Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Turning Point?

Ronald Reagan got a lot of mileage out of his Eleventh Commandment – “thou shalt not speak ill of other Republicans.” If only the Great Communicator had joined his Eleventh with God’s Ninth, the one about “bearing false witness,” the world would have been spared much drivel. Then he and his followers would have had to be silent on the Republican Question, inasmuch as there is nothing good to say about them that is even remotely truthful. But, of course, for all Republicans and nearly all Democrats, truth, and therefore the Ninth Commandment, is the first casualty of electoral politics.

Lately, Democrats have come to lionize Ronald Reagan – a phenomenon even stranger than the Republican lionization of Harry Truman. But the Democrats have not yet made his Eleventh Commandment their own. This is why the October 30 debate promised to be – and was -- interesting. It was “speak ill of Hillary” night. Why not! Since she’s been on a roll in the polls and in collecting money and endorsements, it’s a good strategy or at least a desperate one. Besides, more than any of the other candidates, she deserves it.

Since Barack Obama was the only other candidate getting much media attention, the hype going into the debate was that he would finally take Hillary on “aggressively.” He did, sort of. Like everyone else on the stage, he faulted her vote on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, authorizing a Bush war in Iran. [Without quite conceding her commitment to the déjà vu all over again principle, Hillary claimed Kyl-Lieberman only authorizes “diplomacy.”] He also faulted Clinton for not making her (Bill) Clinton era papers available sooner rather than later (when it will be too late). This is a reasonable point: since she claims experience in governance, one would expect that she would be eager to back up her claim with supporting evidence, if there were any. From Obama’s quarter, that was about the extent of it. He landed a few (gentle) punches. But he didn’t exactly kick ass -- maybe because he’s too nice a guy; maybe because he’s now running for Vice President.

This is why we must be grateful to Chris Dodd for turning the tables by raising the obvious question of Clinton’s electability. It’s all well and good to point out that her policies are Republican Lite; that, much like John Kerry in 2004, what she offers is a more competent approach to the same old catastrophic same old. Of all the candidates, she is plainly the most Clintonite, though with the exception of Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, none of the others are free of the taint. The Democratic “base” is far to Hillary’s left. But many of the voters who like her politics least think that, because she is to the right of the others, she’s the one most likely to hand the Republicans a thrashing. They don’t care for her (right) centrism, but they think they should vote for her because of it. It’s this thinking that got John Kerry the nomination in 2004. It was wrong then; it’s even more wrong now – not just because the Cheney/Bush administration is more obviously a failure than it was back then, but also because until he became the Democratic candidate, Kerry was not an obsession of the entire “great right wing conspiracy” but only of a tiny part of it comprised of a handful of psychologically damaged Vietnam veterans. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is and long has been hated (for the wrong reasons) by the whole god-fearing lot of them. Nothing anymore can mobilize this key part of the Republican base as well as she can and will. It’s hard to believe, even so, that the Democrats can lose, but it’s also hard not to worry that they somehow will. Clinton’s politics is lousy, but the Democratic base already knows that. What they need to hear is that, despite her politics, she’s the candidate most likely not to win.

John Edwards got it. As of today, his campaign has picked up the ball. Edwards also did what Obama was supposed to do far better than Obama did. Not only did he fault Hillary on Iraq and Iran and on “business as usual in Washington” and the rest of it; he caught her talking out of both sides of her mouth on New York state’s proposal to issue drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants. Obama jumped on that too, but Edwards got there first and more incisively. He’s a better debater than Obama is -- quicker on his feet -- and, more importantly, as I’ve pointed out countless times, his policies are better too. I hope Edwards now becomes the new second in line. Then the media won’t be quite so able to ignore his campaign. If that happens, he’ll put the attention to good use – something Obama did not. Then who knows! He’s our best shot for blowing Hillary out of the water. He has a good chance in the Iowa caucuses and a fair chance in the New Hampshire primary. As they go, maybe, so will the nation.

Ironically, the drivers’ license issue resonates with the electability issue, since the one thing that is so far working for the Republicans – or rather for their sizeable nativist and borderline racist element -- is illegal immigration. Immigrant bashing is the new gay baiting. Clinton has now made herself more than usually vulnerable on that score.

I confess that I have no ear for the mood of the electorate: I still don’t understand why any Republican since Eisenhower got more than a handful of votes. But for what it’s worth, I think the Philadelphia debate was a turning point. It’s still Hillary’s race to lose. She didn’t – and won’t -- make a fatal gaffe. But while the Clinton juggernaut seemed unstoppable the day before yesterday, she now seems vulnerable. Is this wishful thinking? The next few weeks, perhaps even the next few days, should tell.

NOTE: The other debate highlight, besides Clinton’s Clintonizing on drivers’ licenses, was Dennis Kucinich’s claim in response to a Tim Russert question that he once saw a UFO. If only the rest of what he had to say got as much attention! The debate could have been better in other ways too. It would have been better if Mike Gravel had been there. After all, he’s the one who spoke ill of Hillary (and of the other Clintonites) first. No one pillories Hillary better. It would have been better too if somebody had pointed out that notwithstanding his self-congratulations, Bill Richardson’s position on the war is not the best of all the candidates: it’s the third best, after Kucinich’s and Gravel’s. It would have been better if Dennis Kucinich’s repeated efforts to talk about impeachment hadn’t been so thoroughly ignored. It would have been better if someone, anyone, had mentioned Israel, the nine hundred pound gorilla in the room, when the topic was Iran. Still, the October 30 debate was quantum levels better than its predecessors – not just as entertainment, but for its content as well. Perhaps it will turn out to have been a welcome turning point too.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween: The Final Stretch

NPR’s “Morning Report” has long been a reliable source for conventional wisdom, and not just thanks to the inimitable Cokie Roberts. Thus NPR’s ace political correspondents, Mara Liasson and Ken Rudin proclaimed this morning (October 29) that the horse race for the Democratic nomination is about to go into its final stretch. Translation: the October 30 “debate” in Philadelphia may be the last chance to stop the Clinton juggernaut – but only if Hillary makes a “gaffe” (which is unlikely) or if somebody else comes up with a show-stopping bon mot (as Ronald “the actor” Reagan was good at doing). This is indeed conventional wisdom, conveyed with the usual mindlessness of what passes for journalism today. But since what Liasson and Rudin and others like them say can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, it could be true: the race to the bottom in the Democratic Party may soon be over.

If it is, the corporate media – and NPR, being not much better -- are more than usually culpable. It is they who have turned this election, even more than its predecessors, into a “horse race” – reporting, first on the money (not where it comes from, but how much of it there is) and then on polling data that reports mainly on the effectiveness of their reporting. “Issues” are seldom discussed; power relations and their effects on the economic and cultural factors that shape agendas – determining what the “issues” are -- are not discussed at all. Thus, from early on, it was Clinton versus Obama. Over the summer, Obama seemed to tank – thanks partly to the desertion of African American “leaders.” [As was widely reported, some of them think that he isn’t “black enough.” But the deeper problem, not reported in the media, is that some of them all of the time (especially the stalwarts of the formerly progressive Black Caucus) and all of them some of the time have become bought and paid for assets of corporate power, and of various miscreant “lobbies, not least the Israel lobby. Thus these “leaders” are natural allies of the Clintons who, by the way, “feel the pain” of the other African Americans, the vast majority, who, along with most latinos and other “persons of color,”are of no interest to the corporations and lobbies. Small wonder, then, that so many pillars of the community, people like Ron Dellums and John Lewis, would endorse Hillary Clinton. Obama may be – and probably is – a Clintonite at heart. But if it’s a Clintonite you want, why not go for the genuine article!

It isn’t just the two candidates who actually have something important to say – Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel – who are read out of the story (when they aren’t turned into objects of derision.). It’s the more “electable” candidates too. The one most harmed by media neglect is the one who still has the best chance to pull off an upset, John Edwards. Arguably, on foreign policy – or at least on imperialism and war – his positions are more or less the same as Obama’s and even Clinton’s. He is clearly better on trade, however, and even more clearly on a host of domestic “issues.” So is Chris Dodd. On the Iraq War, if nothing else, Bill Richardson has the best position this side of Kucinich and Gravel. But none of this matters to the opinion makers. They’re too busy promoting Clinton’s inevitability, while keeping Obama in focus just enough to perk up interest so that their audience won’t fall asleep or go away.

Does it matter? Arguments can be made both ways. On the one hand, Clinton isn’t that much worse than the others (Kucinich and Gravel excepted) and, although much hated (for the wrong reasons) by “the vast right-wing conspiracy,” she, or any Democrat, is bound to be a winner against any of the pitiful candidates the Republicans might field. On the other hand, the Democrats in Congress have been so utterly disappointing (especially after being voted into office to end the Iraq War) and, more generally, so worthy of contempt that they just might lose. That’s an outcome too frightening to contemplate: imagine, say, Rudy Giuliani in the White House (advised by Norman Podhoretz) and Mike Huckabee, everybody’s choice for VP (according to the conventional wisdom) affably chiming in for creationism from his “bully pulpit.” It strains credulity to imagine that anything could be worse than the Cheney/Bush administration, but just watch any Republican debate! A Democratic defeat is unlikely even with Clinton leading the ticket. But it is not impossible.

Maybe I’m so worried because it will soon be Halloween, the season to be scared. After all, in the light of day, I realize that we do live in a country (and world) eager to see the backs of Cheney and Bush, that the Republicans have fielded the vilest collection of candidates ever to vie for national office, and that, in recent months, their useful idiots, the “values voters,” have all but given up. I know this because, in its October 28 edition, The New York Times, which is never wrong, said so twice – in a long article in the Sunday Magazine by David Kirkpatrick and in a column by Frank Rich. Of course, there are still a few hapless neo-cons, like Charles Krauthammer, who think the Republican candidates are just fine, and who keep repeating this nonsense in their syndicated Washington Post columns. But Krauthammer, like everyone close to the Vice President, has trouble with reality. Why then am I still worried? Could it be because I can’t help but remember what the Democrats are like -- not just the comparatively powerless ones who illustrate Robert Frost’s observation that a liberal is ‘someone who won’t take his own side in an argument,’ but also the Clintonized leadership, who want nothing more than to implement Cheney/Bush policies more competently and in a kinder, gentler way. Even with Hillary Clinton as the candidate, they’ll probably get their way (thanks to George Bush and notwithstanding the hordes of right-wing Hillary haters), and we’ll be better off than with the alternative. But win or lose, we’ll lose.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The Democratic leadership in the House and Senate think they’ve got a good thing going by passing popular spending bills – SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, was one – that Bush is sure to veto in the name of fiscal conservatism. Then they count on there being too few Republicans willing to break with the administration to override the veto. This, they think, will make the Republicans look bad, even worse than they otherwise would, going into the 2008 elections. What makes it all work, in their minds, is that Bush wants an extra $200 billion more for his Iraq and Afghanistan wars, while the spending he’ll veto is unlikely to amount to a tenth of that.

Were this nothing more than electoral posturing, it wouldn’t be particularly objectionable. After all, in a choice between Republicans and Democrats, one can only hope that the lesser evil party will do as well as it can. But the Democrats’ strategy isn’t just posturing – it’s a charade. With Democrats controlling the House and Senate, the billions for Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the additional billions for his so-called War on Terror (actually, a war on the rule of law) are bipartisan ventures. The Democrats could shut all these operations down in a minute if they wanted to; they could free up money galore for social purposes. But, of course, they won’t. They’ll wring their hands in mock despair instead.

It isn’t just that the Democratic Party is in the thrall of the competitive elections game. Nor is it that plus the (patently false) belief that the Bush wars are making Americans safer. If anybody doubts that they’re making Americans less safe, they should read David Cole’s and Jules Lobel’s new book, LESS SAFE LESS FREE: Why America is Losing the War on Terror (New Press, 2007). [Cole and Lobel argue exhaustively that the war on terror (and the preventive wars that are part of it) not only devastate traditional freedoms and longstanding commitments to the rule of law, but are also counterproductive. This is absolutely obvious, of course, but evidently the case needs to be made, given how many supporters war mongering Republicans like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have, and inasmuch as there plainly are Democrats too who believe this nonsense. The task Cole and Lobel took upon themselves is a bit like explaining why creationism isn’t science. But somebody’s got to do it.]

The real problem is that, in the end, the Democratic leadership – indeed, the entire Clintonite wing of the party (and not only them) -- want what Cheney and Bush want: a pax Americana assured through control of strategic resources (like oil), and maintained by a military force that no one dares to challenge. This Republicrat consensus is related to the more familiar Washington consensus for “free trade” and neo-liberal economic policies friendly to American corporations. It is, as it were, the Washington consensus’ foreign policy. Bush’s failures threaten the appearance of American invincibility. The US has lost big time in Iraq, and it’s losing in Afghanistan. Republicans and Democrats alike want it to seem otherwiwse because the last thing they want is an Iraq Syndrome even more disabling to imperial designs than the Vietnam Syndrome that Reagan and the first Bush set out to combat and that the (Bill) Clinton administration finally dispatched.

Of course, Democrats can’t just come out as Republicrats – not if they want to retain their “base.” The candidates especially can’t, though all of them – except the unelectable ones (Kucinich and Gravel) – are on board. So their only recourse is to say that they’ll keep on funding the Bush wars in order to “support the troops.” Can anyone say those words without choking in their craw? Evidently. It flows out of the mouths of Democrats and Republicans alike.

I’ve pointed out countless times in earlier entries that putting American troops in harm’s way, subjecting them to death and injury, ruining their lives and the lives of their families, and turning them into purveyors of murder and mayhem is an odd way tp “support” them. It hardly need be said that those who really want to support the troops will do whatever they can to bring them home now. In our so-called democracy, we, the people, can’t do much – witness the 2006 elections. But, unless Cheney and Bush abrogate the Constitution altogether, Congressional Democrats can!

Of course, they won’t – as long as there are troops they can say they have to “support.” They’d rather play out their charade. It may be too much to hope that enough people will notice, but the fact is that, by doing so, they’ve backed themselves into a corner. If it all comes down to supporting the troops and if, thanks to Bush, there really must be a trade off between that and supporting even more needy constituencies, why should the troops get it all? Why not children, the poor, the sick, and the elderly? Why not money for infrastructure and public health and disaster relief? Could it be because the troops are doing something necessary and honorable; because they’re “serving their country” in a way that the rest of us are not? Even if this were true, the question would remain: why should they get it all? [Never mind that getting it all in this context means getting only grief.] But, of course, it isn’t true that they’re doing something necessary and honorable or even worthwhile. More than three-quarters of the American people have, by now, come around to this view. So have almost all Democratic legislators, whether they’ll admit it or not. It’s long past time that they stopped pretending otherwise. Playing out their transparent charade is a moral and strategic blunder. And, insofar as it matters, as it evidently does to the party’s movers and shakers, it is also bad electoral gamesmanship. After Cheney and Bush, only doctrinaire Clintonites and the truly foolish can still believe that bellicosity buys votes. Will the Democrats overcome their Clintonism and end their foolishness in time?

NOTE: While Democrats play games, Bush and Cheney may be revving up for yet another reckless military adventure, targeting Iran. Democrats have done nothing to stop this latest march towards war; but until now the relatively saner voices in the administration, and in the military and intelligence communities have held Cheney and Company back. But Cheney is used to getting his way and so, not unrelatedly, is the Israel lobby, which is dead set on the US taking on Iran. This report from The Congressional Quarterly suggests that it may be happening again.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Will They Learn to Stop Worrying?

Will the hard Right learn to stop worrying and love Hillary? By all rights they should, given the affinities between their politics and the Clintons’. Why then, over the years, have they hated Hillary so much? Her social liberalism is certainly part of the answer. But most other Democrats are no different in that regard (in fact, many are more outspoken) and, in any case, the success of the Giuliani campaign shows that social conservatism isn’t as potent a force on the Right as everyone assumed. Could it just be that the Clintons wrote “the vast right-wing conspiracy” off, pandering instead to constituencies the Right despises? Or is it that people on the Right are better able than liberals to sniff out phonies? Those people do know how to hate (the wrong things) after all, and, as the Germans say, “hatred sees sharply.” In Hillary’s case, no doubt part of the problem too is plain old-fashioned male chauvinism. But then why do they hate her (official) better half just as much? There are reasons galore, but, in the end, the virulence of right-wing anti-Clintonism defies explanation.

However there are signs that it is breaking down. You wouldn’t know it, though, from the October 21 Republican debate, where the candidates spent as much time lambasting Hillary as each other. You wouldn’t know it either from the Giuliani campaign’s insistence that Rudy, and Rudy alone, can save the country from Hillary, a scourge almost as great as terrorism, which of course Rudy is also uniquely capable of quashing. But the Republican candidates, including Giuliani, are living in the past. The times they are a changin’ – not exactly in ways that stir hope, but nevertheless for the better (since, after Cheney and Bush, even the worst Democrat – even Hillary -- would be welcome news). The hard Right might not see it that way, but most voters do. Far-sighted people on the Right realize that they need to accommodate to that fact.

As long ago as when the Clintons first set their sights on New York, they began a charm offensive directed towards Rupert Murdoch, the arch-villain of media consolidation. Murdoch’s right-wing instincts are beyond dispute; he wears them on his sleeve. But he’s also a “pragmatist” (according to the punditocracy’s, not the philosopher’s, meaning of the term); in other words, he’s a rank opportunist, just as the Clintons are. He’s also adept at seeing which way the wind is blowing, and at attaching himself to present – and future -- power. Thus Murdoch played an important role in the ascension of Tony Blair in Great Britain. Thanks to the Iraq War, the world now thinks of Blair as the Bush boy’s poodle. But he’s actually more of a Clinton clone (or vice versa); a master at accelerating rightward (neo-liberal, imperialist) tendencies in political formations of the soft (in the American case, very soft) left. It would be an exaggeration to call Murdoch a Clinton booster. But neither has he lately been the hard line Clinton opponent one would have expected him to be. Media moguls gotta do what media moguls gotta do.

An article by Jim Rutenberg in the October 22 New York Times reports on how the Clinton charm offensive is expanding its focus: to the media’s favorite rumormonger, Matt Drudge. Drudge is also a man of the Right, and as shoddy a journalist as ever there was. But he has become a source for breaking (leaked) news and is therefore widely read by opinion-shapers in the media and government. For Hillary, getting on his good side is a good move. According to Rutenberg, that’s just what the Clinton campaign is now doing – in the usual way, by leaking profusely. There is a striking irony in this. In much the way that Ted Koppel became rich and famous off the Iranian hostage crisis of the Carter era, Drudge became a national figure in the Bill Clinton days thanks to “the Lewinsky affair” – in other words, by helping to make Hillary Clinton a subject of ridicule. One thing you have to say for her: when it comes to seizing opportunities, she won’t let silly little grudges get in the way. But, of course, we already knew that by the way she has repeatedly stood by her man. What the Clintons have is a power marriage – where doing what needs to be done to gain and hold on to power comes first, last and always. In this respect, they’re not very different from Rupert Murdoch; they’re cut from the same cloth.

Neutralizing Murdoch and getting Drudge on board will not suffice to do right-wing anti-Clintonism in. For whatever (inexplicable) reasons, it is too deeply entrenched. But not all the right-wing anti-Clintonites are so deeply dug in. From Hillary’s point of view, there’s no reason not to try to win them over, and not to chip away at the remaining entrenchments. It would be different if this latest species of pandering outraged the Democratic “base”; until her nomination is secure, Hillary needs to stay in their good graces. But for reasons almost as inexplicable as the right-wing hostility the Clintons elicit, the Democratic base has yet to reject Clintonism for the right reasons. Should the family find its way back into the White House, this will surely come to pass. But by then it will be too late.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Winning a War

The Cheney/Bush government isn’t losing all its wars of choice. It’s winning the one against the rule of law. Much like World War II, that war has two theaters. Back then, it was the Atlantic and the Pacific. Now it’s “the homeland” and everywhere else. Cheney and Bush are winning in both of them.

As with the others, these wars are waged with Democratic help. This past week, it was the domestic war that took center stage – as the Senate Judiciary Committee slouched towards the confirmation of Michael Mukasey for the office of Attorney General. Mukasey may be less preposterous than John Ashcroft or Alberto (Fredo) Gonzales and therefore more tolerable to the likes of Chuck Schumer and Pat Leahy. But he’s on the same page as the other two. As his all but unchallenged testimony made clear, he will not take on torture, wireless surveillance, habeus corpus, preventive detention or the rest of it. He won’t even close down Guantanamo. For the good Senators, it was evidently enough that he’s aware of how “sensitive” many Bush era violations of fundamental human and citizenship rights are – as he follows in the footsteps of those who helped make them happen.

Then there was the bipartisan proposal to grant retroactive immunity from civil liability for telecom companies who turned records over to the government voluntarily – that is, without court order. All that stands in the way of full Congressional passage of that outrage is the threat by Senators Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd to filibuster the measure. All success to them: this is one of the most blatant examples of money talking – the people and their rights be damned! -- in the current Congressional session. But note that, should it come to this, Feingold and Dodd will be taking on not just the Republicans but also the leadership of their own party, and most of their fellow Democratic Senators -- including, it now seems, Hillary Clinton. On individuals’ rights and the rule of law, Democrats talk a good line, just as they do on the other Cheney/Bush wars -- now that they’ve all gone sour. But it’s just talk. When push comes to the slightest nudge, Democrats, most of them anyway, end up aiding and abetting Cheney and Bush.

Dodd’s position warrants attention because, compared to most of the other Presidential candidates, he’d not half bad. It isn’t just the “unelectable” third tier twosome, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, who take decent positions; and it isn’t just the better two-thirds of the top tier, Barack Obama and especially John Edwards, who are better (less bad) than Hillary Clinton. Bill Richardson is good on the Iraq War – better than any of them, in fact, except Kucinich and Gravel; and Dodd has been consistently good on environmental policy and on the restoration of basic rights and liberties. His filibuster threat is not out of character. I suspect that were one to look hard enough, even Joe Biden would best Hillary on many of “the issues.” Still her juggernaut roles on: as if it is written in the stars that “the worst always wins.” If that turns out to be true, it would be quite a reproach to our “democracy.” It may well turn out that way. Rudy Giuliani is counting on it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hillary Hawkery is Back

If you squint just the right way, it is possible not to see much space between the three top Democratic contenders’ positions on Iraq. They are all officially anti-war (finally), but unlike Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, their opposition is more rhetorical than real. It comes down to this: they want to bring most of the troops home eventually but, most of all, they want to stave off the perception of abject defeat – because they don’t want America’s imperial designs to be hamstrung by any Iraq Syndrome. Of course, if you squint just a little differently, then on this matter as on nearly all others, Clinton can seem to be the worst and Edwards the best, with Obama somewhere in the middle, insofar as his position can be pinned down. But the differences are, in any case, slight. There is no good reason to get steamed up over the (increasingly likely) prospect of a Clintonite restoration on this account.

But it’s different with Iran, as a very instructive piece by Juan Cole in the October 17 makes clear. On Cole’s analysis, the Republican contenders, all but Ron Paul, are falling over each other trying to be perceived as the most bellicose. So far, the most loathsome of that contemptible crew, Rudy Giuliani is ahead in this race, as in the larger primary contest in which it is, so to speak, embedded. Thinking she has the nomination sewed up and therefore looking forward to the general election, Hillary Clinton, having been forced to repent (without quite saying so) of her chicken hawkery on Iraq, is now back at it on Iran. The other Democratic contenders, the “electable” ones anyway, are bad on Iran too; they too want to leave “the military option” on the table. But, according to Cole’s analysis, their positions, or at least their rhetorical postures, are markedly better than Clinton’s.

Hillary was the only candidate in the Senate to vote for the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment (declaring Iran's Revolution Guards "terrorists."), No one should be surprised: Hillary’s stance is vintage Clintonian politics (Bill or Hillary style; it makes no difference!) Being determined to govern from the center (actually, the center-right), promoting a military strike against Iran makes perfect sense, given the latest polling data. And, if that isn’t enough, it’s also pleasing to the Israel lobby. Cole even cites reports that the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment was written by AIPAC! All the leading Democrats are in AIPAC’s grip, but the Clintons are and always have been more than usually servile. And why not – haven’t they found throughout their careers in “public service” that there’s a good percentage in it!

According to Cole, even the Congressional leadership of the Democratic Party is ill-disposed to follow the Clintons into endorsing yet another Bush war – especially one that anyone with any sense (in or out of the military) opposes and that only Dick Cheney and his still virulent neo-conservative advisors want. But that could change if and when it becomes clear that Hillary will be the nominee. The Clintons have dragged the Democrats to the right before; they will do it again (if we let them).

NOTE: to say that, on Iran, the position of the Democratic Congressional leadership is at least a quantum level better (less bad) than that of the leading contender for the Democratic nomination is not to say that the leadership’s position is anything but horrible, as a very perceptive article on Nancy Pelosi, by Margaret Kimberly in The Black Agenda Report, makes eminently clear.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Two drafts ended several decades ago; in both cases, it seemed like a good idea at the time. In retrospect, there is reason to regret the changes.

There was, first of all, the military draft. Nixon’s move to an all “volunteer” army – in other words, to economic conscription only – was shrewd. It was so shrewd that even today, with the military’s manpower needs stretched past the limit, neither the military brass nor the Pentagon’s neo-con “intellectuals” call for reinstating outright conscription. They know that, with non-volunteers under their command, they’d have mutinies on their hands that would dwarf those of the Vietnam era. If we had a real draft today, the Bush wars would never have started or would have ended long ago or, failing that, the country would by now be in such turmoil that even Democrats would hasten to end them, with the full support of our “economic elites.”

With the rise of the primary system, political drafts at state and national party conventions ended in the early 70s too. Primaries were Progressive Era contrivances, but for many decades, they were held only in a few jurisdictions. The institutionalization of binding primaries in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and in overseas territories seemed a genuinely democratizing advance: the voters themselves, not party leaders in “smoke filled rooms” would choose the candidates. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Nowadays, neither the people nor good-hearted or at least responsive (and often corrupt) politicians rule; the folks with the money, the candidates’ paymasters, call the shots.

Thus the well-funded Hillary juggernaut proceeds on course. Perhaps, as Walter Shapiro writes in the Oct. 16 edition of, early front runners (like Howard Dean or Ed Muskie) tend to peak too soon – often, though not necessarily, by making some “gaffe” -- confounding the pundits by tanking before the are able to collect the nomination that had seemed inevitably theirs. I certainly hope Hillary tanks, just as I hope that John Edwards wins the nomination and, more important, that he turns out not to be a Clintonite. But this is all wishful thinking. Edwards is looking increasingly unlikely to win and he probably is a Clintonite under the skin anyway. Above all, Hillary is unlikely to make a gaffe; she’s too good at seeming to be in charge. Perhaps it could have happened had there been more nastiness in the past several months. [It was to that end that I proposed establishing Monica Lewinsky Democratic Clubs in every city, town and hamlet.] By now it’s probably too late and, in any case, the new Hillary is not easily provoked. She may lose the Iowa caucuses, but don’t count on her to shriek.

If political drafts were still possible, how much more hopeful the future might seem! Hardly anybody actually wants Hillary to be the candidate; it’s just that she seems inevitable. But, since he won the Nobel Prize, there are lots of Democrats who want Al Gore to be the nominee. If an open convention were held today, he’d probably come out the winner – even if, especially if, he wouldn’t run for the nomination (but, of course, also wouldn’t refuse it). Needless to say, the Al Gore of 2000 would be no improvement over the Hillary Clinton of 2007. Given the choice, even I would probably prefer her, if for no other reason (there really is none!) than that she is a her. But today’s Al Gore is or at least seems to be a different man – no longer the corporate whore of old, but an environmental crusader. Whether or not he has changed as much as it seems, many Democrats believe he has. That might be enough to do what Barack Obama and John Edwards have so far been unable to do – to blow Clinton, though perhaps not Clintonism, out of the water. But, of course, Gore won’t be drafted. To win the nomination, he’d have to run in the primaries, and that he won’t do. But maybe, just maybe, the thought that he might will arouse sufficient number of Democratic voters from their Clintonite slumbers; maybe that thought will provide the spark necessary for the Democratic “base” to deselect the front runner while there is still time. No doubt, this is wishful thinking too. But wouldn’t it be wonderfully ironic if even just the thought of that arch-Clintonite of old should play a role in dispatching the Clintons from the scene and, along with them, perhaps also the political tendency that bears their name.

Monday, October 15, 2007

"Support the Troops" But...

If, as almost all Democrats agree, the Iraq War serves no defensible purpose, then it follows that the deaths and injuries our troops have suffered – and inflicted – have been in vain. No Democratic candidate -- except Mike Gravel and, in a more guarded way, Dennis Kucinich – will admit this. But it requires remarkable disingenuousness to conclude otherwise. Nevertheless, the troops deserve our “support.” It is true that they are technically volunteers. But the vast majority of them “volunteered” because the military seemed their best option, given their economic prospects. Others “volunteered” because military service seemed to offer a way to gain citizenship or at least permanent residency in the United States. What they volunteered to do was not work that needed to be done, and what they did is certainly not “honorable.” We therefore owe them nothing for their “service”; indeed, they have done a disservice, though the fault for this is plainly not theirs. Nevertheless, our troops are owed a great deal for having lived in circumstances that led them to volunteer to put themselves in harm’s way; we all owe them for this – all of us, insofar as we are complicit in maintaining a regime based on an economic system that generates enormous inequalities and that leads to perpetual war. For the harm done to our troops and for the harm we have made them do, they warrant our “support.”

Of course, when Democrats talk of “supporting the troops,” this is not what they mean. They may sometimes talk of mitigating the dangers the troops confront or of taking better care of veterans. [They may also intend support for the “out sourced” mercenary forces the U.S. has sent into Iraq, permitting the war and occupation to drag on without reinstating official conscription.] But mitigating dangers and harms is not what “supporting the troops” means to them either. It means keeping the war going – keeping the troops in harm’s way. Evidently, some Democrats can’t add two and two. Others, just as stupidly, think that the party’s electoral prospects depend on hanging tough. Then there are the cynics who want the war and occupation to drag on to make Republicans look even worse than they already do. But many Democrats “support the troops” knowing full well what they are doing. After all, it was essentially their politics that brought those troops into harm’s way. The Democrats would have done things differently and, no doubt, more competently. But when it comes to underlying political motivations, Clintonite Democrats are not all that different from Cheney/Bush Republicans. As I’ve said before, Democrats and Republicans both want a pax Americana enforced by the world’s mightiest military machine; they both want the United States to call the shots, whether unilaterally or, if possible, under the cover of multilateral institutions. They both want the U.S. to control strategic resources, especially oil, throughout the world. Most of all, they both want American corporations to be free to enrich themselves without significant impedances. This is why even “anti-war” Democrats want to avoid the appearance of an abject defeat in Iraq. Of course, there’s no way they can get what they want, but they can buy time – by “supporting the troops.”

Still there are limits because, for Democrats, some things are even more important – like pandering to ethnic lobbies. Everyone knows what mischief these lobbies do to what we naively call “the national interest.” The Cuba lobby has not only damaged Cuba and U.S.- Cuba relations. It has helped the U.S. do incalculable harm in Central America and elsewhere in the Western hemisphere (and, in Africa too, working against Cuban support for liberation movements there.). The role of the Israel lobby in shaping American policy in the Middle East has lately become a matter of dispute. We may soon have better evidence of its power and of its malign effects if the U.S. goes to war with Iran. There is little doubt, though, that the Israel lobby commands U.S. policy towards Israel/Palestine, and that America’s thorough lack of “even handedness” in that conflict has done incalculable damage to all the parties involved, including the United States.

That the Cuba and Israel lobbies are powerful and do harm should come as no surprise. But the Armenian lobby has operated, for the most part, under the radar. Now, though, that lobby has gotten Congress to pass a resolution calling the Ottoman slaughter of Armenians in 1915 a “genocide.” [They tried first in the mid-90s. But then Bill Clinton got Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House, to quash the effort. George W. Bush can’t get Nancy Pelosi to budge.] The description is probably apt. But in liberal societies it is not up to the state to decide what is true; it is therefore not the Congress’s business to legislate historical judgments. When it attempts to do so, scientific or scholarly detachment go by the board, and electoral posturing of the most unseemly and self-serving kind, takes its place. This is what has happened, most recently, with Darfur. Even so, when the U.S. deems the tragic events there a “genocide,” there are – or are supposed to be – consequences. But not even Nancy Pelosi or others in the California delegation, where most Armenian-Americans live, can pass laws that trigger legal measures against the Ottoman Empire; not unless they can get their hands on a Way Back Machine. Congress’ abject pandering is therefore only symbolic. But, as usual, pandering has consequences.

Pandering to the Armenian lobby has put U.S. Turkish relations in peril – an especially dangerous eventuality when the Turks are poised to invade the Kurdish regions of Iraq, ostensibly to combat “terrorism” but actually to quash Iraqi Kuridsh support for the (much oppressed) Kurdish regions of Turkey. This is potentially an even greater threat to what little stability there still is in the region than the Israeli aggression last September against what turns out to have been a small-scale nuclear reactor in Syria. [There was no thought that the reactor posed any threat to Israel or anyone else in the foreseeable future. But it seems to have been of North Korean “provenance”; and we can’t have that! Especially not at a time when the Israelis are hell bent on getting the United States to go after Iran’s reactors. They must have figured that, to that end, a “demonstration” raid wouldn’t hurt.]

Ironically, though, the Armenian genocide resolution could have another consequence: that Turkey will rescind the support it renders the American war effort in Iraq, at least for a while. By making Turkish bases and Turkish air space unavailable to “the troops” and, more importantly, to the cargo the U.S. needs to run the war, Turkey could make the Iraq War much more difficult to conduct. This is not what “supporting the troops” is about; at least not to the Democratic leadership. Evidently, though, no matter how determined they are to be or at least to seem as “strong on defense” as their Republican rivals, pandering to ethnic constituencies still takes precedence. It trumps “supporting the troops.”

[Too bad that Serbs are not more concentrated in battleground states and that they’re not better organized as an interest group. Had they been, Bill Clintons’ military adventures in the former Yugoslavia might have been avoided, saving countless lives and incalculable damage to that nation’s infrastructure!]

Thus it turns out that Nancy Pelosi and the rest are not incapable of impeding Bush wars after all. Since “does” implies “can,” we now know for sure that they can do more than “talk the (anti-war) talk.” They may not have it within themselves to end the war by defunding it, or to punish its perpetrators (or even remove them from office), but they can make the murder and mayhem more difficult to execute. Supporting the troops, it seems, has its limits – even in Pelosiite circles. That’s good to know.

* *

Note: in declaring that the Armenians suffered a genocide, the House of Representatives, home of the “freedom fry,” is following the lead of their new friends, the French. But the French are even worse. Not only do they legislate historical judgments; they also impose penalties on those who disagree. This makes life difficult for Holocaust deniers but it can also have charmingly ironic consequences – as when that archetypal “orientalist” and leading figure in the “clash of civilizations” wing of the neo-con movement, Bernard Lewis, was indicted in France -- for denying the Armenian genocide!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Inconvenient Truths

The world must have improved a tad since the seventies when Nobel Peace Prizes went to the likes of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat and, hard as it still is to believe, Henry Kissinger. The last of these awards came at a heavy price: it caused Tom Lehrer to stop writing satirical songs. As he later said, when Kissinger won the Nobel Prize, there was nothing left to satirize.

So, congratulations to Al Gore. After all, he did turn a corner after getting off to a bad start. Having been “the corporate whore” of popular slogans and the darling of the Israel lobby (or, at least, of The New Republic), he evidently “bottomed out” seven years ago after picking Joe Lieberman for a running mate and then letting Bush family fixers cheat him of the Oval Office. Now he warns of global warming, a worthwhile cause. The Nobel Committee could have done worse – much worse.

They could also have done better had their politics been better and had they known more about the United States. For one thing, they could have dealt Clintonism a blow by giving the prize to someone who really deserves it – not for a mid-life conversion but for a lifetime of achievement. They should have given the prize to Ralph Nader. However, for that, they would need a sense of irony, a capacity in short supply among do-gooders. Better still, they could have given the prize again to Jimmy Carter. In the past year, Carter, to his everlasting credit, made himself a pariah to the Clintonite faithful and, what comes to the same thing, the base, servile and cowardly leadership of the Democratic Party by doing just what Gore has done: publicizing some “inconvenient,” though perfectly obvious truths. To paraphrase some of the main ones (in language slightly more direct, less qualified and less civil than Jimmy Carter, ever the gentleman, would use), there is the fact that Israel has imposed an Apartheid regime on the Occupied Territories; that the tragedy in Darfur is not a “genocide” and that claims to the contrary are motivated by base imperialist interests; that George W. Bush is about as bad as a President can get (within the framework of our Constitutional government) and that his crimes include turning the United States into a torture regime; that starting yet another war, this time targeting Iran, would unleash a disaster of catastrophic proportions; and, not unrelatedly, that Dick Cheney is a shameless chicken hawk who is not only a dismal practitioner of geopolitical strategy but also a moral reprobate. For uttering these inconvenient truths Carter deserves two Nobel Peace Prizes far more than Gore deserves one.

Another Icon Disgraces Himself

As if Ron Dellums wasn’t bad enough, now add John Lewis to the list of African American Hillary supporters. Again I must ask: what diabolical powers do the Clintons possess? If only, as Maxwell Smart used to say, it could be used for “niceness.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Democracy and the Democrats

Thanks to our founders’ convictions, American political institutions have a (small-r) republican character that time and capitalism cannot entirely erase. As in seventeenth and eighteenth century republican political philosophy, they are designed around a conception of politics that aims to discover and implement a common good, pursued in deliberative institutions that arrive at collective choices through democratic voting procedures. Nevertheless, the real world of American “democracy” pulled in the opposite direction from the beginning – not just because slavery and the requirements of what was essentially a settler state rendered notions of a common good otiose, but also because capitalist development and all that followed from it, including modern manufacturing and the immigrant labor force it required, turned the regime over to competing interests, controlled ultimately by the requirements of capital accumulation. Democratic theorists endeavored to grapple with this paradox. Some abandoned notions of deliberative democracy, coming to model ideal political arrangements on the so-called free market – turning voting into a method for aggregating competing individual and group interests. Thus deliberative ideals intended to promote a common good gave way to procedural principles that operate like bargaining, in which various “interests” compete for comparative advantages. Others came to identify “democracy” just with the institutions in place in the United States and other so-called liberal democracies. To the degree that there was any sense at all to the long discredited but still menacing neoconservative plan to “democratize” the Middle East, this is the sense of “democracy” the necons had in mind.

Thus there has always been a sharp disconnect between normative democratic theory in the United States and the real world of American democracy. But, in recent decades, thanks to John Rawls’s enormously influential accounts of justice and political legitimacy and to an on-going revival of small-r republican political philosophy, the gap has grown wider than ever. The best democratic theorists today promote deliberative ideals; real world politics makes a mockery of the very idea. This was plainly the case in the (Bill) Clinton era. Under Cheney and Bush, the disconnect has increased many-fold. The problem is not just their disregard for fundamental (small-r) republican ideals like the rule of law. It is also that the Democrats, ever cowardly, have gone along with their undeclared war against these ideals – turning our already enfeebled deliberative institutions into parodies of the representative bodies they are supposed to be.

It is no longer just the far too quiescent peace movement or even the so-called Democratic base that opposes the Iraq War; according to every poll, more than two-thirds of the American people now do. Nevertheless the Democratic Congress won’t end the war by defunding it, as is their constitutional prerogative; instead, they posture with faint measures sure to be defeated or vetoed. They promise to exercise oversight over administrative, military and intelligence agencies that parade their lawlessness and wreak of incompetence; but then they only go through the motions, permitting the perpetrators to get away with murder. A majority of the American people desperately want to defend and, where necessary, restore what was so dear to our republic’s founders, our traditional liberties and privacy rights, notwithstanding the endless promotion of fear (lately of Islamic terrorists) emanating from the Bush government and the mainstream media. Here too, the Democrats only gesture – endorsing marginal changes to Cheney/Bush policies that they cannot or will not pass into law. Americans are fed up as well with war profiteering and financial shenanigans undertaken at their expense. Democrats say they’ll do something about these “excesses,” but then they find that they just don’t have the time – as Harry Reid explained recently in response to questions about the Democrats’ failure to take on the egregious tax break, “carried interest,” given to hedge fund managers. The list goes on. This was not what people had in mind when they voted the Democrats into office in 2006. What went wrong?

It became clear, as “the coalition of the willing” was being coerced into being, that our problem also afflicts other countries – where the people opposed the war while their leaders went ahead anyway. But their governments at least had the excuse that a (hegemonic) bully made them do it; and, apart from Blair’s Britain, they were mainly “with us,” as per Bush’s admonition, only for appearance sake. Still, the phenomenon is not exclusively American. What does have a distinctively American flavor is what the Democrats in Congress have been up to, their constituents’ wishes notwithstanding.

Part of the problem is that, by design, our institutions have never been very democratic. Small-r republicans feared “the tyranny of the majority,” and sought, from the beginning, to guard against it. This part of their project succeeded too well: not only are democratic majorities non-tyrannical; they are all but powerless. Part of the problem too is that the leadership of the Democratic Party is cowardly by inclination. This is, after all, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity; it seems to attract such people. Its Pelosiite leadership is also still in the thrall of the “strategic” vision that made the Clinton administration possible, and that then led the party even further to the right in the (Bill) Clinton days. But this is not the whole story. We could do better, even with our institutions; and the Democratic Party need not be as feckless as its leadership has made it, especially after the 2006 election. Why hasn’t this happened?

The short answer is that the Democrats and the Republicans, from the Clintons (and those just to their left like Barack Obama and maybe, if he isn’t better than that, John Edwards) to the Bushes and Cheneys (and those who have managed to be even more right-wing than they), are not that far apart. To be sure, each party depends on different constituencies for their core voters; and, despite a significant (and alarmingly worrisome) overlap, they draw on somewhat different funding sources. Democrats, under Clinton, were vastly more competent than Republicans under Cheney and Bush; they were also “nicer” (and therefore more “progressive” on cultural issues that have no place in politics anyway). But their overarching political vision is the same. Democrats and Republicans both want a pax Americana enforced by the world’s mightiest military machine; they both want the United States to call the shots, whether unilaterally or, if possible, under the cover of multilateral institutions. They both want the U.S. to control strategic resources, especially oil, throughout the world. Most of all, they both want American corporations to be free to enrich themselves without significant impedances. Democrats and Republicans alike will do whatever is necessary to make these things happen -- no matter what the people (the demos who are supposed to rule in a democracy) want, no matter who suffers or how much, and no matter what the consequences for (small-r) republican notions of a good or even just plain decent polity might be.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


This is not the first time in this campaign season that I’ve been moved to marvel at the hold the Clintons have over so many African Americans. What spells have they cast? Of the three most “electable” candidates, you’d think that if they won’t support the one who would be best for African Americans (John Edwards, most likely), they’d at least support the African American (Barack Obama). Instead they support someone whose husband only “felt the pain” he inflicted on African Americans and countless others; the former First Lady who keeps no political space between herself and, God forbid, the next First Gent.

A recent, conspicuous example is Ron Dellums. Once upon a time, Dellums was about as progressive as a Congressman can be. Since then, he seems to have decided to cash in as a lobbyist, and has even gone so far as to be on the board of Bristol-Myers Squibb. Now he’s mayor of Oakland and, by most accounts, not doing a bad job. It seemed that he was back on track. But then, alas, he endorsed Hillary. No doubt about it: something diabolical is going on!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Not Looking Good

Back in June, I bemoaned the fact that, according to the polls, the leading contenders in the primaries (now less than four months away) were Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. They are still out front. In Hillary’s case, the lead is growing alarmingly. Is everybody nuts?

The Republicans certainly are. A plurality of them don’t seem able to get beyond that day more than six years ago when Giuliani was there at Ground Zero while the Bush boy was cowering in a bunker in Nebraska and Dick Cheney was in his spider hole near the Pennsylvania – Maryland border. No GOP elephants these; Republican voters are fledgling ducks “imprinting” on their Mama. No matter that Giuliani messed up big time that day and all the succeeding ones; no matter that he was a piss poor mayor or that he is a wretched human being; no matter either that his views on gay rights and abortion are of a sort that no God-fearing “values voter” can abide. What matters is that Giuliani, not the man but the idea, is the anti-terror, national security candidate. Neocons (like his foreign policy advisor, Norman Podhoretz) rejoice! Names like Giuliani and Podhoretz should cause even Bush voters fear and loathing. Somehow that hasn’t registered yet.

As for the Democrats, there was hope last spring that, by now, Obama would have knocked Hillary out of the water, and that the Edwards campaign would have caught on. It hasn’t happened, and there’s no indication that it will. Could it be that Democrats too are crazy? Or are they just obtuse?

On domestic “issues,” there’s little doubt: HRC is worse than any Democrat running. But for the pundit-wannabe voters flocking to the Lesser Evil Party, that just might be a good thing; it might make her more “electable.” They’re dead wrong, of course. Just as too few people hate Hillary for the right reasons, too many hate her for the wrong reasons. If she’s the candidate, that “vast right wing conspiracy” is sure to gear up again; making it not impossible, despite Bush’s and Cheney’s best (unwitting) efforts, that a Republican will win in 2008.

On foreign policy, the line is that there’s hardly a shade of difference between the major candidates. That’s not true on trade or global environmental policies or any of a host of other issues where, as with domestic policy, Hillary brings up the rear. But, if we restrict attention just to matters of the most immediate concern to most voters – the Iraq War and “security” in the face of “Islamic extremism” – the conventional wisdom is right in a sense; the “electable” candidates (Clinton, Obama and Edwards, but also Richardson and Dodd and even Biden) are close. [Kucinich and Gravel are another story, but alas they have no chance at all.] There’s no likelihood any of them (except maybe Richardson, were he true to his word) would bring ALL the troops home from Iraq or close down military bases in the Middle East and Central Asia or pressure Israel to do anything it doesn’t want to do or, not unrelatedly, lift a finger to prevent Cheney and Bush from going to war in Iran. In these matters, Hillary isn’t significantly worse than the others; she may not even be worse at all.

But wait. Though I still harbor (groundless) hopes for John Edwards, we may face an inevitable Clintonite restoration, even if Edwards somehow wins. But Clintonism is susceptible to more or less bad implementations. If an actual Clinton oversees the restoration, then beware the return of the likes of Richard Holbrooke, Mad Maddy Albright, Donna Shalala, Richard Rubin and the rest of that sorry crew – maybe not in person (though Holbrooke is plainly angling for the job of Secretary of State), then in spirit. Would this be better than a Giuliani administration? Of course. Instead of preemptive aggression, we would have “humanitarian interventions”; instead of ground wars and brutal occupations, we would have the occasional aerial Anschluss; instead of “unilateralism,” the US would go back to getting whatever it wants from the UN and other international organizations; instead of a torture state, we’d have the appearance, if not the reality, of the rule of law. All of these and other changes would be for the better. But there is still time to do better (or rather less bad) still. If the HRC juggernaut continues on track, it will soon be too late.

This is why now, more than ever, it is urgent that Democratic voters learn about and focus on the Clinton era sanctions that accounted for upwards of a half million avoidable deaths in Iraq, about Clinton’s (unacknowledged) “war on terror” with its bombing campaigns and “extraordinary renditions,” and about how the US government under Clinton would bypass the UN whenever it couldn’t get its way there (getting retroactive approval, wherever possible, from a servile Kofi Annan and compliant Security Council members). Most important, we all need to reflect on what the US – and our NATO partners (especially Germany) -- did to the former Yugoslavia. Even many of the folks who, out of sheer niceness, opposed the Iraq War from the start still don’t get it. They should read Diana Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato and Western Delusions (Monthly Review Press, 2003) and, if nothing else, the article by Ed Herman and David Peterson in the current Monthly Review (vol. 59, no. 3, October 2007): “The Dismantling of Yugoslavia: A Study in Inhumanitarian Intervention – and a Western Liberal-Left Intellectual and Moral Collapse.”] Then they should decide if the devil we know too well really is good (not bad) enough.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Critical Experiment in the Making

The Mearscheimer-Walt hypothesis – that the Israel lobby influences U.S. policy towards the Middle East more than any other causal factor (including rationally defensible assessments of “the national interest”) – is about to be tested. Let me explain:

In The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud distinguished illusions from delusions. Illusions are beliefs that are sustained not because they satisfy rational criteria for belief acceptance but because they express unconscious desires. Therefore illusions could be true beliefs, though they usually are not. Delusions are illusions maintained in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence. Freud regarded belief in God as an illusion; someone’s belief that he or she is God would be a delusion.

Before the Iraq War, the neoconservative goal of transforming Middle Eastern countries into weak, investment friendly, Israel friendly states with governments similar to the one in the US was an illusion in Freud’s sense. Just as belief in God is defended by ingenious, though ultimately fatuous, arguments, so too were neoconservative proposals for remaking that part of the world. But the neoconservative position was vulnerable to real time confutation. This happened within months of the time the first phase of their project, the subjugation of Iraq, began. Some of them still blame the failure of the Iraq War on the Bush administration’s incompetence; some of them still think that the hapless General Petraeus will turn defeat into victory. But these are delusions in Freud’s sense. In 2003, the neocons and their fellow travelers – Dick Cheney, for example, and George W. Bush – were only fooling themselves, as Freud thought people do when they believe in God. In 2007, with four years worth of incontrovertible evidence attesting to their foolishness, they’ve gone beyond that, just as people do when they believe that they are God.

Strictly speaking, the neoconservative movement is not the same thing as the Israeli lobby, though there is as little political space between them as, say, between Bill and Hillary Clinton. For most purposes, the two are the same. Strictly speaking, neoconservatives are not the only ones affecting policy in the Bush administration. But they do run the Vice President’s office and, on all matters of interest to him, Cheney always gets his way. The Middle East is of great interest to Cheney. This is why, for all practical purposes, he is as much a part of the Israel lobby as a target of its machinations.

The most recent bout of neoconservative war mongering – target Iran -- might only be a bluff. Unlike the President, the Vice President and the neocons behind him are smart enough to think and act strategically. But evidence is mounting that Cheney and the neocons and the Israel lobby will get the war with Iran that they badly want. Seymour Hersh’s article in October 8 New Yorker supports this prediction; so too does the recent increase in Bush administration prattle about Iran’s role in fighting American troops in Iraq. In recent weeks, Fox News has, again, become the vanguard of the War Party. In short, the signs are ominous. We could well find ourselves again on the brink of a precipice.

Nixon and Kissinger sought a way out of the abject failure of their efforts to salvage Kennedy’s and Johnson’s war in Vietnam by extending hostilities into Cambodia (with thoroughly catastrophic consequences for the Cambodian people). Their desperate measure failed, of course. Cheney and Bush, knowing nothing and having learned nothing, seem primed to follow suit. Already they’re concocting (and changing) pretexts for war, just as they did before they set out to occupy Iraq. At first, it was Iran’s nuclear program that was the problem; now it’s the help Iran gives to the Iraqi insurgents who make roadside bombs (killing and maiming our troops). It’s also hinted (why not!), as it was in the early days of the Iraq War, that Al Qaeda will somehow be set back by a “preemptive” war against Iran. Whatever works – not that Cheney and Bush care much about public support. They are delusional, after all. Indeed, they may even believe that “history” will praise them for their vision and courage. And, if that isn’t enough, God is on the Decider’s side.

In reality, of course, the main beneficiary of the Iraq War has been the Iranian government. Cheney and Bush have turned Iran into a mighty regional power and, by putting the country at risk, they have strengthened nationalist and theocratic forces, empowereing the least democratic elements of Iran’s political class. In reality too, the Iranian government is eager to consolidate its gains. That’s why its spokesmen have made repeated offers to help the US establish stability in Iraq. [For a recent and conspicuous example, see The Financial Times (October 1) interview with Ali Larjani, Iran’s chief of Security. According to Larjani, if the US would just adopt a program for withdrawal (even of the weasely kind the Democrats have proposed), Iran would use its considerable influence to bolster the Iraqi government and to bring it back more fully under American control.] But reality is impotent in the face of delusion. When Iranians talk peace, Cheney and Bush prepare for war, remembering that the devil comes wrapped in sheep’s clothing!

Were the US to undertake sustained military action against Iran, even if only in the form of a (Bill) Clinton-style bombing campaign, the predictable consequences would be disastrous. The American position in Iraq would become incalculably worse, oil prices would go through the ceiling, relations with China and Russia would be set back years, and American interests at home and abroad would be in far greater jeopardy than they now are. The unpredictable consequences are worse still: they could include a full-scale regional war involving Israel and therefore nuclear weapons. That is only the most foreseeable of the unpredictable consequences.

Should it come to that, can we put it all down to Cheney’s and Bush’s delusions? Or perhaps to their delusions plus Bush’s concern with his “legacy” – as if he still has a chance not to go down in history as the worst President ever. Or perhaps, being at their wit’s end, Cheney and Bush just want to “go for broke.” No doubt, all of the above would enter into an explanation for the next war, should it come to pass. But Cheney and Bush can’t force the entire government – including the military and the intelligence establishment – into doing what is so clearly irrational and contrary to American interests on their own. They will need support – not from we the people, but from our political class. They will need the support of the people the Israel lobby controls. The executive branch is full of such people; Congress is even fuller. As they go, so goes the nation. If the US attacks Iran, it will be because Israel and therefore the Israel lobby wants it to happen.

To be sure, the Israeli right (and increasingly too, the Israeli center and center-left) and the neocons are of one mind. But, after Iraq, the neocons no longer have the clout they once did. They still have the Vice President’s office and Joe Lieberman and Fox News and The Weekly Standard but nobody in “the mainstream” takes any of them seriously anymore. Disgracefully servile as they may be, mainstream – aka “liberal -- media are at least not delusional. Neither are most Republicans and nearly all Democrats. If Cheney and Bush do manage to concoct a war against Iran in the face of so much opposition, if they succeed in doing something so plainly wrong-headed, the only plausible explanation is that what Israel wants Israel gets – thanks to the effectiveness of the Israel lobby.

The lobby used to be a taboo subject. It has become less so recently thanks to two best-selling books: Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (Simon & Schuster, 2006) and John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s scrupulously documented and carefully argued The Israel Lobby (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). Both books have been smeared by the usual suspects, though Carter’s reproaches towards Israeli policies in Gaza and the West Bank are so tepid and incontrovertible that it takes considerable ingenuity to find something to dispute. Perhaps this is why so many of Carter’s critics criticized his book without reading it (or so one must infer based on the criticisms they advance). Mearsheimer and Walt’s book is different. At least some of its claims are disputable.

For one thing, their explanation of the lobby’s influence is arguably too “mainstream” insofar as it relies uncritically on standard accounts of interest group politics. [Mearscheimer’s and Walt’s reliance on the explanatory strategies of mainstream political science effectively allows them to formulate their explanations in ways that cannot reasonably give rise to spurious charges of anti-Semitism. However, for the legions of American Zionists, both Jewish and Christian, who defend Israel with the mindless zeal with which Stalinists once defended the Soviet Union, this is evidently of no account!] Mearscheimer and Walt also rely too much on second-hand, journalistic accounts, and too little on primary sources. [This last reproach is forgivable inasmuch as it will take years before primary sources become accessible.]

But it is their explanandum, their object of explanation, that is most debatable. They may have overdrawn and therefore misrepresented the phenomenon they invoke the Israel lobby to explain. This is far too vast a question to examine here. I will therefore only venture the opinion that they do correctly describe the vicissitudes of American policy towards Israel/Palestine, and that they are right in their assessment of the role the Israel lobby has come to play in determining American policy in this domain. But I am more wary of their contention that the Israel lobby exercises similar powers over the entirety of American Middle East policy. I am especially wary of their account of the lobby’s role in instigating the Iraq War. Israel had little fear of Saddam Hussein’s military or its non-existent “weapons of mass destruction”; not even the Israeli right claimed that Iraq posed an “existential threat” to Israel. Of course, Israelis did prefer that the American, not the Iraqi, army control Iraq; and they would certainly have been pleased had a stable and successful pro-U.S. government been installed there. Therefore, once the war was in the works, Israel and therefore the Israel lobby supported it. They made the neoconservative vision their own. But it is far from clear how much effect the lobby, as opposed to influential neoconservatives in the Bush administration, had. Had the lobby opposed the war, would it still have happened? It is impossible to say. Would the war not have happened, but for their support? This is what Mearscheimer and Walt believe. However on this too, the jury is out.

But a critical test of the Mearscheimer-Walt hypothesis, or at least of the part of it that concerns Iran, will take place over the next few months. Rightly or (almost certainly) wrongly, the Israeli government – and most Israelis – do consider Iran an “existential threat.” As Mearscheimer and Walt maintain, the lobby’s main interest all along has been to overthrow the Iranian theocracy and replace it with a government as friendly to Israel’s as in the days of the Shah. For Israel and its lobby, even when Iraq was the focus of attention, Iran, along with Syria, was the ultimate target. It is clear that the lobby is now working overtime, through its contacts in the media and in the administration, to make a war happen. Given how utterly and transparently contrary to US interests a war with Iran would be, and inasmuch as no one outside neoconservative circles wants a war – certainly not anyone in the military or the intelligence establishment and not even in the saner regions of the Bush administration – this will be a test of the lobby’s might. Thus the jury may not stay out on the Mearscheimer-Walt hypothesis for long; it may not be necessary to wait for archives to open or for Bush administration functionaries to publish their books. A critical experiment is in the making; decisive evidence may come in sooner than we think.

Whatever happens, one thing is overwhelmingly clear already: the leadership of the Democratic Party will do the lobby’s bidding. So will the “electable” candidates. At last week’s “debate,” when Mike Gravel accused Hillary Clinton of voting yet again for war – this time by supporting the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment to authorize the use of force against Iran – she could only respond with one of her contrived belly laughs (as if in an attempt to achieve one of those “here we go again” moments Ronald Reagan found so useful). Barack Obama is not much better, though at least he had the decency not to cast a vote. John Edwards did criticize the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment. But he has never renounced his shameful pandering on Iran at the Herzilya Conference earlier this year. To this day, he will not rule out a “military option.”

There is still a chance that sanity will prevail. But Cheney and Bush have proven themselves time and again immune from rational persuasion and indifferent to public opinion. However they are weak and isolated, and cannot go it alone. For them and the neocons behind them to get the war they want, they need the help, or at least the neutrality, of key sectors of the political class. This is why the best chance, maybe the only chance, of stopping Cheney and Bush is a vigorous Democratic display of opposition to more military adventures. That’s exactly what we’re not getting, and not likely to get. Clinton may be beyond hope, but perhaps Obama and Edwards are not. Now is the time to pressure them unstintingly; to force them to prove Mearscheimer and Walt wrong. The future of the neocons’ delusion is not yet settled. There is still time to act – to force the more “progressive” Democrats to act like progressives, to use the power they have. As long as they remain abjectly in the thrall of the Israel lobby, the prospects for avoiding disaster are dim. Then indeed -- here we go again.