The War and the Vote

Against the Current, No. 112, September/October 2004

The Editors

THE IRAQ WAR and occupation is the largest single issue in the minds of the majority of the people of the United States—to say nothing of the rest of the world.  Roughly speaking, about half the U.S. electorate think either that George W. Bush was right to invade Iraq, or that having done so he’s the best available leader to complete the job.

The other half think that Bush took the country to war with pure lies, with consequences so appalling, disgraceful and disastrous that he must be defeated by whomever, at whatever cost. The overwhelming majority of delegates at the Democratic Party convention hold the latter opinion of Bush and his war. They came to Boston, sat inside the security bubble of the Fleet Center—and served faithfully as television props while their party leadership staged a patriotic prowar rally for the presidential nomination of John Kerry.

As this issue of Against the Current goes to press, the Republican National Convention has convened, with the GOP cocooned in Madison Square Garden and the antiwar movement mobilized in the streets of New York City. If the banner “The World Says No the Bush Agenda” was a bit limp, the fact remains that something like half a million people poured out against Bush’s war and occupation, responding to the call from United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and even more to the calls of their own anger and conscience.

And what next?  The exclusion of the antiwar movement from both party conventions expresses a brutal irony: However this election turns out, whether it is honestly decided or stolen, the views and passions of at least half the population have no “major party” voice.

Those who wish to cast a clear, undiluted vote against the war have two meaningful choices where either or both are on the ballot—the independent presidential campaign of Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo or the Green Party candidacy of David Cobb and Pat LaMarche.  But tragically, these campaigns combined will not reflect even one- tenth of the real antiwar vote.

As Katharine Q. Seelye reported in The New York Times (August 19), Democratic Party state organizations as well as a legal arm called the “Ballot Project” is doing everything it can to block the Nader/Camejo campaign from the ballot.  These tactics are as filthy and undemocratic as those of the Florida Republicans in stealing the 2000 election.

Iraq in Chaos

Whether Bush is able to squeak through by fair means or foul in November depends greatly on one open question: Can this administration create the appearance of at least a partial stabilization of Iraq, enough to make “the transfer of sovereignty” look credible and to allow a promise that U.S. troop levels will soon begin coming down?

That question ironically turns partially on another: Will the horrific chaos of daily life in Iraq induce the population to accept a strongly repressive regime if it has an Iraqi face, not that of a hated and humiliating U.S. occupation?

The reality of most of Iraq today is one of downward-spiraling disaster, both for the imperialist occupation and for the Iraqi population.  Robert Fisk of the British Independent reports that the government of the U.S.-appointed prime minister Iyad Allawi is powerless and essentially irrelevant outside Baghdad.  This reality is largely confirmed by the last-minute intervention of Imam al- Sistani to end the standoff in Najaf, without which a catastrophic massacre seemed imminent.  Meanwhile in Iraqi Kurdistan, New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh describes major involvement of Israeli special forces for covert penetration into Iran.

Not only are occupation soldiers and Iraqi police cadets routinely victims of Improvised Explosive Devices; murderous attacks on Christian merchants and even churches threaten the already shrinking Iraqi Christian community.  Meanwhile the U.S. military, having failed to storm Fallujah due to the political costs of a civilian holocaust, has resorted to “targeted” bombing of alleged terrorist houses, killing one or two dozen civilians each time. The parallels with Israeli actions in Gaza are not lost on Fallujans, Iraqis, Arabs or the world’s people generally.

The largest mission of the American military in Iraq is protecting itself.  The task of trucking supplies into Iraq, too dangerous to be undertaken by the overly stretched U.S. soldiers, many of whom are reservist and National Guard units serving extended tours of duty, is assigned instead to private contractors, whose workers quite predictably are kidnapped, held hostage and sometimes gruesomely executed.

There is nothing resembling stability, let alone serious reconstruction in real-world Iraq. But the question is whether this mess can be made to look like “progress” in the weird parallel universe of U.S. electoral politics.  In the absence of an opposition party calling out the Bush administration’s daily dose of lies on Iraq—indeed, with the Democratic ticket trying to outdo the incumbents’ bellicose “war on terror” chatter—we give Bush & Co. an even chance of pulling it off.


Assume for the moment, however, that the Kerry-Edwards ticket emerges victorious in November.  Without doubt, most of the world would utter a huge sigh of relief and celebration at the demise of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the doctrine of unilateral preemptive war, regime change and torture.

Beyond that momentary euphoria, however, the question arises: What would Kerry do?  Would he renounce the occupation of Iraq?  Withdraw U.S. troops or even set a date to do so?  Scrap the USA PATRIOT Act?  Stop the criminalization and persecution of Muslim charities?  Based on Kerry’s own campaign pronouncements, the answer seems to be: none of the above.  It is Kerry, not Bush, who proposes to raise U.S. troop strength by 40,000—much of this obviously intended for Iraq—and who floats the proposal for “mandatory national service” which would give cover for restoring the draft.

Kerry has given full support to the “Syria Accountability Act,” a bill that starts down the same road the United States travelled into Iraq and confirms the amazing capacity of Congressional Democrats to learn nothing from history.  He fully supports the Bush Middle East policy and Ariel Sharon’s Apartheid Wall.

It is Kerry and other Democrats who attacked Bush for not calling a special Congressional summer session to “implement the 9/11 Commission Report,” an atmosphere in which Congress is most likely to adopt the worst hare-brained measures to wipe out Constitutional rights, eliminate restrictions against CIA spying on domestic citizens, criminalize all manner of political protest and expression, and enable police terror in immigrant and vulnerable communities.

Kerry has not promised to close down the blatantly illegal detention camp at Guantanamo, stop the military tribunals or even afford rights of access to attorneys to those held there.  Kerry’s silence on such questions is not surprising for an imperialist politician.  What is quite remarkable, however, is that there has been no pressure on him to address any of these issues.  Even the Boston Social Forum, meeting just prior to the Democratic convention, refrained from any antiwar declaration that would challenge the Democrats’ consensus.  As for the leadership of the peace movement, the civil liberties organizations, and of course the trade unions, they are so firmly in the Democrats’ pocket—having pledged themselves so long ago to “Anybody But Bush”—that they cannot, and don’t want to, place any demands on Kerry and the Democrats.  The AFL-CIO leadership’s refusal to give any support to the Million Worker March (an initiative launched by ILWU Local 10) shows their priorities are electoral and nothing else.

The liberals’ only hope is that Kerry once elected will morph into the statesman of peace, human rights and environmental salvation they see in their dreams.  Nothing that occurred at the convention or in the Kerry campaign, before or since, gives any grounds to believe any of this. Kerry simply is what he needs to be to get the peace vote—”Anybody But Bush.”  His alternative: Dump the “preemptive” neoconservative rhetoric and slap the “multilateral” label on the same essential objectives.

It may not be enough.  It is surely an ominous sign for the Democrats that their convention—orchestrated down to the minutest details for television, but without any debate that might have made it worth watching—produced no poll “bounce” for Kerry- Edwards.  The strategy of avoiding controversy may have simply produced boredom.

Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, at least, had something to say about the issues that ignite Democratic voters—to end the war and “Make Every Vote Count.”  But the other leading liberal voices in the Democratic Party, what remains of them—Kucinich and Dean in particular—had no influence at the convention, to the point where Kucinich even withdrew his token struggle for an antiwar platform plank.  They do, however, have an assigned role to demonstrate their loyalty and usefulness to their party: Convince Ralph Nader’s voters to surrender their hopes and throw their votes to the candidate who doesn’t even promise to end Bush’s war but only to run it better.

The Present and Future War

Outside the dream worlds conjured up by the Bush and Kerry campaigns, there is in fact no way to make this war and occupation “better.”  There is simply no way for a U.S. occupation to clean up the mess that Bush’s war produced.  We demand immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

The occupation must end, and the only way to end the occupation is to defeat it. We are for the defeat of this occupation, by the mass resistance struggles of the Iraqi people and the action of the U.S. population.  This includes growing dissent among U.S. military personnel and their families, who understand first-hand and are speaking out about what this war has already done to Iraqi society and our own.

We do not entertain romantic delusions that Iraqi society is neatly divided between “a camp of national resistance” and “a camp of U.S. puppets and collaborators.”  That kind of counter-mythology is as absurd as Bush’s lies that “we came to Iraq as liberators.”  The factions (Iraqi and foreign) operating in Iraq include those who have blown up worshippers at churches and Shia shrines, forces that represent, in the words of author and analyst Rahul Mahajan, “a cure that is worse than the disease.”  According to Mahajan, speaking at the Solidarity Summer School in Atlanta:

“The people who cut off their prisoners’ heads are obviously as nasty as you can get. But the bulk of the Iraqi resistance, notably in a place like Fallujah, are ordinary guys, I’ve met them and they were quite hospitable, who are defending their homes and their culture against occupation soldiers breaking into their homes, looting their stuff, inspecting their women.  This is a resistance that is Islamic, but hasn’t been ‘Talibanized.’ At least, not yet. The longer the occupation lasts and the worse it gets, the more that can change.”

That’s why demanding “U.S. Out Now” is crucial, both to express solidarity with the struggle against occupation and to reduce the danger of “Talibanization.”  The urgency of reviving mass antiwar and anti-occupation mobilizations is clear.  The choice is between defeating this occupation or facing, perhaps soon, the next confrontation—with Iran.

This future war will not take the same form of direct military action, as neither this U.S. administration or the next has the immediate military capacity or domestic political base for such an adventure.  Rather, the U.S. campaign against Iran will likely take multiple forms of covert action and destabilization, international campaigns around Iran’s real or alleged nuclear weapons program, and exploitation of the Iran population’s deep hatred of the theocratic regime.

In turn, however, Iran—if forced into a confrontation it does not want against the United States—has the capacity to make Iraq ungovernable.  In this sense, Iran and the United States are mutual hostages in the Iraqi briar patch.  Recent experience, however, gives no grounds for confidence in rationality and restraint from Washington’s side. We salute the courage of those who will vote their antiwar convictions for Nader/Camejo, or the Green ticket.  We understand what drives many more to vote “Anybody But Bush.”  But on the day after, the war, the occupation and the underlying crisis will be as acute as ever.

ATC 112, September-October 2004