Early on in the movement to oppose Bush’s wars of aggression, Ramsey Clark and folks associated with the Workers’ World Party advocated that the president be impeached. I recall attending antiwar demonstrations where people would go around collecting signatures on impeachment petitions, and thinking to myself:
(1) “No way this is feasible, given Bush’s popularity ratings and growing fascist trends,” and
(2) “Can’t we do better in any case than channel our energies into some legal procedure that will—even if it were to succeed—leave the whole imperialist war machine intact?”
That was before the tide of U.S. public opinion turned, due primarily to the efforts of the people of an invaded country to resist that imperialist war machine. Had the project been the “cakewalk” predicted by prominent neocon Ken Adelman, Bush and his allies in the corporate media might have continued to persuade the masses that the invasion of Iraq was part of a rational, justifiable, heroic and even holy “war on terrorism.”
Instead, we’ve seen firm and growing Iraqi resistance to occupation, now costing three American lives everyday.
In that context, anyone inclined to switch the channel control from Fox News from time to time and realize that the invasion of Iraq was based entirely on lies linking it to 9-11 and to such terrors as mushroom clouds over New York City becomes inclined to fault the Bush regime with serious misjudgments if not misdeeds.
Investigation after investigation convinces all with eyes to see and ears to hear that the war on Iraq is wrong. The tight grip of the corporate media on the American mind would not have allowed the decisive shift of opinion about the war had it not been for the success of the “insurgents” in making life hell for the invaders.
The complex and divided resistance movement, rather than antiwar activists in the American streets, has forced Americans to conclude that Bush did something profoundly immoral in attacking Iraq. The revelation (or what was for some a revelation) that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction and no appreciable al-Qaeda ties has helped millions to figure out that the Iraq War is based on calculated lies.
But the main factor that even allows for this realization has been the refusal of an invaded people to respond to their violation with the predicted flowers and smiles. When Americans read that 90% of Iraqis want their GIs to leave post haste, or that 90% say they were better off under Saddam Hussein, or that only 35% of the troops in Iraq (versus 42%) approve of Bush’s handling of the war —they just have to doubt the policies, and even the character and values, of the man chiefly responsible for the Iraqi quagmire. Impeachment, once a dubious long-shot proposition, becomes a real and exciting historical possibility.
In October 2005, a poll conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs found that 50% of Americans wanted Congress to consider impeaching the president if it were found that “President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq.” (This included an extraordinary 70% of those 18-29.) 44% did not agree with that, indicating that there is still a large contingent of people who trust that if their leaders lie, they must have a good reason.
The following month a Zogby poll showed 53% in favor of impeachment if Bush had lied, versus 42% opposed. A Zogby poll in January 2006 found that 52% of Americans (versus 44%) would favor impeachment if it were found that Bush illegally wiretapped citizens. Which of course, he did, and has even boasted about! I haven’t seen more recent polls but imagine the pro-impeachment majority has grown.
Most polls have shown Bush’s support level at under 38% for months, where it may remain. There is a certain community, strongly overlapping the 26% of Americans who identify themselves as evangelical white Protestants, that seems impervious to reason and evidence, loyal religiously to their born-again man. They’re unlikely to ever view impeachment proceedings against him—as opposed to that monstrously lascivious Bill Clinton—as anything other than a plot of Satan in league with the secular humanist liberals pursuing their anti-family homosexual agenda. They are well-organized and their political activities are well-funded. But their strength shouldn’t be exaggerated.
Perhaps heartened by the rising tide of popular aversion to the administration, various writers have over the past year produced books advocating the president’s impeachment. The Center for Constitutional Rights headed by Michael Ratner published Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush in March 2006; Dave Lindorff and Barbara Olshansky, The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office in May; Elizabeth Holtzman and Cynthia L. Cooper, The Impeachment of George W. Bush: A Practical Guide for Concerned Citizens in August; Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips (editors), Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney in October; and Elizabeth de la Vega, United States v. George W. Bush et al. in November. The first two overlap (Olshansky is also with the CCR) in laying out a technical legal case; I reviewed the latter for CounterPunch last year. De La Vega, a former federal prosecutor, presents evidence to a hypothetical grand jury of a conspiracy by Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell to commit criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States in order to make war on Iraq. Holtzman, a former district attorney and Congresswoman who served on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of Richard Nixon, and journalist Cooper, also present a legal brief. Loo and Phillips are sociology professors with a broader agenda of not only ousting “the Bush-Cheney regime” but “creating a completely different political atmosphere” (p. 303).
Impeach the President is an interdisciplinary collection of sixteen papers by academics, journalists, lawyers and activists including Counterpunchers Jeremy Brecher, Larry Everest, Brendan Smith, and Kevin Wehr. Its editors are less occupied with the technical legal case against the regime than with the political exposure of the breadth of criminality that characterizes it.
It is thus the most radical contribution in the bourgeoning genre of works advocating impeachment, implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) indicting what historian Howard Zinn in his introduction calls “the flawed nature of the American political system” itself.
In some of the essays, the impeachment issue is less central than in others. Lyn Duff and Dennis Bernstein’s paper on the overthrow of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (Chapter 13), for example, is a gripping narrative about that U.S.-orchestrated crime that only in its conclusion (citing Ratner) notes that it “definitely [constitutes] grounds for impeachment” (247).
Richard Heinberg (Chapter 12) documents the administration’s indifference to the problem of the inevitable decline in world petroleum production, beginning with the observation that “it would be difficult to create an airtight legal case for impeaching George W. Bush based on his ignoring the very real threat posed by Peak Oil” (223)—but the paper is a searing indictment of incompetence in any case.
Mark Crispin Miller’s paper, entitled “Bush-Cheney’s War on the Enlightenment” (Chapter 10), argues that the regime is “utterly irrational””that is to say, not even rational in traditional capitalist-imperialist terms but rooted in the “ultimately suicidal … rapturous eschatology of the quasi-Christian ultraright” (189). Miller acknowledges that the president might not be tried for his rejection of the essential principle laid down by the Founding Fathers of a “wholly secular republic” (194, 198) but argues that “the impeachment effort must be largely driven by a full awareness of the regime’s theocratic animus” (198).
The contributors are not all of one mind concerning the nature of the regime and the balance of forces feeding and comprising it. Miller for example downplays the influence of the neocons, suggesting that they “do not comprise a full-blown movement but are nothing more, or less, than a highly influential coterie” and not “the theocrats’ full partners” (190).
His position resembles that of the Revolutionary Communist Party, which has long identified “Christian fascists” as the main problem and given relatively little attention to the (primarily secular Jewish) neocons such as Paul Wolfowitz, “Scooter” Libby, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, John Hannah, Elliott Abrams, David Wurmser, Michael Ledeen and Abram Shulsky responsible for so much of the spadework in the campaign of lies leading to war. On the other hand, Chapter 14, by co-editor Phillips, Bridget Thornton, Lew Brown and Andrew Sloan deals extensively with the Straussian neocons and the Global Dominance Group centered around them, linking them to right-wing think tanks, corporate sponsors, AIPAC and the Israel Lobby that hugely influences Christian fundamentalists’ perception of the Middle East. (The charts in this chapter, pp. 273-81, alone are worth the price of the book.) They imply that a vast movement rooted in more or less traditional imperialist rationality is indeed a full partner with the “theocrats” if not indeed in the driver’s seat. Everest also gives due attention to the neocon role (122-24), which is of particular interest in that he writes for the RCP’s Revolution newspaper.
Published before the November elections, the book conveys hope for a Democratic sweep, not for its own sake but as the premise for impeachment proceedings. Judith Volkart declares, “If the Democrats win a majority in the House in the 2006 fall elections, [John] Conyers … will become chairman of the Judiciary Committee. This event would dramatically change the impeachment dynamic” (10).
But immediately after his party’s victory, the Michigan rep announced: “In this campaign, there was an orchestrated right-wing effort to distort my position on impeachment. The incoming speaker (Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.) has said that impeachment is off the table. I am in total agreement with her on this issue: Impeachment is off the table.”
Conyers actually added that “impeachment would not be good for the American people. The country does not want or need any more paralyzed partisan government.”
Volkart seems to have been a bit optimistic.
To be sure, the writers generally emphasize that only a mass movement will force the hand of the politicians responsible for actual impeachment measures. But the point is understated. Chapter 15 “Beyond Impeachment: Building a New Political Culture” by Cynthia Boaz and Michael Nagler calls for radical change, but only in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi (300) and through such individual actions as starting blogs, writing letters to corporate media managers and “holding leaders accountable” (298). Loo and Phillips in contrast call for “unprecedented mass popular upheaval” xvi), and the radical critique of present conditions presented in the book implies that if politicians frustrate the popular will, revolution is an option.
There are too many gems in this 326-page work to mention individually. Suffice it to say it held my attention throughout a ten-hour international flight just after New Year’s. Unembedded Iraq reporter Dahr Jamail’s detailed accounts of war crimes (Chapter 3), Greg Palast’s piece on the “Downing Street memos” (Chapter 7), Loo’s essay on electoral fraud in both 2000 and 2004 (Chapter 2), and Kevin Wehr’s article on administration’s antiscientific denial of global warming all stand out in my mind. My one criticism is that while there is brief mention (in Everest’s piece, 120) of CIA “misrepresentation of the facts” before the assault on Iraq, there is no specific analysis of the contradictions within the CIA or the neocons’ establishment of a separate rogue intelligence body (the Office of Special Plans) headed by Douglas Feith and Leo Strauss expert and disinformation artist Abram Shulsky (now head of the “Office of Iranian Affairs” occupying the now-disbanded OSP’s Pentagon offices) that specifically cherrypicked the prewar “intelligence.”
The Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee have sought to investigate the OSP (what Mother Jones has called the “Lie Factory”), and should they get serious now about moving forward with that probe it might dramatically transform the political atmosphere.
What if the people—the targets of the regime’s psychological warfare—discover that that office, or those working through it, forged the Niger uranium documents in a deliberate cynical move to frighten them into supporting a disastrous war? That’s the sort of thing that might move Conyers et al. off their butts, especially if the clamor in the streets is “shakin’ your windows and rattlin’ your walls.”
Then we might find the times suddenly a-changin’.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: email@example.com