For the past year or so, a hefty majority of Americans have wanted out of Iraq. Yet today, we have more troops, more government officials, and more contractors entangled more deeply in that country’s affairs than at any time since the invasion.
That’s partly because this nation has never spoken with one voice on the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Instead, Americans have sorted themselves into four categories:
(1) consistently in favor,
(2) for it before they were against it,
(3) against it before they were for it, or
(4) consistently opposed.
A closer look at categories 1 through 4 shows that even if, against all odds, we force President Bush to pull troops out of Iraq, new wars in other lands won’t be long in coming:
Consistently in favor
There aren’t as many of these folks as there used to be, either in the general population or among national leaders. But Cheney, Bush, Lieberman, and the down-but-never-out neocons are still getting their way on Iraq policy, and they have been the target of most anti-war fury.
They’ve also given the rest of us the opportunity to wash our hands of responsibility for the catastrophe. To cite a prominent example: Deceit always hangs thick over presidential debates, but one of the most dishonest utterances ever uttered in such a forum was Hillary Clinton’s assertion that “this is George Bush’s war.”
For it before they were against it
This vast swath the of population includes rank-and-file members of both major parties as well as most Democratic leaders, including Clinton, her fellow presidential contender John Edwards, 2004 candidate John Kerry, and congressional war critic John Murtha.
Living proof that Iraq was never “George Bush’s war,” the bulk of this group now professes dissatisfaction with the occupation only because it has failed so spectacularly.
Were the occupation meeting with even modest “success” — if death rates were declining by a statistically detectable amount, if households were getting water, power, and other services at even close to the pre-war level, if tens of thousands of US troops remained there today, but only to guard the oilfields, suffering only a handful of deaths each month – there would be no majority favoring a pullout.
The once-for-it-but-now-against-it group is the keystone of today’s anti-war majority, but if they’re to remain opposed to the occupation, they require constant reassurance that things really are going very badly. And they can’t be relied upon to oppose the next war that’s proposed.
Sixteen grisly months into the conflict, Barack Obama (who hadn’t yet joined the Senate and therefore was not on record in votes that authorized the war) passed up the most golden of opportunities to take a principled stand.
In his much-praised speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama — today a favorite of many anti-war voters – brought up the Iraq war only to say that we must “never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.”
And in a recent speech to the American Israel Political Action Committee, Obama showed that he’s learned nothing from the Iraq debacle. There, he spoke of the future and Iran, declaring that “no option, including military action,” should be dismissed.
Against it before they were for it
This is a more diverse and interesting group, and includes an important subgroup of folks who have come to their senses (call them ‘against it before they were for it before they were against it.’)
In 2002-03, the Administration knew that a large segment of the citizenry, spanning the political spectrum, would switch from opposition to support once troops were in peril in Iraq. That’s one reason for the all-out push to get forces into Iraq as soon as possible.
Some conservatives (pundit Pat Buchanan being a high-profile example) were against invading Iraq on principle. But once the fighting began, they fell into line, insisting that the commander-in-chief should not be second-guessed when troops are in the field.
Five days after the fall of Baghdad, Buchanan gushed, “It was no cakewalk. But no quagmire either. It was the most awesome display of military power in modern times.”
He also wrote that the victory had given Bush “a historic opportunity to disprove the charge believed by almost all Arabs and Muslims: that this was a war for American empire, for oil, for Israel and for hegemony in the Middle East.”
Of course, Bush proved a disappointment, leaving no doubt that the occupation really is about all of those things. So Buchanan eventually decided it was time for us to get out.
The against-it-then-for-it group also includes liberals who’ve insisted (as some still do) that although we created the disaster in Iraq, we couldn’t pull out in 2004, or 2005, or 2006, or now, because if we did, even more Iraqis would die.
It’s not that they were bowled over by Administration arguments to that effect. These folks, a number of my good friends included, simply cannot not let go of the idea that that American military power can be used to enforce peace and democracy in nations we invade. While sharing this sentiment with the war’s neocon architects, these liberals fully embraced it fully only after we were deep into the disaster.
Now that we didn’t pull the troops out and more people died anyway, some of this group have sensibly reverted to an antiwar position, but they could swing back once more if the slaughter subsides, perhaps saying something like, “We’ve stabilized the situation, so we’d better not leave now or it will revert to chaos.”
We can all be grateful to those who’ve joined the majority now calling for withdrawal. Nevertheless, the burden of stopping the next war before it starts will fall, as it always has, to the consistent opposition: the reliable left, the long-established peace movement, and a good slice of the libertarian right (exemplified by the stalwarts at Antiwar.com).
We have to convince others who are now taking our side in the Iraq debate to stick with us for the long haul.
But with the next call to arms, far too many Americans will be tempted to think, “We’ll get this war right for sure,” just as Charlie Brown always wants so badly to believe that Lucy really will let him kick the football, just this once.
We have to keep reminding ourselves and our friends that neither Lucy nor this country’s leaders ever keep their bargains. It’s high time that a solid majority of Americans demand an end to militarism, demand that our military never launch a first strike on another nation, and refuse to support foreign military occupation.
Whether or not that permanent antiwar majority can be achieved, the American empire will eventually come to ruin.
The only question is how many people will have to die before it’s all over.
STAN COX is a plant breeder and writer in Salina, Kansas. His book Sick Planet: Corporate Food and Medicine is coming next spring from Pluto Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.