Blood, Money, More War?

Against the Current, No. 127, March/April 2007

The Editors

THE MOST REMARKABLE feature of George W. Bush’s “troop surge” to Iraq is this: Nobody thinks it will work. That it means a further human sacrifice of Iraqi and American lives, on the altar of a disastrously failed war, is not the view only of those of us on the anti-imperialist left, or of hard-core antiwar activists. It’s the view of the overwhelming majority of military analysts, of media commentators across the political spectrum, and of the majority of the U.S. public. Hundreds of thousands marched against the war on January 27; resolutions of disapproval began meandering through Congress; and Bush made it clear that he has no intention of paying attention to either.

What’s the reality? Embedding American forces with Iraqi units in the chaos of Baghdad creates, to borrow Donald Rumsfeld’s obscene terminology, “a target-rich environment” for resistance fighters and jihadists. Within a week of the “surge,” U.S. helicopters were shot down and a heavily fortified compound stormed by suicide bombers; horrific bombings in Baghdad markets escalated as the local militia (Mahdi Army), the only force providing some security for the Shia community, went into hiding; at the same time, a Sunni woman told her story of kidnap and rape by militia-infested police — certainly not the first such incident, but the first victim to take it to Arab television.

The intercommunal hatred in Iraq grows with every day and every escalation of the occupation. Earlier, the gory executions of Saddam Hussein and other top officials of his regime not only humiliated millions of Sunni Iraqi Arabs; ironically, the removal of the brutal Tikriti leadership (Saddam’s clan) of the Baath party may make the reorganized underground party more attractive to many Iraqis as a resistance movement than it ever was in power.

Aside from dead-enders like John McCain, pandering to the hardline and religious right that he used to oppose, there’s one current among the neoconservative militarists who support Bush’s troop buildup — but not because they really expect it to succeed in tactical terms. Rather, they see it as a step toward a confrontation with Iran, which they openly seek. Is this simply the neocons’ desperate, Custeristic ideological last stand? Perhaps. But it’s Iran, and also the crisis of the U.S./NATO expeditionary war in Afghanistan, to which the antiwar movement needs to pay close attention — particularly because the Cheney/Bush regime’s final, fatal maneuver may be to “salvage” the Iraq war by spreading it.

The Democratic Congressional Pelosi-Reid leadership has adopted a squalid tactic that they apparently see as the path of least resistance. Expecting the 2008 elections to be a big Democratic victory by default, they’ve offered the least they could get away with to their angry antiwar voting base, in the form of “non-binding” language of “disapproval” of the president’s escalation — not even disapproving the war itself, let alone defunding it.

Even this means a political earthquake, not because the Democrats are any kind of antiwar party, but because of the objective reality of the defeat in Iraq and the public’s hostility toward continuing the war.  The Republicans’ ability so far to choke off debate in the Senate does nothing to salvage the political legitimacy of a war that’s lost.

Yet the Democrats themselves aren’t ready to openly state the reality of this defeat. Their electoral “prevent defense,” aimed only at avoiding some “big mistake” that they fear would cost them victory in 2008, leaves the looming threat of war with Iran almost untouched. Few leading Democrats speak out against it; some openly endorse it; almost none will oppose a war if it is marketed as “defending our ally Israel,” however absurd such a pretext will be.

Of the current Democratic frontrunners, Hillary Clinton’s refusal to apologize for supporting the Iraq war resolution practically telegraphs her endorsement of the next war. How anyone can view her as anything like a peace candidate is beyond understanding.  Barack Obama, with no prowar vote on Iraq to live down, is more outspoken against that war but endorses expanding the one in Afghanistan, as if these weren’t all part of one and the same adventure.

Throwing the Long Bomb?

The Democrats’ tactical caution is mirrored by the administration’s desperate position. Attacking Iran would be calculated not only to overcome Bush’s defeat in Iraq, but also to wipe out consideration of his failure in New Orleans and stalled domestic agenda. The possibility that Cheney/ Bush may go for the “Hail Mary pass” in the final two years of this ruinous presidency is enhanced by U.S. naval forces moving toward Iran; by the highly provocative arrest of Iranian officials inside Iraq and presidential authorization to kill Iranian operatives; and by financial sanctions that aim to cripple Iran’s somewhat shaky and heavily oil-revenue-dependent economy.

Indeed it’s now well-publicized that plans for massive U.S. bombing of the entire Iranian economic and political as well as military infrastructure are entirely in place. In our view, however, given the political fragility of the U.S. administration at home and the lack of confidence (to put it mildly) it inspires internationally, this war is preventable by mass antiwar action, not only in Washington but in our communities and an increasingly disillusioned U.S. military.

Generally speaking, the U.S. ruling class likes the idea of smashing Iran either now or later — especially to prevent a potential Iran-China economic partnership — but doesn’t have much confidence in the present administration’s ability to do this without risking a meltdown of the structures of imperial domination of the Middle East.

Against the Cheney/Bush gang’s discredited adventurism, an alternative “sane” imperialist strategy was developed under the auspices of the Iraq Study Group, headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton to create the greatest bipartisan support for extricating the United States from the mess it created in Iraq. The ISG’s recommendations for troop “redeployment” first to consolidated bases in Iraq and then out of the country, while rebuilding diplomatic relations with Iran and Syria, were promptly deposited in the trash by the Bush gang.

This isn’t surprising now in view of the revelation that back in 2003, after the U.S. invasion had triumphantly overrun Iraq, the Iranian regime offered Washington a deal for cooperation in stabilizing Iraq and co-management of the Middle East, where Iran would cut its support for Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon in return for a non-antagonistic U.S. policy toward Iran.

Vice President Cheney rejected that bargain package — precisely because Iran was always the main target of the U.S. grand plan for “reorganizing the Middle East.” All factions within the Iranian regime surely recognized from that moment on that they were in the crosshairs. It’s inevitable that they would prepare for a confrontation, in which their main strategic advantage ironically lies in keeping 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq bogged down and vulnerable.

Only a handful of Democrats like Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, Russell Feingold and a few others advocate cutting off funds and risking the “unpatriotic” label that the Pelosi-Reid leadership dreads above all else. Blocking funding for the carnage, however, would be the only way of curbing an imperial-messianic presidency that pays no attention to anything — neither to massive popular disapproval or elite horror over the war, nor to international law against torture, nor to the growth of serious disaffection in the military, nor to reality.

So long as the money follows the blood, more blood flows. The rest is all maneuver and rhetoric. The Democrats’ (and many Republicans’) disapproval of Bush’s strategy signifies both the growing anger and disgust of the U.S. population with this war, and the fact that military and corporate elites now recognize it as a disaster. But they wouldn’t even cast symbolic votes against confirming Robert Gates or the new crop of military commanders designated to operate the “surge.”

At the moment, most elite strategists outside the Bush bunker oppose provoking conflict with Iran now. At a time of U.S. political weakness in the Middle East and military quagmire in Iraq, the Baker-Hamilton report and related proposals (those of the so-called Korb-Katulis plan or Congressman John Murtha), while not antiwar in content, recognize that restoring American power requires an “over-the-horizon” reorganization of military forces. Under these proposals, naval and air power as well as diplomacy would be the main tools to impose Washington’s will. Iraq’s civil war would be allowed to determine whether that country holds together or essentially disintegrates.

These proposals, especially those of the Iraq Study Group, aim not only to extricate the United States from Bush’s dead-end military-political quagmire in Iraq, but to rebuild a political consensus that will be needed in order to confront Iran in the long run.  They are also efforts to head off the growing popular sentiment of the American people to “Bring the Troops Home Now!”

Revisiting Afghanistan

If the war in Iraq is now seen as catastrophic and an escalation with Iran as a bad move, there’s one war that retains a semblance of legitimacy — the U.S./NATO war against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. Some of the establishment critics of Bush’s Iraq war even argue that his big blunder was to “draw away resources from the real war on terror” in Afghanistan. (The rhetorical question “Where’s Osama?” sums up this critique.)

The antiwar movement should not capitulate to this argument, and it doesn’t need to. In the first place, many antiwar activists understood from the beginning what’s now common knowledge — the invasion of Afghanistan wasn’t fundamentally about that country at all. Rather, using the pretext of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Afghanistan was the opening of a wider imperial onslaught: As we’ve said before, Afghanistan was supposed to be the appetizer, Iraq the soup, Iran the main course and Syria for dessert. Not only did the soup go down the windpipe, but the “success story” of Afghanistan is coming back up as well.

In fact, Afghanistan is another unwinnable war, although for reasons somewhat different from the Iraqi case. Put simply, the United States’ great and indispensable ally in Muslim South Asia is the military strongman Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. President Musharraf, in turn, depends on retaining the support of the Pakistani military command, and in particular on coexistence with the military intelligence service — the Inter Service Intelligence, or ISI — without which he would be overthrown and probably killed.

But the ISI, which is closely linked to Islamic fundamentalism, is precisely the main sponsor of the Taliban in Afghanistan. During the 1980s anti-Soviet war, the United States along with Saudi Arabia created channels for arming and funding the mujahedin resistance. Those channels included the Pakistani military and the network organized by Osama bin Laden.

Today’s mess in southern Afghanistan is the direct outgrowth of this brilliant strategy for defeating Communism and establishing the United States in its rightful place as ruler of the world. It’s called, in covert operations lingo, “blowback:” Imperialism’s dogs of war, far from showing proper gratitude, have returned to bite it in the butt. Continuing the war in Afghanistan today means we’ll be there not for years, but decades.

This becomes, then, an urgent moment for an antiwar movement that now clearly represents the sentiments of a majority of the American people. It is more important now than ever to present a clear and principled message that this war, based on lies, was illegal and immoral as well as foolish from the beginning in Afghanistan — even before Iraq.

By all means, lobby your representatives to vote against funding the escalation in Iraq. But don’t get caught up one way or the other in the Byzantine language of resolutions, or windbag bills about “benchmarks for Iraq” that have no teeth anyway, or which candidate blathers about withdrawing sometime in 2008, as if they cared about anything but capturing your vote. Keep the focus where it needs to be, on “Bring the Troops Home Now” — meaning All the troops, and Home — not from Iraq to Kuwait or Afghanistan or the Persian Gulf.

Remember that it won’t be Congress that forces the Bush gang to accept an imperialist defeat. To borrow another phrase from the warmongers’ lexicon: The U.S. war machine will stand down when the antiwar movement, the American people and the military resisters stand up.

ATC 127, March-April 2007