Thinking Through Ending the War
by Matt Stoller, Thu Mar 15, 2007 at 07:51:13 AM EDT
Matthew Yglesias has an important post about Hillary Clinton's position on Iraq, essentially thanking her for being honest that a Clinton Presidency means continued war in Iraq in perpetuity. I admire her for openly admitting that she believes we have 'vital national security interests' in Iraq requiring a continued military involvement, though it's pretty Lieberman-like to say that she wants to end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home. But sadly, what she is arguing is not that different from what other candidates are putting forward. There are a number of reasons the war won't end in the next two years, but one of them and probably the most important one is that the public isn't yet ready to repudiate the militaristic posture that brought us there.
Consider these stats, from Tom Hayden, a guy who actually has experience in ending wars.
But what were the peace voters telling us? Post-election polling offers some clues. According to the Washington Post/ABC late February survey:
- 67% opposed "the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq";
- 64% said the war was "not worth fighting";
- 67% opposed Bush's escalation proposal, including 56% who were strongly opposed.
- 66% would support cutting US aid to Baghdad if the regime there fails to reach national unity and civil order;
- 70% blamed the Iraqi government, more than the US, for "failing to control the violence".
So that's what the voters, two-thirds of them, were against. What they were for is stickier.
- 56% thought the US should withdraw troops to avoid American casualties even if order is not restored in Iraq;
- 53% believed the US should set a deadline for withdrawal, as against 46%;
- 51% opposed the idea of Congress "restricting funding for the war" to block Bush's plan, versus 46% in favor.
That's a pretty mixed set of statistics. 70% of Americans blame the Iraqi government more than our own for the violence. That's nonsensical. Hayden also points out that immediate withdrawal only has the support of 30% of the public.
A proposal to tie funding to a six-month withdrawal deserves an up or down vote, if only to put Congress members on record. But the number willing to cast that vote should be carefully assessed. If it is less than 70, the size of the Out of Iraq Caucus, another anti-war approach may be needed.
This explains Speaker Pelosi's effort to cobble together a unified, though loophole-ridden, plan for withdrawal by 2008, a plan which at this point may lack the votes to pass the House before it faces possible death in the Senate and a veto from the president. Her measure contains dangerous exemptions permitting US forces to fight any Iraqis alleged to be al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and Americans to serve as "advisers" to questionable Iraqi security forces, as happened in El Salvador. Those loopholes need more scrutiny than they have received. But at least the Pelosi measure is tying the Democratic banner to the notion of a withdrawal timeline.
The peace movement should remain independent, fight hard for what it can get, take heart from having an impact, but realize that this battle is going to be a long and twisted one.
At stake is not only the substance of the current legislation but the nature of the national debate on Iraq for the coming year. The peace movement has been the key factor in forcing the Democrats to slowly disengage from the two-party coalition that facilitated the 2003 invasion. The pillar of bipartisan support for this war has fallen, and other pillars seem to be going down as well. The troops are stretched thin, the budget squeeze is real, and international support for the "coalition" is heading towards zero. Even the pillar of the Republican Party is shaky, with senators facing re-election in 2008 wondering if Bush has their interests in mind.
We can claim that the 2006 election was a mandate to end the war in Iraq, and it was. But remember, the 2002 and 2004 were both electoral results that ratified the decision to go war in Iraq, and so the overall mandate is certainly mixed. More to the point, there is no real political foundation to anti-imperialism - that was destroyed in the anti-Communist purges of 1947-1948, and it never really recovered. The labor movement, composed of a mix of radicals and business unionists in 1946, had its soul ripped out by liberals, CIA infiltrators, and McCarthyites, and so what should be the basis of the antiwar movement has instead exempted itself from the debate in pursuit of their own narrow economic interests. There are very few connections between the new activists, who are inherently anti-imperialists but don't recognize ourselves as such, and intellectual elites like Noam Chomsky, who has engaged in a brilliant campaign to marginalize himself for thirty years. The progressive movement is ridden with racial divides, and we still haven't worked on them in any meaningful way since Bush took office. And our economists, who know that American is on the verge of fiscal collapse, a collapse Cheney was trying to avert with the war on Iraq and global military supremacy, are similar disconnected from the political process. Wes Clark knows just how much trouble we are really in - imagine our wages sinking to the level of China's. That's the path we're on.
Given all of this, it's clear why people like Hillary Clinton operates the way they do. She believes that blaming the Iraqi government - a government we set up - for our problems in Iraq is a politically useful tool and a substantive policy answer. It's not. It's immoral and impractical. But 70% of the public is with her, and that means a lot of Democrats are there with her as well. And if we do pull out of Iraq, and all of a sudden do have to shut that trillion dollar trade deficit, we will have to build a genuinely new economy based on different legal and economic structures. That's a huge ask, and there was no mandate for that in 2006.
The Democratic Party is becoming an antiwar party that has been pulled out of the bipartisan imperialist consensus. But it is not there yet. And we will have to work hard, first at understanding just how profoundly our system is broken, and then towards fixing it, to move there completely. Pelosi's compromise is messy, but there's no clean solution here. The public is against this war, but it is not for complete withdrawal. Change is still a very scary prospect.