Is the Right <i>Really</i> Rising Up Against the Iraq Occupation?
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The sudden "surge" of anti-war positions among powerful Republican senators, most recently John Warner and Richard Lugar, and other elite forces (such as the editors of the New York Times ) is putting intense new bi-partisan pressure on the White House to begin withdrawing troops. And while it is certainly an indication that our years of work are bearing fruit, this new period is going to be very dangerous, and create new problems for the anti-war movement.
Television and radio hosts are begging Washington pundits to define the new buzz-phrase allegedly being heard all over town: the "post-surge redeployment." Last December's Baker-Hamilton report is also back in the news, with many analysts pointing to broader bipartisan support for many of its key provisions, including partial withdrawal of some troops and direct negotiations with Iran and Syria. Internationally, close Bush allies are feeling the heat. In Australia, pressure is mounting on Bush-backer John Howard to withdraw troops from the collapsing, now tiny "coalition." A cautious break-through editorial from the country's leading paper, the Sydney Morning Herald , acknowledged, "There are clear signs in the United States and Britain that a crucial 'tipping point' is, indeed, nearing. It is not that elusive moment when coalition troops and Iraqi units finally gain the upper hand against insurgents, but rather the turning of the tides of political and public opinion. With the lofty goals of the invasion now so distant, and the human cost of the war so appalling, the only way forward may be backwards."
Bush administration officials are responding with new dire reports from military and White House officials about the dire consequences of troop withdrawals. But with mainstream Republicans increasingly distancing themselves from Bush on Iraq, there's a danger that their counterparts in the Democratic leadership are likely to soften their own [already wobbly] opposition to the U.S. occupation in order to reach the brass ring of a "bipartisan" [read: politically safe] position. That could well mean agreement on a "post-surge redeployment" designed to partially withdraw some troops (probably about half the current 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq), and establish what is already being touted as the prize: a "sustainable" U.S. military occupation of Iraq. Sustainable, in this context, means permanent. Partial withdrawal will set the stage for permanent occupation. A smaller, less visible occupation force stationed primarily at the huge U.S. bases built across Iraq will keep U.S. soldiers mostly off Iraq's IED-filled roads and far away from Iraq's resistance-stoked major cities. The U.S. troops will no longer maintain even the fiction of responsibility for protecting Iraqi civilians, and crucially, will take far fewer casualties. The result (since the far more numerous Iraqi casualties are so easily ignored): Iraq will be largely out of the headlines and off the front page.
According to the Washington Post's lead editorial (June 3, 2007) "It's about time for the president and Congress to begin talking about a smaller, more sustainable mission in Iraq." According to General Petraeus, Iraq's "challenges" could take ten years. Hillary Clinton says that even with redeployment, "remaining vital national security interests in Iraq" require "a continuing deployment of American troops."
The Baker-Hamilton report, the consummate elite bipartisan consensus, appears to be enjoying a second life. But it has not improved in the months since its high-voltage release last December. It does indeed talk about the desirability of "a reduction in the U.S. presence in Iraq over time," but it does not call for ending the occupation and bringing home all the troops. It outlines a set of roles for those continuing U.S. occupation troops, but beyond the specified training and "counter-terrorism" roles, the troops would be deployable for any "missions considered vital by the U.S. commander in Iraq." It says nothing about closing the bases, abjuring efforts to control Iraqi oil, etc. The White House is itself embracing the Baker-Hamilton report, which it initially shunned. Its website's "Iraq Fact Check" quotes James Baker saying that the surge in Iraq "ought to be given a chance" and that "setting a deadline for withdrawal regardless of conditions in Iraq makes even less sense today because there is evidence that the temporary surge is reducing the level of violence in Baghdad." (Why should anyone be surprised that Baker, the longstanding councilor to the Bush dynasty and orchestrator of the Florida 2000 non-recount, would do anything to undermine the authority of this administration?)
So What About The Anti-War Forces
All of these developments of course reflect the free-fall of credibility for Bush and the war. But how they play out will be difficult. In Congress, the stronger opposition - centered in the Out of Iraq, Progressive, and Black Caucuses - appears resolved to continue their so-far unsuccessful fight against funding the war. In both houses, votes to set timetables or begin withdrawing some troops failed to win enough votes to override a veto.
There are indications that the bill to "fully fund full withdrawal" of the troops, introduced by Progressive Caucus co-chairs Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, may be allowed to come to the floor for a vote.But even the strongest of the anti-war congresspeople will worry about marginalizing themselves if they maintain a principled stance. The mainstream leadership of both parties will likely move to consolidate a bipartisan deal that will sound like withdrawal, look like withdrawal, but will in fact be a recipe for continuing, permanent occupation. President Bush himself said on the 4th of July that "We all long for the day when there are far fewer American servicemen and women in Iraq." Following the September "status report" from General Petraeus on the state of the war in Iraq, the deal could gain White House acquiescence and happen very quickly. Those who stand against such a deal on principle, those who continue to demand that ALL U.S. troops and mercenaries be brought home, that the U.S. bases be closed, and that the U.S. abandon its efforts to control Iraqi oil, will be vulnerable to being isolated and attacked by party leaders eager for a bipartisan consensus. Only massive public pressure will enable them to stand firm and resist those pressures.
This moment's spike in anti-war sentiment, including from some unlikely sources, is an indication of the strength and breadth of the anti-war movement and of anti-war sentiment throughout the country. The claim that advocating troop withdrawal means one "does not support the troops" is quickly being abandoned, discredited as war hawks work to retool their language into dove-speak, talking about "redeployment" and "redirection" as if they meant real withdrawal.
All of this points to the importance of remembering that Congress is not the peace movement. Alternative centers of power, such as local and state governments, and international allies, are playing an increasingly important role in mobilizing against the war. The peace movement must continue to engage those alternative power centers, while still ratcheting up the direct pressure on Washington, on those politicians and power centers openly supporting the war, as well as those attempting to relegitimize and rename this war into something they can call "redeployment." U.S. occupation of Iraq, "sustainable" or not, must end. Until it does, the anti-war movement will continue its fight.
Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She is the author of Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN Defy U.S. Power (Interlink Publishing, October 2005).