Iraq, Cowboys, and the Enormity of 18 Months

By David Swanson

Eighteen months ago Congressman John Murtha and other pro-war Democrats had not yet developed even a muddled half-hearted opposition to the occupation of Iraq, Joe Lieberman had not lost a primary, MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress were pretending there was no such thing as Iraq, and the Democratic Party had shoved its collective head so far up… well, let’s just say the pretense was alive and well that Iraq was not the central issue in American politics.

Eighteen months from now, in November 2008, the political scene in the United States will look drastically different from what we see today. We can’t predict with certainty what it will look like, but we can be sure of one thing: if we stay focused now on the election coming in 18 months, the election will go badly for us. If, instead, we focus now on trying to end the occupation, we could quite conceivably succeed in doing so before the election, and in any event significantly move the nation’s political debate in a direction that will benefit humanity as well as the electoral interests of those closest to us.

Thom Hartmann is convinced that the White House will largely scale back the occupation just before the election and declare victory. http://afterdowningstreet.org/node/23130 But Hartmann offers no insider knowledge to confirm his assertion, and he makes it not with joy but with foreboding. Presumably he would be glad to see the violence reduced to a degree that, and on a timeline that, the Democrats currently have no intention of achieving. But any such joy goes unmentioned and is overwhelmed by Hartmann’s fear that the Republicans would win the elections and the Democrats would lose. Based on media reports, there seems to be disagreement within the Bush Administration on whether to escalate or reduce the occupation. Winning elections is not the Bush gang’s only priority, and winning them honestly is not their only tactic.

Tom Hayden, in his valuable new book “Ending the War in Iraq,” also focuses heavily on the November 2008 elections, and – while he lays out several tasks for the peace movement – makes no mention of the need to ensure honest elections. (He even states unequivocally that John Kerry lost the 2004 election and avoids the question of how many races were stolen in 2006.) One of the tasks Hayden recommends is this:

“The antiwar movement should also establish local coalitions to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to be elected president in 2008 without a pledge and a plan to withdraw.”

But this is simply code for the same tactic Hayden praises activists for having taken in 2004 and scolds them for having strayed from in 2000: Elect the Democrat, any Democrat. Assuming Ron Paul does not win the Republican nomination, and Joe Biden does not win the Democratic nomination, the 2008 election of the new emperor can already be expected to be between a Republican with – at best – a muddled position on Iraq and a Democrat who promises to withdraw. The Democrats Hayden focuses on (Clinton, Edwards, and Obama) are all promising that now. Or, rather, not now, but after they are elected.

Hayden, at least as of a week or two ago when he finished his book, did not think the scenario more recently described by Hartmann was very likely. But that scenario is not the only one opened up by the Democrats’ strategy of keeping the occupation going and Bush and Cheney in office so that they can campaign against all three. This plan, which Rahm Emanuel blurted out to the Washington Post http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=171335 , also has the potential of turning off large numbers of Democratic voters. Some will back peace candidates as challengers in primaries http://www.democrats.com/primary-2008 , which will benefit the Democratic Party. But others will turn to third-parties, to Republicans, and – in even larger numbers than in the past – to not voting at all.

I say Hayden’s book is valuable, because – despite his excessive focus on elections – he offers an informed analysis of the situation in Iraq and in the United States, plus several strategies the peace movement can employ, strategies that make the Congress and the White House both more likely to end or scale back the occupation and at the same time make all 2008 candidates more likely to call for a withdrawal if it is still needed. In my opinion, the peace movement would be smart at this early stage to throw its rhetorical and financial support behind Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, as a way to move Congress to act now. If the prospect of Kucinich winning primaries can’t scare Pelosi into ending the occupation immediately, nothing can. But the bulk of our efforts should not be focused on the elections at all.

The minute we become obsessed with elections, we lose our focus and our principles. We begin, like Hayden, to lump United for Peace and Justice into the same sentences with MoveOn.org, as if the former were not pushing for peace before politics, and as if the latter had not reversed those priorities. And the minute we put elections first, we are compelled to get behind a party that wants to continue the occupation. The Republican Party has made that clear, but so have the Democrats. Pelosi announced in January that the Democrats will never cut off funding for the occupation. She and her colleagues have repeated that promise countless times on television and in print over the past four months. Harry Reid started this Congressional session by suggesting that he would be open to escalating the war. Public fury caused him to “clarify” that remark, but he and Pelosi have – in fact – escalated the war.

Perhaps Cindy Sheehan’s recent resignation letter will wake enough of us up to the fact that the Democrats will never end the occupation of Iraq until they are convinced that the failure to do so will cost them seats in Congress and the White House. Perhaps enough of us will then take the next step and realize that we cannot credibly threaten that result while making Democratic electoral victories our top priority. Then, perhaps, we will work with the energy required on the tasks Hayden enumerates, which include:

1.-We must make Iraqi public opinion known in the United States. The vast majority of Iraqis have long wanted the United States to leave their country. One way to get this information into the US media may be to promote coverage of this month’s tour of the United States by Iraqi labor leaders: http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org

Hayden proposes also pushing for Congressional hearings on death squads in Iraq being paid for with US tax dollars. I would expect there to be more resistance to this idea in Congress than to impeaching and removing Bush and Cheney for non-war crimes, such as illegal spying, detentions, torture, outing a CIA agent, etc. But pushing for all such hearings is positive and necessary.

2.-Expand the independent media, and pressure the corporate media.

3.-Build links between the peace movement and the labor movement and fair trade coalitions on the issue of privatization, environmental groups on the issue of oil, and anti-poverty and other justice organizations on the issue of the financial cost of the ongoing occupation: http://www.costofwar.com

4.-Counter military recruitment.

Hayden also mentions public education, and gives the peace movement credit for having accomplished a lot of public education already. I think in the coming weeks we ought to focus such efforts on these points:

A.-It’s the oil. We will not support any politicians who do not insist on Iraq maintaining control of every drop of its oil. Americans are not thieves.

B.-It’s the occupation. We are not opposing this war only because the American death rate is too high or the financial cost is too high, but also because of the damage done to the rule of law by aggressive wars unanswered for and the danger imposed on Americans when we generate hatred of our nation around the world. A reduction of American forces is not nearly enough. We want every U.S. soldier, mercenary, and contractor withdrawn from Iraq. We want the United States to offer a massive program of foreign aid to the world, a leadership role in developing renewable energy, and strong support for international law and arms reduction. We want to see such a new approach that the desire to “save face” by only partially withdrawing from Iraq will seem trivial and unnecessary.

C.-It’s the accountability. We don’t just want to end this war and occupation. We want to deny U.S. presidents and any other nations the right to launch aggressive wars in the future. We want accountability for this crime, for the fraud used to promote it, and for the numerous crimes and abuses that have accompanied it.

D.-Questions of war and peace, according to our Constitution, must be decided by the Congress. Wars must be declared and can be ended by the Congress. Congress can and must enforce its power by denying funding and by impeaching presidents and vice presidents.

Here’s a segment from a tape recording President Richard Nixon made of himself, discussed in Daniel Ellsberg’s book “Secrets,”

“[Acting Attorney General] Kleindienst: Hang in there, Mr. President.

President: Good luck. What the hell, you know. People say impeach the President. Well, then they get Agnew. What the hell? [Laughter] Is that all right? Is that all right?

Kleindienst: There’s not going to be anything like that.

President: All right, boy. Fine…”

But there was “anything like that,” and in Ellsberg’s analysis the threat of impeachment helped significantly in ending the war. It also, of course, gave the Democrats the White House.

If you can take two books with you to the beach, take Hayden’s and this one. If you can only take one, take this one: “Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law,” by Marjorie Cohn. I’ll give you just a couple of provocative bits of the Foreword by Richard Falk:

“The dismal experience of the Iraq War should contain many lessons for Americans, but the most important may be that adhering to international law serves the national (as well as human) interest in times of war.”

“[T]he one thing worse than chaos and defeat in Iraq would have been a decisive and quick American victory. Why? Such an outcome would have encouraged the further pursuit of imperial goals by recourse to war and spread the war zone to other Middle East targets in the neoconservative gun sights.”

Cohn chronicles the crimes, international and domestic, of the cowboy now running our empire. Copies of this book should be hand-delivered to every editorial board and congressional office in the country. As impeachment gains traction, the big pushback is going to be the claim that no crimes have been committed, only unpopular blunders. Cohn’s book puts such nonsense to rest.

The pushback from organizations and people who understand what has been done but who harbor a Clinton-induced aversion to impeachment will come in the form of the misconception that other solutions exist. For example, another task that Hayden proposes makes no sense to me:

“Groups like the ACLU should be supported in their opposition to the PATRIOT Act, and the new Congress pressured to hold hearings to close all loopholes concerning torture, rendition, repression, and domestic spying.”

But Congress has repeatedly closed some of these so-called loopholes, closed as well by the Bill of Rights. Bush and Cheney have simply violated the law, and in many cases announced their intention to do so in “signing statements.” Exactly how many times does Congress have to ban torture before well-intentioned activists stop once and for all advocating for Congress to ban torture? I’m serious. Can we have a timetable for an exit strategy from this paradigm?

Impeachment cuts through this charade, puts an end to illegal practices, establishes that these practices will not be tolerated, ends the occupation of Iraq, and moreover guarantees electoral victory for the election obsessed. And by accomplishing these ends in much less than 20 months, impeachment saves lives.

Investigations cost lives. Hayden makes an intriguing point when he proposes investigating whether the February 2004 letter alleged to have come from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was, like the Niger uranium documents, forged. There are many things we’d like to know. But there is nothing more we need to know in order to move on impeachment. And Congressman Henry Waxman has subpoenaed Condoleezza Rice to testify on the Niger documents, and she has refused.

Refusal to obey subpoenas was an impeachable offense in the eyes of the House Judiciary Committee under Nixon. The significance of allowing it to become acceptable cannot be overstated.