Iraq: The End Is Not Near

Americans overwhelmingly lack confidence that Iraq will have a stable government in place within the next year, and more than half say that the war has not been worth its cost, according to a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

Fewer than one in five, or about 19 percent, of the 1,003 adults quizzed said they believe the Iraqis can assemble a sound, democratic government in the next 12 months that is able to maintain order without the assistance of U.S. troops.

Seventy-five percent said they didn’t believe that would happen. The poll also suggested that most Americans remain skeptical about the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, with 52 percent telling pollsters it wasn’t worth going to war.

However, this is a marked decrease from a poll taken fewer than two months ago, indicating that 60 percent of Americans didn’t think the war was worth the cost.

So is it over? In fact, U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, is predicting the "vast majority of U.S. troops to leave Iraq by year’s end."

Now, let’s see… isn’t that Jack Murtha from last year’s "Murtha Moment" – the famous tipping point that should have marked the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency and the start of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq?

That was at least the spin that was advanced last year when Murtha, a Vietnam War hero, suggested that the United States would not be able to win the war in Mesopotamia and urged the White House to consider setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops there.

Some pundits compared Murtha’s comments to those made by celebrated television anchorman Walter Cronkite whose 1967 observation that the U.S. was losing the war in Vietnam forced then-President Lyndon Johnson to conclude that U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia was over.

Indeed, after Murtha criticized the Bush administration’s conduct in Iraq, the left-of-center Nation magazine suggested that "history may well record that the beginning of the end of the American nightmare in Iraq came on Nov. 17, when an old warrior said it was time for the troops to come home."

Well, that didn’t happen. And I don’t think it will be happening anytime soon. To be fair to the Nation and others in the-Iraq-war-is-over crowd, the magazine, as well as many pundits, qualified their prediction by stressing that that rosy scenario would take place only if the Democrats seized the opportunity that Murtha offered them to become the tribunes of popular sentiment against the war.

But the critics of the Iraq war and the U.S. imperial project should admit now that there was a lot of expectation – "wishful thinking" is probably the right term – that the tide was turning against the neoconservative ideologues and the other members of the War Party.

Pundits were fantasizing about Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska emerging as a Republican presidential candidate, not to mention all the talk about the Democrats taking control of Capitol Hill in the coming midterm elections in November, followed by congressional investigations of the war, and who knows? Impeachment?

Perhaps the time has come for the members of the reality-based community to stop dreaming and conclude that it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. The Democrats may gain a small advantage in the House of Representatives, and even that isn’t a certainty.

Smoke-and-mirror spinning creates the impression that the Americans are starting to withdraw from Iraq. A few U.S. troops will return home, but others will be deployed to Iraq.

But America is going to be there for a long time to come.

The Bushies "did Iraq" because they could do it. In March 2003, there were no constraints operating on the Bush administration at home (no opposition in Congress) or abroad (no counterbalancing global player).

Has anything changed since then? I don’t think so. It’s not only that the Democrats are still politically impotent. The fact is that the majority of the members of the Democratic establishment – those who supported going to war – are opposed to withdrawing from Iraq. They actually accept President George W. Bush’s rules for debate on the war, that only "honest criticism" – never challenging the need to remain in Iraq – should be applied.

At the same time, no leading global power is ready to challenge the United States. The Europeans are divided and have failed to come up with alternative, coherent policy options on Iraq (although they still are not going to help the U.S. there with troops and money); the Russians are weak; and the Chinese, whose central bank (together with those of Japan and South Korea) continues to finance the U.S. current account deficit, are watching the Americans drowning in the Middle Eastern quagmire – and smiling. Their hope is that the "war on terrorism" will end – and they, the Chinese, will emerge as the winners.

Bush’s imperial project in Iraq and elsewhere will face serious challenges only when the global strategic and economic costs of the endeavor become obvious. Perhaps that will be when the price of oil reaches the stratosphere. Or when the Asian central banks and the oil-producing countries stop buying dollar assets. Or when the U.S.’ current account deficit is not sustainable. Perhaps when the U.S. dollar sinks.

Perhaps the housing bubble will pop – and start impacting the economic welfare of the white, middle-class voter. She can’t pay for the gas for her SUV? He can’t borrow against capital gains on his home? She can’t pay off her credit cards?

When that happens – and one of the reasons for opposing the U.S. imperial project is to prevent that from happening – the war critics should ensure that a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent will be there to pick up the political pieces and advance an alternative foreign policy based on a more realistic assessment of U.S. global power.

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