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Don’t Carpool with Nouri al-Maliki

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

As he heads for the office these days Nouri al-Maliki should bid his family especially tender farewells. If the patterns of US foreign policy are any guide, the Iraqi prime minister is a very poor insurance risk.

On Monday August 20 a leading Democratic senator, Carl Levin of Michigan and chairman of the Armed Services Committee returned from a weekend outing to Iraq and declared publicly that Iraq’s parliament should remove al-Maliki from power. “The Maliki government is nonfunctional,” Levin declared, “and cannot produce a political settlement because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders.”

The next day Hillary Rodham Clinton, front-runner of Democrats seeking the nomination of their party for the presidency went before the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and reiterated her senate colleague’s call. She said that al-Maliki should be replaced by a “less divisive and more unifying figure.”

The final grim news for al-Maliki came on Wednesday when President Bush affirmed confidence in the prime minister, declaring him to be a fine fellow.

Levin, Clinton and Bush all simultaneously declared that they believe the briefings of the United States military commanders in Iraq. They exult that the “surge”, advocated and presided over by General David Petraeus last winter, is now working. Baghdad is more secure. Casualties are down. The sectarian groupings in Iraq have been checked. Nation-building can proceed.

None of these chirpy bulletins has anything to do with the actual situation on the ground in Iraq, where the extremely hot summer months have seen a regular annual drop in activities by Iraq’s resistance groups. Even so, car bombings in Baghdad car bombings in Baghdad in July were 5 per cent higher than before the “surge” began and there has been a corresponding rise in civilian casualties from explosions. Meanwhile there are graphic reports of the extreme exhaustion of US troops, forced into multiple tours and extended time on active duty because of the overall shortage in manpower and equipment.

Nor can any silver lining be detected in the larger political military picture, in terms of erosion the Shi’a majority coalition, seriously reducing the power of Moqtada al-Sadr, or denting the Sunni resistance.

But here on the home front, Levin, Clinton and other leading Democrats are determined not to be wrong-footed by White House attacks accusing them of stabbing America’s fighting men and women in the back by questioning the surge’s supposed success. On an hourly basis, the right-wing radio demagogues are accusing them of just such treachery. Flag-wagging and drum-thumping are traditional at Veterans of Foreign Wars’ conventions.

In a rhetorical counter-move, the Democrats emphasize the failure of Bush’s man, al-Maliki, to resolve Iraq’s political divisions at equal speed. Amid their rather hollow assertions of confidence in al-Maliki, Bush and the Republicans recognize that al-Maliki is expendable and can be forced out, just as his predecessor was ditched.

Here’s where al-Maliki should take a look at a dark episode in Vietnam not long before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November, 1963. A few weeks earlier in that same month a coup, code-named Operation Bravo Two, pushed by U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and the CIA, and executed by South Vietnamese officers led swiftly to the murder of South Vietnam’s president, Ngo Dinh Diem and Diem’s brother.

Just as is happening today in Iraq the White House had concluded that their chosen man Diem had become an inconvenience to a political schedule that demanded “progress” , a feinted reduction in US troops pending the 1964 campaign year. Hence the coup and consequent demise of the bothersome Diem and his brother. Friendly witness claim that the Kennedys were deeply shocked at news of the murders.If so, it was akin to the shock of Henry II after the assassination of Thomas Becket. The killing of Diem committed the US more deeply than ever to blood­stained years of “nation-building”.

In the end the Americans withdrew because they were defeated militarily and politically by the Vietnamese.

Such is the history al-Maliki can meditate each day.

 

“Support Their Troops?”
I wrote a column (http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn07142007.html
) half way through July, called “Support Their Troops”. It was about the decline of the antiwar movement here. Many people were incredulous at the suggestion that the American left express more empathy for the Iraqi resistance. What follows is a critical reaction to my piece by Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, and then my response:

Bennis:

INDENT

ALEXANDER COCKBURN makes three points in his “Support Their Troops?” column. One is right, one is wrong, one is preposterous. First he says the U.S. peace movement doesn’t embrace the Iraqi resistance. Right. Second, the U.S. peace movement is “pretty much dead.” Wrong. Third, publicly sympathizing with the Iraqi resistance will somehow build “necessary critical mass to have a real movement.”

Cockburn waxes nostalgically about the days of earlier anti-war movements, particularly Viet Nam and Central America. I was part of the sector of the Viet Nam anti-war movement whose favorite chant was “One side’s right, one side’s wrong. We’re on the side of the Viet Cong!” In the 1980s we didn’t only oppose U.S. intervention, we also supported the FMLN and the Sandinistas. And throughout the anti-apartheid years, we supported the African National Congress.

But that was then. This is now. I have spent the last 17 years opposing U.S. sanctions, war, invasion and occupation of Iraq. But I never supported Saddam Hussein, who was “resisting” the U.S. during the sanctions years, and I don’t support what is called “the Iraqi resistance” today.

What’s the difference? We supported the NLF in Viet Nam, the FMLN, the ANC out of principle, because we supported the social program they were fighting for. We may not have agreed with every position or every tactic, but we shared not only what they were fighting against ­ U.S.-backed dictatorships or U.S.-paid contras or the devastation of apartheid ­ but what they were fighting for as well. Independence and socialism in Viet Nam, self-determination and social justice in Central America, a non-racial South Africa.

Unfortunately that’s not the case with Iraq. Certainly the Iraqi people have the right to resist an illegal occupation, including military resistance. And certainly there are Iraqi people, organizations, movements that many of us do support. (The work of U.S. Labor Against the War in supporting the Iraqi oil workers unions is one of our best examples.) But what is broadly named “the Iraqi resistance” is a set of largely unconnected armed factions (including some who attack Iraqi civilians as much as they do occupation troops). There is no unified leadership that can speak for “the resistance,” there is no NLF or ANC or FMLN that can claim real leadership and is accountable to the Iraqi population as a whole. We know virtually nothing of what most of the factions stand for beyond opposition to the U.S. occupation ­ and for myself, of the little that we do know, I don’t like so much.

Real internationalism means making good on our own obligations to end the U.S. war and occupation, and recognizing the Iraqis’ international law-sanctioned right to resist. Internationalism does not require us to embrace any particular resistance forces regardless of what they stand for. We build the strongest movement by keeping our focus on the U.S. occupation, maintaining our demand to bring all the U.S. and “coalition” troops and mercenaries home, dismantle the U.S. bases, and give up control of Iraq’s oil industry.

Cockburn is wrong when he claims the peace movement is dead. How does he think that 70% anti-war opinion he notes was created? There are now 300 cities across the U.S. where “dead” movements have forced city councils and mayors to pass resolutions demanding that troops and National Guard be brought home, that money funding the war and occupation be brought home and reallocated to education and infrastructure and health care. UFPJ is coordinating regional mobilizations on October 27 and across the country counter-recruitment work is escalating.

Our movement is very much alive. It is nowhere near as strong as we must be to force an end to the U.S. occupation. But we are alive, searching for a clearer strategy to transform anti-war public opinion into real political power, to bring that 70% with us to support an entirely new U.S. foreign policy based on justice, not power.

Phyllis Bennis_Director, New Internationalism Project, Institute for Policy Studies.

END INDENT

 

Here’s my answer to Bennis:

Right now I don’t think the peace movement is advancing the end of the war in Iraq by a single day. In fact goodly chunks of it are effectively protracting it, by marching in lockstep with the Democratic Party whose overseers strive on an hourly basis to tamp down unseemly criticism of what the Party’s congressional representatives could be doing. What they have substantively done since the Democrats took over the Congress is to have given the green light to the “surge”, to continued funding for the war, to the next Pentagon budget.

Take the “netroots”. The organizers of the recent Yearly Kos event wouldn’t even schedule a strategy session on ending the war in Iraq. They denied John Stauber’s request that they put on the official schedule a strategy session organized by Stauber’s Center for Media and Democracy, featuring speakers frrom Iraqi Veterans Against the War. Set that wimp-out by MoveOn next to this paragraph from a New York Times news story from DesMoines, Iowa, published August 12. “Four years after the last presidential race featured early signs of war protest, particularly in the candidacy of Howard Dean, a new phase of the debate seems to be unfolding, with antiwar groups giving the Democrats latitude to take positions short of a full and immediate withdrawal. Neither MoveOn.org nor its affiliated group, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, have sought to press Democrats here in Iowa to suggest anything short of ending the war immediately.”

Phyllis Bennis talks vaguely of “searching for a clear strategy”, but this vagueness is no more surprising than the self-restraint of MoveOn and Americans Against Escalation in Iowa. Bennis resides at the Institute for Policy Studies, whose principals are well aware that any-IPS related support for a strategy deemed discomfitting to the Democratic Party’s efforts to capture White House in 2008 would result in having IPS’s major funders yank them back into the kennel in short order.

I don’t doubt Bennis’ calendar is admirably full of speaking events, but from out here in the progressive north west there’s nothing much going on between San Francisco and the Canadian border. Yes, there have been useful actions in Olympia and Tacoma, but it’s all awfully quiet. The mass mobilizations of 2003 seem light years away. In 2005 UFPJ raised over $1 million and in 2006 it raised $575,000. Those budget
numbers were provided at a UFPJ conference. The difference came from
failure in small donations and internet donations.

Of course there’s no fizzle. People here aren’t being driven crazy by the war the way we were by the slaughters and bombings of Vietnamese in the war then. The horrors pressed down on one every day. Of course people were ultras, which is where the long-march radicals should always start out The alternative is to come out of the womb squealing about “the excesses of the left” and spend the rest of your life like Todd Gitlin writing op eds to that effect.

It was even the same somewhat in the Central American interventions of the 19080s. You could read about contras disemboweling a rural organizer from the FSLN and tremble that it might be the same person you just met on a solidarity tour, either up here or down there. People thought I was being frivolous by evoking North American lesbians traveling to meet their Nica partners, but bed is a pretty good place in which to cement revolutionary solidarity.

Iraq’s mostly a blur to the peace movement. Actual Iraqis are a blur to the peace movement. Sure, towns here pass resolutions telling the president or the US Congress to do this or that. Arcata, California, 60 miles north of me, got a lot of press for doing that, at least until they threw David Meserve off the city council. It was cute, but it didn’t add up to anything. Now, if a delegation from Arcata said it was sending a sister city delegation to Falujah, that would mean something. Sister cities programs can add up to something serious, which is why mainstream Jewish organizations go crazy every time Madison, Wisconsin or Olympia, Washington, try to set up official ties with Rafah, in Gaza.

Both Bennis and Katha Pollitt are outraged by Lawrence McGuire’s remarks about the Iraqi resistance, but I thought, and think, what he wrote was on the money. Isn’t it the ultimate in cynicism to use the Iraqi resistance’s successes as a stick with which to beat George Bush and the Republicans, but not the Democrats, while simultaneously saying that you’d rather not think about the Resistance, because it seems Not Very Nice. If you are too scared to look, you’ll never find out anything. In mid-July important Sunni-led insurgent organizations gathered in Damascus to prepare a negotiating position in advance of US withdrawal. Leaders of three of the groups met with Seumas Milne of the UK Guardian and denounced al-Qaida, sectarian killings and suicide bombings against civilians. You can either try to inform yourself of what exactly the elements in the Iraqi resistance are actually doing, or you can take the route Pollitt did in her hysterical outburst, where she stigmatized the resistance as composed of “theocrats, ethnic nationalists, die-hard Baathists, jihadis, kidnappers, beheaders and thugs”. How come she forgot to add “raghead”? I guess it wasn’t PC.

ALEXANDER COCKBURN
Petrolia, California.

 

 

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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