Revolution #68, November 5, 2006
The Iraq War:
“…AND IF THE DEMOCRATS WIN?”
Many millions, sick and disgusted with the Bush administration, are hoping that the Democrats will take one or both houses of Congress, and that this will mark the beginning of a sea-change: stepping away from the right-wing Republican monopoly on government, Bush’s all-around extremism, heading off new wars, and winding down the occupation of Iraq.
But is this hope founded on reality? What’s likely to actually happen if the Democrats win the mid-term elections?
Let’s focus on the key issue for voters in the election—the Iraq war: how much power and influence will a Democratic Congress have? What are the Democrats campaigning on, and what’s their program? And on a deeper level, what kind of party are they, and what kind of problems and issues are they faced with?
Add it up, and what’s clear is that a Democratic Congress would be a change—but not the kind millions are looking for: it won’t derail the Bush juggernaut. To the degree the Democrats get their way, things won’t even be that different than the Bush program. And in some ways things could end up even worse, especially if a Democrat victory undermines or prevents the emergence of mass public opposition to the whole direction Bush is taking the world.
In sum, the mid-term elections are taking place against the backdrop of momentous events, when the world is at a great turning point with even greater upheaval and turmoil yet to come. Yet the real situation and the real stakes, and the interests of the masses in it, all are nowhere to be found in this election campaign, including in the rhetoric and program of the “opposition” Democrats.
Their Power: “Formidable Constraints, Political And Institutional”
In the U.S., foreign policy has historically been carried out in secret by the executive branch, with Congress and the courts generally deferring to the president, particularly in times of war. Bush has taken this history even further; his White House is even more secretive, more tightly controlled, and has marginalized Congress more than any previous administration—including through devices like “signing statements,” in which Bush declares which parts of laws passed by Congress he is and isn’t going to abide by. The Iraq war is a perfect example: it was planned and executed in secret, months before any public discussion, to achieve goals that were never publicly spelled out.
As the New York Times (10/27) summed up, “even if the Democrats win one or both houses of Congress, they will not have the authority to change the course of the war significantly.” The Times also noted (10/8) that the Democrats would be operating “under some formidable constraints, political and institutional,” including the fact that many Democrats are right-wingers, for example, one candidate from Indiana who declares, “Here’s what I believe: I’m pro-life. I believe in a traditional marriage and the Second Amendment.” One Democratic Party analyst summed up, “The overriding dynamic in this election is the war. The paradox is that once [the Democrats] take control of Congress, there is little they can do. That’s the great irony of this election.”
The only way to really change this equation would be a mass movement that drives Bush from office, which World Can’t Wait is struggling to bring forward. Such a mass upsurge to drive out the Bush regime might lead to impeachment. But no Democrat in contention to win a seat in Congress is running on an impeachment platform, and the Democratic leadership has ruled it off the table. When asked if impeachment was ruled out, Nancy Pelosi, who would become Speaker of the House, declared, “It is a waste of time…”
This decision has nothing to do with “wasting time” (after all, if your objective was stopping the Bush agenda, why wouldn’t you have “time” to impeach Bush?), spinelessness, or fear of “alienating” voters (it would energize and thrill millions of voters). As we’ll analyze below, it’s because (a) the Democrats agree with Bush’s agenda in broad strokes, (b) they understand that the extreme right, including a Christian fascist core, remains extremely well organized, funded and powerful, and that any effort to overturn the Bush agenda would be met with howls of treason and betrayal (and perhaps even a coup), and (c) the last thing in the world the Democrats want to do at a time when the U.S. is in very deep trouble in Iraq and the Middle East, and American global power is on the line, is to take action that could energize and unleash the millions in this country who have very different aspirations than Clinton, Gore, Biden, Schumer & company—they hate Bush and everything he stands for, and hate the war and want it ended—now!
Their Campaign: “A Choice Between Muck And Murk”
If the Democrats take Congress, they will have certain powers. But what will they use that power to do? What is their agenda?
It’s hard to tell what their agenda is from their campaign—which has been purposefully confusing and vague. One linguist complained in the New York Times (10/27) that the Democrats’ “‘new direction’ slogan offers no values and no positive vision. It is taken from a standard poll question, ‘Do you like the direction the nation is headed in?’”
In the same issue, the Times concluded, “Democratic leaders and candidates are virtually unanimous in opposing the president’s conduct of the war, and most advocate American disengagement—either quickly or slowly. But most are not calling for an immediate withdrawal of American forces or offering a vision of what postwar Iraq should look like… But most Democrats standing for election are not as detailed or categorical. If the election has become a referendum on Iraq, it is one without a definitive choice.” David R. Gergen, a former presidential adviser declared, “The republic is being offered a choice between muck and murk. Neither party is offering a clear path ahead in Iraq.”
The Democrats, like the Republicans, have been vague, because Iraq has turned into a debacle for the U.S. and there are no good answers for the imperialists. From that perspective, the Times editorialized (10/24): “Neither side is prepared to be honest about the terrible consequences of military withdrawal and the very long odds against success if American troops remain.”
But the vagueness and confusion are also intentional: the Democrats are seeking to head off an anti-war revolt from below by corralling the millions who’ve turned against the war, and diffusing their anger with vague promises of change, buying time for the ruling class as a whole to attempt to deal with Iraq on THEIR terms.
Their Program For Iraq: “The Administration Has Lost Focus on Winning”
One reason the Democrats are purposely vague is to obscure the fact that their base is anti-war, but the party is pro-war. Democrats have been howling of late at Bush - for blundering and incompetence—not for waging an immoral, illegal and murderous war. No Democrat is exposing and denouncing the goals of the war—only its execution. None are calling for an immediate end to the war and occupation and an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Their biggest problem with Bush is that he isn’t succeeding in carrying out his aggression and conquering Iraq. Bush has a “stand-still-and-lose strategy in Iraq,” according to John Kerry (Washington Post, 10/14). Hillary Clinton complains, “The Administration has lost focus on winning the war on Iraq” and criticizes Bush because “their rhetoric has not been matched by resources or resolve.” The New York Times (10/21) concluded that the Democrats were trying to “out-right the right.” Such formulations point toward more troops and/or escalation in Iraq—not ending the war.
As for the position of John Murtha—which puts more emphasis on redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq, two things can be said: One is that the leadership of the Democratic Party is not talking about withdrawing troops quickly, let alone right away; and second, that Murtha would still deploy troops in Central Asia and Middle East, keeping troops in the region—to enforce the same interests.
On the website Counterpunch.org (10/14 and 10/24), writer John Walsh analyzes how Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic Congressman in charge of strategy and the purse-strings for Democratic candidates running for the House, has worked to ensure that pro-war candidates are running, regardless of what rank-and-file party members want: “64% of the Democratic candidates in the 45 closely contested House Congressional races oppose a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq… The position of these candidates is indistinguishable from that of George W. Bush… Emanuel is not choosing proven fundraisers or winning candidates; he is choosing pro-war candidates.”
Walsh notes, “Emanuel had worked hard to guarantee that Democratic candidates in key toss-up House races were pro-war. In this he was largely successful, because of the money he commands and the celebrity politicians who reliably respond to his call, ensuring that 20 of the 22 Democratic candidates in these districts are pro-war. So the fix is in for the coming elections… In 2006, no matter which party controls the House, a majority will be committed to pursuing the war on Iraq—despite the fact that the Democratic rank and file and the general voting public oppose the war by large margins.”
Their Program For The World: “Democrats Are Determined to Take the Fight to the Enemy.”
The Democrats’ position on Iraq flows from their global strategy and agenda and their overall nature as an imperialist party—not fear of being tarred by the Republicans as soft on “national security” (the Democrats, after all, were in charge during World Wars 1 and 2 and Vietnam). Specifically this means that they have fundamental agreement with the Bush regime on (a) the need to maintain U.S. global predominance, (b) that dominating the Middle East is essential to doing so, and (c) they agree on the broad outlines of the so-called “war on terror,” which is actually a war for greater empire.
Their differences with the Republicans—which are very real and very sharp—are not the same deep anger and alienation that millions feel for Bush and whole direction he’s taking things. They’re differences between ruling class parties over how to carry out objectives a, b, and c, above—in short, over how to maintain their empire and rule (which allies can be worked with, which countries pose the greatest threats to U.S. power, how much capacity the U.S. has to wage which kind of wars, etc.).
Consider the following from leading Democrats:
In a new book, The Plan: Big Ideas for America,” Democratic Party, strategists Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed call for “a muscular, progressive strategy to use all the tools of American power to make America safe in a dangerous world” and for enlisting “our allies in a common mission against the conditions” that breed terrorism, including by calling for 100,000 more troops for the Army.
Howard Dean: “The United States has to…take a much harder line on Iran and Saudi Arabia because they’re funding terrorism.” While campaigning for president in 2004, Dean contended that President Bush had been far too soft on Iran.
Senator John Kerry (opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal titled “Losing Afghanistan”): “We’re not adequately fighting the war we should be fighting… Quite simply, we must change course—starting with the immediate deployment of at least 5,000 additional U.S. troops.”
Hillary Clinton, January 18, 2006 speech at Princeton: “I believe that we lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations. I don’t believe you face threats like Iran or North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines. But let’s be clear about the threat we face now: A nuclear Iran is a danger to Israel, to its neighbors and beyond. The regime’s pro-terrorist, anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric only underscores the urgency of the threat it poses. U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal. We cannot and should not—must not—permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons.”
The Situation They Face: “On the Verge of Losing Not Just One but Two Wars”
The Democrats are also “constrained” by the situation they face. Bush created “facts on the ground” by invading Iraq. Whatever they thought of the original decision to go to war, or the war’s execution, they’re part of the ruling establishment and don’t want to see a U.S. defeat in Iraq or the weakening of the U.S. globally. So whatever they say during a campaign, they’re confronted by the same grim choices (from an imperialist viewpoint) that Bush is confronting on Iraq.
And referring to the situation in Afghanistan as well as Iraq, columnist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times (10/27), “It’s hard to believe that the world’s only superpower is on the verge of losing not just one but two wars. But the arithmetic of stability operations suggests that unless we give up our futile efforts in Iraq, we’re on track to do just that.” Senator Joseph Biden and former State Department official Leslie Gelb painted a similar picture in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (“Bipartisan Redeployment,” October 24, 2006): “Political leaders in our country must choose to hang together rather than hang separately… Some of Iraq’s neighbors have no desire to do us any favors—but like us, they can see the abyss opening up before them, and like us, they all have powerful interests in preventing a full-blown civil war that becomes a regional war.”
And what would the Democrats’ response be if Bush creates new “facts on the ground,” for instance by attacking Iran? No doubt support their president during a time of crisis and go along.
The other aspect of this is that having differences over foreign policy from an imperialist viewpoint does not mean that you want to drag the masses into this—and ESPECIALLY at such a “delicate” and dangerous moment for the entire imperialist system, that’s the last thing you want and you’ll do everything you can to even more actively suppress the independent action of the masses out of a sense that the future of the empire is on the line and this is no time for the unpredictable masses. When the rulers are facing enormous problems and are deeply divided—the last thing they want is for their divisions to become an opening for the masses, threatening the whole system.
So both Democrats and Republicans are trying to brainwash and exclude the masses when the fate of the world is being determined, precisely when people have to wake up to the reality and take responsibility to change it.
For those who are genuinely horrified by the slaughter in Iraq and the threats of more to come in the region, they must confront that it’s impossible to oppose this criminal war by criticizing the administration for not waging the war “competently,” or not having a strategy for victory. This is simply a call for more efficiently waging an illegal, immoral and unjust war which will only mean new horrors and forms of oppression for the Iraqi people. Nor can it be opposed by debating whether the invasion of Iraq is a diversion from the “war on terror.” This means accepting the framework of the Bush II global agenda, and the legitimacy of an unbounded imperial war against whomever the administration chooses, and the torture and repression that go with that.
Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks wrote (10/20), “Hillary Clinton hit a new low last week, telling the New York Daily News that the president should have ‘some lawful authority’ to use torture or other ‘severe’ interrogation methods in a so-called ticking-bomb scenario.”
In sum, the Democrats do not provide a way to oppose the illegal, unjust, immoral U.S. war on Iraq, and the broader war on the world that it is a part of. And people need to confront the reality that by voting for Democrats you are not doing anything to stop the war—which has been responsible for the deaths of 650,000 Iraqis.
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