear from the Iraq Study Group. Upon close reading, Reyes gives the game away: We cannot allow Iran or Syria to have a free hand in there to further destabilize the Middle East. In other words, Reyes, and the Democratic Party generally, are moving to the wrong side of the fault line in regard to the question as to whether we actually start to normalize relations with Iran and Syria as a means of reducing the violence in Iraq.

After all, Reyes said that he was very clear about his position when he spoke with Pelosi prior to being selected as chair of the intelligence committee. It looks like Pelosi may have passed over Jane Harman because she needed someone who was not so reflexively aligned with the pro-occupation position to advocate it effectively in the new Congress, and Reyes, as someone who voted against launching the war in 2003, fit the bill perfectly.

One can readily draw up the list of usual suspects as to who is prompting them to move in this direction, but that is a rather mundane exercise. Of more importance is the impression that the US feels increasingly threatened by the emergence of Shia power in the region, and, bereft of alternatives, is sliding inexorably towards more aggressive intervention in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, leaving Hamas and Palestine to the Israelis. The situation is considered sufficiently grave that the Democrats are willing to risk being repudiated in 2008 by breaking one of their core commitments.

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