Comment: The Bush Plunge
From the August 2005 issue
The founder of The Progressive magazine, Robert La Follette, whose 150th birthday we just celebrated, believed that no President should be allowed to wage war without first going directly to the American people in a plebiscite. La Follette, who introduced a constitutional amendment to this effect, failed to win approval for it. Even 100 years ago, though, he understood the risk that the President would increasingly wage war on his own, despite the constitutional requirement that Congress declare war. Today, as Congress refuses to apply its brake on the President, Bush is pretty much free to do what he wants in Iraq, and he’s raiding the vaults of the U.S. Treasury to do so.
Bush’s Iraq War raises the fundamental question: To what extent are we a democracy? By launching the war on a pile of lies and now by pursuing it over the objections of a majority of Americans, Bush is acting more like emperor every day.
If Bush is left to his own devices, he would still have 100,000 troops in Iraq at 11:59 a.m. on January 20, 2009. The death toll of American soldiers by then could very well exceed 5,000, the number of U.S. soldiers injured could top 30,000, and the tally of dead Iraqi civilians could surpass 250,000.
And Bush would still say the mission is “worth it.”
“The U.S. military presence in Iraq has become a powerful recruiting tool for terrorists, and Iraq is now the premier training ground and networking venue for the next generation of jihadists.”
—Senator Russ Feingold
Because to him it is a mission. In his speech to the nation on June 28, Bush dipped back into the well of messianic militarism and pulled out the following phrase: “This great ideal of human freedom” is “entrusted to us in a special way.”
Aside from the whisperings from on high, Bush would remain on the mission because of Iraq’s oil. When in his speech he mentioned a couple of times that Iraq is in “a vital region” of the world, he wasn’t referring to its date trees.
He and Cheney and Rumsfeld understand that the world economy runs on oil, that Saudi Arabia’s supplies are peaking, that the House of Saud is unstable, and so Iraq, with the second largest oil reserves in the world, is “vital.” By controlling Iraq’s oil, the United States also can have more leverage over the Pentagon’s enemy on the horizon, China, which now desperately needs to import oil to keep its economy chugging.
For Cheney and Rumsfeld, this is the fundamental geopolitical reason for the ongoing occupation. To them, Bush’s channeling of the Lord above provides a patina of morality for it, and the Al Qaeda threat lends it some off-the-shelf urgency.
Not for nothing the Administration let Abu Musab Zarqawi remain on the loose in the lead-up to the Iraq War. As NBC revealed in a major underreported story dated March 2, 2004, the U.S. military knew the whereabouts of Zarqawi for some time. He was in northern Iraq, under the no-fly ban, in an area nominally controlled by the Kurds. “Long before the war, the Bush Administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself, but never pulled the trigger,” Jim Miklaszewski of NBC reported. Three times the Pentagon drew up a strike plan, and three times the National Security Council nixed it. “Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the Administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam,” NBC said. So Bush kept Zarqawi around.
“By removing our troops from the country, we will remove the main focus of the insurgents’ rage.”—Representative Lynn Woolsey
In his June speech, Bush said the United States can’t “abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi.” And as hard as the U.S. military is trying to get him now, that doesn’t stop Bush from using Zarqawi as a prop—or Osama bin Laden, for that matter.
The only real news in Bush’s entire speech was that he remembered bin Laden’s name. For practically three years, Bush has barely let it pass his lips, lest the American people remember the hugely embarrassing fact that the commander in chief has failed to find the mastermind of 9/11.
But now that Bush doesn’t need to win another election, the risk for him in mentioning bin Laden is not as great as it was before November 2. And the propaganda benefit of invoking bin Laden was too much to resist, so Bush hustled bin Laden on stage to say that the “third world war is raging” in Iraq and that the outcome of that war is pivotal for him.
Bush harped on the word “terrorist” or “terrorism,” invoking it at least two dozen times to make Americans believe that every person in Iraq who opposes the U.S. occupation is, by definition, a terrorist.
But millions of Iraqis oppose the occupation.
When Bush occasionally tried to delineate the forces that have taken up arms against the United States in Iraq, he mentioned “foreign fighters,” along with “criminal elements, Iraqi insurgents, and remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime.” But he didn’t mention Iraqi nationalists who don’t want a Western army occupying their land.
The problem is, so long as the United States remains there, the insurgency will attract not just the jihadists and the Saddam remnants but also these nationalists.
Bush assumes that if the United States were to pull out, say, by the end of the year, then Iraq would become a base for Al Qaeda. But it already is one. Even the CIA acknowledges that Iraq is both a recruiting ground and an on-the-job training camp for Al Qaeda. It’s even better than Afghanistan was, the CIA says.
“It’s the presence of U.S. forces that makes Iraq attractive as a battlefield for Al Qaeda,” says Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College. “Once the U.S. withdraws and a multinational U.N. force moves in, the insurgency will lose steam. The withdrawal of the U.S. will also force the various powerbrokers in Iraq to move more swiftly toward a power-sharing arrangement that will have broad-based support among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds and thereby reduce the risk of chaos.”
But Bush doesn’t want to leave Iraq to the Iraqis because he wants to control the outcome and the oil, and to establish permanent U.S. military bases there.
That’s why he has allowed more than 1,700 U.S. soldiers to die there.
That’s why he has allowed 12,000 U.S. soldiers to be wounded there.
That’s why he has not blinked at the killing of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
But Bush criticized only the terrorists for killing innocent civilians.
““I’m from Hawaii, and I know you either ride the wave or the wave rides over you. Democrats would be well advised to ride this one. It’s just a question of time for the party to realize that.”
—Representative Neil Abercrombie
Bush said he offered a “clear path forward,” but that path is the same booby-trapped one he has forced U.S. soldiers to trod all along: trying to get Iraqis to do the killing for us.
For U.S. soldiers and their families, Bush gave little hope that this war will be over any time soon.
“America will not leave before the job is done,” he said, and he repeated a comment he has made many times before: “We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer.”
Bush’s speech promised more of the same failed policy. It amounted to a “strategy of permanent quagmire,” as Klare puts it.
Bush basically told the troops to tough it out: “We know when the work is hard, the proper response is not retreat, it is courage.” Easy for Mr. Bring It On to say.
Unfortunately, many prominent Democrats, to date, are not showing much leadership on the war issue.
John Kerry, who undistinguished himself in the Presidential campaign on this issue, continues to do so now. Taking to the op-ed page of The New York Times on the day of Bush’s speech, Kerry advised Bush to say much of what ended up in his speech: about how tough the going might be, about the need for the Iraqis to keep to the deadlines for finishing their constitution and holding elections, about the need to train the Iraqi forces, and about the need to increase reconstruction efforts. The only fundamental difference Kerry offered was urging Bush to renounce “a permanent military presence in Iraq.” Alas, Bush didn’t do that for one simple reason: He and Cheney and Rumsfeld crave that permanent military presence. But Kerry offered no date for withdrawal, and no realistic hope for it, either.
“Kerry stepped in to help Bush, basically supporting the President’s position but offering policy-wonk modifications,” George Lakoff of the Rockridge Institute says. “The message: Bush is basically right, except for some minor twiddles.”
The same can be said for John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and Christopher Dodd.
Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi, who at least say out loud that Bush made a terrible blunder by waging the war against Iraq, nevertheless shrink before advocating withdrawal.
But some Democrats have stepped up, like Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, who introduced a withdrawal bill in May. Senators Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold have also introduced a bill calling for withdrawal.
Representative Maxine Waters has created what she calls the “Out-of-Iraq Congressional Caucus.” It includes at least forty-one members, and its “sole purpose is to be the main agitators in the movement to bring our troops home,” she said.
Representative Dennis Kucinich has also been outspoken in advocating withdrawal. “The U.S. occupation of Iraq is counterproductive, and the insurgency will continue as long as the Iraqi people believe decisions about their future are made in Washington and not Baghdad,” Kucinich said. “We must begin the process of bringing our troops home.”
And it’s not only Democrats who are issuing a call to withdraw. On June 16, two Republicans, Ron Paul of Texas and Walter Jones of North Carolina, joined Kucinich and Representative Neil Abercrombie in introducing legislation calling on Bush to start pulling troops out, though the bill gives Bush plenty of time: It says withdrawal should commence “not later than October 1, 2006.” Jones’s sponsorship of this bill was especially noteworthy, since he was the legislator notorious for renaming french fries as “freedom fries.”
But it will take much more to mount sufficient pressure on members of Congress to end this war. A majority opposition is not sufficient. That opposition must be active, mobilized, forceful, and militantly nonviolent. This means mass protests, in the streets, and it means civil disobedience at the military recruiting offices and marches on the Pentagon.
At some point, the political and economic costs to our elected officials have to get so high that they finally bow to the will of the people.
But will Bush ever take such a bow? Or will he keep pursuing this war anyway, much as Ronald Reagan kept the Contra War going after Congress defunded it with the Boland Amendment?
This may be the ultimate test for Bush, and for our democracy.
As Bush continues to plunge into Iraq, how far down will he take our democracy with him?
That is the question that haunts the country right now.