by Edward S. Herman
(Swans - December 18, 2006) The year 2006 has been another bad one, despite the fact that the world's most important set of "willing executioners" (the US public) has finally aroused itself enough to slap down the frat-boy would-be emperor in the November elections. It would be nice if we could explain this as based on moral revulsion at the would-be emperor's biggest crimes (aggression, a global torture gulag, and Constitution busting), but regrettably this is not so -- it was rather that there was that stink of corruption, plus the fact that the "mission" was not "accomplished" and the invasion-occupation has clearly been a failure by any measure. A successful aggression would almost surely have overpowered the stink and allowed Bush to continue on his regressive path. The US public likes wins and doesn't lose well. It doesn't like to see US body bags coming home from abroad, although it (and the political establishment) doesn't seem at all concerned over returning veterans who are very sick or unemployed. (It reminds me of the "pro-life" hyper-concern over fetal welfare along with better than average unconcern over post-fetal life.)
As Bill Blum puts it, the good news is that the Republicans lost; the bad news is that the Democrats won. The Democrats are a more moderate threat to pursue distant wars of aggression and Constitution busting than the Bush Republicans and they are likely to be more moderate on domestic economic and environmental policy. They have a mass constituency that they must placate to some degree, and they are not hamstrung by the support of a large right-wing Christian cohort. On the other hand, the Democrats are not only on the business payroll, and under pressure to prove their pro-business credentials, they are heavily funded by pro-Israel interests, which severely limits their ability to constrain Israeli expansionism and ethnic cleansing. They are under constant pressure to demonstrate their pro-Israel sentiments and toughness on "national security."
The result of all this is that, in the political economy of US elections, the Democrats are at best a centrist counter to the increasingly right-wing thrust of the Republicans. They serve business far more than their mass constituency, and they support a huge military budget and the global projection of US power, even if they push outward with somewhat more constraint than the Bush-Cheney administration. Clinton never "put people first," he put business first, with his budget balancing, aggressive support of NAFTA, deregulation policies, foot dragging on policies to deal with global warming, and inaction in the face of a stock market bubble (see Robert Pollin, Contours of Descent). In foreign policy, he did nothing to constrain Israeli expansionism and his war against Yugoslavia was carried out in violation of the UN Charter, another of multiple Clinton lead-ins to Bush's more blatantly egregious policies.
The Democrats today are not likely to do much to alleviate or reverse the multiple crises that face this country and the world. They are splintered, with "blue dogs" and "New Democrats" together outnumbering the membership in the Progressive Democratic Caucus, with Bush in possession of the veto, and the Democratic leadership, as always, eager for a bipartisanship that the Republicans completely reject when in power. The Democrats also suffer from hostile media treatment, with continuous pressure from the media to reject populism and service to ordinary citizens and prove their "national security" credentials. In the wake of the November 7 election the media rushed to claim that this was a conservative Democratic victory, with no public sanctioning of populism or demand for a real change of course in Iraq. In fact, they may be right on what the newly elected Democrats stand for and will do, with media assistance, but not on what the voters actually want, which is unrealizable in the present political system. The Democrats bend easily to these pressures, and to those of their monied supporters and the pro-Israel lobby. This is why, in contrast with Bush, the Democrats were regularly stalemated even with Democratic legislative majorities and Democratic presidents (Clinton, Carter). This is why impeachment is "off the table" here as regards really serious crimes, while it was "on the table" for Clinton's lie that had no public interest and welfare significance.
In Iraq, we now have an open civil war on top of an ongoing but confused US counter-insurgency program, with a huge casualty rate, immense destruction, and another US-created "failed state." It is interesting to see how, as the situation deteriorates, the mainstream media and politicians struggle to avoid concluding that we ought to leave. Bush of course has a vested interest in not exiting before "victory" because he would then have to admit making a mistake, and with God's advice! And this insecure numbskull may have belatedly convinced himself that he is pursuing "democracy" and is fighting terrorists (rather than both terrorizing and producing new terrorists at the same time).
The mainstream media and most of the Democrats also hate to lose and, knowing that the US public does also, they don't want to be accused of failing to support our boys and girls. They don't care at all about the vast killings of Iraqis and destruction of the infrastructure, or even about the additional US boys and girls who will die or suffer injuries in the struggle to avoid losing. They never point out that we are in Iraq on the basis of an act of blatant aggression, and they have a hard time admitting that our unkindly presence has fed the violence from the beginning to right this minute. We allegedly have to stay there because of our responsibilities to the people we have attacked and whose society we have destroyed. Saddam should have thought of this one as a reason for staying in Kuwait after his 1990 invasion.
By refusing Murtha as House speaker the Democrats made it clear that they weren't going to push for any quick or even definite exit. One believable theory is that they will go along with Bush and his Baker-Hamilton panel, give Bush the money he wants while carping about mismanagement, and use the sure continuing failure to help them win in 2008. This is opportunism at its most immoral and merciless, but it is an easy road that fits the Democrats lack of unity, program or principle. It also fits the purpose of the elite and a main objective of the panel, which as Jonathan Steele points out, is "to ignore the American people's doubts and build a new consensus behind the strategy of staying in Iraq on an open-ended basis, with no exit in sight" (Jonathan Steele, "Baker's predictable plan is what Bush is already doing," The Guardian, December 7, 2006). The Baker panel even mentions oil and acknowledges a continuing aim of privatizing Iraq's oil, no doubt with the consent of the "democracy" achieved through a few more years' effort at producing "stability." This set of purposes of the dominant elite, not the US public, is why the media have been so relentless in opposing any real withdrawal plan; they are serving an elite aim just as they did in propagandizing for the Bush war prior to the March 2003 invasion.
The situation in Israel and Palestine has worsened in 2006, with the reinvasion of Gaza, the advance of settlements and apartheid wall construction on the West Bank, the political advance of the openly racist Lieberman in Israel, and the remarkable complicity of the United States and the EU in the semi-genocidal Israeli policies, with the Palestinians punished for freely electing Hamas, Israel still cosseted while committing serious crimes on a daily basis. The sad fact is that the triumph of the Democrats is not likely to do a thing to alleviate this horrendous crisis and call off the Israeli attack dogs. Each AIPAC meeting is crowded with Democrats eager to pay homage and express their commitment to Israel, with Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and Rahm Emanuel leading the way. They are paralyzed on this front, and with their deference to Israel, and Israel and its numerous US agents calling for war on Iran, the Democrats are also not likely to be helpful in dealing with this US-manufactured crisis.
One global scene that does raise hopes is Latin America, where, led by Hugo Chávez, but reflecting a broad set of grass-roots movements aroused to resist by the anti-human effects of neoliberalism, we have seen a series of electoral victories for the left or maybe-left. Chávez has been a catalyzer, model, and supporter of these movements and they have also probably been helped along by the publicity given to the Bush aggressions against Afghanistan and Iraq, the open pugnacity and involvement in the failed anti-Chávez coup of 2002, and the recent inability of the Bush team to attack in Latin America given their diversions and quagmires overseas. How permanent these developments will prove to be, how much change these left rulers will be able to bring about given the power of the United States, its allies, and global market forces, is very uncertain. But they are a breath of fresh air and hope that should be given maximum support.
I mentioned in the opening paragraph that the 2006 election had been a defeat for Bush-Cheney, a kind of public repudiation. However, this defeat may not yield the positive outcomes anticipated by many liberal commentators (see, e.g., John Nichols, "The Iraq War Election," The Nation Blog, November 8, 2006; William Rivers Pitt, "A Deep, Deep Breath," Truthout, November 9, 2006; William Greider, "Watershed," The Nation, December 4, 2006; and Robert Kuttner, "The People, Yes," The American Prospect, December, 2006). First, there is the character of the Democratic Party, discussed earlier, which won by strategic inaction and may well continue in that mode. Furthermore, in our rotten political system this election loss doesn't remove Bush from the presidency or his finger from the bomb. He is still "Commander in Chief" with missions still unaccomplished. He can veto anything he doesn't like, including bills reestablishing constitutional rights removed by the Patriot and Military Commissions Act. He is deciding what to do about the Iraq occupation, supposedly weighing all the options. In short, he is going to stay. We face two more very painful years, of continued horrors in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, but probably mainly of stalemate in legislation and policy at home. It is also possible that God may tell Bush (through making him feel it in his gut) that Israel faces an existential threat and that Iran must be stopped now. Let us hope that God does not do this, or tell Bush that he has been chosen to lead us into End Times.
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