November 16, 2006

"The Greatest Threat to the Peace of the World" -- Trapped in Denial

Simon Jenkins:
I remember asking a western intelligence officer in Baghdad, six months after the American invasion, what he would advise the Iranians to do. "Wait," he said with a smile. Iran has done just that. If I were Tehran I would still wait. I would sit back, fold my arms and watch my tormentors sweat. I would watch the panic in Washington and London as body bags pile up, generals mutter mutiny, alliances fall apart and electors cut and run.


As we approach the beginning of the end in Iraq there will be much throat-clearing and breast-beating before reality replaces denial. For the moment, denial still rules. In America last week I was shocked at how unaware even anti-war Americans are (like many Britons) of the depth of the predicament in Iraq. They compare it with Vietnam or the Balkans - but it is not the same. It is total anarchy. All sentences beginning, "What we should now do in Iraq ... " are devoid of meaning. We are in no position to do anything. We have no potency; that is the definition of anarchy.


To talk of a collapse into civil war if "we leave" Iraq is to completely misread the chaos into which that country has descended under our rule. It implies a model of order wholly absent on the ground. Foreign soldiers can stay in their bases, but they will no more "prevent civil war" than they can "import democracy". They are relevant only as target practice for insurgents and recruiting sergeants for al-Qaida. The occupation of Iraq has passed from brutality to mere idiocy.


Bush and Blair are men in a hurry, and such men lose wars. If there is a game plan in Tehran it will be to play Iraq long. Why stop the Great Satan when he is driving himself to hell in a handcart? If London and Washington really want help in this part of the world they must start from diplomatic ground zero. They will have to stop the holier-than-thou name-calling and the pretence that they hold any cards. They will have to realise that this war has lost them all leverage in the region. They can insult and sanction and threaten. But there is nothing left for them to "do" but leave. They are no longer the subject of that mighty verb, only its painful object.
Norman Solomon:
In the latest media assault, right-wing outfits like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page are secondary. The heaviest firepower is now coming from the most valuable square inches of media real estate in the USA -- the front page of the New York Times.

The present situation is grimly instructive for anyone who might wonder how the Vietnam War could continue for years while opinion polls showed that most Americans were against it. Now, in the wake of midterm elections widely seen as a rebuke to the Iraq war, powerful media institutions are feverishly spinning against a pullout of U.S. troops.


If a New York Times military-affairs reporter went on television to advocate for withdrawal of U.S. troops as unequivocally as Gordon advocated against any such withdrawal during his Nov. 15 appearance on CNN, he or she would be quickly reprimanded -- and probably would be taken off the beat -- by the Times hierarchy. But the paper's news department eagerly fosters reporting that internalizes and promotes the basic worldviews of the country's national security state.

That's how and why the Times front page was so hospitable to the work of Judith Miller during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. That's how and why the Times is now so hospitable to the work of Michael Gordon.


These days, media coverage of U.S. policy in Iraq often seems to be little more than a remake of how mainstream news outlets portrayed Washington's options during the war in Vietnam. Routine deference to inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom has turned many prominent journalists into co-producers of a "Groundhog Day" sequel that insists the U.S. war effort must go on.


The standard media evasions amount to kicking the bloody can down the road. Careful statements about benchmarks and getting tough with the Baghdad government (as with the Saigon government) are markers for a national media discourse that dodges instead of enlivens debate.

Many journalists are retreading the notion that the pullout option is not a real option at all. And the Democrats who'll soon be running Congress, we're told, wouldn't -- and shouldn't -- dare to go that far if they know what's good for them.
And the Democrats have learned the lesson:
In the Senate, under Democratic control starting in January, incoming Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D- Mich. said he hoped to form a bipartisan group of senators to pass a resolution urging Bush to begin withdrawing American troops.

"We should pressure the White House to commence the phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq in four to six months… and thereby to make it clear to the Iraqis that our presence is not open-ended and that they must make the necessary political compromises to preserve Iraq as a nation," Levin said.

"I’m not prepared to go beyond that," the Michigan Democrat added, fending off talk of resolutions demanding troop withdrawal or cutting off funds for U.S. operations in Iraq.


Levin’s colleague on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Bill Nelson, D- Fla., who voted against Levin’s resolution last June and who won reelection by a landslide last week, took a different tack than Levin.

Success in Iraq is still necessary, Nelson emphasized, because "the alternative is not very palatable. The alternative is to turn it over to the terrorists, and if the terrorists take over Iraq and are sitting on top of that oil, where do they go next? They look south, they head for the Saudi royal family; if they take over (Saudi Arabia), they are sitting on the world’s oil reserves. That’s not a situation the free world wants to face."

The message from Florida voters last week, Nelson said, was that they "want the United States to have a chance of success in protecting its interests which is by stabilizing Iraq."

Newly elected House Democrats acknowledged that voters wanted a new Iraq policy, but were reluctant to speak of forcing Bush to withdraw troops.
And here is one of Harry Reid's highest priorities:
But it was on the issue of Iraq that [Reid] was most passionate. Voter anger over the war swept his party to power with the unlikely defeat of six Republican senators, he said. Democrats must respond to that anger, he added, with hearings to keep the heat on the Bush administration, and with calls for a regional Middle Eastern conference and a revitalized Iraqi reconstruction effort.

To that end, he said, one of the first acts of the new Democratic Congress will be a $75 billion boost to the military budget to try to get the Army's diminished units back into combat shape.

Democrats will not try, Reid pledged, to play the strongest hand they have -- using Congress's power of the purse to starve the war effort of money and force the president to move. Such an effort would only elicit a veto from Bush. But he said Democrats will marshal their newly acquired power -- in hearing rooms and on the Senate floor -- to stoke public opinion and drive the debate.
The Democrats won decisively on November 7 -- and, just as in the case of Vietnam, they will do nothing to hasten the end of this murderous nightmare. They will be dragged out of Iraq screaming and protesting every inch of the way, just like the Republicans.

As most Democrats and their supporters recognize, the catastrophe of Iraq was the single most critical issue in the election. And yet, the new Democratic Congress will do nothing to significantly alter our course.

So remind me again: just why do we even have elections?

At the conclusion of his column, Norman Solomon excerpts an interview with Senator Wayne Morse on CBS's "Face the Nation" -- from 1964. Morse eloquently demonstrated the falsity of the lie that "the Constitution gives to the president of the United States the sole responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy." Morse said that this power ultimately lies with "the American people," but that they needed to be given "the facts." He might also have added that the Constitution explicitly vests the power to declare war with Congress alone -- but Democrats and Republicans alike have been content, even eager, to unconstitutionally cede that power entirely to the President, where it has remained ever since World War II.

Solomon ends with this:
And, prophetically, Morse added: "We're going to become guilty, in my judgment, of being the greatest threat to the peace of the world. It's an ugly reality, and we Americans don't like to face up to it."
So it has come to pass.

Related: Battling the Ghosts of Vietnam

No Way Out -- But Out

A Genuine Mission Impossible

Get Out Now -- Just Do It