The Better Part of Valor

The new poll numbers on Iraq are in, and they mark a new level of discontent: a majority of Americans now favor setting a date certain for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Fifty-six percent don’t care if order is reestablished before the withdrawal begins: they just want out. As for the president’s defiant "surge" strategy, more than two-thirds are opposed. In spite of these expressions of popular opposition to our foreign policy of relentless aggression, however, the two "major" political parties refuse to budge: both the Democrats and Republicans voted for this war, and they seem unwilling, in nearly equal measure, to reevaluate what Gen. William E. Odom calls the biggest strategic blunder in American military history.

Yes, yes, I know – the Democrats are ostensibly opposed to the war, at least most of them, and they were given a clear mandate by the voters to take some sort of action to get us out of Iraq. And yet – and yet…

The Democrats have been dancing around the idea of defunding the war without having the cojones to come out and propose it. Instead, they have been dickering around with non-starters like the Murtha plan, which, as the Washington Post puts it, makes a whole new set of rules about how and when U.S. soldiers could be deployed:

"To be sent to battle, troops would have to have had a year’s rest between combat tours. Soldiers in Iraq could not have their tours extended beyond a year there. And the Pentagon’s ‘stop-loss’ policy, which prevents some officers from leaving the military when their service obligations are up, would end. Troops would have to be trained in counterinsurgency and urban warfare and be sent overseas with the equipment they used in training."

What gets me is that the advocates of Murtha-ism – a philosophy that apparently is founded on the idea that indirection is the better part of valor – aren’t being half as pragmatic and hardheaded as they imagine themselves to be. In reality, they are being laughably naïve if they really believe this would be a move of Machiavellian smoothness that would effectively bring the war to a close. The truth is that the Murtha plan would lay the basis for the generation of yet another "stabbed in the back" mythology to go along with a similar narrative pushed by the neocons regarding the Vietnam War. Ending the "stop-loss" outrage is long overdue, but the rest of Murtha’s proposal is absurd: why not just require U.S. soldiers to fight with one hand tied behind their backs and be done with it?

If this legislation passes, then the War Party will have a legitimate – or, at least, a quasi-credible – basis for the contention that they weren’t given the resources to win the war. Fortunately, the Murtha plan never got off the ground. But you have to see where it originated as a political calculation geared specifically to Murtha’s own politics, and in long-standing suspicions that the Democrats are "anti-military." Murtha is a longtime friend of the military-industrial complex, and a great deal of his campaign contributions come from arms manufacturers. Not only that, but the gruff-voiced ex-Marine has a popular image as a "soldier-legislator." He is the embodiment of the Democrats’ rhetorical comeback to the GOP slander that Murtha and other antiwar congressmen don’t support the troops. Murtha’s proposal is entirely geared to countering this canard, yet it is undermined by its own defensiveness. It is also entirely political, and too clever by half – all calculation and no common sense. A measure clearly motivated by a desire to show support for the troops, rather than the policy, winds up looking like it disarms our soldiers as the battle rages around them.

Opponents of the war must take a more direct approach. Polls show that for the first time the majority of Americans support a definite timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, and this should simplify matters considerably. Congress has to set a date certain, beyond which funds will be unavailable for military operations in Iraq. Period.

Furthermore, we need a moratorium on certain words while engaging in this debate over how to get out of Iraq. To begin with, let’s hear no more talk of "benchmarks." These are supposed to be criteria for "success" that will allow us to withdraw – uh, I mean, "redeploy" – in good conscience. But these "benchmarks" assume the "mission" is worth accomplishing in the first place – an issue on which the American people are decidedly in the "No!" camp (64 percent say the war isn’t worth fighting). Once again, ordinary Americans are way ahead of the politicians – but that’s been true for quite a while now, at least when it comes to the war.

Another word we can do without: "redeploy." This is a euphemism for withdrawal – and a dangerous euphemism, at that. Because it implies that, while we are leaving the immediate vicinity of Iraq, we won’t be going very far. Perhaps only as far as Kurdistan and/or Kuwait and the Gulf states. The clear implication being that, if the Democrats change their minds yet again, we can always re-redeploy back into Baghdad.

No matter how the Democrats try to slice it, the question is: will they continue to fund a war that the American people do not support, and want ended ASAP? So far, unfortunately, the answer seems to be yes.

We keep hearing that this war can’t be won militarily, that what’s needed is a political settlement: but that settlement will have to be forged in Washington, not Iraq. Our war-crazed commander in chief continues to escalate the struggle – killing Iraqis in the name of "liberating" them – and all talk by the majority Democratic Congress of ending the war is just idle chatter as long as they insist on voting to fund it.

We are in for some very dramatic times. With the leading figures in Congress and among the presidential candidates so far from the popular will on the major question of the day – the war – and with major economic problems on the horizon (if Alan Greenspan is right, Tuesday’s huge drop in the stock market may be a hint of things to come), this country could be headed for some major turmoil. Add in a few of the more troubling cultural currents – such as the upswing in inner-city violence and rising crime rates – and I think we are headed for a period that will rival the 1960s as a time of social and political disruption.

The consequences of our foreign policy do not just redound overseas: the political and cultural "blowback" of the Iraq war, and whatever other wars come out of our initial intervention, is already straining the limits of our constitutional form of government, as well as putting tremendous economic pressure on a system that could break down at any moment. We have borrowed our children into penury, and now we’re working on their children, who are going to inherit much less than we had to start with.

With all these rising crises looming, the American Empire promises to be the shortest-lived imperial expansion in world history. After a long and brilliant record as a successful ongoing project in limited government and representative democracy, will the American experiment end in a flashy display of military prowess punctuated by a noisy economic and political implosion?

This country cannot long endure as a cohesive entity while the divide between elite opinion and popular opinion remains so wide and so deep. Such a chasm sets the stage for social and political disorder of the sort that one is used to seeing in banana republics. The great danger is that our Washington-based elites will be rendered so deaf, dumb, and blind when it comes to majority sentiment on matters of great import, such as the war, that they risk not seeing a rising tsunami of anger even as it crests and threatens to wipe them out. And that is a dangerous state of affairs for any republic to be in, because it means that there is no leadership, no men of vision who will lead us out of the dead end of empire and back into the light.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I want to thank everyone who helped put us over the top during our recent fundraising drive. It was a rocky road, but we made it to the end – hurrah! We all know how important Antiwar.com is in these troubled times, when war looms around every bend, and it’s vitally important to keep the banner of peace waving in cyberspace, where Antiwar.com is doing what the "mainstream" media should be doing, but isn’t – keeping an eye on the war plans of our rulers. Thanks to your support, we can and will continue our mission. Our gratitude is extended to each and every one of you who gave.

I want to warn you that fans of political correctness may be shocked – shocked! – by my most recent contribution to Taki Theodoracopulos’ new Web site, Taki’s Top Drawer, but, as they say around my house, isn’t that just tough? Those who don’t have a sense of humor – and, no, I don’t just mean the dour leftists out there – will, I fear, fail to appreciate the spirit in which this was written. But that’s the breaks: the rest of you – enjoy.

Also, for those who will be forever convinced of my "homophobia" on account of the above-mentioned piece, please be advised that my little crusade to get my friend "Adil" asylum in the U.S. has succeeded. He was granted asylum last week and is now waiting for his work permit! Thanks to all of you who contributed to his legal defense fund – and especially to "S." We couldn’t have made it without you.

Read more by Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].