Democrats Prepare to Fund Longer War

This last Sunday Harry Reid, the incoming Democratic majority leader in the US Senate, went on ABC’s Sunday morning show and declared that a hike in U.S. troops in Iraq is okay with him.

Here’s the evolution of the Democrats’ war platform since November 7, 2006, the day the voters presented a clear mandate: “End the war! Get out of Iraq!” and took the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives away from the Republicans.

So somewhat to their surprise the Democrats recaptured both the Senate and the House. Then they went to work–to obliterate the mandate. The first thing they did was reject Jack Murtha, the man who said “Quit Now” in 2005. They voted down Murtha as House majority leader and picked the pro-war Steny Hoyer.

Then Nancy Pelosi, chose Silvestre Reyes as House Intelligence Committee chairman. Reyes promptly told Newsweek, “We’re not going to have stability in Iraq until we eliminate those militias, those private armies. We have to consider the need for additional troops to be in Iraq, to take out the militias and stabilize IraqI would say 20,000 to 30,000-for the specific purpose of making sure those militias are dismantled, working in concert with the Iraqi military.”

Reyes comes to his important post with an open mind, meaning an empty one. He knows nothing of the region. This became clear in his brief parley with a reporter from Congressional Quarterly who had the impudence to ply him with questions at the end of a tiring day when men of mature judgment head for the bar. CQ’s man asked Reyes if Al Qaeda was Sunni or Shiite.

Reyes tossed a mental coin. “Predominantly-probably Shiite.” Wrong, of course, since Al Qaeda is Sunni, of a notoriously intolerant strain. It’s as if Reyes had called the Pope a Presbyterian.

Then the pesky newshound probed him on the matter of Hezbollah. “Hizbollah. Uh, Hizbollah” Reyes answered irritably. “Why do you ask me these questions at 5 o’clock?”

Back in 2003 Reyes, a Vietnam vet, was opposed to the war. Give him clout as Intelligence Committee chair and he starts citing John McCain approvingly, even upping the mad Arizonan’s troop-boost call by 10,000.

Next, the Democrats in the Senate gave unanimous confirmation to Robert Gates as defense secretary. Gates has a career record as one who slants intelligence to suit his bosses’ political agenda. Recently, as president of Texas A&M, he deep-sixed affirmation action as college policy. The Democrats in the Senate could have stretched out the hearings, grilled Gates closely on his plans, taxed him with his grimy past as Bill Casey’s second-in-command in the Contra-gate Era. Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh said flatly in his memoirs that Gates was not truthful in his 1991 confirmation hearings about his role.

Next, House Democrats welcomed the Iraq Study Group report of James Baker and Jim Hamilton by promptly reaffirming the Palestinian Terror Bill 2006″, written by AIPAC.

Then, on December 17 the Democrats’ Senate leader, Harry Reid, said it was okay with him to send more troops to Iraq. This was the same Sunday morning that Colin Powell, appearing on CBS, said a troop increase “cannot be sustained” and that the thousands of additional U.S. soldiers sent into Baghdad since the summer had been unable to stabilize the city and more probably could not tip the balance, Powell said.

Yesterday, it was instructive to go to the Democratic websites in the wake of Reid’s statement. Nothing on Daily Kos, nothing on Truthout, nothing on any of them. They had many words about Republican warmongering, about McCain’s call for more troops. About Reid, one of the top Democratic leaders, about the evolving Democratic posture–nothing.

Now let’s go to a Republican, U.S. Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon. While the Democrat Reyes was calling for a troop hike, Smith was proclaiming, “We have no business being a policeman in someone else’s civil war. I welcome the Iraq Study Group’s report, but if we are ultimately going to retreat, I would rather do it sooner than later.” Not cut and walk. Cut and run.

At least Gordon Smith can publicly concede that as things stand, the Iraq mission is a disaster, and quitting time is here. No prominent Democrats in Congress but Jack Murtha can bring themselves to do that. (I include here Senator Slither, otherwise known as Barack Obama, who trims to every shift in the wind.) The language is always of pleasing schedules, in which a (fictional) entity called the Iraqi Army, at the disposition of an (imaginary) power called the Iraqi government, can be welded into an (entirely fantastical) nonsectarian force by (as yet unavailable and putatively suicidal) US military trainers.

Suicidal? A poll cited by the Iraq Study Group found that 61 percent of Iraqis believe that it is appropriate where possible to attack the US occupying troops. Since the poll included Kurds, who are less hostile to the US presence, we can assume that the percentage of Sunnis and Shiites who think it a patriotic act to shoot or blow up a US soldier is well above 61 percent. Now imagine yourself as a US trainer embedded in an Iraqi unit, the vast majority of whose members believe it right and proper to kill you. “Suicidal” seems to be the correct term. These calls for a bigger US training force are complete hokum.

You would have thought that Democrats would rush to hang their hats on the the bipartisan ISG report, calling for cut and walk. But the long-awaited report is dead shortly after arrival. There aren’t more than a handful or so of Democrats who are going to be caught in the same room as a report that calls for the return of the Golan Heights to Syria and dares to raise the issue of the right of return of Palestinians to their homeland.

In America these days persons in political life can describe reality only if they are self-employed, with a guaranteed independent income and above 75 years of age. Jimmy Carter and James Baker are two prime examples of this truth. Otherwise fantasy rules in Congress and the press, which has consistently misrepresented the extent of the disaster in Iraq, preferring to promote fatal illusions about a viable central government and fantasies of the US being able to shape a new model army of Iraqis.

Since the elections of November 7, elite liberal consensus, as represented by the Democratic leadership and major opinion formers such as the editors of the New York Times, has rallied to the notion of a “surge” in U.S. troops in Iraq. “Surge” is a handy word. It has the timbre of forceful majesty, of mighty ocean rollers roaring onto a beach. It also has the promise of withdrawal, since what surges can also recedes.

A faction among the U.S. commanders in Iraq has been promoting the surge option to useful journalists such as Michael Gordon of the New York Times. (Today, the Washington Post reports that inside the Pentagon growing opposition to the surge scenario. presumably on the reasonable grounds that there aren’t the troops to mount the surge and it would do nothing to alter the situation anyway.)

Indeed, no reporter has played a more assiduous role in fostering this “surge” option than Gordon, a man who somehow skipped free of the misreporting charges that finally caught up with his former colleague Judith Miller, even though he shared a byline with Miller in the very worst report, the claim that aluminum tubes were hard evidence of Saddam’s WMD program.

In the past months, in the Times and on CNN Gordon has been laying down a propaganda barrage against speedy withdrawal and for a hike in US troop numbers in Iraq. When Murtha ran for the House majority leadership position, the New York Times front-paged two stories by Gordon attacking Murtha’s advocacy of rapid withdrawal, and promoting a troop increase.

At the Washington Post, which editorialized against Murtha’s bid, David Ignatius has similarly been fostering the impression of feasible options in Iraq. “With enough troops and aggressive tactics,” Ignatius wrote earlier this year, “American forces can bring order to even the meanest streets.” In Iraq, in March of this year, Ignatius, claimed to find “unmistakable signs here this week that Iraq’s political leaders are taking the first tentative steps towards forming a broad government of national unity that could reverse the country’s downward slide.” His keen eye detected a “new spirit of accord.”

So here we have the Times’s and Post’s lead reporter/commentators on the war diligently promulgating the core fantasy: that the United States has options beyond accepting defeat. The vast majority of Iraqis want US forces out. Militarily, the United States has been defeated. Diplomatically it is isolated. Politically it is immobilized.

From the Republican defeats at the November 7 polls through to the publication of the Iraq Study Group report, there was a window for Washington to commence diplomatic operations to get out with all speed.

That opportunity has almost gone. Now a decisive moment approaches. The Democratic leadership — Pelosi, Reid, Emanuel, Biden — is recommending that the Democrats in Congress vote to approve the supplemental budget appropriation early next year, probably $160 billion, which will give Bush enough money to keep the war going till he leaves town.

Enough Democrats have always been available to push these appropriations through, sometimes by huge majorities or, in the Senate, unanimous agreement. Here’s the record of shame:

By 2004, when it was clear a disaster was unfolding and after Iraq’s alleged WMDs had been exposed as frauds invented by US and British intelligence agencies and the press: HR 4613 — Final House Vote July 22, 2004: 410-12. Final Senate Vote July 22, 2004: 96-0.

In 2005, by which time it was clear that the US attack had spawning civil war, plus staggering corruption — HR 1268: Final House Vote May 5, 2005: 368-58. Final Senate Vote May 10, 2005: 100-0. HR 2863: Final House Vote December 19, 2005: 308-106. Final Senate Vote December 21, 2005: 93-0.

By 2006 the American people were turning decisively against the war. Bush’s ratings were among the lowest in presidential history. Up came HR 4939: Final House Vote June 13, 2006: 351-67. Final Senate Vote June 15, 2006: 98-1. HR 5631 — Final House Vote September 26, 2006: 394-22. Final Senate Vote September 29, 2006: 100-0.

Years ago, my father used to tell me that when it came to assessing the likely policy of the British Labor Party, the best approach was to figure out the worst option available, and then proceed under the assumption that this was the course the Party would adopt. Here in the U.S. I’ve always applied this useful journalistic rule to the Democrats, with unfailing success. Never for a moment, after November 7, did I doubt that Reid and the others would do the wrong thing.

As we warned after the election, the role of the Democrats will be to ease through a troop increase This prediction has turned out to be 100 per cent accurate.

Now comes the chance to see whether the antiwar movement, the progressive Democrats, will meekly toe the line, even as some start wasting their time promoting a Kucinich bid for the Democratic nomination, which will exactly the same effect as did his bid in 2004. It was clear from the outset that the only substantive function of Kucinich’s run was to try to preempt defections to a Third Party candidate such as Nader. Then, in Boston, Kucinich toed the line and fell in behind Kerry. Once again doomed to fail, he’ll do the same thing in 2008.

On this site, last week, Mike Ferner wrote:

This February, the peace movement’s choir, of which you are one, will up the ante of protest. Voices for Creative Nonviolence, joined by Veterans For Peace, have initiated the “Occupation Project” to occupy the hometown offices of Representatives and Senators who have voted money for the war.
All this clearly adds up to a historic opportunity.

Last week I spoke in Marietta, Ohio to 35 people, and announced the Occupation Project. I asked who among them would consider occupying their local congressional offices. Without a moment’s hesitation, six hands went up.

We talked about practical concerns: having to work, how much will it cost, what will the charge be? We talked about taking a vacation day and the modest fines involved for a misdemeanor — all compared to the enormous suffering Iraqis and soldiers now endure in this war.

So now let’s see how these Democrats, all with their eyes cocked towards 2008 and the need to hold the antiwar vote, react to the threat or the reality, of being occupied.

The Mayan Debate: How Many Hearts Can You Cut Out in an Hour? No Worries About Malpractice Suits; Stone Knives Sharper Than Steel

From: Alan Prince
Date: December 18, 2006 12:24:18 PM PST
Subject: Aztecs

Luis J. Rodriguez writes:

“Supposedly with a flint knife, priests were able to rapidly remove the heart while the victims watched it throbbing in the priest’s hand. In one account, thousands were thus slain in one day. Yet even today with modern tools, it takes around 15 to 20 minutes to open up the sternum and the surrounding tissues to reach the heart. But we’re supposed to believe a few priests could do this to hundreds, even thousands, in a few hours.”

The knives were made from obsidian, a volcanic glass that can form edges sharper and smoother than surgical steel. There is no question that they could have done the job, which was not intended as a repair.

See for a summary of modern research on the technology, which was apparently adopted and used even by the Spanish colonizers until the 17th century. Surgical applications have been found for it in recent years (

The Aztecs ran an economically oppressive empire and were not loved by the peoples they subjugated or by their unsubjugated rivals. Cortez could not have won without the help of a huge army from Tlaxcala, which participated in the destruction of Tenochtitlan with a vigor that appalled even the ghoulish conquistadors.

Torture and sacrifice played a very different role in Mesoamerican belief than in European (see Clendinnen’s Aztecs), although Europeans have been notable enthusiasts in their way (the year 1492 in Spain saw more than Columbus’s voyage). Mesoamerican practices were unrelated to notions of punishment, and it’s hard for us to grasp their meaning from anything like an empathetic perspective. But we should not be driven into sentimentality by Mel Gibson’s pathological mish-mash.

-Alan Prince

From: joe costello
Date: December 18, 2006 11:57:06 AM PST
Subject: to Luis – Apocalypto

Dear Luis,

I would like to take issue with a couple points in your Counterpunch piece on “Apocalypto.” Let me start by saying, I think scrutinizing the movie much beyond “Mad Max IV,” we run into serious problems, but I think it’s a well done “Mad Max IV.”

I actually think Gibson should get some credit for at least making a movie about the Maya, how accurate he is of course is a good question. So a couple of points about your comments. First,some of the cities of the Yucatan were in fact occupied at the time of the Spanish Conquest, and I think Gibson probably portrays them fairly accurately as cities in disrepair and a civilization well past its peak. Secondly, full eclipses are fairly rare and it is doubtful that the mass of Mayans were educated to understand the science of the “movement of the stars,” which gave the priesthoods their power. The priests had the power of the calender, essential for any agrarian civilization.

On human sacrifice, it is without a doubt the ancient civilizations of Mexico practiced human sacrifice, on what scale is definitely opened for speculation. Your point about taking 20 minutes to open a chest today is correct, but they’re trying to keep the patient alive. If you stretched someone out across a stone alter and then plunged a sharp stone dagger beneath the ribcage with no concern for the person’s life, no doubt you could get a heart out much quicker and still beating. I was struck when traveling across these old civilizations how death was with life everywhere, so different from our modern culture, especially American culture, where death is removed. Also, the point of how sacred blood was, as you point out, is revealed in the importance of self-bloodletting amongst the elite, and now I’m interpreting, blood sacredly symbolized the difference between life and death.

There was a great essay by the Italian writer Italo Calvino concerning his visit to the Museo Nacional de Antropología. The guide he had was trying to explain all the civilizations and what they were about, however another he overheard would point to object and repeatedly say, “Well, we are really to far removed to understand.” Spending several months traveling and reading about the old Mexican civilizations led me to believe that. I think in fact your view of “defending” the Mayans and Mexikas, is as fraught with looking at them through the lens of modern Western civilization as you accuse Gibson.
There was one thing I thought Gibson really hit well and was an eye opener for me, how in fact little blood was shed in pre-iron warfare. Where wood, stone, and muscle were the main weapons, people were for the most just physically overcome and kept alive as opposed to butchered. Quite different from our culture of war today with missiles shot by “warriors” from hundreds of miles away leveling whole cities, shredding bodies beyond recognition.

Anyway, as I said, I don’t think Apocalypto could hold up to much more scrutiny beyond “Mad Max IV,” and as that, it’s an entertaining enough and bloody affair. However, I think Gibson deserves kudos for using Mayan civilization, and in his own bizarre way, making them very human, in fact in some ways more human than the civilization we and Gibson represent.




Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.