BUSH’S IRAQ COLLAPSE: WHAT NOW?
Suddenly the Forbidden Secret has become Conventional Wisdom: Bush’s Iraq strategy has collapsed. “Stay the Course” used to be the President’s verbal hammer for pounding antiwar critics. Now it’s a joke that even Bush himself (fearful of Republican defeat in the upcoming elections – see below) disavows! On ABC This Week October 22 he told interviewer George Stephanopoulos “We’ve never been ‘stay the course,’ George.”
Rarely has such a self-parody been offered up by a Leader of the Free World.
But it’s far from funny. For what the U.S. will do regarding Iraq still hangs in the balance.
Public discontent with Bush’s policy has grown and hardened substantially in the last few months. Combined with realities in Iraq and global opposition to U.S. occupation, this may be just enough (if focused and mobilized!) to force Washington toward withdrawal. But the White House still says victory (whatever that means this week) is its bottom-line goal. And Bush’s messianic/religious investment in “victory” adds a dangerous and irrational element to Washington’s imperial calculations. So far, all the “new” schemes reportedly being considered by the administration are formulas to postpone any day of reckoning at a huge price in lives and suffering. And there is no guarantee that Bush will not try a new military gamble – either in Iraq or with an attack on Iran – in a desperate effort to make reality fit his Neocon/Second Coming fantasies.
DISASTER CAN NO LONGER BE HIDDEN
The dam has burst. White House spin can no longer hide the scale of Bush’s Iraq disaster. The large-scale shift in public opinion strongly resembles the weeks right after the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968. Again, Bush himself – who has fiercely resisted analogies between Iraq and Vietnam from day one – admitted on national television that this particular comparison “could be right.”
Iraqis are dying from violence at a rate of 100 per day. The U.S. military death toll in October stands at 96, the highest month this year and counting. A new study by U.S. and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more Iraqis have died since March 2003 than if the U.S. invasion had not occurred. Last time a comparable study was released it was dismissed by official “experts” and buried by the mainstream media. This time refutations were half-hearted; the study got major media play; and even critics admitted that the Iraqi death toll was horrific and in the hundreds of thousands.
Every day another war supporter or high official jumps ship. Wayne White, until last year head of the State Department’s Iraq Intelligence section, told BBC news Oct. 22 that “we’re not winning” and that the U.S. position in Iraq was “untenable.” “I checked with almost a dozen sources in Baghdad in just the last 24 hours,” White said. “Every single one of them answered the question as to whether the violence was lessening, or getting worse, with – ‘worse’.”
Top U.S. generals now publicly admit that their bedrock strategy to “secure Baghdad” has failed. “With that failure the entire future of Iraq and the U.S. and British-led occupation has been brought to a tipping point of enormous consequence not simply for Iraq and the region, but for the Bush and Blair administrations.” (Guardian, Oct. 22)
The result is a flurry of reports about “new administration plans” for the Iraq mission. But every such plan seems to consist of a different mix of the same old ingredients. All they offer are repackaged failures for getting Iraqis to “stand up” so U.S. troops can “stand down.” They lay blame for failure on Iraqis rather than on the U.S. occupation. All avoid facing the fact that U.S. occupation is the main *problem* in Iraq, not a *solution* to violence and destruction.
This means that the fight to force the Bush administration to get out of Iraq is still underway, still difficult, and likely still uphill. And the antiwar movement still has to be ready for anything along the way.
NORTH KOREA’S NUKE: U.S. FAILURE
White House policy failures – and the limits Iraq and other setbacks have placed on Washington – are also evident in its standoff with North Korea.
North Korea’s recent nuclear test was a direct response to six years of Bush administration hostility. In 1994 North Korea agreed to suspend its nuclear weapons program and allow international monitoring of its nuclear facilities. In return, the U.S. agreed to not make military threats against North Korea, to supply fuel oil, and to help build two modern atomic power plants. But beginning in 2002, the Bush administration slowly gutted its part of the agreement. It branded North Korea as part of an “axis of evil,” ended the shipments of fuel oil, stonewalled construction of nuclear power plants, and refused direct bilateral talks.
U.N. Ambassador John Bolton then declared that U.S. policy is for “the end of North Korea.” Washington threatened North Korea with being on its list of “first-strike” nuclear targets. And four days after six-party talks reached a new deal whereby North Korea would denuclearize in exchange for the U.S. agreeing to respect North Korea’s sovereignty and work toward normalization of relations, the U.S. Treasury slapped harsh sanctions on Pyongyang.
Predictably, the North Korean government responded by withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and beginning to develop nuclear weapons.
A whole range of political actors – from the government of China to anti-nuclear and peace activists – see grave dangers in nuclear proliferation in general and North Korea testing nukes in particular. But the White House’s dedication to “pre-emptive war” and nuclear saber-rattling is the greatest obstacle to halting any new nuclear arms race.
On this front, too, Bush has been badly weakened. Bush once claimed he would “never accept” a nuclear armed North Korea. But after the test, he was in no position to take unilateral measures. Washington has been constrained at the U.N. by the need to win Russian and Chinese for a multi-lateral approach. And Bush cannot convince the South Korean government to abandon its policy of engagement, rather than isolation, of North Korea.
Here at home, too, Bush faces calls to stop stonewalling and open direct talks with North Korea. (Even from Republican senators Richard Lugar and Arlen Specter.) The New York Times (Oct. 23) analyzed the administration’s weakness in its coverage of Condoleezza Rice’s recent trip to Asia:
“The Bush administration’s struggle to rethink a faltering Iraq strategy hung over her entire trip like a shadow….The administration may simply be in no position to press its partners in a tougher way over North Korea. To paraphrase a comment – not entirely well received – by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a nation goes off to diplomatic negotiations with the bargaining chips it has, not the ones it might like to have.”
PALESTINE: BLOOD STILL BEING SPILLED
With Iraq and North Korea on the front pages, Israel’s continued onslaught against the Palestinian people is too often ignored. But the absence of ink in the U.S. press does not mean the absence of Palestinian blood on the ground.
During the week of Oct. 12-18, 28 Palestinians – 17 of them civilians, including two children – were killed by Israeli military action. Forty-five were wounded. Israeli attacks have continued since.
The ongoing assault is part of an Israeli strategy designed to wear down Palestinian tenacity and overthrow the elected Palestinian government. Tel Aviv, backed by Washington, aims to replace the Hamas-led majority with one willing to bend to – and even help enforce – Israeli demands.
The ultimate goal of Israeli government strategy, meanwhile, is indicated by the latest development in Israeli parliamentary politics. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has just brought into his government a far-right party – “Israel Our Home” – which explicitly favors annexing Jewish settlements in the illegally occupied West Bank and transferring most Arab citizens of Israel outside the country.
Israeli government spokespeople also acknowledged for the first time that it had attacked Hezbollah targets in Lebanon with phosphorus shells. During the fighting several media outlets reported that Lebanese civilians carried injuries characteristic of attacks with phosphorus. The International Red Cross calls for a complete ban on phosphorus being used against human beings.
GOODBYE HABEUS CORPUS
President Bush’s signed the Military Commissions Act (MCA) into law Oct. 17. Garrison Keillor – of Prairie Home Companion fame – pointed out the consequences in the Chicago Tribune:
“I would not send my college kid off for a semester abroad if I were you. Last week, we suspended human rights in America, and what goes around comes around. Ixnay habeas corpus.
“The U.S. Senate, in all its splendor and majesty, decided that an ‘enemy combatant’ is any non-citizen whom the president says is an enemy combatant, including your Korean greengrocer or your Swedish grandmother or your Czech au pair, and can be arrested and held for as long as authorities wish without any right of appeal to a court of law to examine the matter. If your college kid were to be arrested in Bangkok or Cairo, suspected of “crimes against the state” and held in prison, you’d assume that an American foreign service officer would be able to speak to your kid and arrange for a lawyer, but this may not be true anymore. Be forewarned.
“The Senate also decided it’s up to the president to decide whether it’s OK to make these enemies stand naked in cold rooms for a couple of days in blinding light and be beaten by interrogators. This is now purely a bureaucratic matter: The plenipotentiary stamps the file ‘enemy combatants’ and throws the poor schnooks into prison and at his leisure he tries them by any sort of kangaroo court he wishes to assemble and they have no right to see the evidence against them, and there is no appeal.”
ELECTIONS AND AFTER
Early in 2006, Karl Rove sought to frame the 2006 mid-term elections as a referendum on “strong leadership in the war on terror,” which he calculated would be to great Republican advantage. Developments in Iraq have run away from him, however. Now it is Republicans “distancing themselves” from the President’s Iraq policy because, as a recent Washington Post/ABC poll showed:
“An improving economy notwithstanding, opposition to the war remains the prime issue driving congressional vote preference. And the war’s critics include not just eight in 10 Democrats, but 64% of independents, 40% of conservatives, 35% of evangelical white Protestants, and a quarter of Republicans themselves.”
Most Democratic congressional candidates are not consistently antiwar. But pressure on them is mounting from spreading antiwar sentiment and organized campaigns such as “Voters for Peace” (go to http://www.votersforpeace.us/ ). And much of the media and political establishment will read the elections largely as a referendum on continuing the war in Iraq, as a sign of how much more of this failed policy the public is willing to put up with. The antiwar movement faces the challenge of amplifying this November’s antiwar message, and then being prepared to deal with an administration and a congress that – no matter who wins – will do everything possible to avoid facing up to U.S. defeat in Iraq and its immense consequences.