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Three years into the war in Iraq and now about two out of three Americans are against it, as against about one out of fifty elected politicians. In Iraq 2,315 Americans have died, and 17,100 wounded, many of them with limbs lost, some facing a lifetime in a wheel chair. Of the tens of thousands who have returned from combat to army bases or civilian life here, around 2.5 per cent are suffering from severe post traumatic stress syndrome, powder kegs, a menace to themselves and their families. There will be psychic as well as physical wreckage across America for years to come.
In Iraq, the Johns Hopkins study last September made an accounting of the full death toll wrought by the devastation of the US invasion and occupation. It concluded that “about 100,000 excess deaths” (in fact 98,000) among men, women, and children had occurred in just under eighteen months. Violent deaths alone had soared twentyfold. But, as in most wars, the bulk of the carnage was due to the indirect effects of the invasion, notably the breakdown of the Iraqi health system.
Re-working the Johns Hopkins study with the benefit of better techniques of statistical analysis Andrew Cockburn concluded here early in the New Year that on the basis of the raw sample data compiled by Iraqis for the Johns Hopkins study, the true number of dead in Iraq in consequence of the war had probably hit around 180,000, with a possibility that it had already reached as high as half a million. Of course all sets of numbers, whatever statistical analysis you accept, have been climbing steadily ever since.
This week the Pentagon announced it may be increasing its troop strength by a thousand or so.
Iraq itself is a disaster, teetering on the brink of full blown-civil war. Conditions of life in the capital and other major cities have steadily worsened across three years. As a functioning state Iraq has collapsed, the ministers in its government hastening overseas as often as they can or, when home, looting public assets while never daring to venture out of the green zone.
Mention of the “green zone”, a bubble of corruption and delusion, takes us from Baghdad to Washington, and its green zone, secluded from reality, in which the Democrats now dwell.
As a political matter one would have thought that few leaders in recorded history would be more vulnerable to attack than Bush and Cheney, regarding their war in Iraq. The justifications for the attack have been exposed so many times that the lies are now taken as given, except by the Wall Street Journal editorial page, where any concession to reality is regarded as a death penalty offense.
The pretexts have been discredited; the purported aims have long since evaporated, as the present U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, concedes wanly: “We seem to have opened a Pandora’s Box.” Not so long ago, as Norman Solomon recently recalled on this site Chris Mathews was telling his audience on MSNBC , “We’re are all neo-cons now”, and then a few months later, “Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton. Women like A GUY [as] president. Check it out. I think we like having a hero as our president.”
These are lonely times for Matthews, as Bush sags to the lowest presidential approval ratings in the last century. Even the women of Indiana have abandoned their guy, as his standing in that state tumbles to below 40.
Across the past year the peace movement didn’t do much, so far as we could tell, but was bailed out by two great champions who changed the political picture. The first was Cindy Sheehan, who haunted the man Hugo Chavez taunts as “the king of vacations” for those crucial weeks in the late summer of 2005, outside his ranch in Texas. (Has any president ever had a worse stretch than Bush did between the founding of Sheehan’s Camp Casey, through hurricane Katrina, to the exposure of the domestic spying program, with Cheney shooting one of their top funders as lagniappe.)
The second champion was Jack Murtha, the 73-year old former U.S. Marine and life-long hawk who turned on the war in a sensational press conference on the Hill in November, calling for “immediate withdrawal”, and repeating that call in vigorous interviews and speeches. Murtha effortlessly swatted down the Republican libels of him and the usual devious efforts to undercut him from prime-time hawks like CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
But the subsequent fate of Sheehan’s and Murtha’s campaigns is highly instructive. Sheehan threatened a challenge to Senator Diane Feinstein who is running for her third term this year. Because CounterPuncher Todd Chretien has got the Green Party nomination, Sheehan thought aloud about challenging Feinstein in the Democratic Primary. Why not? Feinstein has been unwavering in her support for the war and her husband Richard Blum has made millions in war-related contracts. Sentiment against the war across the state is strong. Sheehan is well known. But then Senator Barbara Boxer intervened, and publicly pleaded with Sheehan to stand down. She did. Result? Politically speaking, Sheehan has vanished.
If any Democrat had the sort of manly credibility Matthews craves, it was surely Jack Murtha. He’s a former Marine drill instructor, a war vet and, in Congress, had a proven record as paid-up member of the Military Industrial Complex with his years as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Here was no peacenik turning against the war. But the day he did, the Democratic delegation in Congress fled him, almost to the last man and woman. (As did too many on the left, who whined that somehow Murtha’s withdrawal plan wasn’t quite radical enough. What did they want? To have Murtha hold up the Little Red Book and swear allegiance to the memory of Mao?)
In its present form the Democratic Party has ceased to be a credible opposition. It is constitutionally incapable of confronting the Administration, on the war or anything else.
Their only strategy is to let George Bush self-destruct, as a kind of political suicide bomber. They don’t care how many are killed in Iraq or how many items in the Bill of Rights Bush and Cheney tear up. They are terrified of actually doing or saying something substantive, except to taunt Mexicans crossing the border in search of work or to thump the nativist drum about Arabs owning American assets..
Is this too cruel? Surely the Democrats have some fight left in them. After all, the first edition of the Patriot Act in 2002 passed with only one No vote in the Senate. Russell Feingold’s. When the second edition of the Patriot Act passed in recent weeks, there were ten votes against, one of from a former Republican,. Jeffords of Vermont. The Democrats invented a new form of “safe opposition” here. When Russ Feingold tried to lead a filibuster against the Patriot Act, his Democratic colleagues conducted “test votes” where many of them puffed up their chests and boldly said they opposed the Patriot Act. Then they came to the real vote, chests subsided and the numbers dwindled to eight.
Feingold has now introduced into the Senate a censure motion of the President, charging him with violating the law in the NSA eavesdropping. Dana Milbanke in the Washington Post had an entertaining piece last Wednesday describing the panic of Feingold’s Democratic colleagues when asked for their views on his motion.
Barrack Obama of Illinois: “I haven’t read it.”
Ben Nelson of Nebraska: “I just don’t have enough information.”
John Kerry of Massachusetts: “I really can’t [comment] right now.”
Hillary Clinton of New York rushed past reporters shaking her head, then trying to hide behind the 4’11″ Barbara Mikulski.
Charles Schumer of New York, who would normally run over his grandmother to get to a microphone: “I’m not going to comment.”
Mary Landrieu of Louisiana: “Senator Feingold has a point he wants to make. We have a point that we want to make, talking about the budget.”
Chris Dodd of Connecticut: “Most of us feel at best it’s premature. I don’t think anyone can say with any certainty at this juncture that what happened [i.e., the NSA's eavesdropping] is illegal.”
In the face of this preen of yellow feathers Feingold said, “If there’s any Democrat who can’t say the President has no right to make up his own laws, I don’t know if that Democrat really is the right candidate for president.”
Right on Russ, but you know the answer already. You’re in a race for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008 where you are the only candidate thus far prepared to say the President is a law breaker and that the war is illegal and should be ended immediately and the Patriot Act repealed. Why are you in this party? You come from a state which eighty years ago saw the bold stand of Robert LaFollette who broke away to form a third party. Why don’t you do the same? Look at Jim Jeffords of Vermont. He broke free, defied the Republican whip is now an independent and has more stature in his state than Patrick Leahy. Be that “guy” that Mathews craves for. Jump! Someone has to seize the day.
Footnote: It looks as if the fire escape chosen by Bush to save him from those low thirties numbers is the old neocon refrain of the Iranian menace. This clashes with the official line of the pundit legions, which is that the neocons have been sent out to pasture and replaced in the corridors of power by “pragmatists”. We even heard Michael Gordon of the New York Times and his co-author Bernard Trainor, while flacking their new history of the Iraq war on Amy Goodman, claim that the neocons were “on the outside” during the planning and execution of the Iraq war. That was before Goodman spoiled Gordon’s day by bringing up all those WMD fantasy pieces he wrote with Judy Miller. Anyone who needs reminding on just how the neocons did it last time, the better to prepare for the next war, would do worse than keep by their hand the IHS Press compilation Neo-Conned Again, which kicks off with a contribution from your two CounterPunch editors.