Tuesday, August 28, 2007


In the beginning, with only a handful of exceptions, the Democrats were unalloyed Bush aiders and abettors. Many of them must have known what the rest of the world knew: that the Iraq War was unwinnable, morally wrong, and potentially disastrous in every pertinent geo-strategic sense. But they went along with it, just as they had gone along with Bush’s Afghanistan War and with his so-called War on Terror. Their support held firm even after the Bush boy dressed up in his pilot suit and declared the “mission accomplished” -- in other words, after it became clear to all but the willfully blind that there was plenty “mission” still awaiting accomplishment. In the 2004 primaries, Howard Dean helped make opposition to the war respectable for mainstream Democrats. But Dean was hardly an advocate of immediate withdrawal, and he was fond enough of Bush’s other wars and of Bill Clinton’s military adventures. Then, according to the conventional wisdom, he shrieked, making way for John Kerry to take up the cause. Kerry, by then, was against the war too, but he was not exactly clear about when or how he thought the U.S. should get out of it. What he was plainly for was competence and multilateralism. Had Fox News and their “liberal media” emulators not succeeded so well in dumbing down political discourse, Kerry might have won on the competence issue alone. But it didn’t work out that way. He lost that election or rather had it stolen from him fair and square – that is, within the bounds of ordinary electoral shenanigans [unlike the 2000 election, when Al Gore and Company allowed Bush family operatives and right-wing ideologues on the Supreme Court to steal the election outright].

By the 2006 election, the old ways no longer worked: almost everybody realized how inept the Rumsfeld-Cheney-Bush Gang was, and what a mess they had made. Still, the Democratic leadership did its best to keep Democrats running for House and Senate seats from catching up with their constituents. Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Rahm Emanuel in the House were particularly culpable. Given the depth of opposition to the Iraq War, the Democrats won anyway – not for what they stood for but for what they were not; they won as un-Republicans. The leadership finally got it. Soon, the entire Democratic caucus was where Howard Dean had been two years before. But, mirroring Dean’s politics, the change was more rhetorical than real. Thus the Democrats kept right on funding the war (while not “supporting” it!) and they kept on putting the troops in harm’s way, doing incalculable physical, mental and moral harm to them and their families, and, of course, to their victims (in order to “support” them!). The Democratic Congress could end the war in a minute by refusing to fund it, but that was out of the question. Thus Pelosiism superseded the more transparent forms of aiding and abetting that preceded it. However, given where the voters are, that isn’t an option for candidates running in the primaries. Even Hillary Clinton did what she had to do; she transformed herself from a War Democrat to a peace candidate (sort of). She did it so skillfully that, for now, the moveon.org crowd and other anything-but-Bush remnants of the last several electoral cycles seem neutralized. However, with the primary races about to lurch towards a premature climax, it is starting to look like the pendulum may be about to swing back – thanks, again, to the Republicans. It looks like there might be “convergence” ahead.

Of course, we don’t know what the Divinity is telling the Decider. Neither do we know what delusions dwell in the minds of Dick Cheney and his not so merry band of neocons. We also don’t know if Cheney and Joe Lieberman will get their way. Taking their lead from the Israeli playbook [that worked so well last summer in Lebanon!], they’ve both all but declared that they want to provoke Iran into doing something, anything, that the U.S. can use as a pretext for a full-scale bombing campaign. If this happens, or if Bush and Cheney dig in their heels out of sheer stubbornness or stupidity or both, Clinton and the rest will have no choice but to stay on the course they embarked upon after 2006. But it is not impossible that, seeing the way the wind is blowing, the Republicans might, for once, become Democrats Lite. They might just accede to the wishes of the military, the intelligence community and the less crazy reaches of the Cheney-Bush administration, where less unrealistic notions of what to do are brewing. There is no doubt about it: within the bowels of the Republican Party, the realization is dawning that, for both practical and political reasons, the U.S. has to start withdrawing troops. The military is now stretched so thin that it can no longer police the empire effectively, should “needs” arise outside Iraq and Afghanistan. Morale in the military is at an all time low. Even two-time Bush voters have turned sharply against the war and against Bush. “Vietnamization,” turning the war over to local stooges, isn’t working fast enough, if it’s working at all. Thus many prominent Republicans realize they have no good moves, and therefore little choice but to follow the Democrats’ lead.

The problem is clear: the U.S. can’t leave Iraq without looking like a loser, as it surely is’ but neither can it stay in Iraq without losing even worse. The least bad thing, then, is to buy time by bringing some troops home. Democrats have plenty of Republicans to blame for this “revolting development”; Republicans can’t follow them there, though, now that he’s gone, Donald Rumsfeld can finally be of some use -- as a bipartisan scapegoat. But Republicans and Democrats can agree on blaming America’s erstwhile stooges for not doing their part. Remember Ahmad Chalabi? Now they’re turning on his successor in the hearts and minds of the Vice President’s office, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. [In this too, they are taking their lead from the Israeli playbook. Recall the campaign against Yassar Arafat. The Israelis won that battle, but the larger war didn’t turn out quite the way they wanted! They got Fattah to collaborate with them, more or less, but they also got Hamas.]

It was against this background that John Warner, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, broke with Cheney and Bush to call for (very modest) troop withdrawals. If the comparatively saner minds prevail and if war against Iran is avoided, this could happen. It looks too like modest troop withdrawals might just be enough to satisfy those Democrats whose true colors were better revealed in their outright aiding and abetting days. The Democrats may quibble over the numbers and the dates, but not over the principle of gesturing towards a strategic retreat. In fact, the Congressional leadership of the party is already almost where Warner now is: they need only take the small step of moving from advocating (slow) timelines for withdrawal to supporting more ambiguous initiatives. It may be because the Commander in Chief is incapable of understanding what “his” strategy is, or if he understands incapable of staying on point, but the Democrats are already out-Bushing Bush in proposing to “do an Arafat” on Malaki. Thus, in the past several days, Carl Levin, Warner’s Democratic counterpart on the Armed Services Committee, and Hillary Clinton have all but called for Malaki’s removal -- as if, as Malaki put it, Iraq were just “an American village,” which is, of course, precisely what it has become, partly thanks to his own unappreciated collaboration with the occupying power.

Thus we may be on the brink restoring the vaunted “bipartisanship" the mainstream media talks about so much. The Democrats’ and the Republicans’ Iraq policies just might be about to converge.

In reality, though, the Democrats’ and the Republicans’ policies were never all that divergent. In the past few months, it has seemed otherwise because, for reasons of necessity, the Democratic candidates for President have had no choice. This was all to the good. When Hillary Clinton is obliged to come out against more war funding, it makes positions like Dennis Kucinich’s less marginal; it may even force “electable” candidates like Barack Obama and John Edwards to move in Kucinich’s direction. This is not an outcome to despise.

* *

Still, the fact remains: the Democrats and Republicans are, and always have been, “converged” – not just on the war in Iraq, and not even just on the broad policy orientation into which the war fits. They are converged on the need for the U.S. never to seem like it can’t get its way. In this, they take their lead not so much from the Israelis, who only want to seem invincible to their neighbors, but from organized criminal operations that can never afford to look weak on the street.

Defy the U.S., ever so slightly, and pay dearly. How else account for U.S. Cuba policy even before the politics of south Florida became its driving force? How else explain the first Bush’s turning on his erstwhile flunkies, Manuel Noriega and, yes, Saddam Hussein? Or Bill Clinton’s anti-Serbian adventures? And these are only the most conspicuous recent examples. Years too late, Robert McNamara conceded that he realized the Vietnam War was lost, even as he kept it going. Kissinger and Nixon certainly knew that the war was a lost cause; still they prolonged the death and devastation for nearly seven years. The U.S. may have gone into Vietnam for reasons that made sense, or seemed to, to Cold Warriors. But as the Vietnam War dragged on and on, those reasons ceased to matter (except for public relations purposes); the real concern was, again, not to look weak on the street. Similarly, Cheney and Bush started the Iraq War for their own reasons (not the reasons they told the rest of us or that the Democrats claimed to have believed at the time), but the war goes on now for different reasons altogether – because the U.S. must not look like it can’t have its way. In this, the Clintonites, not just their current standard bearer, are and always have been totally on board. This is what the “bipartisanship” they want, if they can get it, is all about.

We should not forget that Kissinger’s and Nixon’s mafioso thinking had utterly devastating consequences. Speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars last week, George Bush invoked “the lessons of Vietnam” as a reason for keeping the Iraq War going. He even invoked “the killing fields” of Cambodia. It’s not surprising that he or his handlers would get it one hundred per cent wrong. “Staying the course” in Vietnam led to tens of thousands of additional American deaths, and to hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese deaths. It also led to the killing fields. This in a region with far fewer ethnic, religious and cultural fault lines than the Middle East, a region without nuclear weapons. And this in a world that was still ordered by a balance of terror between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and by China’s enormous influence in the region. Were civil order to deteriorate in the Middle East as it did in South-east Asia in consequence of Kissinger’s and Nixon’s mafioso thinking, the consequences could well be catastrophic.

Where uppity Third World countries are concerned, mafioso thinking has long been the bipartisan consensus view. The longer it persists, the more elusive the prospects of a “soft landing” for the United States becomes, as American economic dominance inexorably fades. The longer it persists, the more likely too that there will be yet more Vietnam-like, Iraq-like wars. The best thing that could happen for the United States and the world would be a clear and unambiguous perception of defeat. The reality is already there; the U.S. has lost. But the perception is not. This is a dangerous situation. So long as Hillary Clinton and her ilk are able to say that, while of course they “oppose the war,” they applaud how well the “surge” is working in Al Anbar province and elsewhere, the appearance and the reality are sundered, with grave consequences for reality down the line. If Democrats go back to being the unalloyed aiders and abettors of Bush government policies that they used to be, the prospects for unhappy endings grow – even if, thanks to circumstances beyond their control, Bush policies become more “moderate.” To be sure, the difference is largely one of appearance: Pelosiites are Bush aiders and abettors in reality, even as they loudly proclaim otherwise. But in a political culture as void of genuine opposition politics as ours is, appearances matter.

The U.S. and the world were saved much grief by the perception that the Vietnamese won the Vietnam War. In reality, the results were less clear. By raining unprecedented destruction upon that poor country, the U.S. did succeed in realizing at least one of its objectives; it destroyed what Noam Chomsky has called “the threat of a good example.” Still, for decades (though with ever diminishing efficacy), the perception of defeat impeded America’s path to perpetual war – not completely, but significantly. In Germany and Japan, unequivocal defeat expunged the temptations of world dominance; our more equivocal defeat in Vietnam was less salutary. We are worse off for it. But now, thanks to Bush’s failures, another opportunity presents itself. In this, we are extraordinarily fortunate. To soften our landing, we don’t need to be devastated, the way Germany and Japan were. Those of us who are not in the military or in military families can get off on the cheap. All that needs to happen is that consciousness of defeat takes hold in the ambient political culture. Since the U.S. has already lost the Iraq War – and also the Afghanistan War and (less obviously, but no less certainly) the so-called War on Terror, one would think that would be automatic. But, with our party duopoly and our servile media, our capacity to remain oblivious should never be underestimated.

The convergence on Iraq policy that the Warner/Levin collaboration points towards will impede consciousness of defeat – making the reality even worse, potentially catastrophically worse, than it already is. The Clintonites are eager for the pendulum to swing back; it is as War Democrats that they find their proper level. If they get their way, the consequences will be almost as bad as if the Republicans get theirs. If you doubt this, consider the (Bill) Clinton era or the pre-2006 War Democrats. Unless we break down the convergence there already is and intensify the divergence that has developed, at least rhetorically, in the past year, our future is bound to be one of perpetual war -- more competently conducted under Clintonites than under Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush, but still leading to death and destruction and ultimately to a harder, more brutal, landing than need be. Since Bush has all but assured a Democratic victory in November 2008, the time to stop Clintonism in its tracks and, in so doing, to begin to dismantle the juggernaut is now.

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