Benchmarks and Bullsh*t

by , May 15, 2007

The news I have for "netroots" types and Huffington Post liberals who see the Democratic Party as the major if not only hope for the antiwar movement can be summed up in two words: forget it. Majority leader Sen. Harry Reid recently let the cat out of the bag when he said, "There is new reason this week to believe that a bipartisan consensus on Iraq is emerging."

Translation: the sellout is coming, if it isn’t already here.

American voters sent a clear message to Washington last November when they voted to put an ostensibly antiwar Democratic Congress in power: they told pollsters the war was the big issue, and, furthermore, they wanted out of Iraq. They voted Democratic not because they suddenly believed that party would end "the culture of corruption" – which is a very bipartisan phenomenon, and voters aren’t dumb enough to believe otherwise – but because they took seriously Democratic promises to get us out of Iraq. Before the election, leading Democrats called for a timetable aiming at complete "redeployment" of U.S. troops out of Iraq: immediately after the election, however, the Dems capitulated to the "surge" (even as their "antiwar" rhetoric waxed louder). Last week the House voted down a measure that would have withdrawn the troops in nine months. If you follow the link you’ll see that Madam Speaker allowed the withdrawal vote "in the hope that her rank-and-file would then unite behind the funding bill" – a two-part bill that would release some $48 billion initially and then schedule a summertime vote to appropriate $52.8 billion more to cover expenses until the end of September.

The White House has threatened to veto the two-part funding ploy but coupled this with an offer to negotiate on the Benchmark Question. All eyes are now on the Senate, reports the Christian Science Monitor, "where majority leader Harry Reid and White House officials have been hunkered down in secret negotiations. Last week, Bush said he had empowered White House negotiators ‘to find common ground on benchmarks.’"

Caught between the Democratic Party’s antiwar base and the War Party’s control of the reins of power in Washington, Pelosi and Reid have been walking a tightrope between the two, but their balancing act is increasingly untenable. Pressure from the ranks of groups such as MoveOn.org – whose leadership initially colluded with the Democratic sellout – has forced a turnaround, and the MoveOners have now issued an ultimatum of sorts to the Dems in the form of an open letter: they’re threatening to move "into opposition"!

Ralph Nader, you have a call on line one…

The president is now holding out the bait of "benchmarks" to increasingly restive Republicans in Congress who are looking at the oncoming antiwar voter tsunami with something approaching panic, and the Democrats will in all likelihood fall for it – with a sigh of relief. After all, Reid and Pelosi have been looking for a way to fund the war without seeming to own it, to prosecute a conflict and yet take no responsibility for it – and now, finally, they may have hit on the perfect formula.

The benchmark delusion was first perpetrated by the Democrats, you’ll remember: it was an aspect of the House bill that would have made release of funds conditional given the fulfillment of a whole brace of benchmarks. The only problem was that each and every one of them could be unilaterally waived by the president. Why Bush didn’t accept this I’ll never understand: methinks he’s reconsidered, and it’s a good move. Now he can say he’s compromised, the Republicans who are taking incoming fire back home in their districts will be given some political cover, and the Democrats (and I include MoveOn.org in this partisan category) can tout this as a concrete legislative "achievement" for the party of peace.

And the war will go on, just as before. Nothing will change. Nothing but the number of dead and wounded, both Iraqi and American – the former rising in much larger numbers than the latter, of course. The extended deployments will be extended yet further, and the war – this futile, unjust, morally indefensible war of conquest – will drag on.

In voting down the nine-month withdrawal bill, the Democrats acquired part-ownership of this war – and in moving to endorse the final funding bill, they are becoming full partners with the GOP in the annexation of Iraq to the American empire. That’s what these famous benchmarks are all about: they are essentially instructions to the Iraqis, telling them what they must do before the funding spigot gets turned on. The benchmarks dictate to the Iraqis how they will "reform" the process of "de-Ba’athification," how they will divvy up their oil resources, and when and how to hold local elections, among other things.

Of course, the Iraqi parliament could always vote down the American diktat, but then there would be no money forthcoming – including, as Hillary Clinton has proposed, no money to protect our Iraqi sock puppets from their countrymen, who consider them collaborators and traitors. Under the circumstances, it doesn’t take much of a tug on the leash to bring the Iraqi leaders into line. This is how the Americans conduct their battle for "hearts and minds" – by making local satraps so widely and deeply despised that they are totally dependent on their Washington overlords for their sheer physical survival. The real "benchmark" the Iraqis have to display to the Americans’ satisfaction is an infinite capacity for obedience.

While Congress dickers, both "major" parties are entering a deal in which they become equal partners in empire. The "benchmarks" bill, coupled with the "surge," will seal this agreement in blood.

MoveOn.org is running antiwar television ads in Republican-held swing districts – but will they run those same ads in the districts of the 59 Democrats who voted against the nine-month withdrawal plan? Don’t hold your breath.

The Democratic Party is not about to end this war. Far from ending it, they seek to organize and formalize the occupation. Their "compromise" spending bill signs them on to constructing a viable colonial administration based on a two-tiered system of administration – with the Iraqi legislature rubber-stamping decisions made in Washington and the money flowing in at the same speed as the Iraqis carry out their orders. Four years after "mission accomplished," the nature of the mission – the carving out of an American province in the heart of the Middle East – is all too apparent.

The U.S. is embarked on an openly imperial venture, and the structure of a rising American Empire is taking shape before our eyes. It’s a fantastic castle with many rooms and antechambers all leading to the seat of power, the imperial throne-room of the Oval Office. Here, at the very apex of the imperial pyramid, the most powerful man on earth contemplates his next move, while his co-emperor, who holds court in an undisclosed location, whispers in his ear: Iran.

The Democrats will go along with that one, too. Madam Speaker agreed to strip a provision from the Iraq funding bill that would have required the president to come to Congress before launching an attack. Indeed, none of the major Democratic candidates have ruled out attacking Iran. The loudest voice against such a move has come from among the Republicans. Rep. Ron Paul, who recently made such a splash in the GOP presidential debates, has warned of the possibility of a new Gulf-of-Tonkin type "incident" that would draw us into war with Tehran and ignite a regional conflict.

Democrats are in favor of all sorts of warning labels on products, right? I propose a warning label be placed over Democratic Party headquarters in Washington, especially directed at antiwar voters, which simply says "ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE!"

What is needed is not just a revision of our Iraq policy, or our Iran policy, or even our Middle East policy. We need to reevaluate – and, yes, reverse – our entire foreign policy from top to bottom, starting with its central premise, which is that we must be the dominant military and political power on the planet. Neither of the major parties is prepared to do this: since World War II, both the Democrats and the Republicans have been explicitly committed to a foreign policy of global intervention, and this bipartisan consensus has been maintained right up to the present day. After 9/11, this messianic tendency in American foreign policy metastasized like a cancer cell and gave birth to the neoconservative mutation, which seized control of the policy-making apparatus in Washington.

As Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan put it in their 1996 foreign policy manifesto, a founding document of the neoconservative foreign policy platform, the new American imperialism is to be a "benevolent global hegemony." For the first time, the real nature of the bipartisan consensus, with its emphasis on "internationalism" and America’s role as the "world leader," was made consistent and explicit. While disagreeing over means, both parties generally agree on the proper ends of U.S. foreign policy: global military dominance by the U.S.

This goal is simply not attainable, and, even if it were, it is unsustainable – and, even if it were sustainable for any significant length of time, it would not be desirable. World hegemony, "benevolent" or otherwise, is not so much a policy as a megalomaniacal fantasy, a symptom of an underlying sickness that has infected the minds of our rulers – an illness that can only end in madness, death, and mayhem on a scale not seen since the last world war.

The cure is not to be found in partisan politics or in the wishful thinking of Hollywood liberals who invest their hopes in whatever rising star in the Democratic political firmament is fashionable at the moment. The only antidote is a third-party effort to expose and defeat both wings of the War Party and hold them to account. A nationwide antiwar electoral campaign pledged to defeat all pro-war members of Congress – especially Democrats– and actively campaign against all pro-war candidates for president would do much to set the stage for a complete cure.

Before that is possible, however, grassroots activists must lose their illusions about the Democratic Party – and recognize the necessity of defeating pro-war Democrats, not just in primaries but in the general election. The third-party option must be considered, and this will separate those whose first loyalty is to the Democrats from those whose allegiance is to the cause of peace.

Let’s separate the wheat from the chaff, the "benchmarks" from the bullsh*t, and the partisan hacks from the healthy body of the antiwar movement. Because ending this war isn’t a partisan issue – it’s a moral imperative.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I know we’ve been hectoring you all week about the fundraising drive, and I’m going to unashamedly continue doing so here. I realize the economy isn’t in all that great a shape and that we’re all straining to make ends meet – but surely you can find your way to making a contribution to our spring fundraising drive if you haven’t already done so.

Antiwar.com is unique in that it represents the noninterventionist point of view without regard to party or formal ideology: left, right, center, and beyond, we are nonpartisan and above the left-right divide when it comes to appraising U.S. foreign policy. Republicans, Democrats, neocons, and liberals – all come in for their knocks in our opinion pages. And there is no better compendium of solid news about world events on the Internet. Timely, trenchant, and impressively comprehensive – the world is our purview, and we cover it thoroughly.

We’ve been bringing you the news of the War Party’s plans, and incisive – often prescient – criticism of their policies, since 1995. I find it very hard to believe that we’re going to have to make cutbacks at a time like this: when the threat of a regional conflict in the Middle East has never been greater, and the American hegemon has its eye on fresh victims, beyond Iraq, including not only Iran but also Syria, and the nations of Central Asia. Not to mention NATO’s recent incursions into Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, which threaten to restart the Cold War with Russia.

In short, the threat to the peace of the world has never been greater, and yet, paradoxically, I don’t think we’ve ever had a more difficult fundraising campaign than the present one. It could be the economy or the presidential sweepstakes – with the latter competing for donations with us. To which I can only say put not your faith in politicians. Knowledge is the precondition of any action, especially political action – and spreading knowledge, the real facts about the nature and motivations of US foreign policy, is what Antiwar.com is all about.

So c’mon, let’s get the contributions coming in. We don’t want to have to make cutbacks at a crucial time like this. Instead, we should be expanding our operations, but only you can help put us over the top. We need $70,000 to keep going, and unless we make our goal you will see big cutbacks, and soon. Cutbacks in our coverage, and perhaps even cutbacks in the frequency of his column. Who knows?

What I do know is this: Antiwar.com has been doing its job, and damned well at that, since 1995. We’ve survived on donations from our readers and supporters that average under $50. What we need isn’t much – but we need every penny of that $70,000 if we’re going to maintain our present level of operations. So contribute today – as much as you can as soon as you can. Antiwar.com’s very survival depends on it.

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