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A Plague on Both Their Houses
The congressional "debate" over the war shows that there are two wings of the War Party: Democrats and Republicans
The partisan war dance over Iraq began with the GOP's "stay the course" resolution [.pdf], and now the Senate has debated – and rejected – two Democratic alternatives: one saying we ought to "redeploy" the troops to the nearest convenient location by next summer, and another committing to a "phased withdrawal" that says nothing about how or when we're going to start letting the Iraqis steer without training wheels. The likely winner: another Republican resolution that basically boils down to shoot first and ask questions later. Yet the American people overwhelmingly oppose this rotten war and want out at the earliest opportunity. Isn't "democracy" wonderful? We yearn to export it at gunpoint globally – while shooting it dead on the home front.
The idea that ordinary Americans have any control over their country's foreign policy is, sadly, contradicted by history and refuted outright by our present predicament in Iraq. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson was reelected to the presidency chiefly on the strength of a slogan: "He kept us out of war." By 1917, the peacenik prez was leading the charge against Germany, jailing antiwar activists, and exhorting Americans to fight a "war to end all wars." In 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt told the voters: "I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." Behind the scenes, however, he was maneuvering to do just that – and by the end of 1941, we were fighting a two-front war, embracing "Uncle" Joe Stalin as a fellow "anti-fascist," and planning the internment of the Japanese-American population.
In 2000, George W. Bush promised to introduce humility in the making of American foreign policy – an ingredient prominently lacking in the policies of his predecessor – and yet it wasn't all that long before we were enmeshed in the GWOT – a war, we are told, that will likely last for at least a generation, in which our war aims, stated as modestly as possible, are centered around a radical "transformation" of the Middle East: a "global democratic revolution," as our president puts it.
Liars, all – and not very good liars, at that. However, the problem is that, in each instance, the American people didn't have much of a choice. Oh, they could have voted for Alan Louis Benson in 1916, the Socialist Party candidate who opposed U.S. involvement in the Great War – but they would have been disappointed in his subsequent performance, in which he pulled a Lieberman, so to speak, and jumped on the pro-war bandwagon – eventually defecting from the Socialists in protest over their stand of "moral equivalence."
In the election of 1940, while Roosevelt paraded himself as the only politician with the stature to keep us out of war, Wendell Willkie pulled a Kerry and vacillated between denouncing America's military unpreparedness and calling the president a warmonger. After losing to Roosevelt, Willkie went on to become one of the biggest warmongers of them all, attacking noninterventionists as "isolationists" and acting as the president's roving ambassador.
In the Bush-Gore contest, the foreign policy debate consisted of the latter calling for a more interventionist posture, declaring "the United States is now the natural leader of the world," and demanding that the U.S. "step up to the plate, just like we did in World War II" – while the future progenitor of the relentlessly aggressive "Bush Doctrine" averred: "I'm not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say this is the way it's got to be."
When it comes to foreign policy, America's political leaders play a game of bait and switch – and the American people get taken in every time. Not that I'm blaming the victims of this ongoing fraud: after all, repressive ballot access laws limit our choices, and the great majority of congressional seats are shamelessly gerrymandered and therefore generally "safe" for one party or the other. In any case, the Congress of the United States has long since abandoned its constitutional duty to deal with matters of war and peace and given over its vital oversight function to lobbyists, both foreign and domestic. This has led to what is a curious conundrum for our supposedly "democratic" paradise. The American people – notoriously "isolationist," i.e., sympathetic to a foreign policy of minding our own business – are overwhelmingly opposed to the warmongering of our political elites. While voters certainly don't support the Republican stance of "staying the course" in Iraq, if the polls are to be believed they also reject the vaguely open-ended commitment embodied by the Levin proposal.
Which is why Sen. John McCain's contribution to the debate seems so… odd. The all-but-declared presidential candidate and fervent war-hawk declared:
"Drawdowns must be based on conditions in-country, not an arbitrary deadline rooted in our domestic politics."
Why must "drawdowns" be predicated on "conditions" in every country other than the United States? Is not the threat of bankruptcy, not to mention the moral bankruptcy engendered by this increasingly brutal war, at least equal in importance to the alleged benefits of "regime change" in Outer Slobbovia? And those are just a few of the many questions raised by McCain's complaint: one wonders, for example, what sort of "domestic politics" it is that completely ignores the will of the people. And one can't help but proffer that, indeed, domestic politics did play a key role in pushing us, kicking and screaming, down the path to war.
The War Party lobbied for war, and an important component of that effort was what John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt call "the Lobby," i.e., Israel's amen corner in the U.S. The Lobby's tremendous political and financial resources were brought to bear in an effort to minimize the risks and magnify the alleged threats – without regard for any reasonable interpretation of America's national interests. Instead, the U.S. military was – and is – being used to cleanse the Middle East of Israel's Arab and Persian enemies and extend the Jewish state's influence as far from the Promised Land as Kurdistan.
This view is increasingly accepted in U.S. military and academic circles, while the mainstream media won't touch it with a 10-foot pole – yet it explains the sort of "domestic politics" that got us where we are today. How is it that the American people are so far removed from the views of their rulers on the question of the war? The reason is because of the amazing success of the Lobby in circumventing popular antiwar sentiment and molding the mindset of our craven elites.
Speaking of Mearsheimer and Walt, they appeared at a forum at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, along with a number of other speakers, and Mearsheimer had this to say about a question concerning the proper "path to success in Iraq":
"I remember once in English [at West Point] class we read Albert Camus's book The Plague. I didn't know what The Plague was about or why we were reading it. But afterwards the instructor explained to us that The Plague was being read because of the Vietnam War. What Camus was saying in The Plague was that the plague came and went of its own accord. All sorts of minions ran around trying to deal with the plague, and they operated under the illusion that they could affect the plague one way or another. But the plague operated on its own schedule. That is what we were told was going on in Vietnam. Every time I look at the situation in Iraq today, I think of Vietnam, and I think of The Plague, and I just don't think there's very much we can do at this point. It is just out of our hands. There are forces that we don't have control over that are at play, and will determine the outcome of this one. I understand that's very hard for Americans to understand, because Americans believe that they can shape the world in their interests.
"But I learned during the Vietnam years when I was a kid at West Point, that there are some things in the world that you just don't control, and I think that's where we're at in Iraq."
A plague does not arise out of thin air: it is carried by a bacillus of some sort, a viral agent, a spore – an alien intruder that penetrates the body's natural defenses, wreaks havoc, and sometimes causes death. Oh, that there was some treatment – a vaccine, perhaps, that would repair the body politic's immune system, and neutralize the antibody-destroying infection that renders us helpless before foreign influences.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Wednesday's column, "Odyssey to America," elicited an unprecedented response from readers: the letters are still coming in, but surely by now we've topped 100. We have also raised some $2,000 toward Adil's legal fees – and that's not counting the contributions coming in by snail mail. This is nothing short of wonderful – I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. A very grateful – and amazed – young man is now beginning to experience an entirely new conceptual framework: it's called hope. NOTE: This fundraising appeal is entirely my own project, and has no connection to Antiwar.com.
This money doesn't quite cover the total cost of making an application for asylum in the U.S., which is – at a minimum – around $4000. If you haven't already, I suggest you go read "Odyssey to America," and then decide whether you want to make a difference – a big difference – in one person's life. And, yes, the movie rights are for sale – and I want to take this opportunity to publicly offer Keanu Reeves the leading role.