In late November, my colleague James Carter and I published a short piece comparing events of 1968 to 2006 and assuming/predicting that the Bush administration would take some steps to begin deescalating their dismal war in Iraq (See “Deja Vu All Over Again: 1968 and 2006,” History News Network, 20 November 2006, ) . We were not naive about George Bush’s obstinacy or bad judgment nor heartened by any sense that he would listen to the voice of the voters or have any respect for democracy. Above all we believed that the virtual avalanche of opposition from not just the “ususal suspects” in the media or liberals, but also Republicans, military figures, and other conservatives, would force some type of shift in policy (see also, “Is George Bush ‘The Manchurian Candidate’?” History News Network, 11 December 2006).
We were wrong.
On January 10th, George Bush announced another escalation in what is already seen by vast majorities of people, everywhere, as a political disaster and moral crime of serious proportion. One can argue whether this “surge” defies logic, but there is no doubt that it defies the will of just about every segment of the ruling class and the people. It is, in essence, a democratic coup, in which Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice have simply made a decision that runs counter to the counsel of the democratic majority and the people charged with running the war. It is a vivid example of the United States, as Noam Chomsky and others have suggested, as a rogue state.
In 1968, Lyndon Johnson, a man of great hubris himself, with his own demons and personal vendettas, did in fact confront the reality of Vietnam after the “Wise Men” reported that the war was not going well and would continue to be a morass, after the infusion of American troops had not prevented the country-wide Tet attacks, after the global economy was in crisis due to massive American deficits and a global run on gold. Johnson thus began the process of “Vietnamization” that his military [especially General Creighton Abrams] recommended, even though it became identified with his successor Richard Nixon. The war continued but American troops began to come home as the U.S. sought a decent interval before defeat. And, as the recent encomia to Gerald Ford showed, the Americans accepted failure in April 1975 rather than prolong a doomed and bloody crusade.
But today, we see no such acknowledgment of the objective conditions of Iraq. Not only do the daily stories of death, abductions, and civil war fill the media, but we also have extraordinary images like the hanging of Saddam Hussein which seemed more like a Three Stooges episode than the action of a sovereign state. But we also see arrayed against official policy virtually every segment of the establishment, including:
The Iraq Study Group. Chaired by the ultimate Republican fixer, James Baker, and including an “A List” of Washington insiders (including, originally, Defense Secretary Robert Gates), they called the situation in Iraq “grave and deteriorating” and called for a pullback there as well as diplomatic overtures to other Middle Eastern enemies and efforts to resolve the Palestinian crisis, the most compelling mainstream recommendation for the region this side of Jimmy Carter.
The generals. The level of military dissent against the war in Iraq has been unprecedented. In Masters of War: Military Dissent and Politics in the Vietnam Era, I studied military criticism of the Kennedy and Johnson policies in Vietnam, which, albeit serious, was limited compared to what we have witnessed in the past few years. Some of the most highly-regarded officers of this generationincluding Anthony Zinni, Wesley Clark, William Odom, Barry McCaffrey, Joseph Hoar, John Shalikashvili and othershave publicly rebuked the president for the invasion of Iraq and more recently active-duty officers in Iraq spoke against the Bush “surge” and, in response, Generals John Abizaid and George Casey were removed from their commands and replaced by officers willing to promote the Bush escalation (see also, “Hawks as Doves: Military Dissent in Vietnam and Iraq,“).
Republicans. Not only has Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska continued to speak out against the warin harsher terms than any Democrat this side of Russ Feingoldbut more recently Senators John Warner of Virginia and Gordon Smith of Oregon have publicly criticized the idea of sending more troops to Iraq. Even Oliver North recently returned from a trip to Iraq with word that the soldiers there did not favor escalation. As the war continues to spiral downward, more Republicans are sure to jump the sinking Bush ship, and, as the Democrats propose symbolic resolutions, they may provide more resistance to the administration’s polices than the so-called opposition party.
The financial community. The war in Iraq is likely to cost over a trillion dollars. Deficits are at record highs. China now has one trillion U.S. dollars in reserve. Many countries are cashing in dollars for euros and the U.S. currency gets progressively weaker. Except for the oil companies and Halliburton, the oligarchy has not been well-served by this fiasco.
The Iraqis. While not publicly opposing the influx of troops, Nouri al-Maliki’s government is clearly wary of the escalation, fearing that the increased American presence would undermine its own authority and control, especially in Baghdad, and provide even more targets for militias, insurgents and other armed elements. “The government believes there is no need for extra troops from the American side,” one of Maliki’s officials asserted, “the existing troops can do the job.”
The American people. As we have seen repeatedly, the Bush administration has ignored the views of the many millions who have publicly opposed this war since 2003. But the results of November 2d, which gave Democrats control of both houses of congress, and continued polling data which shows well over 60 percent of Americans, even in some Red states, opposed to escalation, should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, an administration which ignores popular will and ignores the constitution is not likely to heed the people’s warnings about this war.
This is more of a junta than an administration. Bush, Cheney and Ricehaving given us the invasions of two countries, over 3000 Americans and who knows how many Afghans and Iraqis killed, countries devastated, and unimaginable debt are simply deaf and blind to any form of democracy, or reality.
Perhaps this is not surprising. Bush and his myrmidons have denied global warming, rejected any type of energy policy, slashed taxes for the richest Americans, and spat upon the constitution, while sending mostly poor American kids to faraway places to become targets. As Dwight Eisenhower might say again, “this is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
ROBERT BUZZANCO is a professor of history at the University of Houston. He can be reached at: email@example.com