Friday, January 12, 2007

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rebellion (and Why This is not the 1970s)

I'm not going to present a lot of tidbits with sources concerning the Bush plan for Iraq and the subsequent nearly unanimous disapproval, but some overall impressions. Even before antiwar protestors could begin mobilizing--and there are reports of demonstrations planned or accomplished in all fifty states--the reception given to the Bush plan, especially in the hearings featuring the new Defense Secretary and the old Sec. of State, Condi Rice, was nothing short of eviscerating.

Particularly striking were the Republicans and past Bush supporters, one of whom added that he not only was parting company with the Bushwar but was tired of being lied to. And he said this to Rice. While Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell talked with the confidence of old about using a fillibuster to stop the attempt to pass a resolution of (essentially) no confidence in the President's plan, it soon appeared that there were already the 60+ votes to stop that, and vote on the resolution, which at the moment seems all but certain to pass.In other words, the Congress was in open rebellion. Tom Ricks of the Washington Post said on Charlie Rose that of all the armed forces officers who are either in Iraq or were, and who emailed him after the speech, not one thought the plan would work. The polls show overwhelming public skepticism if not outright opposition. And on and on.

There seem to be two main schools of thought about the why of this policy. The first is that Bush is sincerely messianic, and his reference to aggressive moves against Syria and Iran (which other administration figures minimized today) show a very dangerous intention to widen the conflict, perhaps to divert attention from Iraq, or simply to carry out a general attempt to impose American power in that part of the world.

The second possibility is that this is cover, a face-saving measure, for troop withdrawal by the end of the year, when the Iraqis and particularly the current government don't make good on their part of the bargain in the "pacification" of Baghdad.The closest historical precedent for both of these possibilities is ironically the same event: Nixon's invasion of Cambodia in 1970. Nixon both widened the war (as he would several more times) and claimed it was in order to facilitate the withdrawal of American troops.

The 1970s also offer the precedent of Congress cutting off funds for a war that the President wouldn't end, though it took another five years after Cambodia. This and more led Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to say that the President's speech represents the worst foreign policy catastrophe since Vietnam.There are plenty of other similarities, and we're likely to see more, like large scale protests. Keith Olbermann's charge in his special comment Thursday that Bush's approach is insane recalls the feeling that Nixon was nuts, and this was pre-Watergate. Firesign Theatre ran a fake candidate for president in 1972 (George Papoon) whose campaign slogan was "Not Insane."

But there are differences. One is the speed. Everything is accelerated--especially the response of establishment politicians. Only a handful of "radicals" in Congress were talking about Nixon the same way that virtually all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee talked about Bush today. No one in the news media was so openly, relentlessly and vociferously against the president's war as Keith Olbermann has been, or that Chris Matthews has become.This speed may be reflected in the likelihood that Congress is going to search for and perhaps find a way to cut off money to conduct this war.

There are other differences on policy that reflect the experience of Vietnam, and not only on the part of Vietnam vets like Chuck Hagel. But there is yet another difference that I find striking. That's the often repeated reason for opposition to this temporary surge or anything short of taking troops out of Iraq: it's not worth the lives of American soldiers. The idea that troops would be committed as a face-saving gesture leading to withdrawal that didn't damage American power or prestige as much as a "retreat" would have been perfectly acceptable to most Washington officials, media and academics.

It is not acceptable now, and that I believe is a consequence of antiwar activity in the Vietnam era, especially by those of my generation. This was something we stressed from the beginning, even though it would be John Kerry's testimony in 1971 or so that remains the most memorable formulation of that belief--how do you ask a soldier to be the last one to die for a mistake?

This is some progress, though not yet to the level of another of our contentions--that the war was immoral because of the death and destruction it brought to Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. There are very few voices these days outside the peace movement that make this point about Iraq and Iraqis.But these differences are not nothing. They are differences from the 1970s, caused in part by what we went through, and what we did, in the 1960s and 1970s.