Notice to The Nation on the Iraq War

It Is NOT Our "National Security" – And These Are NOT Our Representatives

Revolution #025, December 4, 2005, posted at

In recent weeks, debate over the U.S. war against and occupation of Iraq has begun to break out in a new way in American society. It’s a critical moment--what is done now can have a profound effect, and every political force is out there, proposing a program. Particularly at such a time there must be unsparing debate among those who oppose the war over what is happening and why, and what to do about it. With that in mind, we want to focus on a recent editorial in The Nation magazine, "Democrats and the War."

Before getting into that, let’s review the backdrop. The U.S. faces very deep problems in Iraq. The insurgency against the U.S. occupation is real, deeply rooted and getting stronger, and the U.S. has not made much progress in training an effective puppet Iraqi army. Nor has it yet been able to cobble together a viable puppet government with enough legitimacy to contain Iraq’s contending and different political, ethnic, and religious groups.

Second, the U.S. army itself is coming under increasing stress. Last week we quoted Democratic Representative John Murtha’s statement that "many say the army is broken." ("Iraq: Turmoil Among the Warmakers, Challenge For the People") A significant article in the December Atlantic Monthly, which focused on the failure to train a new Iraqi army, quoted a Marine lieutenant colonel: "On the current course we will have two options. We can lose in Iraq and destroy our army, or we can just lose." The officer went on to say that, "In Vietnam we just lost. This would be losing with consequences."

Such "consequences" would include first of all the "destabilization" of the whole repressive network of police states, feudal monarchies, and the settler state of Israel that the U.S. has hammered into place and propped up in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Control of the Middle East, and the Gulf in particular, with its vast oil resources, is the keystone of American strategic domination of its imperialist rivals in Europe and Asia. These Middle Eastern regimes are extremely vicious; it is not for nothing that the U.S. ships those it wants to torture to Egypt and Jordan, or that it relies on Israel for "advice" in how to crush urban rebellion and insurgency. Nor is it accidental that billions of dollars of U.S. aid, which include incredible amounts of weaponry and military training, flow to these countries every year. The Bush Regime has aimed to restructure and further strengthen this oppressive apparatus; while some in the ruling class have criticized their particular strategy, the ruling class overall has no intention whatsoever of scaling back their domination.

The second "consequence" worrying the U.S. rulers is that any evidence of weakness on its part could diminish the fear of the U.S. military among both its imperialist rivals and the nations and people of the region. These prospects, along with criticism of how well Bush has "sold" the war to the American people, have prompted the recent criticism and questioning of Bush and Cheney.

This questioning, though, takes places within very narrow limits. The leading Republican "mavericks" on the war--John McCain and Nebraska Senator Charles Hagel--actually demand that more troops be sent. They, along with some Democrats, argue that these extra troops are needed to more tightly secure the country and to enable the U.S. to pull together an effective Iraqi army. The former Democratic presidential ticket of Kerry and Edwards argue vaguely for "gradual reductions" in troop levels--which is actually what Bush, Cheney and Rice are promising right now--while the prominent Democratic Senator Biden proposes somewhat fewer U.S. forces, but a different mix, with more focus on training the Iraqi army. Every one of these people agree, however, that the U.S. cannot leave Iraq, let alone the region. Murtha, the only major politician who actually called for withdrawal, also calls for maintaining a sizeable contingent of troops near Iraq "just in case"--and his whole frame of reference is preservation of the U.S. army.

In sum: the debate among these politicians is NOT about the horrors being rained upon the Iraqi people, it is NOT about justice, and it is certainly NOT about what the hell the U.S. government is doing constructing a grotesque military behemoth and sending it all over the world to terrorize and dominate other peoples in the first place. It is not even, at this point, about whether to withdraw from Iraq. It is overwhelmingly about how to re-tool the occupation to buttress the Iraqi puppet forces and protect America’s imperialist interests in Iraq and the region overall, and how to effectively "re-package" the war to the American people as that is done.

The Dynamic of Resistance

This "re-packaging" is necessary because the American people are getting angrier over Iraq and the movement demanding U.S. withdrawal is growing. This was seen in different actions during the late summer and fall, and this anger was a very powerful wellspring of the November 2 World Can't Wait actions demanding that the Bush Regime be driven out.

Along with this, the army itself is under stress. Soldiers are being forced to take three tours of duty, and this is causing anger. Officers are beginning to quit rather than re-enlist, and concern over widespread "battle fatigue" was a big theme in Murtha’s speech calling for withdrawal. Recruitment is already at its lowest level in years, and many of those bearing the brunt of the war are National Guard regiments whose members never expected this when they signed up. These two things affect each other: the more that people within the U.S. question and resist (including, very significantly, the families of soldiers), then the more that decent people in the army will raise questions and the harder it will be for the top officers to carry through with violent, brutal, and often illegal actions against the Iraqi people. During the Vietnam years, while the army never totally disintegrated, it became increasingly riven with disaffection, dissent, and resistance from within. It got much less effective in the field and much less reliable overall. And this was a very good thing from the standpoint of their victims and of the people of the world more generally, and ultimately from the standpoint of the rank and file soldiers themselves.

The main thing is this: the struggle at the top over how to occupy Iraq and the struggle from below against occupying Iraq are two separate things. The struggles certainly affect each other, and part of the struggle at the top is over how to contain the protest. Indeed, part of what is happening right now is that some top Democrats are positioning themselves to mislead this growing antiwar movement into becoming a tail on the Democratic donkey, channeling people's anger over the war itself into one or another program that, no matter how it's presented, is at bottom about fighting that war "more effectively."

Whose National Security?

Into this mix steps The Nation magazine, with its November 28 editorial. The editorial castigates the Bush Administration for its lies, and correctly asserts that: "The war--an unprovoked, unnecessary and unlawful invasion that has turned into a colonial-style occupation--is a moral and political catastrophe. As such it is a growing stain on the honor of every American who acquiesces, actively or passively, in its conduct and continuation."

So far so good. But then The Nation editorialists explain that the "war has also become the single greatest threat to our national security." They cluck about its economic costs and how "it has driven America’s reputation in the world to a historic low point," and they warn that until the war ends, "a constructive national security policy cannot be forged." The moral argument of the first paragraph vanishes, never to return again, while the phrases "national security" or "security" appear four times and, more important, permeate the logic of the editorial.

Please, dear editorialists, do you not know that the whole repressive setup in the Middle East exists only to keep the U.S. firmly on top of the horrific global system that keeps half the world’s population living on two dollars a day or less, while a relative handful gorge themselves? Have you forgotten that "our national security" is nothing more nor less than the military force that is used to fortify and expand this worldwide system of exploitation and oppression? Can you not see that the logic of basing any argument on what is good for the "national security" of an empire implicitly assumes the necessity of further and more effectively subjugating that empire’s victims?

And, please, don’t start up with how you’re going to re-define "true national security" in such a way that the U.S. army will only "make nice" and all that other fantasy stuff. You cannot re-define things to suit yourself and your political aims. The U.S. is an imperialist power; that means that it dominates most of the nations of the world politically and economically, and that it also contends with its rivals (Great Britain, France, Japan, Germany, etc.) with its military strength as the necessary bulwark of that. The preservation and extension of that domination is the meaning of "national security"--and why U.S. troops do what they do today in Abu Ghraib and Fallujah, and why they have done what they’ve done from Wounded Knee to My Lai to the highway of death in the first Iraq War.1

It is true, of course, that most people in the U.S. now questioning the war--and even most now opposing it--do not understand that, or at least do not understand that fully. But how will they get that understanding? Isn’t now, when people are raising their heads, the time to bring to life the real interests and logic that have driven the war forward . . . and lead people to break with and reject those interests and that logic? Bringing that to life is really the only thing that can enable people to resist calls for "going in there and getting the job done right," which has already become a damaging theme in the national debate over the war. On the positive side, it will actually help sustain people for the struggle and upheaval that a real struggle against the war--and against the Bush regime itself--will necessarily entail.

The Nation’s Telling Omissions

The editorialists do call the failure of the Democratic Party leadership to oppose the war "shameful" (but immediately qualify that with distinctions even as they do so). They then pledge to withhold support from any candidate who "does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq a major issue in his or her campaign." And then: "In the coming weeks and months, The Nation will help identify--and encourage support for--those candidates prepared to bring a speedy end to the war and to begin the hard work of forging a new national security policy that an end to the Iraq war will make possible."

The Nation makes several notable omissions here. First they fail to ask the question that most obviously and essentially demands an answer: why have the Democrats not only failed to oppose the war, but actually supported it, right up to claiming to be better able to successfully carry out this project of extending U.S. domination--a claim which Kerry made the centerpiece of his 2004 campaign, and which other Democrats today continue to make? The Nation cites a poll showing that 73% of the Democratic Party rank and file oppose the war, while their leaders have taken the opposite stand, but they never try to explain this glaring contradiction. To what imperatives are these leaders responding? To what interests are they answering? We indicated our answer to this earlier--and without understanding this, no real strategy to end the war can be seriously undertaken.

Second, The Nation fails to demand an immediate U.S. withdrawal of all troops, substituting for those plain words "a speedy end to the war." That’s a loophole big enough to drive a tank through. Everyone professes to want a speedy end, including Bush, Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice. It’s just a question of when, they all say--and in every case, they are talking about enough time to build up the Iraqi army into an effective arm of U.S. interests in the country and the region.

Finally, The Nation omits any mention of mass independent political action from below. This is not a momentary lapse. The Nation remained silent during the buildup to the November 2 actions to drive out the Bush regime, and it now remains silent in its editorial both about those actions and the projected efforts to politically drown out the State of the Union address. In fact, they don’t even mention the idea of mass action. Now, when the contradictions are sharpening, they direct all attention to the electoral arena and tell us "there is no other way to save America’s security and honor." We’ve discussed the problems with focusing on "America’s security," and as for its "honor," it has none to save –- but if you are talking about ending the war, it is NOT true that there is no other way to do it. The opposite, in fact, is true--putting our energy into and relying on ruling class politicians with ruling class aims and programs will only derail the political resistance to it and prolong the war, while redoubling our efforts and struggle from below can, eventually, be a critical part of inflicting a political defeat on the ruling class and forcing them to pull out.

These omissions are interconnected, and flow from framing their argument in the needs of U.S. national security. The electoral arena is NOT where U.S. policy toward Iraq will be decided. Yes, it is almost certain that candidates claiming to oppose the war will run in some Democratic primaries. Should they be elected, however, they will not decide their actions and votes on the war, or anything else, based on their previous promises; they will decide as they always decide--based on their assessment of the overall interests of the U.S. ruling class.

This is classic Democratic Party politics--to bring any kind of movement that arises among the masses under its wing, politically neuter it, and siphon off untold amounts of energy, resources, and spirit. The Nation, it seems, trots out its stern words at the beginning only to give this tired vehicle a fresh coat of paint.

We Need A Different Dynamic

But let us finally say to those who are still pulled by these Democratic politicians and the idea that it is ultimately through them that the war will be ended--do you think that these politicians will be forced to concede to any demands of the people, unless they fear that you are getting out of their control? Unless and until they fear that you are refusing to confine yourself to the framework of voting? That you are not adopting their calculus of "national security" and an American honor that has never existed, but are instead seeking and telling the truth, and acting on that truth and what you know to be right and just? That you are not pouring your energies and hopes into the arena that they control, but insisting on building up the independent strength and struggle of the people?

As we said last week,

"We need a dynamic where the people who OPPOSE the war, along with people who oppose all the other depradations of the Bush Regime and the whole fascist direction of society, act in their own interests and for their own demands, in a mass political way. We need a dynamic where the people against this regime, by dint of their sheer numbers and determination, will compel every other force in society to respond to them. This in fact is the only ‘realistic and reasonable’ course--that is, if you wish to change the reality of a war without end, borders or limits, and an increasingly fascist social order that corresponds to and reinforces that. . .

"Very immediately, the urgent challenge is to throw in everything to mount massively powerful protests at the time of Bush’s State of the Union address in January, forcefully demanding that Bush himself step down and take his regime and his whole program--including this brutal and reactionary war--with him. Protests massive enough, and determined enough, to make nothing less than this the central political question in the country."

This--and NOT pouring efforts into politicians who answer to different interests and have different aims--is the real only hope.

Send us your comments.