The War in Iraq & the Future of US Politics

Van Gosse, 1/27/2005

Twelve Theses on the War in Iraq and the Future of U.S. Politic

1. The war in Iraq is virtually unwinnable and will only get worse - more serious casualties for U.S. forces, more war-crimes against Iraqi civilians, more resistance (and more terrorism) and a de facto civil war leading to a continuously boiling pot.

2. The U.S. has no further military resources to draw upon though it will need many more simply to maintain stability in Iraq - its options will be a) more mercenaries, b) state terror to "put down" the resistance, c) withdrawal.

3. It will never contemplate withdrawal until literally forced to the wall, as in 1969-1970, by severe internal dissent and insubordination in the military combined with massive unrest at home.

4. But there’s a huge difference between the late Vietnam War and now. In the former case, there was a highly disciplined, coherent, rational state with which to negotiate, and even - thanks to the breakthrough forced by the Tet Offensive - a permanent negotiating mechanism. The Vietnamese Communists had essentially created a way out for the Americans, however much our government did not want it, and then pushed us through that door, with considerable assistance from the antiwar movement.

5. So, either the U.S. stays in Iraq for decades to come (as John McCain and other worldly conservative accurately foresaw) or it withdraws, admitting failure and at best handing over power to a coalition regime with some kind of international peacekeepers. There are no other viable options. Expecting a viable pro- U.S. Iraqi state able to maintain itself in power a the U.S. steadily draws-down forces is a pipe-dream, equivalent to expecting to draw enough cards in stud poker to fill an inside straight - a nice thing when it happens, but highly unlikely.

6. Any prognosis on how the slow-motion disaster of the U.S. occupation of Iraq plays out is complicated by several other major factors. The first is the precarious nature of the current Republican hegemony: the smallest re-election victory margin of any Republican president in a century, a tiny majority in the House. They got to this point by hook and (literally) crook - a partisan Supreme Court decision in 2000, vast amounts of voter suppression in 2004, and a remarkably disciplined political machine operating on all cylinders facing a fundamentally divided Democratic Party and a candidate with serious weaknesses. Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Tom DeLay et al know this i their one shot to gerrymander a "realignment," which means 2008 is crucial. They cannot afford any weakness, any backing-off or admission of failure. To do so would be to admit the emperor has no clothes, and Bush pulled it off in 2004 by insisting on hi strength, his certitude, his ability to "defend America." Ironically, if they had won with bigger, cleaner majorities (in 2004 and before) they would have more room to maneuver in Iraq. Now they have little margin left for this high-wire act, except to assert over and over "America is Winning!" as we are ever more palpably losing.

7. The second complicating factor is the extreme fragility of the U.S. economy, which (if Paul Krugman and other liberal economists are correct) is currently floating on a sea of Asian money and extraordinary trade deficits, even as a Euro trade bloc steadily coheres around us. Like Reagan, Bush has discovered the magic of military-industrial pump-priming. Economic forecasting for political purposes is often delusory, but if even some of the dire forecasts come true, there will be large-scale unemployment and rising interest rates to stave off inflation in this decade - just like in the 1970s.

8. The real wild card is one or more major Al Qaeda- style attacks on the U.S., with the potential for a massive rally-round-the-flag hysteria and justifications for suppression of dissent. As we have seen, what our modern Machiavelli Bill Clinton called the "wrong but strong" syndrome was sufficient to save an otherwise completely disastrous presidency in November 2004.

9. In sum, the odds seem quite high that the Bush Administration, and with it the Republican Party (more precisely, the New Right), will face a situation where they can only remain in power by resorting to extremely authoritarian methods both at home and abroad. Do we think that when an utterly disastrous war and perhap also an economy in deep trouble produces public repudiation they will just sit by? Their entire history will incline them to attack, to survive at all costs. As that eminent Cold Warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski pointed out just before the Iraq War began, the most valid historical comparison for this regime i the Bolsheviks - utterly determined, ruthless, riding the edge and taking huge risks.

10. Where does this leave the American left, that supposedly non-existent force that reared up in the millions to try and get rid of Bush in 2004? You can't beat something with nothing - and for all hi occasional spells of forensic brilliance (as in the first debate), Kerry added up to a "nothing" in personal terms, utterly incoherent on what was always the central issue, "the war" (whether it was the "war on terror" or the "war in Iraq," and as Mark Danner ha pointed out, the essence of the Bush/Rove strategy was to conflate the two, which they did with very little dispute from Kerry).

11. In my view, the left has to decide whether it going to just take whatever the Democrats come up with (the de facto strategy so far), or make a real intervention to produce a candidate who is both progressive and capable of winning (e.g. a genuine human being who stands for a new paradigm), or even - contribute to breaking up the Democratic Party to bring about a new formation of the center left united on a basic opposition to suicidal empire, rather as the Republican Party came together in the 1850s from wing of the two major parties plus the independents (Liberty Party in their time, Greens in ours). Cycles and parallels make historians very wary, but it is eerie how closely the current Democratic Party resembles the Republican Party in the heyday of the New Deal Order - condemned to offer "echoes" rather than "choices," a Barry Goldwater put it, dominated by stolid technocrat at the legislative level, so scared of defeat that it is continually defeated.

12. We can't go on this way. If I was a committed rightist, everyone I know would have been involved in electoral politics for decades - as a candidate, fundraiser, speechwriter, legislative aide, or in some other way. They grasp for power, while we have stood aside and let opportunists manipulate or ignore the left for their own purposes. Now we are reduced to the honorable few - not incidentally, these are mainly African Americans - who operate on our behalf in the halls of power: John Conyers, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, those who stood up in Congress on January 6 to challenge Ohio’s electors. Its time to finally get serious about taking political power in this country. It would undoubtedly be a project of many decades, but we have in front of us a textbook example of the "long march through the institutions" and revolutionary fortitude, from Goldwater to Reagan to Gingrich to Bush II. How ironic it would be if the vainglorious epithet Time magazine attached to their "Man of the Year" cover on George W. Bush turned out to be accurate: "American Revolutionary."

Van Gosse teaches history at Franklin and Marshall College, and serves on the Steering Committees of Historians Against the War and United for Peace and Justice.

Van Gosse
Department of History
Franklin and Marshall College
Lancaster PA 17604-3003