The other day, when Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) suggested that it’s time for George W. Bush to form a “war cabinet,” everybody knew what he had in mind. Rumors of Donald Rumsfeld’s departure from the Department of Defense were (and are) rife, and it was clear Lieberman was proposing himself as a replacement. Aside from the brazenly self-promotional aspect of this gambit, however, there is the rhetorical conceit of pretending that we’re in the position of Britain during the blitz. This is so typical of the neoconservative vocabulary of crisis-mongering that it has evolved into an ideological tic: their response to any criticism, any deviation from their totalist conception of the “war on terrorism,” is an outraged cry: “Don’t you know there’s a war on?” Lieberman resorted to this tack most recently upon returning from his latest visit to Iraq, whereupon he announced:
Lieberman’s op-ed piece for the War Street Journal was more royalist than the king when it comes to Iraq, making absolutely no concessions to reality: according to him,
“It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who want to live lives of freedom, opportunity, and prosperity and roughly 10,000 terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists, or al-Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq becomes free and modern. The terrorists are intent on stopping this by instigating a civil war to produce the chaos that will allow Iraq to replace Afghanistan as the base for their fanatical war-making. We are fighting on the side of the 27 million .”
Lieberman, like the rest of his fellow neocons, is living in a fantasy world. Of those 27 million Iraqis he keeps invoking, the overwhelming majority want us out. As to the nature of the insurgency, even the president recognizes that some, perhaps a good number, represent nationalist forces who simply resent the occupation: Lieberman, however, disdains them all as “terrorists,” “revanchists,” and “Islamic extremists.” To blame the insurgents alone for the civil war is to blank out the reality of Shi’ite death squads striking in the south and central regions of Iraq, instituting a veritable reign of terror; it is to ignore Kurdish ultra-nationalists intent on driving Arabs off their land. Lieberman somehow fails to mention any of this.
A recent speech is more nuanced: sure, there were “errors,” says Lieberman and, yes, it was “a war of choice,” but now it’s a “war of necessity” and we all have to unite behind Our Dear Leader don’t you know there’s a war on?
He even invokes the ghost of Arthur Vandenberg, the Republican former anti-interventionist who was literally seduced into supporting FDR’s drive to war. The Democrats, according to Lieberman’s logic, must be 21st-century Vandenbergs: Politics, as the turncoat Vandenberg put it, must “stop at the water’s edge.”
What this really means, and always has meant, is that all debate must end: it’s okay, as Lieberman says, to discuss “tactics,” but the fundamental premise that we must be in the business of “regime change” throughout the Middle East and the world must never be challenged. This is Lieberman’s niche in the neocon division of labor: he exists to quash any and all signs of dissent that might crop up in the Democratic Party when it comes to foreign policy. He is, in effect, charged with policing the party for any signs of dreaded “isolationism.”
Not that he represents any sizable constituency: among all the Democrats competing in the 2000 presidential primary, he had the least support and his speeches, invariably delivered in that sleepy, somewhat loopy monotone of his, were seemingly designed to bore the opposition to tears and leave them desperate to withdraw from the entire process lest they have to listen to another one of his soporific perorations.
Apart from the rarefied reaches of the Democratic Leadership Council and the laughably pretentious blog of neocon-turned-Democrat Marshall “The Moose” Wittmann, Lieberman’s position commands zero support in the Democratic Party nationally. What the neocons are hoping, however, is that he can hold the fort long enough to delay if not entirely stop a real debate from breaking out over this country’s foreign policy giving the War Party time to escalate the war and strike out beyond Iraq’s borders.
The New York Daily News is reporting that Rummy is history as soon as the Iraqi elections put a government in place, and while there has been no decision about his replacement as yet, word is out that Lieberman is really in the running. We are now being told that Lieberman was offered the post of UN representative, thought about it for a week or so, and finally said no: we got John Bolton instead. It had to be some kind of neocon, after all, since the UN figures prominently in the War Party’s future plans (see my recent column on Syria). In any case, Lieberman is once again doing a tango with the Bush administration, and this led one “Senate Democratic source” cited by the Daily News to aver, “Lieberman seems to be coordinating his statements on the war with the White House.”
Whether Lieberman is calling up the White House and strategizing with Karl Rove is a matter of pure conjecture, but we know for a fact that the Connecticut Democrat is the co-chairman of the Committee on the Present Danger. This is a group of prominent (and not so prominent) neocons and their hangers-on, the same ones who, quoting Churchill, pointed to Iraq as some kind of mortal threat in the run-up to war. Ever since 9/11, these folks have been invoking the ominous onset of what Present Dangerite R. James Woolsey calls “World War IV.” To the neocons, it is always 1938, and Hitler or, rather, his latest incarnation is forever threatening to crush us beneath his iron-heeled boot, if only we are foolish enough to kneel and let him place it on our collective neck.
Yet Hitler commanded a modern army of millions, presided over a continental economy, and conquered nearly the whole of Europe as well as portions of Africa and the Middle East, occupying much of the Eurasian landmass. His allies dominated East Asia, the Balkans, and the Iberian peninsula. Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is an underground conspiracy that cannot encompass more than a few thousand active members, at most. Osama bin Laden is not a head of state, but the leader of a worldwide guerrilla insurgency: he has no allies among the Arab or Muslim governments, as he has explicitly pledged to overthrow them all. The kind of war we must fight against this sort of enemy is very different from what we faced in 1938, and yet the neocons, old soldiers all (albeit not of the uniformed type), are preparing to fight the last war.
The War Party brays on about “victory” and how nothing less than that must be our goal but their strategy is a prescription for defeat. They fail to recognize either the nature of the enemy or the real cause of the war, and their hubris allows them to entertain the idea that we can somehow by sheer force of arms transform an entire region of the world that has never known democracy or recognized the concept of human rights. That’s how powerful we supposedly are.
Horse hockey. It can’t be done, and it won’t be done: we’ll be lucky to get out of there with a minimum of 5,000 dead if we begin pulling out right this minute. If we don’t, we’ll lose. It’s as simple as that. Howard Dean is being excoriated for saying as much, and he’s now backtracking, but he was right the first time: our troops are sitting ducks waiting to get knocked off in the crossfire of a developing civil war. I said that and wrote that years ago, as did other opponents of this war. We were ignored. The war went forward. But the argument didn’t end there: it was only just beginning. It didn’t matter that the “mainstream” media paid no attention to our arguments, as correct as we were. In the end, events not the major networks, not Meet the Press, not the Washington punditocracy decided, and opponents of this war were proved right. (At what cost? It makes me ill to think about it).
Like those old-line Marxists who have made a number of rather unconvincing arguments explaining why socialism failed so miserably it “degenerated,” it was never really tried, it was all Lenin’s fault (or Stalin’s, or Gorbachev’s) the neocons are busy inventing rationales for the failure of their world-conquering strategy of imposing “democracy” at gunpoint. Oh, they’ll say that we the antiwar movement were responsible: they’re already saying it. We “undermined” the war effort: we made the U.S. “cut and run.” But this is akin to a madman standing on the edge of a precipice, insisting on his power of flight. When he plunges to his death several hundred feet below, are those innocent bystanders who failed to dissuade him really to blame?
The rumors of a Lieberman defection to a Republican administration are designed to create a firewall between the Democratic leadership, which is overwhelmingly pro-war and historically interventionist, and the antiwar grassroots. The prospect of losing Lieberman is supposed to put Democrats in a panic and push them back into their “national security Democrats” mode as in that disgraceful national convention that nominated John Kerry but the reasoning behind this scared-rabbit mentality is seriously skewed. Lieberman’s position on Iraq is opposed by a clear majority of voters, and the political isolation of the stay-the-coursers grows by the day. The senator from Connecticut is a liability, not an asset: that was true during the 2000 presidential election campaign, and it is even truer today.
Lieberman is the Democrats’ Cheney. They even sound alike: the plodding, colorless delivery, the fearless reiteration of long-debunked “facts,” the oblivious tone that imbues their public pronouncements with a dreamlike, almost surrealistic quality. These two sound alike because they’re both drinking the same neocon Kool-Aid.
Lieberman, for the moment, is denying everything, and his aides claim that he’s concentrating on his reelection to the Senate as well he might. Lowell Weicker is already threatening to run against him as a third-party antiwar candidate, and the leader of the pro-war faction of the Democratic Party will be lucky if he gets to keep his Senate seat. Perhaps he realizes that and views joining Bush’s “war cabinet” as his only honorable out.
In any case, wars always rearrange the political landscape: liberals become conservatives and internationalists become “isolationists” (and vice versa), and people switch parties, break old allegiances, and craft new alliances. If Lieberman goes, it is just the beginning of a political seismic shift that is bound to shake up both parties. We may never have peace, but we will have clarity.