Time will tell if the Democratic Party electeds fell for it again. If they have, it will be unfortunate because untangling the WMD issue and the questionable intelligence surrounding it is a battle worth waging, and progressives haven’t seen a decent congressional fight in years. A centrist party now, since Health Care Democrats have avoided both big legislative setbacks and claims of large victories because of an increasing agreement between parties. Now with the right moving beyond the visible spectrum, the dialectical engine that once powered key legislative fights may finally be firing back up. But both parties’ gift for sensing, snatching and even manufacturing defeat (gay military rights, cooking Big Bird’s goose) has become the stuffing of legends, and could always throw an unexpected setback into any renewed dueling. As the saying goes, "Watch out for incoming!" And it may be friendly fire.
Now Democratic office holders gingerly are publicly suspecting no WMD in Iraq. So far so good, but they’d better be sure. Crystal balls are poor sources of light, and choosing their words carefully is not enough. Now Senator Levin earnestly wants to know if the intelligence reports about WMD were distorted (the reports he did have before and after the attack Iraq vote were more than sufficient to damn a war enterprise). And now, and this is worse, the other party has sworn to help them find out the truth. Is this a case of Republicans helping Democrats down a path they are too eager to follow all on their own? For starters, some of the Democrats’ own bad intelligence must be admitted in this process. To gain credibility vis a vis WMD issues, these Democratic (re)searchers must also retrace their own complicity in voting for war on dubious terms. More generally as they move forward, the public will be nervously watching a Democratic party that has helped the right wing more than any previous one in living memory. Are they in the Republican shadows again? Are they stuck there with no issues to really call their own?
In September and early October 2002, when CIA and other intelligence documents were clearly saying No to an Al Queda connection and No to an imminent weapons threat, what weren’t the Democrats reading and whose alarming but unsubstantiated speeches weren’t they listening to? Despite authentic danger signals, Democrats helped to produce a 77-23 Senate war vote. In less monolithic times, the 1991 vote to oppose Iraq’s take-over of Kuwait was 52-47. More than ever, the Democrats have significantly closed ranks with the Republicans, but the latter are in a grand plan, winner take all frame of mind, and they may be offering to let the Democrats lead on the WMD for calculated reasons. It’s certainly not opened-handed generosity or candor–this administration classifies everything–Bush’s March, 2003 Executive Order expanded the authority to reclassify much previously declassified information. So why only minor objections and swift agreement to proceed to investigate WMD intelligence issues? (Update: since this was written a few days ago, closed door hearings are proceeding, but Republican howling has begun).
Full of their own odd millennialism, the neocons may now believe they are so near their plotted end times that the ideological and political opposition has fatally wavered and exists on a life support system where Republicans themselves supply the oxygen. But you don’t need a crystal ball to see that. Indeed as the Gulf War vote suggests, when the Democrats are on the winning side, the triumphs too often have been Republican. More symptomatic of Democrats’ loss of independent political will, they looked inept in the worst electoral failure in the nation’s history. It shouldn’t have happened this way, but Democrats began this new century in a dazed defeatism, and they haven’t gotten up yet. Tomorrow morning or the next, when Donnie Rumsfeld cackles and brings home the WMD goods, will he most astound Democrats, some of whom are edging out on a speculative limb hardly more fibrous than the rotten whole cloth of the Supreme Court’s "equal protection" ruling?
THE REPUBLOCRAT DECADE, LAST THINGS FIRST
In 2000, the corporate media rushed down the darkened December steps of the Supreme Court Building, glanced quickly over the unsigned ruling, and told the popular vote winners, "Get over it!" Gore grew a beard, gained weight, and he did quickly disappear. After the weak decision of a Supreme Court whose majority had been slathering at the jaws to devour them, was it a collective delusion about The American Way of Truth and Justice that did not lead Democrats right back to a manageable and even winnable sit-in at the racially managed election in Florida? With national enfranchisement the stakes, the fighting should have never stopped, at least not on that onerous day. But as loyal (embedded?) opposition, they’d rehearsed cooperative reaction for so long and worked so busily within the framework of conservative arguments during the nineties, it had become their nature to exist too comfortably in the shadow of their Other. Even as Republicans tried to thwart them at every turn and swing the election toward their own black-robed committee, the Democrats had forgotten how to fight as hard. Surely, it was part of the political amnesia they experienced in the nineties.
When Clinton terminated welfare without a safety net for the women and children who would certainly fall hard (and they have), Democrats perhaps thought they could win on social justice issues in less obvious nooks and crannies. They did, a bit. The Family Leave Act was a victory for some of the middle class, but none of the working poor have jobs like that. When Clinton ditched world workers rights with NAFTA and gave the transnational corporations the hegemony of GATT, the Democrats thought they could look like savvy internationalists promoting laissez-faire. They helped to corrupt further that specious term. When Clinton inaugurated media’s despotism with the Telecom Act of 1996, they thought the deregulation haywagon had room for some affable hangers on. Of course four years later, when corporate media gave the Flying Simpleton an AWOL pass and pronounced Gore a wooden corpse, they probably didn’t remember voting Clear Channel in and themselves out. Abetting with consistency a Republican agenda for eight years and willing to argue the opposition but not seriously move the point, we locate the original Coalition of the Willing in the two national parties.
Two years after conceding (yes) the White House, does this duopoly still perpetuate among Democrats and Republicans? Will battles like the WMD issue be joined by friendly foes, with little gained in the public domain?
Here’s a test: when prescription drugs comes up, ask either party, "What’s 10% of nothing?" Sit back, relax, and listen to the duet. When the performance concludes, don’t tell your aging mother that you’ve been out all night with two shady drug dealers. Just go fill her prescriptions via Canada or Mexico–it will be years faster, much cheaper, and she’ll think more of you. Why have the Democrats allowed themselves to engage in this faux tussle? Isn’t national health care their issue? As the cleaning lady remarked as she swept out Gregor’s insect remains in The Metamorphosis, "Is that all there was?" No, there used to be more.
During the recent Take Back America conference, Bill Moyers drew the progressive movement’s egalitarian ideas and substantial victories forward to the Great Society years of the sixties. From there, the Democratic unhopefuls took turns denying their own self-accusing charges of a "Shadow Republican Party" and of drinking too much "Republican Lite." Their idea to bring it up, these vigorous repudiations sounded like much too protested an innocence "I did it," you could hear Dave Matthews singing, "Guilty as charged." The Democrats have not yet relearned to speak without reacting, in detail, to the Other’s agenda.
Today, if Democrats are treading cautiously in an investigation of intelligence they knew was flawed nine months ago, they also are perilously close to picking up the issue of Iraqi WMD on Bush’s terms (a lot of liberal press are celebrating every fruitless day of weapons search, which is fine as long as it lasts). But are the weapons there, as the Angry Simpleton claims, or is he characteristically mistaken?
It does seem politically daunting to entertain a claim of absence from eight thousand miles distance, especially when the corporate media has already convinced 43 percent of Americans WMD exist. When they are found, how about 143 percent? Bush, modestly, will be awarded the French Legion of Honor and the Nobel Peace Prize when the weapons caches are uncovered. The Democrats’ complementary part will be crowd scene slackers and doubters. Don ‘t think it will happen? Hide behind the Musco lights and prepare to watch the show.
Why have Democrats joined the WMD issue that might be more wisely left to mature a while at little cost to them? If there are electoral repercussions, the party hung out to dry will be the party that’s incriminated as wrong on the facts. Besides, the progressive’s best arguments against WMD have been larger than Iraq. Have Democrats decided, like the right, that the weapons themselves are of overriding importance? No, although it is beginning to verge that way, and no, they’re mostly saying that if weapons are not there, they may have been seriously misled–even though they’d been given enough poisonous food for thought from intelligence sources to make the prudent person stop way short of a 77-23 vote for war. Democrats have been voting like the right. Are they still thinking too much like them also?.
Go to Howard Dean’s website. You’ll find the some of the Republican’s most flawed internationalism mixed in with the progressive and the socially responsible. Addressing the Iraqi occupation, Dean leads with: "We must show an unwavering dedication to the principles of democracy, tolerance, human rights, and equal access for women to the levers of economic and political power." Is he, too, already fine tuning the new Camelot a la the American plan in this US vanquished and rawly rights-stripped country? Wouldn’t humanitarian aid and swift self-determination have said it the progressive way? But Democrats can’t seem to certainly discern when they’re in right wing territory or that this fundamental confusion can carry them onwards toward a lesser Nowhere, more bereft of progressive options, ideas and principles.
THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME
Bar none, in a political world where even the past is revisioned according to current embarrassments and exigencies, the most fatal pitfall is predicting the future by probability, by prognostication or, more psychiatrically, by wish-fulfillment. In their war-rattling perfidy, Bush’s far right handlers were willing to travel low and dark roads to mold American opinion. "Mushroom cloud," "imminent threat, and "Al Queda" were the shrill canards of the planned invasion. Lately, Powell, Rice, and Rumsfeld have been willing to mollify (lie) and mitigate (lie) about WMD and say they’d never really lied about an imminent threat in the first place. A journey into the lowlands of rhetoric to say the least, yet the Democrats are staking out their own kind of swampland. Have they no premonition of the Musco lights being hauled to Tikrit, Bush arriving on a B2 bomber and speaking from atop a 500 ton stage of pure anthrax? You say it won’t happen? How do you know?
Democrats have joined the Republican WMD argument too early in the game, even though they had visible proof of the fate of impatient over-reachers. Remember the sand storm hiatus, then Peter Arnett apologizing for his rash forecast and sending out his vitae? Why not step back and be a bit more Real Politick: Of course the UN documents were forgeries, and of course the aluminum tubes proved nothing. So far so good. But Saddam Hussein, the long-time local Arab belligerent, had contended with deadly sparring partners like Israel and Iran, and now also had a viciously armed little Kuwait to the south (with as much oil to protect as Iraq). Lacking chemical and biological weapons, especially as he realized what the world found out only recently (that his armed forces were decimated and unwilling), how would he protect his dictatorship in a local conflagration? By bluffing? Ignominy and defeat. With his air force? He knew it needed a propeller.
If Hussein’s the belligerent brute and anti-hero we all know him to be, could the lack of chemical and biological weapons be his fatal flaw, his Achilles heel? Wrong. Dictators and weapons go together as inseparably as Yin and Yang. There remains a quite reasonable chance that the WMD are hidden there –or worse for Democrats, that Carl Rove and his make-up artists already know the WMD whereabouts. He’s simply letting the passenger compartments fill up with doubtful Democrats while he scouts locations for the train wreck and The Speech. Remember when Bush was so far from discovering them, he suggested a vast network of caves? Geologically in Iraq, that’s improbable. But Hussein having WMD? That’s a natural. In a more perennial and also more urgent sense, and one Democrats have had peace-promoting success with in the past, the most dangerous game is the world-wide proliferation of WMD. It is their issue, there’s no speculation about it, and securing the world, not an election, is sum of its equation. The US has every brand of devastating WMD. So does Europe, Russia, Pakistan, Israel, and others. In every case, from Livermore Labs to Dimona, these WMD make for a globe that’s armed imminently to the teeth, a hypocritical fact of life somehow getting lost in the current lure of a small potatoes argument about an effectively toothless though probably chemically or biologically tainted Iraq.
Pursue short line tactics, carefully, as you must, but above all don’t visit the fortune teller for long at all. It may leave time to pick up the pieces of an independent progressive strategy that’s missing in these internecine bouts whose newest WMD encounters might seem only pious afterthoughts of a 77-23 vote to unilaterally invade Iraq without any clearly proven cause. Stepping out of the box may also provide a clearer vision of the monopolistic capitalism now on the hunt, armed with the real WMD that US and world citizens are frighteningly concerned about. Doesn’t an effective contemporary Social Contract based on egalitarian principles first depend on national and then world security? Doesn’t global WMD proliferation destroy that security as much or more than bin Laden terrorism? Isn’t the two-tiered imposture of nuclear have and have-nots in need of immediate restraint and reform by the powerful to quickly replace the new "policy" of endless deadly pursuit and the selective, even nuclear, punishment of unfavored transgressors? Are these parts of the lost Democratic ticket restored? The right will certainly never concede as much. But can this year’s and next year’s Democrats move forward to claim these substantial WMD issues?
Certainly, for more than half the Democrats who first effectively ignored intelligence documents but more lately intend to reexamine those plus others with reinvigoration, further scrutiny is an outrageous, Janus-faced sham. The 2002 intelligence review involved a moral myopia that blinded congressional readers from seeing a questionable, devastating war about to begin. Now, if their vision remains as clouded (which it must if their posture continues to be surprised and offended), whatever they discover, they will certainly fail to see their own previous high liner marks. The war ‘s threadbare rationale wasn’t a secret. It was full stage Kabuki, and the same tired political formula for stirring up war. So most of what’s seen now from the distance of the galleries is a scuttling political opportunism trailing too far behind grievous misjudgments and a rotten war. But there is a neglected longing in American liberal politics that’s had enough of impersonating the opposition (centrist) or dancing along in the dark with it (centrist). In times when business as usual is to hold a small retrospective on an illegal war, looking hard and perhaps in vain for its elusive imperfections, many would prefer instead that every political sentence begin clearly with "We, the People," and not "Look what those guys have perpetrated with our help—let’s argue it point by point." What, again, is ten percent of nothing?
And stay away from other losing arguments. Seeding Iraq with US surplus WMD may already be a remote contingency plan (lots of Americans half expect it). But Bush is smirking, not sweating like Nixon, and there’s plenty of time before the WMD issue could look fatally grim to his handlers. Though the hubris of the world-conquering neo-cons could make possible such a maneuver (taking the world for what it is), more certainly the planted weapons accusation will be the only argument left for Democrats when Rumsfeld chortles and brings the bacon home. What’s the plan then? Send over a team of inspectors to verify? Or accuse the Angry Simpleton of lying about what he’s just proved true?
The Democrats have tried to set the hook too early. Two national take-overs and a thrice sweeping out of the National Treasury have swelled neocon egos, but the Democrats own hubris could loom as large. For the Greeks, the dark actuating heart of hubris was anagnorisis– a too-late recognition of what one has inadvertently become. Though coming late, anagnorisis brings the ruin inward to roost, so tragic figures may sit and know or wander and realize the imprudent miscalculations that shaped their fallen world. Simply, it’s realizing you didn’t know what you hoped deeply might be true. Are the weapons there? Without the Delphic oracle or Kreskin, the issue is tantalizing but not ripened.
Just how long does Bush have to finally come up with WMD (and various murky intelligence mish-mash)? Ten months, a year. Ashcroft will sign off on that, and expect the administration to start acting as parsimoniously with documents as the Democrats have let them be in the Cheney energy planning and the 911 investigation. As for the dreaded photo-op, the longer and more arduous a successful weapons hunt, the more pealing the well lit ovations.
Less photogenically and more realistically (hopefully), how much time do Democrats have to cut their symbiotic ties, to see issues non-reflexively in their own terms, and develop their arguments? On the issue of WMD? They’re way out front on that. Too far. On admitting both political sides dove into war when contraindicating intelligence refuted its basis? It won’t happen. On disentangling their progressivism from the Other’s monopolistic conservatism? As many elections as it takes.
"My, my, my," said the spider to the fly, "jump right ahead in my web." For a decade, they have.
LAWRENCE MAGNUSON lives in rural Tennessee. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.