The Democrats and Iraq

“Failure to internationalize the conflict in Iraq has made America less safe and destroyed our credibility in the world.”

I think I have that about right. This is a paraphrase of the official Democratic Party line on the war–the same war to which they assented when they were stampeded by their own craven opportunism into giving Dick Cheney and his ugly pet unlimited authority to attack Iraq.

So now both parties find themselves trapped in their own oh-so-special cul-de-sacs. The Republicans are stuck with an untenable military occupation and the Democrats are stuck with an idiotic critique. The Republicans can’t speak about oil, and the Democrats can’t speak about Zionism. So everyone is stuck with the same shitty end of the stick–reduced to talking in tongues to justify the bloody occupation of Iraq to an every more skeptical American polity.

Even the most anodyne reporting done by the Boeing/ADM press can no longer mask the reality that the war in Iraq is indeed not like the war in Vietnam. It is the same in that it is politically impossible to leave and militarily impossible to win. But in many other respects, it is far worse than Vietnam.

The gunfight in occupied Kosovo between Arab and American police is a harbinger of a generalized instability that now threatens to come pouring out of dike ruptured by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

I was just on the phone with someone who talked to a woman whose soldier-husband was going through Kuwaiti Customs to return home after 15 months in Iraq, when his colonel walked in and told him he wouldn’t be leaving. Donald Rumsfeld admits he is surprised by the ferocity of the recent uprising. Dick Cheney and Colin Powell are feuding. The generals are cautiously leaking their dissatisfaction with Rumsfeld to the press. George W. Bush just gave one of the most unintelligible and bizarre performances on record in a press conference, where he said–more ominously than he realized–that we can’t let those who have already forfeited their lives (he is speaking exclusively of American lives, of course) have sacrificed in vain. That is soooo Vietnam!

Lawrence Grossberg said that “in their affective lives people constantly struggle to care about something, and to find the energy to survive, to find the passion necessary to imagine and enact their own projects and possibilities Popular culture, operating with an affective sensibility, is a crucial ground where people give others the authority to shape their identity and locate them within the various circuits of power.”

This is the secret of much advertising and all sound-byte politics, the ability to mobilize and manipulate this struggle not to understand but to care, “to find passion,” in a society where alienation is the air. But it is an emotional edifice now constructed in the path of a flash flood, and when it is swept away by events, there will be little left except appalling anger.

Now the event-cascade is upon us in Iraq, and all the Democrats can do is quack on about internationalization and credibility. But they build their house alongside the Republicans and there is a loud noise upstream drowning out their feeble platitudes.

Last April in Fallujah–ancient history now – U.S. soldiers were sent there after local imams had established order. The imams had stopped the looting and vengeance attacks, re-opened public services, and established an interim constabulary. Normalcy was beginning to take hold when the Bradley fighting vehicles rolled into town, and the Americans took over a recently re-opened school for their headquarters, arrested the imams, installed their own mayor, and road blocked the whole city.

These actions were their orders, orders from people who knew nothing of Iraqi society, and this ignorance was delivered into the hands of the Iraqi resistance like a priceless gift.

Popular outrage was swift. The Americans–still tightly strung from recent combat–were besieged by angry demonstrators, who they then began to shoot. Between April 28-30 last year, twenty Iraqis were killed and scores wounded. Lies about weapons in the crowds were concocted, and eyewitnesses were effectively excluded from the Boeing/ADM media. CENTCOM could say anything, no matter the number of witnesses, and it would be given equal weight against all claims to the contrary.

But lies are only misrepresentations of reality. They do not erase reality, which is the problem now for Republicans and Democrats. In Fallujah last year, the masses were served a helping of occupation reality, and they were galvanized by it. Resistance is fertilized by blood, and the American guns in Fallujah nourished the greening fields of Iraqi opposition. The popular basis for a guerrilla struggle had been established by the American military’s hand, and it wouldn’t be long in coming.

A whole population was now prepared to take a supportive role in an armed resistance. This was a signpost, but it was written in a foreign tongue for the Americans.

None of this is provided as context by the Boeing/ADM press, so when four American mercenaries were ambushed and given the Mussolini treatment on March 31st this year, the rage of Fallujah appeared to be that of savages. The patrician fellow-Bonesman who is aiming for George W. Bush’s job–who in 1971 offered up a damning indictment of US war crimes in Vietnam–is now silent as a tomb on the context of this ambush against mercenaries. The Siren of Career has rendered him deaf to the cries of Fallujah.

The Israeli assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the wheelchair-bound leader of Hamas, caused the pot of righteous Arab rage to boil over. Then the US, in the infinite wisdom of CENTCOM and the CPA, opened up an Israeli-style vengeance-attack that was stopped in its tracks by Fallujan resistance. Fallujah was then assisted by a second front when Shias in the south opened a furious multi-focal attack on the occupiers, after Viceroy Bremer closed a Shia newspaper and had troops open fire on those who protested.

Suddenly, the so-called Arab Street had cause “to find the passion necessary to imagine and enact their own projects and possibilities,” when the fable of US military invincibility was shattered in Iraq. Fallujah et al proved that the beast bleeds, and a billion people are watching–and cheering. And Iraq is not now a sound-byte.

Senator Kerry, this conflict is already internationalized.

The real bone of contention between Bremer and the Shias–all the Shias–has not been who is “moderate” and who is “radical,” but the general Shia demand that sovereignty mean something; a condition Bremer can’t meet, because that would mean the expulsion of US troops, and permanent US military bases in the heart of the earth’s primary energy patch has been and remains the raison d’etre of the whole adventure.

The Democratic Leadership Council will not pounce on this, and not just because they co-signed it. They have no intention of ceding Iraq either. The election is a family feud, but no one is going to surrender the family’s position a position that well before the thirteen year Energy War in Iraq had already “made America less safe and destroyed our credibility in the world.”

Senator Kerry, would you like to comment on the US-supported-Zionists’ assassination of Abdel-Aziz al-Rantisi?

Kerry would sooner piss up a rope.

On April 12th, I watched C-Span. The Chair of the Brandeis University Middle Eastern Studies Department, hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Studies Center, spent over an hour stating what will likely become the academic version of the Democratic Party’s stance on Iraq.

Yitzhak Nakash began by giving a very clear and pointed account of the situation in Iraq.

Nakash stated that in no uncertain terms the current course of US military and political policy is leading the US into a situation where the occupation of Iraq will become “untenable.”

Untenable. For the Democratic leadership, this is bad.

He counseled that Sadr and his followers must be brought back into the fold with a seat at the political table. His assessment was very realistic, and he provided a wealth of evidence to support his dark prognostications. His reasoning was that the US cannot afford to fail in Iraq–without saying why, but we can probably figure that one out–and that to succeed, it must establish a political system where the US does not direct the outcome, but where pluralism creates a check-and-balance default. This would check Sadr and others’ influence, he points out, in the same way that Hezbollah has been checked in Lebanon precisely by putting then in the Parliament. This is a very clever way of saying that technical “democracy,” as such, is a more effective means of population control than direct occupation, and that it involves providing various incentives and disincentives to ensure that everyone is given enough power in a legitimized political process to disincline them stepping outside that process–a confined divide-and-conquer strategy.

This may prove too subtle for the neo-cons, who are blood-and-guts fantasists of empire.

The most interesting part of this refreshingly frank account by Nakash of the degree of disorder confronting the US occupation was what he saw as the absolute precondition for all this political maneuvering: “security,” meaning massive expansion of troop numbers there, with a commitment to stay for a decade or more. John Kerry is saying this very thing right now more troops. While attempting to claim some mantle from JFK, he is sounding a lot like LBJ.

The rulers–Heinzes and Soros and so on–are trying to correct here for a political establishment that has, in some regards, gone out of control. Johnny Kerry to the rescue!

The political significance of religion in Iraq, in Southwest Asia, and in the United States, where Christian Zionists constitute a significant fraction of the ruling party’s base, cannot be overstated. Nor can the Bush Doctrine politics of macho-narcissism.

Kerry can’t even go after that. His campaign has partially turned into a military-dick-measuring contest with GWB about service records, as if the war in Iraq would be just okey-dokey if the Commander-in-Chief were only a veteran with a pile of fruit salad ribbons on his mildewed uniform.

My rep, Democrat Congressman David Price, is a veritable meteorologist so closely does he monitor the changing political wind and a jellyfish if you’re looking for his vertebral column. He gets re-elected because his opponents are always misogynistic theocrats yearning for the plantation–which matters to a quite a few people here along the Black Belt.

David is sometimes honest, though, when his constituents come in groups to badger him. He told me once that he could not call down the Bush administration for going to war in violation of the UN Charter because he himself had voted to give Bill Clinton the authority to do the exact same thing in Yugoslavia.

I have emailed him three separate videos of US forces committing war crimes–all available on the internet–and he has quit returning my emails, even with that auto-responder thingie. I think I’ve been blocked.

The only good news here is that alluded to above–the US public is getting fed up. A recent Pew poll showed that in December, Americans favored staying on in Iraq 63% to 32% who said we need to leave. As of this month, the Stay Group has dropped to 50% and the Get Out Group has risen to 44%. If this trend continues, driven by more and more bad news from the Coalition Provisional Authority, by November the ratio will be 22-68.

Today, a 14-hour gun battle near the Syrian border killed 5 Marines and sent dozens to the hospital, and dozxens more Iraqis were killed, while firefights rage across the country, and as this is drafted, ten American soldiers (we don’t know how many mercenaries and other contractors) have been killed, making this the deadliest month yet for US troops. American Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles bristle around Fallujah and Najaf–the latter established as a no-cross line by Ayatollah al-Sistani–and reconstruction crews are bailing like rats off a sinking ship. The Spaniards are leaving, Japan is on the brink of a political crisis, and there are hostages held from the United States, Denmark, Italy, Israel, France, the Czech Republic, and Japan.

The Sunnis and the Shias are forming tactical alliances, meaning GWB has accomplished something after all–he has re-awakened pan-Arab nationalism, and with that re-awakened the brooding peshmerga to the north and further north the Turkish army.

Is all that international enough for you, John?

I have said–at the risk of having my leftie-credentials pulled–that we cannot stay out of electoral politics. I am saying it again.

Everywhere any Democrat candidate shows up in public, we need to be dogging his or her footsteps and confronting them in front of the cameras with the very questions they least want to hear, as a way to go after sections of the Democratic Party base with a public-education effort.

Questions about Palestine. Questions about the number of dead Iraqis. Questions about American war crimes. Questions about permanent military bases in Iraq. Questions about who exactly will make up any future UN force, when experts say it would take 500,000 troops to “pacify” Iraq. Questions about whether they will authorize more emergency funds to continue the war. Maybe even a question about whether a people have the right to expel invaders by force of arms if necessary.

That’s not lesser-evilism y’all. This is about using their podium not to defeat a candidate, but to assist in the defeat of an empire.

Time for Kissnger’s boy, Paul Bremer, to go home. US out of Iraq! Israel out of Palestine! That’s how we win back our credibility and our safety, John.

Let’s hear the Democratic Party leadership say that!

STAN GOFF is the author of “Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti” (Soft Skull Press, 2000) and of the upcoming book “Full Spectrum Disorder” (Soft Skull Press, 2003). He is a member of the BRING THEM HOME NOW! coordinating committee, a retired Special Forces master sergeant, and the father of an active duty soldier. Email for BRING THEM HOME NOW! is

Goff can be reached at:


Stan Goff retired from the US Army in February 1996. He is a veteran of the US occupation of Vietnam, and seven other conflict areas. His books include Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti (Soft Skull Press), Full Spectrum Disorder: The Military in the New American Century (Soft Skull Books), Borderline: Reflections on War, Sex, and Church (Cascade Books), Mammon’s Ecology: Metaphysic of the Empty Sign (Cascade Books), Tough Gynes: Violent Women in Film as Honorary Men (Cascade Books), and Smitten Gate (a novel about Afghanistan, from Club Orlov Press).