The War Is (Not) Over

Against the Current, No. 126, January/February 2007

The Editors

VOTERS ON NOVEMBER 7 massively repudiated the war in Iraq, and the leadership that produced this disaster. The result: The Democratic Party holds the majority in both houses of Congress, and more troops are heading to Iraq. While the people of the United States want out of Iraq right away, Democrats now share responsibility with a discredited Bush administration for this war and for the next two years of government. The nasty and volatile politics of the coming period will clearly be dominated by the same facts that forged the context for the election — the reality of the U.S. defeat in Iraq. That defeat was the context and driving force of the midterm election. It will continue to be the central political question even as the Democrats collaborate with Bush to continue the war despite the wishes of the majority to end it.

How big and longlasting a defeat? That’s the question uppermost in the minds of imperial strategists. The task assigned to the “Iraq Study Group” headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton was to work out, first, how to reduce the magnitude and global consequences of the imperial defeat, and second, how to sell a damage-control program simultaneously to the antiwar U.S. public, to Congressional Democrats and to the dead-end Bush regime.

In its report and recommendations released on December 6, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG) aimed for creating a bipartisan consensus; for getting out of Iraq while staying there at the same time; for making Iraqis responsible for their own future while privatizing future Iraqi oil deposits for the benefit of international corporate looters; for resolving the Palestine-Israel crisis with mutual recognition, while not forcing Israel to leave the Occupied Palestinian Territories…In short this report, welcomed by most Democratic and Republican “moderates” as “pragmatic” and violently denounced as “surrender” by the right wing, contained only one unambiguously true statement, “the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating,” exactly what the voters on November 7 showed they already know.

The clear underlying message was that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is inevitable and necessary to avoid a bigger defeat. But the ISG report was dead before it could be debated. Bush politely deposited it in the file-and-forget bin; Saudi Arabia and various government leaders in Iraq declared it Dead on Arrival; the Israel-and-religious-right lobby vetoed any initiative for an Israel-Palestine settlement.

The terrifying crisis spreading westward and eastward from Iraq continues, swallowing up peoples and nations from Palestine and Lebanon to Iraq and Afghanistan, even as it threatens the imperialist empire that precipitated the chaos. With Iraq destroyed and Afghanistan getting ready to fall apart, with every proposal stalemated and a vacuum of strategic options, the President of the United States gave the American people this message: I’ll get back to you in January. Have a nice holiday!

Defeat to Disaster

There’s no need to dwell on what we’ve insisted here for the past two years, that the United States has lost this war, and the longer it lasts the bigger disaster it becomes for Iraqis and Americans alike. Once the New York Times admitted as much, and once NBC announced (two years late but better than never) the reality of Iraqi civil war, the old debate was over even if George W. Bush still doesn’t get it.

The new consensus holds that the war was a bad idea to begin with, made worse by incompetent execution, that “victory” is impossible, and that the realist foreign policy geniuses of the Bush Senior administration are coming back to provide “adult supervision” in place of the ideological neoconservatives who drove Bush Junior’s failed “transformation of the Middle East.”

This requires critical scrutiny, however. The new “realist” mantra holds that the aims of the Iraq war were only too noble, but not realistic: The United States tried to bring Iraq the gifts of “our democratic values,” but the problem was that Iraqis lacked the culture to receive them. In other words, the people of Iraq — not imperialism and invasion — are to blame for destroying their country. Now, democratic dreaming must be replaced by a hard-headed aim of relative “stability” for Iraq, with the cooperation of Iran and Syria, so that most U.S. troops can be safely “redeployed” to secure bases or to neighboring countries.

A Phony Debate

Senator John McCain and a handful of neocons — types whom we might call, in Donald Rumsfeld’s memorable phrase “dead-enders” — demand a new drive for “victory.” A retired two-star Army major general, John Batiste, described troop withdrawals as “terribly naïve,” according to the New York Times:

“General Batiste said, the United States needs to take an array of steps, including fresh efforts to alleviate unemployment in Iraq [Reality Check: funds for “Iraqi reconstruction” have run out — ed.], secure its long and porous borders [with how many armies?], enlist more cooperation from tribal sheiks, step up the effort to train Iraq’s security forces [now fully infiltrated by various death squads], engage Iraq’s neighbors and weaken, or if necessary, crush the militias.” (NYT, November 13, 2006: A14)

Following the debacle of the ISG report, it appears that the Bush gang will adopt one of its tactical options — precisely the one that has no chance of success — a “surge” of 20,000 or so additional U.S. troops to “stabilize” Baghdad.

But it must be said that the mainstream “debate” is rubbish, and the antiwar movement should be exposing the pretensions of both sides, not supporting one of them. As much as the “more troops” crowd, the neocons and Rush Limbaugh and the purveyors of the myth of “Islamic fascism” may blather on, the real-world fact is that there are hardly any more combat-ready units to send, equipment and machinery in the field are breaking down under extended deployments, and a temporary “spike” of U.S. soldiers will not stop the civil war.

So much for war till victory. The more insidious argument, however, is the “realist” claim that the U.S. strategy for Iraq must prioritize “stability” as opposed to democracy — insidious both because of its colonialist premise, and because it’s being deployed today as a bipartisan excuse to continue the war rather than ending it.

Let’s be clear: It wasn’t democracy that failed in Iraq. What failed was an imperial conquest and occupation packaged in a threefold lie: that it would remove a threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction, that it would bring “democracy” with a “free-market economy” to the Middle East on an American-approved neoliberal model, and that it would cost nothing as Iraqi oil would pay for the reconstruction.

After three-going-on-four years of carnage, democracy in Iraq must begin — it would be only a beginning, but the essential first step — with an agreement among internal political forces over keeping their country from sectarian collapse. The presence of imperial occupiers is the first and main obstacle to that kind of agreement.

The Iraqi people deserve democracy as much as any other nation — and they deserve security too. It’s not a question of a noble American intervention choosing one or the other. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the twelve years of economic sanctions that preceded it — and the decade of support for Saddam Hussein’s hideous tyranny prior to that — damaged if not destroyed the possibilities for the Iraqi people to win either democracy or security.

The war in Iraq was not some liberating mission that went tragically wrong because it was waged incompetently, arrogantly, with “too few” troops on the ground and too many political miscalculations and stupid blunders. Precisely because there was indeed so much idiocy and ignorance in the operation, it’s too easy to forget what matters most: This was an imperialist conquest, aimed at establishing unchallenged American global rule, which had no progressive or democratic purpose. If its failure has instead weakened U.S. imperial power — for us, that’s the only positive part of a generally horrible outcome.

The United States has no legitimate part in deciding whether Iraq’s future lies in a unitary state, a federation or separation. The argument that “we can’t leave Iraq until the Iraqis are ready” is as bankrupt as the bull refusing to leave the china shop because the merchandise is broken. The occupation of Iraq will not, and cannot, stop the hundreds or even thousands of communal torture-murders taking place every week. That’s not because Iraqis are savages who won’t stop killing each other. It’s because the occupation has destroyed so much of the social fabric and physical structure of the country — after Saddam’s regime had wiped out politics — that people find some measure of protection only in communal identity and militias.

For the American people, who have clearly registered their disgust with this war, there is only one way to get out of Iraq — which is, simply, to get out of Iraq. The antiwar movement, as it returns to the streets of Washington DC on January 27 and in the spring mobilizations to come, must offer that clear and straightforward “Out Now!” message to the popular majority in this country.

How a divided Democratic Party with thin majorities in Congress will deal with the war in Iraq remains to be seen. The likelihood is a shaky consensus around worthless formulas of “phased withdrawals” and the like, sniping at Bush while collaborating in practice as the carnage grinds on.  On one point, however, recent Democratic behavior dramatically illustrates the utter futility of hoping for a progressive change in U.S. policy toward a central dimension of the Middle East, the crisis in Palestine.

Democrats for Apartheid

The Democrats have found almost perfect unity in running away from former President Jimmy Carter’s new book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, because Carter uses the absolutely forbidden A-word to describe Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Not only the usual and customary toadies of the Israel lobby, particularly incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have joined the chorus of condemnation. Even Michigan Representative John Conyers, one of the tiny handful of politicians with a decent record on Palestine who opposed the recent bipartisan legislation to starve the Palestinian people into submission, called for Carter to withdraw his book title.

Carter is only telling the truth about the Israeli occupation: It is a form of apartheid, combined with colonialism, under the auspices and protection of the imperial superpower, which only makes the Democrats’ endorsement of it more obscene. In important respects it is even worse than the classic South African version. For example, South Africa with all its murderous brutality never dropped 500-pound bombs in densely populated Black townships as Israel has done to residencies in Gaza. No peace in the Middle East is possible until this going-on-forty-year occupation ends.

In forcing the discussion of the apartheid characteristics of the Israeli occupation onto the public agenda, Jimmy Carter has performed a service. He’s tragically decades late:  He did NOT pursue that course in 1977-78, when he was President, when it could have made a real difference.

Instead, after his joint call with then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev for an internationally brokered two-state solution was brutally squashed by the Zionist lobby, Carter sponsored Anwar Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem leading to a separate Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Carter’s Camp David Accords took Israeli political engagement with the Palestine Liberation Organization and withdrawal from the Occupied Territories off the agenda, with disastrous consequences for Palestinians, Israelis and the whole region.

Today, it’s clear for anyone with eyes to see what the new Congressional majority is about: Democrats for Apartheid.

Following the collapse of the Bush regime’s Iraq adventure and the crisis of U.S. imperial dominion from the eastern Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent, the attempt to restore that power includes the genocidal economic strangulation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This has now produced a Palestinian civil war, which can only be a disaster with no winners.

What needs to be clear right now to antiwar and solidarity activists is that the Democratic Party is no kind of friend of the Palestinian people, any more than it is any kind of principled opponent of imperialist war in Iraq or elsewhere. Yes, the movement needs to apply mass pressure on the new Congress, both for getting out of Iraq and for justice for Palestine — but it must do so from an independent standpoint, not with the delusion that the Democrats are the movement’s allies. ALL OUT JANUARY 27 — NO MONEY FOR WAR! BRING THE TROOPS HOME NOW!

ATC 126, January-February 2007