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The victory of George W. Bush on November 2 is a stunning defeat for the Democratic party. But it is not a defeat for the progressive political movement in the United States. This movement mobilized as never before, turning out voters for the election, coordinating activities among numerous organizations at the grass roots level, conducting massive demonstrations, particularly at the Republican convention, and employing a multiplicity of media tactics and resources, ranging from documentary films, the internet, alternative news outlets, and the penetration of the established media.
Its single greatest strength, unlike the shifting stances of the Democratic party and John Kerry, was the singularity and morality of its message. It consistently pointed out the lies and corporate corruption of the Bush administration, and most importantly, the immorality and imperial goals that lay behind the invasion and the war in the Gulf.
It is the US occupation of Iraq that constitutes the Achilles heel of the second Bush administration. It is here that progressives and the left must continue to mobilize in the weeks and months ahead. The Democratic party will almost certainly continue to waffle over the Iraqi conflict. Kerry played a Hamlet-like role in the campaign, at times supporting the war, which Karl Rove and the Republican party effectively pounced on to accuse him of being a flip-flopper. Kerry stood behind the occupation of Iraq, recognizing that like the Republican party, Democrats have historically backed the designs of the US empire in the Gulf and the Middle East as well as in other regions of the world.
But Kerry, given the his role in the Vietnam War, intuitively understood that the current war is not winnable, thus explaining his contradictory and often confused statements and votes on the authorization and financial appropriations for the war. Now the long knives will come out among the so-called centrist Democrats, insisting that the party needs to take on the moral issues as defined by the Republican party. This is a recipe for the further decline of the Democrats. The real problem is that the leadership of the party has sold out to corporate concerns and is wedded to the maintenance and expansion of US power abroad.
The Iraqi war is all about the interests of empire, an empire that under Bush harkens back to the crude imperialist traditions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Certainly, the United States, as Bush proclaims, would like to establish a US engineered democracy in Iraq. But this objective is secondary, and largely a façade. The real goal is to secure control over the petroleum resources of the region. Not only is access to oil essential for the US petro-based economy. Domination of the Gulf’s petroleum reserves will also give the United States leverage over the two major contenders for global hegemony in the twenty-first century, China and the European Community.
The harsh reality for the Bush administration is that this empire is now severely overstretched. The enormous fiscal and trade deficits are only worsened by the Iraqi occupation. An economic train wreck could even hit the United States as the war drags on with financiers and investors loosing confidence in the US economy, pulling out of the stock market and selling off their enormous holdings of dollars.
Even more importantly, the US military is overextended. Military experts proclaim that the United States needs twice as many troops in Iraq. With his reelection Bush will certainly beef up the military, expanding funding and troop levels in Iraq. But if he tries to impose a draft, the only viable way to augment real military power on the ground, a popular uproar will occur in the United States that will effectively destroy the “political capital” of his presidency. Up to 100,000 Iraqi’s have already died since the US invasion began. This grim toll will only increase along with the number of American combat deaths.
The invasion and destruction of Falluja will alter nothing in the underlying course of the war. The so-called coalition of the willing is already collapsing with even the Blair government in Great Britain under political siege. Popular protests abroad against the Bush administration will increase in strength because of the moral outrage of the rest of the world at the new human carnage in Iraq. This will give sustenance and strength to the left in the United States and the anti-war forces around the world.
As these developments take place the left needs to denounce the Bush administration’s horrendous policies and all attempt to support or condone them. This is especially important in our country because as we saw in the election many Americans have been falsely frightened into believing the war in Iraq is about protecting them against terrorists and promoting democracy.
As William Appleman Williams, the great historian from the University of Wisconsin put it, empire has become “an American way of life.” This is why much of the world has come “to hate us,” not for our “freedoms”, but because we have taken away their freedoms and liberties in order to allow our corporations to control and suck up their resources. By staying the course with our denunciation of this destructive empire, progressives and the left can assume the moral high ground, reshape the discourse within the Democratic party, and fundamentally alter the political direction of the United States.
ROGER BURBACH is director of the Center for the study of the Americans (CENSA) based in Berkeley, California. He is co- author with Jim Tarbell of “Imperial Overstretch: George W. Bush and the Hubris of Empire,” He released late last year “The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice.”