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Courage and the Democrats

 

On the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the White House and Pentagon made much of their new war strategy of “Shock and Awe,” saying that it was intended to focus tremendous firepower on a select few targets of the Baathist power strucure and military leadership, shocking and awing the country, while doing little damage to the larger society and population. As described, the strategy was to be a sort of “neutron bomb” that would selectively destroy the key ruling elite while leaving Iraq’s people, society and infrastructure largely intact.

In fact, the reverse has happened.

The bombs and assaults of the so-called “Shock and Awe” campaign did little damage to the Iraqi power structure which largely melted away into hiding, and the army simply evaporated, with most soldiers just doffing their khaki’s and walking away from battle in their civvies. What clearly was effectively destroyed by the U.S. military campaign, and its inept aftermath, was most of the country’s essential infrastructure of power, communications, water and sewers, its economy, its schools, its healthcare system. If “Shock and Awe” was envisioned as a kind of “neutron bomb” the reality has been more of a classic nuke.

The astonishing thing is how little the American public seems to care about this incredible and unprecedented disaster.

When former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode and his police decided to flush out a group of back-to-nature communalists in West Philadelphia, known as MOVE, they opted for a satchel bomb dropped by helicopter onto the roof of the MOVE house. The plan, supposedly, was to slowly burn down the building and drive the holed-up MOVE people out into the waiting arms of police. The reality was an out-of-control conflagration that killed 11 people, inclulding five children, in the house, and burned down several residential blocks and 60 houses. When that happened, whatever Philadelphians thought of the controversial group MOVE, it spelled the end not only of Goode’s political career, but also of the free reign Philadelphia police had enjoyed since the days of Mayor Frank Rizzo.

Similarly, on a national scale, when President Lyndon Johnson lied to the American public about a fraudulent attack by North Vietnamese speed boats on an American destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin, and then sent half a million troops to Vietnam claiming that he would bring an end to that conflict, only to have it turn into a bloody disaster, he was driven from the White House.

Idiodic or dishonest behavior, leading to public policy disasters, has led to public dismay and punishment at the ballot box in the past. Indeed, it has done exactly that in California, where Gov. Gray Davis’ inept handling of the state’s Enron-induced energy crisis, and his inability to contain the state’s balooning budget deficit, has led to a recall campaign that could bounce him from office next month.

Oddly, however, we have an unelected president in Washington who has, on multiple fronts, made the ultimate hash of domestic and foreign policy, and yet he is still considered to be likely to win re-election next year.

Consider:

Bush led this nation into a bloody and costly war of aggression based upon blatant lies, self-deception and ignorance, a war that America cannot win, and that the country now cannot easily walk away from. This war has killed thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians and hundreds of Gis, will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, is tying up the entire U.S. military, and has, like Vietnam before it, demonstrated not the might but the impotence of American military power.

He has put the government and the economy on a path to bankruptcy so serious that even the International Monetary Fund, normally a docile handmaiden of U.S. hegemony, has criticized as irresponsible and unsustainable.

He has abrogated a host of treaties which, painstakingly negotiated over decades, had been leading, albeit stumblingly, to a safer, more humane world.

He has launched an unprecedented assault on the environment, undermining global efforts to confront the threat of global warming, opening up remaining U.S. old growth forests to commercial exploitation, and gutting clean air and clean water regulations.

All this and still, if polls are to be believed, the general public response remains largely a collective yawn.

Part of the problem is the media, which has grown far more concentrated, and far less combative over the last decade or so. Aaron Brown, for example, on CNN, can do a story on Iraq, and then casually segue into a piece on the World Trade Center Towers by musing, “everything seems to be linked to 9/11 these days,” thus buying into the White House disinformation campaign that the war against Iraq is part of the administration’s War on Terror, despite no evidence linking Iraq with Al Qaeda or any international terrorist activities. Likewise, The New York Times can report on the Bush adminstration’s desperate efforts to enlist the U.N. in the Iraq occupation without clearly explaining that that same administration had earlier not only ignored the U.N.’s rejection of a war resolution, but had openly and blatantly lied to Security Council members about Iraq’s war capabilities and alleged links to terrorism.

Part of the problem too is cowardice on the part of the ostensible political opposition party. Leading Democratic candidates–meaning those candidates whom the above-mentioned complicit corporate media have in their wisdom designated as leading candidates worthy of routine coverage–have refused to seriously challenge the policies of the Bush administration. Howard Dean, the ostensible front runner, while opposing the war and the government’s enormous tax cuts, has said he supports the continued occupation and even the “preventative war” strategy that was used to initiate the conflict in the first place. Sen. John Kerry, billed as Dean’s main opponent, actually voted for the president’s authority to go to war, and now pretends he was deceived, though plenty of his colleagues, including Sen. Robert Byrd and presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich were well aware of the lies as they were being spoken. Neither Dean nor Kerry are offering much beyond warmed over Republican economics in their domestic policies. Indeed, as columnist Matt Miller observes, so tame are today’s Democrats that they would probably consider Richard Nixon’s 1970s environmental, health and welfare proposals too radical.

In fact, some of the Democratic candidates, notably Kucinich, but also Carol Moseley-Braun and Al Sharpton, are taking real aim at the Bush adminstration’s follies, foibles and falsehoods, and in Kucinich’s case, are proposing a set of real, progressive alternatives. The corporate media, however, ignore them, casting them as minor candidates, though by all accounts Kucinich is drawing large, enthusiastic crowds on the stump in Iowa and New Hampshire, and though, at joint appearances of all the candidates, it is often Sharpton who wins some of the biggest rounds of applause.

Still, President Bush for the most part continues to get a free ride, from both the media and the public.

Things may yet turn around. As the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, and as the growing U.S. deficit continues to drive interest rates higher and the economy and stock market south, the public is bound, at some point, to start thinking for itself instead of listening to the coiffed and complicit talking heads of network “news” programs.

At that point, Bush will have to face the same music as President Johnson and Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode.

The question is, will that moment come in time for the November ’04 elections.

A dose of courage among the “major” Democratic candidates for national office could speed things along.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html

 

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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