The massive antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C., over the weekend with attendance estimates ranging from 100,000 to 200,000 dramatized what the pollsters already know: the Iraq war is hugely unpopular, and public opposition is increasing by leaps and bounds. The significance of the Sept. 24 march is that the antiwar majority is finally making itself heard.
A recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows 67 percent disapproving of Bush’s "stay the course" policy, up nearly 10 points since the last poll taken in the beginning of September. Half believe Iraq will never become a stable democracy and, by implication, that we’ll be there forever, if George W. Bush and his bipartisan enablers have their way. Sixty-five percent think we’re spending too much on Iraq, and when it comes to policy alternatives increasing troops, keeping the number steady, decreasing the U.S. troop presence, or getting out altogether the results are, respectively, 8, 26, 33, and 30 percent. According to a recent New York Times/CBS poll, half say the invasion was a mistake.
The NYT/CBS poll breaks responses down along party lines, and the results are pretty astounding:
Republicans who want to increase the troops level: 12 percent Democrats, 8 percent. The super hawks are (1) a tiny minority, and (2) not noticeably partisan one way or the other.
Republicans who want troop levels to remain the same: 41 percent Democrats, 15 percent. This shows how out of touch with their base the Democrats are: most Democratic members of Congress would take the majority Republican position.
Republicans who want to decrease the number of U.S. troops in Iraq: 29 percent Democrats, 29 percent.
So it isn’t a partisan issue. Sure, there are plenty of stay-the-coursers in GOP ranks who reflexively support the president, but a significant number want to begin the process of withdrawal. This is pretty much the same position as taken by Rep. Walter B. Jones, a Republican member of Congress from a district in North Carolina that has at least four military bases. Rep. Jones, you’ll remember, led the effort to rename French fries "Freedom Fries" on the Capitol cafeteria menu because Paris didn’t sign on to the invasion of Iraq. Jones has now turned against the war and is co-sponsoring a resolution "Homeward Bound" that would begin withdrawing our troops starting in October 2006.
Republicans who want to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq right now: 11 percent Democrats, 45 percent. Here we have the biggest partisan gap, but still the number of "out now" Republicans is surprising. The amazing fact of the matter is that a full 40 percent of Republicans either want to begin withdrawing or want out altogether right now. The antiwar movement may not know it yet, but Republicans are probably their fastest-growing constituency. Ralph Nader, practically alone among the speakers at the Washington rally, noted this, praising Rep. Jones and making the point that this war is hardly "conservative" in any meaningful sense of the term.
The country has turned decisively against the war. We have reached a tipping point, as I wrote last month, and the rising tide of antiwar sentiment shows no sign of cresting. The water is coming over the levees, but in Washington, D.C., they are oblivious. With gerrymandered congressional districts designed to protect incumbents from the threat of any real electoral challenge, and plenty of money pouring into their coffers from lobbyists foreign and domestic, the War Party rules the roost in the Imperial City, and they think they can afford to ignore the occasional invasion by the antiwar majority.
"There are a lot of people here who are wondering, where are the Democrats?” said Tom Andrews, the director of the Hollywood–centric "Win Without War." This past weekend, the entire Democratic Party leadership fled town, including party chairman Howard Dean once the Great White Hope of Democratic war critics Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and even Russ Feingold, who is positioning himself as the "antiwar" presidential candidate. Knight-Ridder reports the Democrats are "wary" of the antiwar movement, as well they might be considering that it was Bill Clinton who signed the Iraq Liberation Act the legislation that originally authorized action to effect "regime change" in Baghdad with the enthusiastic support of top Democrats.
“The Democratic Party has an identity crisis on this issue," Andrews, a former Democratic congressman from Maine, tells us. "We need voices. We need leadership. But fear is driving them."
Fear of what, or of whom?
It can’t be the voters they fear because the majority, as polls show, would back some variant of an antiwar stance.
It can’t be fear of their Democratic Party base, because, as these same polls show, most Democrats want out now.
And it can’t be the wrath of the mainstream media, which has given sympathetic albeit tardy coverage to the growing antiwar movement.
It is fear of not being considered "serious," of not being the recipient of fat donations from foreign-connected lobbyists, and fear of retribution from the party leadership Democrat, as well as Republican that keeps Congress in line. What is operating, here, is the iron rule of the elites, in government and in the leadership of the two "major" parties who have deemed all talk of withdrawal as "unrealistic." This is what dictates the bipartisan line in Washington, which is that we are in Iraq to stay.
A recent military appropriations bill authorized spending for the construction of permanent bases in Iraq, and the Democratic leadership voted for it. Indeed, if anything, the Democrats want to spend more money on "nation-building" than the Republicans, and are ready and willing to hike taxes in order to do it. This, mind you, would be awfully unpopular, among grassroots Democrats as well as Republicans: 77 percent of all Americans would disapprove of having to pay more in taxes in order to pay for the Iraq war, according to the NYT/CBS poll, while 55 percent don’t want to give up recent tax cuts to foot the bill.
We can’t depend on the mis-leadership of the Democratic Party to get us out of the quagmire. They were in on the Iraq disaster from the beginning, with the Democratic Leadership Council consistently hewing to a hard line, and the Democratic party neocons generally riding roughshod over pro-peace grassroots activists. The convention that nominated John Kerry was a display of unabashed militarism and me-tooism, during which anyone caught with antiwar signs or even buttons was summarily kicked out the door (as happened to Medea Benjamin).
There are signs the antiwar movement is waking up to the Democrats’ perfidy, with Cindy Sheehan going after Hillary on account of the New York senator’s support for the war (which Ms. Clinton describes as "a noble cause"). Far from advocating withdrawal, Senator Clinton has more than once suggested we need to send in more troops. At the San Francisco demonstration, as I noted on the Antiwar.com blog, an entire contingent organized by Code Pink drew attention to Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s consistent support for war funding and other measures that would prolong our presence in Iraq. Awareness is growing, but we need more than that. We need action.
If we now have an antiwar majority in this country, then how is the pro-war minority able to carry it off? Glad you asked. The answer illuminates the mystery of how we got into this mess in the first place.
Remember that this war was the project of a very small and determined minority, the neoconservatives, who, over a decade of dedicated activity including the long, slow "march through the institutions" of the GOP and the Washington national security bureaucracy managed to pull off what Colin Powell (via Bob Woodward) characterized as a de facto coup d’etat. They hijacked American foreign policy and the U.S. government along with it. These characters started out, many of them, in the Democratic Party as supporters of the Henry "Scoop" Jackson wing, itching for a military confrontation with the Soviet Union. It was only later when the Democrats rejected them in the 1970s that the neocons switched to the Republicans, and they still have their foot in both camps: Marshall Wittmann, a former adviser to the Christian Coalition and a youthful member of the Young Peoples Socialist League is now a big wheel at the DLC, along with his belligerently pro-war colleagues at the Progressive Policy Institute, the DLC’s thinktank.
To the neocons, George W. Bush is showing troubling sounds of going wobbly, and people like Wittmann are constantly attacking the president from a more-warmongering-than-thou perspective. If Bush does what Pat Buchanan and Bob Novak predicted a few months ago and starts withdrawing our forces from Iraq, you can bet the Democrats will criticize him for being a "cut-and-run Republican."
That’s how the elite consensus is enforced and maintained: a dynamic tension is created by a two-party pact, ensuring the continuation of a policy that is not only wrong but also a proven failure. Everyone agrees to bow to the naked Emperor and sagely remark on the nobility of his raiment.
There’s just one major problem with this "Emperor’s New Clothes" strategy. Some day, the naked reality of what we have done in Iraq will be brought home even to our blinkered representatives in Washington in a manner both definitive and dramatic. On that day, the stampede will begin, with leaders of both parties straining to distance themselves from disaster.
"Victory has a thousand fathers," said John F. Kennedy, "but defeat is an orphan." Democratic bigwigs think they can ride out the antiwar upsurge and go after the president on purely domestic issues. A Democratic administration will inherit the Iraq-mire, and they don’t want to undermine their position in advance.
After all, if they take the White House, it will suddenly be their war, and the "national security Democrats" will step forward to prosecute it their way more "effectively," perhaps more ferociously.
The dynamic tension that holds the Washington foreign policy elite in thrall and maintains doctrinal rigidity is nowhere near breaking: in spite of growing popular outrage at the heinous costs of this war, both moral and material, the war lords of Washington are defying public opinion and "staying the course." Some, like Democratic House minority leader Pelosi, are even seeking to expand the war by co-sponsoring (with Senator Rick Santorum and the ultra-hawkish Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) the Iran Liberation Act a carbon copy of the Iraq Liberation Act that is little more than a legislative blueprint for war with Tehran.
The neocons of both parties are experts at working the bureaucracy and manipulating the machinery of government and the two parties in order to push their agenda over and above the will of a largely uninformed majority. That’s how they got us into Iraq in the first place, and that’s how they intend to keep us there. Yet they are far from being all-powerful: there are several chinks in their armor, and among them are the checks and balances the Founders wrote into the U.S. Constitution. They cannot seize power for any length of time without the Congress of the United States, which must fund, approve, and oversee the foreign policy pursued by this president and his appointees. They can withhold the money and their approval: they can also see to it that the entire story of the Iraq debacle down to the embarrassing details is exposed to public view.
Saturday’s march on Washington was a gigantic step forward in the campaign to focus public attention on the moral and practical necessity of a quick exit from Iraq. Now we must turn to the more meticulous and far less dramatic task of lobbying our representatives in Congress to take action to end the war. Even less glamorous is the job of educating the American public about how and why we must get out now, before we get dragged into a conflict with Syria, Lebanon (against Hezbollah), or even Iran. The antiwar movement must devote more of its resources to lobbying legislators and directing the ire of citizens increasingly opposed to "staying the course" directly into the phone lines and mailrooms of Capitol Hill.
Through a combination of cajoling, threats, and nasty primary challenges, critics of our interventionist foreign policy in both parties can put pressure on Congress to stop funding and start questioning this rotten war. Such a campaign requires not only money, and plenty of it, but also organization and a strategic orientation centered around concrete results, rather than sermonizing or cheap partisanship. That’s why the multi-issue approach of the ANSWER crowd is so damaging to the antiwar movement. What is required is nothing less than an all-out effort to stop this war before it metastasizes into a regional conflict. The more perfervid neocons are looking forward to what they call "World War IV." At this juncture, the sense that this is an emergency should inform the antiwar movement’s strategists and dictate their every action. Yes, public opinion is moving in our direction, but time is not on our side. How long before a border incident with Syria or Iran extends the war into new territory?
Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. We must redouble our efforts around a single issue of overriding importance: stopping this war before it spreads. As one of the more shameless warmongers among the neocons often exhorts the president: Faster, please.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Antiwar protesters weren’t the only ones taking to the streets of Washington this past weekend. The largely overlooked pro-war movement crawled out of the closet, and it was truly a pathetic sight to see.
While operating most effectively undercover, whispering into the ear of the ruler and passing brazen lies off as "intelligence," at times the necessity of making a public appearance is unavoidable. To counter the effect of the Sept. 24 mobilization, the denizens of the pro-war neocon Right came slithering out of their holes, announcing a rally to be held by a grand coalition of pro-war groups. Averring that "this could easily attract 10,000" people into the streets in support of "staying the course" in Iraq, rally organizers boasted that the Silent Majority was about to be heard. Their Web site, supportthetroopsweekend.org, was announced with much fanfare, and a group set out from the West Coast in self-conscious emulation of Cindy Sheehan’s antiwar tour albeit with one difference: the pro-war traveling sideshow flopped pretty much wherever it went.
Things went downhill from there. The only thing that didn’t go downhill was the predicted turnout from pro-war rally organizers. "Sunday is a very large pro-war event sponsored by family members of servicemen and women, who want to let the world know that Cindy Sheehan does not speak for them," proclaimed Ed McNamara of "Protest Warrior," a group of pro-war provocateurs whose main activity has been trying to incite violence at antiwar events. "Rightmarch," a leading member of the pro-war coalition of neocon front groups, confidently predicted "this promises to be a well-attended, heavily-covered rally."
“We are preparing for as many as 20,000 people, just to be on the safe side,” said Kristinn Taylor of FreeRepublic.com, another member of the coalition of the shilling.
When Sunday came and the rally was scheduled to begin, poor Taylor was left standing there with about 100 people trickling into the rally site. The biggest estimate I have on hand is 400, tops and it looks like Taylor was really very far on the "safe side." There were more than enough empty chairs.
Gee, I almost feel sorry for the guy.
Speaking of sorry, Rightmarch maintains, in a screed directed at their supporters, that their event didn’t come cheap:
"This rally and the events around it, including counter-protests on Friday and Saturday, and Congressional lobbying on Monday is costing us literally tens of thousands of dollars."
These idiots spent thousands of dollars per demonstrator and demonstrated that they’re not the "silent majority," as they stupidly claim, but rather a pathetic and isolated minority that is focused mainly on hating Cindy Sheehan. Good luck trying to build a movement around smearing a mother who has lost her son to an increasingly scary and unpopular war. That’s the neoconservative movement for you: a large head planted atop a body so spindly as to be practically nonexistent.