Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The decline of the pro-war party

IRAQ: "HANDWRITING IS ON THE WALL"

This time the admission came from a senior military official of Washington's only remaining major ally:

"The evidence does not suggest that the surge is actually working," said Alastair Campbell, the outgoing defense attache at the British Embassy in Baghdad May 20. According to Britain's Sunday Telegraph, Campbell also disclosed that U.S. commanders had decided that the criteria for "success" would be only a reduction in violence to the level prior to last year's bombing of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra. That means 800 dead Iraqis a month - a figure that the Telegraph admits "few would regard as anything remotely approaching peace."

The administration's utter failure in Iraq is the driving force behind Bush's loss of public support and the fracturing of his right-wing coalition. The latest poll (May 24) shows opposition to the Iraq war at an all-time high: 60% say the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq; 76% - including a majority of Republicans - say that the additional U.S. troops sent this year have had no impact or are making things worse. Bush's overall approval level is just 30% compared to 63% disapproval.

Bush won some breathing space when the majority of House and Senate Democrats caved in to "don't-stab-our-troops-in-the-back" demagogy and approved Iraq war funding. But defeat in Iraq and popular disgust with the war are here to stay. Even Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell predicted a change: "I think the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall." He added the Republican spin that Bush "is going to lead" this policy shift and the White House leaked its standard scam that Bush is "considering major troop reductions next year." But the President will be even weaker in September than he is now.

Indeed, the main trend this last month was one setback after another for the beleaguered White House. Paul Wolfowitz was forced out at the World Bank (because of Iraq and the Neocon agenda, not favoritism toward his female companion). British Prime Minister Tony Blair - "Bush's poodle" - had to step down before he planned. Alberto Gonzales is skewered daily - he's now a symbol of the drive to make the Justice Department a Stop-People-of-Color-From-Voting arm of the Republican Party.

The London Times decided that it would stick a thorn in Bush's eye by choosing one-time leftist turned war hawk Christopher Hitchens to make its point about U.S. politics today:

"The main noise in Washington right now is that of collapsing scenery. The Republican party is in total disarray. They've been dropping their most intelligent people over the side while the presidential candidates are all outbidding each other to be nice about the revolting carcass of (Jerry) Falwell."

Bush and the right are not surrendering any ground without fighting and fear-mongering. But dramatic shifts in the public mood over the last year provide huge openings for the antiwar and other progressive movements to expand our reach, become a force in mainstream debate, and exert independent leverage as the guardians of empire grapple with over-reach and crisis on almost every front.

THE DESPARATE "SECOND SURGE"

The crisis in Iraq is already out of Washington's control. Even to maintain a figleaf of progress the administration keeps sending more troops to kill and be killed. According to a Hearst Newspapers analysis May 22, "The Bush administration is quietly on track to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year... The little-noticed second surge... is being executed by sending more combat brigades and extending tours of duty for troops already there... the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq could increase from 162,000 now to more than 200,000 - a record-high number - by the end of the year.

"'It doesn't surprise me that they're not talking about it,' said retired Army Maj. Gen. William Nash, a former U.S. commander of NATO troops in Bosnia. 'I think they would be very happy not to have any more attention paid to this.'"

But it's too late. Bush can escalate, but he can't hide.

TAKE IT OUT ON THE PALESTINIANS

With Iraq a lost cause, a desperate-for-success U.S. administration is unleashing its fury on the long-demonized Palestinians. It is an open secret throughout the Middle East that the latest intra-Palestinian violence in Gaza has the hand of Israel and Washington all over it. Even the Washington Post reported (May 17) that "Israel this week allowed the Palestinian party Fatah to bring into the Gaza Strip as many as 500 fresh troops trained under a U.S.-coordinated program to counter Hamas... The troops' deployment illustrates the increasingly partisan role that Israel and the Bush administration are taking in the volatile Palestinian political situation."

Veteran South African journalist and TIME.com senior editor Tony Karon cut to the heart of what's happening under the headline "Palestinian Pinochet Makes His Move":

"The Fatah gunmen who are reported to have initiated the breakdown of the Palestinian unity government may profess fealty to President Abbas, but it's not from him that they get their orders. They answer is Mohammed Dahlan, the Gaza warlord who has long been Washington's anointed favorite to play the role of a Palestinian Pinochet. Needless to say, only a U.S. administration as deluded about its ability to reorder Arab political realities in line with its own fantasies - and also, frankly, as utterly contemptuous of Arab life and of Arab democracy - as the current one would imagine that the Palestinians could be starved, battered and manipulated into choosing a Washington-approved political leadership."

Israeli government officials say outright that their own bombardment of Palestinians in Gaza (combined with support for Dahlan) is designed to destroy the Palestinian unity government and any Palestinian faction resistant to Israeli political demands. (Against this backdrop, the June 10 "The World Says No to Israeli Occupation" Mobilization - go to http://www.endtheoccupation.org/ for full information - is more important than ever.)

Palestinian civilians are also the main victims of the current fighting at Palestinian refugee camps in northern Lebanon. The U.S.-supplied Lebanese army is bombarding civilian areas in its fight with the Al-Qaeda-linked militant Sunni group Fatah al-Islam. Thousands of Palestinians have been forced to flee to other camps where they are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

Ironically, as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh told CNN International, it is U.S. policy that nurtured Fatah al-Islam in the first place:

"The current situation is much like that during the conflict in Afghanistan in the 1980s - which gave rise to al Qaeda - with the same people involved in both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and the same pattern of the U.S. using jihadists that the Saudis assure us they can control. Since the Israelis lost the war with [the Shia-based] Hezbollah last summer, the fear of Hezbollah in the White House, is acute. As a result... we're in the business of supporting the Sunnis anywhere we can against the Shia... We're in the business of creating... sectarian violence."

IMMIGRANT RIGHTS VS. RACIST INDENTURED SERVITUDE

Another area where major damage is being done to human lives and human rights is so-called "immigration reform." The Republican-Democrat "compromise" bill announced last week includes a few concessions to the immigrant rights movement but overall is a formula for placing millions in a form of racist indentured servitude. It includes a temporary worker program where the "guest workers'" status is tied to approval by their employers and where these workers to not have any meaningful pathway to permanent legal residence. The League of United Latin American Citizens declares: "If enacted, the temporary worker provision alone would create a new underclass of easily exploited workers who would be forbidden from realizing the American Dream. This bill will dehumanize workers... "

The bill's future is uncertain. Opposition from immigrant communities, labor and the progressive movement is growing as more and more of the bill's specifics are revealed to the public. The bill is also coming under furious attack from the extreme nativist right. This battle is taking place as divisions on the right are increasing, the Bush administration (which supports this legislation) is losing leverage, and progressive activists are feeling new energy and momentum. This means there is a definite chance to defeat this anti-immigrant attack - provided the broad peace and justice movement acts on the principle that "an injury to one is an injury to all."

KEY PRIORITY: INDEPENDENT LEVERAGE

With the 2008 presidential race already underway, struggles on every front inter-mesh in complicated ways with candidates' calculations and electoral dynamics. On the pivotal issue of Iraq, for instance, the Democratic hopefuls are all scrambling to burnish their antiwar credentials. This is a telling comment on how these ambitious figures read opinion within the Democratic Party's mass constituencies, and it provides both a huge challenge and a huge opportunity to the antiwar movement. So do the unmistakable signs that congressional Republicans are anxiety-ridden that continuing the disaster in Iraq will end their careers in 2008.

The challenge is to create such a powerful wave of popular antiwar sentiment that every candidate for office is forced to bow to it or pay a huge political price. Attempts to turn this relationship on its head - to subordinate the grassroots movement to a candidate's agenda instead of the other way around - will come from foe and "friend" alike. To resist this dynamic - which is buttressed by the very structure of the U.S. electoral system - the antiwar movement needs to aggressively reach into every corner of political and social life and substantially strengthen its independent infrastructure.

A number of important gatherings and initiatives are already in motion toward those ends, from next month's U.S. Social Forum and United for Peace and Justice National Assembly to the Iraq Summer effort initiated by Americans Against Escalation and the proposals being discussed in ever-wider circles for an Iraq Moratorium beginning in September and a "No War/No Warming" mobilization in October. A great deal rests on the capacity of some or all of these efforts to gain large-scale traction and make a dent among the millions of people whose thinking and actions will determine the next phase of U.S. politics.


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