Imperial Failure and the Vote

Against the Current, No. 130, September/October 2007

The Editors

AN ELECTION IS looming, and an incumbent regime is falling apart. Its war in Iraq is a catastrophic failure. Its biggest recent success — deporting and terrorizing a large sector of the immigrant labor force — is leaving the produce of U.S. agribusiness rotting in the fields of California, and elsewhere. The housing bubble, prolonged and inflated by the predatory and sleazoid “subprime” mortgage industry, is now a rupturing appendix whose poisons are spreading through the international credit system and financial markets, with consequences still unknown for the U.S. and world economy. When the ratlike Karl Rove deserts the ship, followed by torturer-perjurer Alberto Gonzales, you know it’s going down.

The scandal of the broken U.S. private health insurance system — as Bush gets ready to veto a minimal measure to extend coverage to children in desperate need — encapsulates tens of millions of Americans’ profound insecurity and growing fears for their families’ future. More broadly, the real condition of the richest capitalist country in the history of the planet is lit up by periodic events — the collapse of the I-35 commuter bridge in Minneapolis, highlighting decades of neglect of a decaying American infrastructure; the entombment of miners and rescuers in a Utah mountain mine that no halfway decent regulatory system would ever have allowed to open; the completely broken promises to the people of New Orleans; the use of corporate bankruptcy as the “restructuring” mechanism to destroy jobs, wages and union protection from airlines to auto.

The latter issue is explored elsewhere in this issue of Against the Current; but as almost always these days, even at the risk of repetition, the discussion must begin with the central question of world politics: Iraq and imperialism’s spreading Middle East crisis. A bit of comic relief:  Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton demand that  the Iraqi parliament remove the “failed” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. These are the squalid politicians who absolutely refuse to remove the regime they could impeach at home, the criminal Bush-Cheney gang.

More seriously, however, when Republican Senators like Lugar, Domenici and Warner say the Iraq war is a failure, you know that they’re saying only a small part of what they really know. Their information is coming from inside the military — and also, probably, from Robert Gates and the Defense Department. Even from what we lesser mortals know, the sheer human misery of “liberated” Iraq defies comprehension. A third of the population, reports Oxfam, is in immediate need of emergency assistance. Dozens of bodies dumped in Baghdad every day mean “the level of violence is decreasing.” The capital of a country that enjoyed electrical power now requires old-fashioned ice deliveries.

It’s true that the reality-challenged John McCain claims to believe the “surge” isn’t failing, but he also claims to believe that his own presidential campaign isn’t collapsing. The optimistic noises coming from the White House can’t disguise the reality of a complete collapse of any confidence in George W. Bush’s lost Iraq war. At the same time, Afghanistan is becoming another bloody impasse — likely to last for years with no resolution — that also threatens Pakistan with the specter of Talibanization.

Regarding Iran, the Bush gang is caught in an internal faction fight between those who want to rely on harsher sanctions (Condoleezza Rice) and the proponents of a military “solution” (Cheney and the neoconservatives). Meanwhile a ten-year, $30.5 billion commitment of military aid to Israel; the continuing near-starvation of Gaza; and the further pledge of weapons to Saudi Arabia, all guarantee that the regional carnage will carry on.

The administration and a few war apologists, including pro-war Democrats like Hillary Clinton, point to recent successes in this or that Baghdad neighborhood or Anbar province. Those successes do exist — notably in that some Sunni and Baathist insurgents have turned their guns against “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” due to the latter’s utterly depraved cruelty and targeting of ordinary people.

But not only does this small progress come in the midst of overwhelming chaos and destruction; everyone knows it was the conquest and occupation of Iraq, and the destruction of Iraqi state and civic institutions alike, that produced both sectarian intercommunal warfare and the entrenchment of Qaeda-type forces there.

A Challenge to Antiwar Movement

So the first point as the 2007-’08 election year opens is that the near-total disaster in Iraq is recognized all around, not only by sophisticated analysts.  That’s a crucial fact in U.S. politics, but here’s another: The enormity of this disaster in Iraq has not only overtaken any expectation that Bush’s war could “succeed” – it has also overwhelmed, at this point in the debate, the absolutely essential argument for immediate U.S. withdrawal. This has left, for the time being, a gaping vacuum where the antiwar movement needs to be.

Since the Congressional Democrats will not, cannot and don’t even know how to end this war, the movement above all must put full withdrawal from Iraq now back on the agenda. The argument is not easy, because it requires recognizing the reality that yes, Iraq is in chaos and may be in even worse chaos when the U.S. leaves. Yet the longer it stays the greater the chaos becomes.

Quite frankly, we’d suggest that this political argument is a greater priority right now than the focus that some of the movement’s bravest activists, like the heroic Cindy Sheehan and Rev. Lennox Yearwood, are now putting on the futile hope of a Congressional impeachment resolution. The Democratic leadership cannot be “pressured from below” to take that initiative, because they absolutely oppose it; and while impeachment is an entirely justified demand, we see no hope of building a mass movement around it.

What both the movement and the antiwar public need is a genuine way out of Iraq — and the only way out of Iraq is OUT OF IRAQ. The administration’s hope is that the facts of chaos as well as Bush’s new mantra that “our enemy is al-Qaeda in Iraq” will paralyze political debate; the Democrats expect to win the election largely by default without having to wage more than a symbolic struggle to satisfy (i.e. deceive) their bitterly antiwar voting base.

There has been a significant development on the part of the leadership of United for Peace and Justice. The fact that UFPJ, along with the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, called the pro-Palestinian mobilization in Washington June 10-11 — the importance of which lay not in its modest size of four or five thousand, but simply in that it happened — was a step forward for the movement in the linkage of struggles (although strangely, there was little mention of Iraq at that event).

Yet UFPJ at present finds itself unable to mobilize the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets that would be necessary to keep the antiwar movement at the center of attention. In our view it’s not a question of the UFPJ’s willingness to organize, but actually a deeper problem — partly a consequence of the antiwar leadership’s longtime orientation to the Democratic Party, but of other factors as well. There’s lots of creative and critically important antiwar activism at the grassroots, below the corporate media radar screen — especially in arenas like military counter-recruitment and support for resisters — but there’s also no doubt that many dedicated militants in the struggle feel, for good reasons, that U.S. politics are stuck in a long Dark Age.

The massive antiwar public right now seems in an angry but passive mode, looking for leadership from Congress and the Democrats especially, which of course isn’t coming. People who poured into the streets in 2003, before the invasion of Iraq officially began, believing then that they could stop the war, have lost confidence that their actions can matter. Even many of the antiwar activists are increasingly demoralized by the realization that the Democrats won’t push a confrontation by refusing war funding.

There’s more to the Democrats’ wretched performance than opportunism, cynicism and incompetence — without discounting these factors. The Iraq meltdown doesn’t occur in a vacuum, but in a severe regional crisis. The Democrats have no alternative perspective on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, or the Bush gang’s threats against Iran.  If this administration’s intentions of bombing Iran are foiled, it won’t be by the Democrats but by the opposition of the U.S. military command, who know insanity when they see it, and by political elites who realize that public opposition is inchoate but overwhelming.

The discourse of the so-called political opposition has degenerated into “post-surge redeployment” and similar drivel. This is a formula for a whole series of quagmires, which the Democrats will inherit when/if they take power after 2008. There is no reason for the population that hates the current war to be inspired by this policy; indeed the Democrats might be shocked, by the time November 2008 finally come around, when many of the voters they’re counting on see no reason to vote for it.

Polarizing Struggle on Immigration

The near-massacre of Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections was aided significantly by the mobilization of angry immigrant communities, notably Latinos, against the brutality of government roundups and deportations. The Bush administration’s move to salvage its position was something called “comprehensive immigration reform,” in which establishment Republican and Democratic legislators came together around proposals driven overwhelmingly by a corporate agenda.

This “immigration reform” had little or nothing to do with the basic needs or human rights of immigrant workers and families. Its core was to be a “guest worker” program, dressed up with features that would purportedly lead toward legalization and potential citizenship — but so expensive, onerous and uncertain that most undocumented immigrants would be unable to pursue them. In short, as corporate America wishes, most undocumented workers would remain present but illegal, easily exploitable and disposable in the key agribusiness and construction sectors.

The administration’s contradiction was its own nativist, racist base — to which it has so successfully appealed electorally — which responded to rightwing demands for repression and deportation without regard to the need for low-wage immigrant labor. In short, the political monster crafted by Karl Rove got uppity and bit Bush in the butt. While “comprehensive immigration reform” sputtered and died, some of the most evil products of recent policy — federally mandated electronic drivers’ licenses, state requirements for photo voter ID designed to disenfranchise large sectors of poor and racial minority citizens, and of course persistent ICE raids — remain.

Elsewhere in this issue, activist Renee Saucedo outlines the challenges confronting the immigrant rights movement. Most of all, it will be up to the immigrant rights movement and its allies to force a shift in the terms of the struggle. In electoral politics, many states will turn on the contested mobilizations of racist anti-immigrant forces versus threatened communities standing up for their rights. If this debate continues to polarize around corporate versions of “comprehensive immigration reform,” it’s going to be not only ugly but confused and unprincipled — conditions which always favor the right wing’s appeal to fear and bigotry.

Is the Post-9/11 Dark Age Lifting?

Conventional political wisdom mostly now holds the prospect of a major 2008 Democratic victory and a likely “historic” Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama presidency. Whether the Democrats can find a way to blow yet another near-certain victory; whether the Bush regime will test the limits of lunatic opportunism by manufacturing a new Middle East war; whether the Republicans can find in their ghouls’ closet of candidates a presidential ticket to hold together a fractious and disillusioned electoral coalition; these and myriad further questions will remain for a while.

What can be said with certainty is that the Democrats will not end the occupation in Iraq anytime soon, nor solve the spreading regional crisis; it is dubious at best that they will restore basic legal and civil rights that the Bush regime has criminally abrogated, or reverse the massive redistribution of wealth from poor and working people to the rich; it’s an entirely open question whether a Democratic administration will contribute more than rhetoric to confronting the environmental emergency.

At this moment, a big unanswered question is whether a credible independent antiwar, human rights and social justice campaign will emerge in 2008.  The 2008 election will undoubtedly be considered a political “watershed.” Will the antiwar and social movements influence which way the stream flows? We dare to hope so.

from ATC 130 (September/October 2007)