I had to laugh when I saw the headline on Antiwar.com: "US Announces Second Fake End to Iraq War." Yes, I did indeed get a rush of déjà-vu as I listened to Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow solemnly describe "the end" of the "combat mission" in Iraq, and Richard Engel pontificate as the cameras zoomed in on the "last" convoy over the border to Kuwait. Occasionally, however, reality would intrude, as Rachel noted the broadcast could be interrupted at any time by a sudden attack, and there would be no time to explain to viewers what was happening. It was Olbermann who openly referred to Bush’s "Mission Accomplished" moment, and wondered if perhaps this wasn’t a re-run: I’ll bet he got in plenty of trouble for that little crack. As Engel interviewed a couple of disinterested looking grunts about their innermost thoughts at "this historic moment," I thought: from "shock and awe" to schlock and yawn.
This farcical "withdrawal," which amounts to merely increasing the number of mercenaries in the region, is a complete fabrication, motivated by pure politics and an infinite faith in the cluelessness of the Average Joe, who is too busy looking for a job to care. As to what they’ll do when the insurgency starts to rise again, not to worry: no one will notice but the soldiers in the field. Surely the American media won’t be so rude as to point it out, unless the Green Zone goes up in flames and they have to evacuate stragglers by helicopter as they did in Vietnam. In that case, the visuals would be too good to pass up.
Everything that comes out of this administration, from its pronouncements on the overseas front to its own unemployment numbers, is a lie: it’s all lies, all the time. Even in small matters, the default is a fib, such as in the case of the Pentagon’s denial that it was ever in touch with WikiLeaks about minimizing the alleged damage done by the next Afghanistan document dump. After all, why would WikiLeaks make up such a story? The feds just want the documents "expunged," thank you. I doubt they really believe it’s possible to "expunge" the Afghan war logs from the internet. If so, they are dumber than anyone has so far imagined. And so much for the myth that the Pentagon really cares about any danger to Afghan informants, who might be compromised by the release of more documents: Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have given them their chance to safeguard the identities of US collaborators, and the Pentagon flat out rejected it. So be it.
The feds hate WikiLeaks because they exposed the lies this administration has been putting out about how the war is going just fine: the true number of casualties, and the toll on innocent civilians, is online for all to see, and there’s more coming. Now, no one but the naïve and the bought-off expects government officials to tell the truth: no one is surprised to discover George Washington’s heirs did indeed cut down the cherry tree, and tried to cover it up. However, I’m old enough to be shocked by the "reporting" in the news media that takes this "the war is over" narrative seriously.
That’s why we keep getting into these wars – we don’t really have an independent media. When they aren’t cavorting with Rahm Emanuel on the beach, they’re in front of the cameras repeating the most outrageous lies with a straight face. This is a very big problem, because only an informed citizenry can check the power of government, especially in the foreign policy realm. If Americans don’t know what their own government is doing overseas, then there’s not much hope for a more peaceful foreign policy.
This journalistic vacuum is the reason for the rise of sites like WikiLeaks, and Antiwar.com. We have tried to fill it as best we can, but we are not a large operation: the real reporting that needs to be done can hardly be said to exist. The reason is that the Fourth Estate has simply become the handmaiden of the State – and they’re even, in these hard times, talking openly about receiving government subsidies. But haven’t they been on the take, in one form or another, for as long as anyone can remember? A government bailout of the news business would merely formalize a preexisting condition.
Speaking of liars, we don’t hear much from the neocons, these days, at least when it comes to Iraq. Keeping in mind their original scenario of a "domino effect" from the invasion spreading out over the entire region, with pro-American revolutions toppling Arab tyrannies left and right, it never happened: what did happen is that we got sucked down into the Iraqi sinkhole, and just barely managed to extricate ourselves with the remnants of our dignity intact.
So we are spared the cries of the neocons that the "revolution" has been "betrayed" by Obama. The party line is that the "surge" worked, and we won, although the shape of "victory" – a dysfunctional, violence-plagued, perpetually decomposing Iraq – isn’t anything close to their original vision of a "liberated" Middle East. So they can be for the fake "withdrawal," and, in any case, they’re just happy to have gotten away with their crimes in the first place, lying us into war with phony "intelligence," and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis as a blood sacrifice to the war god. "Mission accomplished," as they say.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Along with having no real media, we are burdened with an even more onerous condition: the complete absence of a real antiwar movement. Instead, we have periodic peace crawls dominated by various professional lefties whose main concern is not actually stopping the war but advancing their own little political agendas, whether it be freeing Mumia What’s-his-name, advancing the cause of "the workers," or whatever.
These people are living fossils seeking to reenact the best moments of their lives: the 1960s, when mass demonstrations against the Vietnam war forced the US government to withdraw. Back then, it was fashionable to be a commie, and the only question was what flavor: Maoist, Castroite/Guevarist, Third World Stalinist, or – for lovers of the exotic – Trotskyist. When the New Left crashed and burned, self-destructing in an orgy of sectarianism and violence, the fashionistas moved on to greener pastures and only a few remnants persisted. These were absorbed by the Old Left, whose hollowed-out organizations survive to this day, ghosts from the 1930s who haunt every antiwar conference and event, selling their little newspapers and arguing mostly among themselves.
One such sect is the quasi-Trotskyist group known as "Socialist Action," with whom I’ve conducted a not always very polite series of polemics: their latest riposte is an exercise in self-citation, in which the author quotes extensively from his own newspaper’s account of the debate, and merely summarizes the accusations of his comrades: I’m one of those terrible "right-wingers," whose intellectual history of the anti-interventionist movement features an introduction by none other than the sinister Pat Buchanan. Horrors! They fail to note, however, that this web site has been endorsed by Dan Ellsberg, perhaps because it doesn’t fit into their cramped left-right worldview. They point to my monthly column for Chronicles magazine, a voice of paleoconservatism, as proof of my wickedness, and yet I’ve also been published in Mother Jones magazine, and been lauded by Alex Cockburn. My agenda, they aver, is "anti-gay," which seems strange, when you think about, since I am gay. But never mind, because all this playground banter is really not the point: what I want to know is why Socialist Action is running away from their own political heritage.
The Socialist Action grouplet is one of the shards of the old Socialist Workers Party, which was once the main Trotskyist party in the US and the biggest in the world. During the 1960s, the SWPers were a force to be reckoned with within the antiwar movement, because they were, in large part, responsible for its enormous impact. This was due to their strategic focus, which was the construction of a single issue movement to end the Vietnam war. They fought every attempt by left-sectarians to hijack the movement and divert it from its central purpose, and often won: this laser-like focus made possible the truly massive nationwide antiwar protests, which eventually made prosecution of the war politically impossible.
In the 1980s, the SWP was taken over by a weirdo named Jack Barnes, who threw the "old Trotskyism" overboard, embraced Fidel Castro, and purged a good 40% of the membership, including the founders of Socialist Action. Although the party had managed to recruit a lot of new members from the antiwar movement, and other movements, the SWP withered soon after that, and dwindled into an insignificant cult.
Before that happened, however, I worked with the SWP in the San Francisco Bay Area as a member of Students for a Libertarian Society, in the campaign against the Briggs Initiative, a state referendum which, if it had passed, would have banned gay teachers from the public schools. The single-issue orientation was still in operation, and socialists and libertarians did some good and necessary political work defending our civil liberties against government intrusion. They sold their newspapers, and pushed their doctrine, and we pushed ours: the anti-Briggs coalition was a free market of competing ideologies, but we were united in action when it came to fighting Briggs.
What I want to know is this: why was this single-issue strategy of the Socialist Workers Party wrong? After all, most of the members of Socialist Action were SWP members at the time this strategy was carried out. Why was it good then, and bad today?
Far from "red-baiting" and seeking to alienate the left, I’m truly trying to engage in a real dialogue with those leftists in the antiwar movement who see that there’s a problem, that something isn’t working and needs to be fixed. I’ve seen some evidence that this is possible in the writings of Kevin Zeese, of Voters for Peace, and also in the analysis of Louis Proyect, whose "Unrepentant Marxist" blog is thoughtful and interesting. Unrepentant Marxists, yes – unrepentant sectarians, not so much.
MORE NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I have five minutes to turn this column in, and what can I say about our autumn fundraising drive in such a short amount of time? "Help!" comes to mind. We are really on the edge, right now – of either success, or failure. Which will it be? At this point, I honestly don’t know: it could go either way. So please, make it go the right way: give today.