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

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Page Has Been Turned 

As anticipated, the congressional Democrats have permitted Bush to perpetuate the occupation of Iraq. A small, salutary consequence is that we have been spared an illusory victory based upon performance benchmarks that were meaningless, unenforceable and irrelevant to the nature of the conflict itself. Fearful of being maligned as the party of defeat, the Democrats willingly prostrated themselves before the President. The liberal blogosphere is ablaze with anger, as the strategy that they have so assidously advocated since 2003, that the war can only be ended by electing the Democrats into positions of power, has been revealed as a hoax. Like Communist Popular Front true believers confronted with the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact, they have been exposed as dupes, and it must be a most unpleasant experience.

The capitulation of the congressional Democrats is a significant event, and one that should be understood in a broader historical context. In 2002, neither Democrats nor liberals initiated opposition to a possible war in Iraq. Instead, they either provided Bush with the authority to initiate hostilities, as Democratic congressional leaders Gephardt and Daschle did in October 2002, or created safe havens for activists at the grassroots by insisting that there should be no war without UN authorization, a rather strange slogan that implicitly acknowledged that the war was inevitable, and enabled them to support the occupation once the initial messiness of the invasion had concluded. It was effective because it touched upon a historic strain of multilateralism and, in my view, misguided support for the UN as counterweight to US militarism among liberal internationalists.

Intransigent questions related to the morality of the war and the death and destruction that it would inflict upon the people of Iraq were therefore artfully evaded. Congressional Democrats echoed neoconservative themes about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and the existence of weapons of mass destruction, refusing to permit anyone to testify in contradiction of them. No, in the end, opposition to the war was organized in its early phases by a motley group of peace activists, leftists, anarchists, anti-globalization advocates and just plain citizens afraid that their family members were going to be sent off to Iraq to fight an unjust war.

Amazingly, they struck a nerve, as did the efforts of people around the world, culminating in the mass protest marches of February 15, 2003. Liberal activists were swept along with the tide, even as they sought shelter in the need for UN authorization as cynically promoted by MoveON.org. With the start of the war, there was a spasm of direct action protest, centered predominately in San Francisco and Northern California, but this quickly dissipated, as the emphasis now was upon the need to Support the Troops. Despite the lack of UN authorization, the Democrats and liberals facilitated an indefinite support for the occupation by playing upon legitimate concern for the troops stationed in a dangerous, far away place, and soon, by early summer, the UN had obligingly provided the cover for the presence of US troops in Iraq.

Throughout the rest of 2003 and 2004, the Democrats played a double game, limiting public criticism of the occupation to its implementation, while whispering to peace activists that it was essential to unconditionally support them in order to obtain the power to bring the war to an end. Such behaviour resulted in the absurdity of the 2004 Kerry campaign for President, whereby Kerry asserted that more troops were needed to stabilize the country and that he would have provided the President with authorization to invade even in the absence of an al-Qaeda connection and the existence of weapons of mass destruction, while peace activists, with the exception of a few on the left, remained silent and directed all of their criticism towards the President and the Republicans.

The public was not fooled, and Kerry lost the election narrowly despite possibly prevailing in the electoral college. 2004 was the lost year, a year of lost opportunity whereby peace activists suspended meaningful efforts to organize mass resistance to the occupation in order to get a pro-war candidate elected to the White House. Encouraged by the enervated opposition to the continued presence of US troops in Iraq, Democrats initially did little to change policy. But, as 2005 progressed, with the Iraqi insurgency becoming more effective, killing and wounding more and more US troops, the families of US troops took the lead. Cindy Sheehan galvanized public opposition to the war, and parents of children in the public school system began participating in counter-recruitment activities.

Something had to be done, and finally, as 2005 faded into 2006, some Democrats and liberals began to assert that it was time to get US troops out of Iraq. The devil, of course, was in the details, and, in the beginning, all proposed withdrawal plans involved the removal of troops by some date in the distant future, distant, anyway, if you were a soldier or an Iraqi, sometime in 2007, and, as time passed, 2008. Quite convenient, because it kept the door open to stationing US troops in Iraq indefinitely based upon intervening events.

With the approach of the 2006 congressional elections, the Democrats could no longer escape confronting the issue. Finally, they appeared unified around getting the troops out of Iraq, and the electorate responded. Opinion polls revealed increasing majorities of people wanting to bring the war to an end. With Democrats taking control of the Congress, people expected action. There was an emerging fear among some within the military that US forces were being demoralized and degraded to an extent not seen since the Vietnam War. It might take awhile, but the Democrats were going to take the fight to the President. Most voters were unaware, however, that pro-occupation leaders within the party, people like Rahm Emanuel, have ensured that the primaries had produced a group of candidates for contested seats that, in most instances, opposed withdrawal.

So, now, the entire effort has been exposed as yet another shadow play, yet another act of political theatre designed to protect the entrenched leadership within the Democratic Party, as US troops and large numbers of Iraqis continue to die. Indeed, the Democrats are silent about the fact that the number of US combat troops will nearly double by December of this year. The US political system, as with a number of other social problems, has shown itself to be incapable of fashioning a response. Public sentiment cannot penetrate the Iron Triangle of lobbyists, politicians and bureaucrats that make policy and adminster the government within Washington, D. C.

Needless to say, this is dangerous. It is now evident that, as the title of this post states, a page has been turned. People within and without the US must be looking more seriously to other forms of protest, other forms of action to bring the war to an end. One can imagine the possibilities, but cannot predict what will happen. Will sporadic rebellions erupt within the US military, as troops are sent for a seemingly perpetual series of tours of duty? Will the nascent movement of civil disobedience intensify? Will people around the world organize boycotts against US corporations associated with the occupation? Will people increasingly turn to violence against US facilities and institutions, wherever they may be? Will the counter-recruitment effort become even more effective at starving the US military of the people it needs to continue the conflict?

Or, alternatively, will people just become more and more demoralized? Are we living through a historical period where the populace lacks the capacity to wrench power from an elite that is so violent, so destructive, until we experience a catastrophe that is nearly global in nature? While the Democrats dither over Iraq, Bush is instigating violent conflicts in Lebanon, Gaza and, internally, within Iran, pushing the entire Middle East towards a conflagration. Indeed, Iran looms large on the horizon, and with the projection of US force in the region increasing on an almost daily basis, all of these questions take on an inescapable urgency.

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