I fear my readers must think Ive forgotten about Iraq, since I havent written about it in well over a week. Of course it could hardly have slipped my mind I am, after all, editorial director of a web site known as Antiwar.com. However, I must confess not only to weariness concerning the subject, but also to being at a complete loss at what to say, except, perhaps, “I told you so.” Yet, the joys of schadenfreude become obscene when it comes to Iraq: it is hardly appropriate to gloat that you were right as the death toll mounts and a nation descends into chaos.
No writer likes to repeat himself, and yet, after countless columns on the subject, dating from 1999, one cannot help sounding a few familiar notes. The sheer sameness of it all is debilitating: we all read the same headlines every day, we see the news on television, the exploding bombs, the internecine struggle that even the “mainstream” media is now acknowledging is, indeed, a full-fledged civil war, the hapless-yet-brutal Iraqi “government” installed and supported by Washington, the hopeless mess unfolding before our eyes. Yet there isnt much anyone can do about it. The president of the United States is the only man on earth who can stop the waste of Iraq and American lives and treasure, but hes made it clear over and over that he just isnt buying it. Only just this morning I awoke to the news that the prez is not seeking a “graceful exit” from Iraq or, indeed, any kind of exit, Baker Commission or no Baker Commission.
Yes, the U.S. position in Iraq is collapsing: yes, the Iraqi government is imploding: and, yes, the complete cluelessness of our policymakers is readily apparent. Yet none of this matters, in the sense that it will lead to a change in course, since our foreign policy is in the hands of a single individual, the Boy Emperor Bush II. In the realm of foreign policy, the American president is a monarchical figure, whose will cannot be challenged either by Congress or the people. The Founders, of course, never intended this, and would be horrified if they were around to see it: it started with the precedent set by Harry Truman, that intellectual and physical pygmy the Republicans called him the “little haberdasher” who sent U.S. troops to Korea without consulting Congress, and kept them there until they sank in one of the earliest quagmires of the cold war a pit from which we have yet to extricate ourselves.
There is no real political challenge to the president coming from the Democrats, who are more concerned with expanding the welfare state and using the war as a political issue than with actually getting us out of Iraq. Yet even if, by some chance, the Democrats in alliance with whats left of the rational wing of the GOP decided to go on a real political offensive and take decisive action to force an American withdrawal from Iraq, the president would simply utilize his alleged “authority” as commander-in-chief to stay the course.
After all, if the president can, according to the Justice Departments legal theorists, order torture [.pdf], seize people and hold them indefinitely without trial, then surely he isnt going to let a little detail like Congress stand in his way. Let Congress cut off the funds Bush could commandeer them just as Truman tried to nationalize the steel industry in the name of “national security” during the Korean war. The Supreme Court reined in the Little Haberdasher, its true, yet who can tell what these Supremes would do? Not that the Democrats would let it ever get to that point
We are all of us held hostage by this crazed commander-in-chief, whose Napoleonic dreams of empire will be the ruin of us. What to do?
The only way were going to change American foreign policy and get a new direction in this country is if the pro-peace forces get their man in the White House. No, Im not talking about Dennis Kucinich, or Russ Feingold: the former hasnt declared, though Id support him personally, while the latter has dropped out a great disappointment, that, and I mean it sincerely. I would support anyone who advocates a turn toward a more rational, i.e. realistic, foreign policy, because it is bound to be a more peaceful policy. Domestic politics, in this context, takes second place: if were faced with the threat of another world war, all other considerations must go by the wayside.
In this spirit, then, lets look around and see who we are dealing with: who are the major presidential candidates? And which one of them will get us out of Iraq in anything like our lifetimes? So far, theres only one who is advocating U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and, no, its not a Democrat its Chuck Hagel, Republican senator from Nebraska. In an op ed piece for the Washington Post, Hagel wrote:
“America finds itself in a dangerous and isolated position in the world. We are perceived as a nation at war with Muslims. Unfortunately, that perception is gaining credibility in the Muslim world and for many years will complicate America’s global credibility, purpose and leadership. This debilitating and dangerous perception must be reversed as the world seeks a new geopolitical, trade and economic center that will accommodate the interests of billions of people over the next 25 years. The world will continue to require realistic, clear-headed American leadership not an American divine mission.
“The United States must begin planning for a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq.”
I am tempted to quote the entire piece: I urge you to read the whole thing. No more radical manifesto of foreign policy realism has been offered by any major politician, left, right, or center, and certainly none of the presidential contenders come closer to fulfilling the peace partys agenda. Naturally, I have a few nits to pick with the good senators essay: I dont believe our intentions in Iraq were ever “honorable,” and I disagree with Hagels opening contention, that “There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq.” It was, after all, Senator Hagel who told us only last year that Iraq was looking more like Vietnam every day: he even said it could be “worse than Vietnam.”
I would remind the senator that Vietnam was a defeat, and the sting of it kept us out of foreign adventures for a long while afterward. And it was a military defeat: the myth of the stab-in-the-back is sustained only by the willful distortion of the history of the Vietnam war as it actually unfolded, as opposed to the version pushed by the David Horowitz School of Falsification. We all saw that U.S. helicopter taking off from the rooftop of the American embassy in Saigon, with so many people hanging on to it for dear life that its a wonder it got off the ground at all. The American military was defeated in Vietnam, and no outcome in the entire history of warfare was more deserved, if only because it was entirely predictable.
As I pointed out in a long ago column, a good number of prominent figures spent the 1950s and early 60s warning against U.S. involvement in a land war in Asia:
“John T. Flynn, the Old Right radio commentator and journalist, sounded the alarm bells as early as the mid-1950s, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower started giving mostly covert support to Vietnam’s French overlords and their native allies. No less a personage than General Douglas MacArthur joined Flynn in his forebodings of disaster: In April 1961, MacArthur warned JFK that it would be a big mistake to fight in Southeast Asia, and that America’s line of defense ought to be Japan, Formosa, and the Philippines. General Matthew Ridgway, MacArthur’s successor as Army Chief of Staff, made a similar argument, contending that a land war in Asia would be a disaster for the US. Another critic of intervention at the time, General J. Lawton Collins, said that he did not know of a single commander that was in favor of fighting on the land mass of Asia.”
The policymakers went ahead anyway, however, and paid the price, in American and Vietnamese blood. They also embedded in the American public an aversion to military adventurism, and it was only the dippy interventionism of the Clinton years a creeping, half-hearted crusading spirit, or sense of “divine mission” that lured us back into the error of our old ways. After 9/11, when we fell into the Bizarro World alternate universe of the neocons where a lesson learned means repeating past mistakes the relapse was total.
Now that we have fallen into the abyss, what can get us out? As Garet Garrett, the Old Right author and political seer, put it in the opening sentence of his gem of an essay, Rise of Empire: “We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire.” This is our predicament, and the key to resolving it is to be found in the closing phrases of Garretts 1952 polemic:
“No doubt the people know they can have their Republic back if they want it enough to fight for it and to pay the price. The only point is that no leader has yet appeared with the courage to make them choose.”
Is Chuck Hagel that leader? I dont pretend to know, and, as Ive said before: put not your trust in politicians. But hes the best weve got, and he aint all that bad. His sudden appearance on the scene as the antiwar candidate confirms my own prediction or was it a hope? that the impetus for getting us out of Iraq would come, not from the Democrats, but from an increasingly vocal group of antiwar Republicans a clear indication that the neocons are losing their political base. And that is good news indeed.
Whats going to be very interesting is the reaction of the liberal-left wing of the antiwar movement to the startling news that a Republican is outpacing all the Democrats when it comes to the issue of war and peace. Will their political prejudices and partisan agenda get in the way of supporting the only candidate who actually wants to get us out of Iraq? Stay tuned .