Adam Ash

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Now that even Blair is pulling out of Iraq, when will the US war there end, and how?

1. Another Long Walk -- by William Rivers Pitt / truthout

The moment is as iconic as any within the pages of American history. Three prominent Republican senators - Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, John Rhodes of Arizona and conservative icon Barry Goldwater - embarked upon the "Long Walk" to the White House in the summer of 1974. The purpose of their journey was straightforward. The sound and fury of Watergate had reached a brittle crisis point, and those three men were delivering a message to Richard Nixon: it was time to give up the fight.

The echoes of that moment color these times as vividly as if they had just happened. Nixon's imperial presidency was in ashes, along with what had become the awesome power of the Executive Branch, as Congress used the scandal to reassert its position within government. The changes wrought by that long walk stand today as one of Vice President Dick Cheney's prime motivators, for he was there to witness it all. His mission over these last years has been to take back what was lost, to stifle Congress and establish the permanent supremacy of a Unitary Executive.

We have arrived at a similar crossroads today. In the end, a similar solution may well be settled upon by a Republican Party saddled with yet another president who understands no limits to his power. The hubris of Bush's executive overreach has manufactured a deeply unpopular, overwhelmingly dangerous war that churns through soldiers and tax dollars with equal voracity. A half-dozen scandals of staggering breadth simmer on the horizon, as they are slowly and methodically exposed by newly-minted chairmen in congressional hearing rooms.

The November midterm elections granted new and necessary power to the Democrats; at a minimum, this new Congressional majority has done away with the thundering avalanche of one-party rule in Washington. The residual bitterness felt by Republicans suddenly deprived of control has created an atmosphere of insurrection within the ranks of the dispossessed; few of them are willing to charge once more unto the breach for an administration that led them into humiliating defeat.

One would think these two factors - newly empowered Democrats and angry Republicans - guarantee some sort of brave new political world dominated by this new majority, but as of yet, this has not materialized. The Senate has become almost useless, thanks to an astonishingly early start for the 2008 presidential run. Several of the most powerful Democrats in that body are in the race, and are therefore as tepidly cautious as long-tailed cats in a rocking-chair factory. House Democrats, while far more assertive, are faced with having to deal with this sleepy Senate if they wish to see any groundbreaking legislation make its way to the Oval Office.

The elephant in the room, however, happens to be the same 2008 race that has stalled out the Senate. All eyes and minds are focused on the massive crowd of candidates who have already come out, but the most important part of this next election has thus far been ignored.

Simply put, 22 of the 34 senators who have to run for re-election in 2008 are Republicans. Each has the dead-weight millstone of Bush, Cheney, Iraq and the scandals around their neck, and each knows full well that the weight of these burdens could easily pull them down into the darkest depths of defeat. In the worst-case GOP scenario, 2008 could become the kind of electoral wipeout that would make last November's annihilation quaint by comparison.

There is great hope that the Democrats will find a way to force Bush and the White House into a new direction, but in the end, this may not be enough. Bush and his people have become Zen-like in their ability to ignore the political opposition, majority power or otherwise.

In the end, it may very well take another long walk to curtail the flagrant abuses and stubborn foolishness that have become the sign and signal of our days. Close your eyes and imagine a hot summer night to come. The streets of Washington are quiet, save for the somber footfalls of three Republican senators - McConnell, McCain and Cornyn, perhaps - who have been tasked to deliver a simple message to the president. The potential for political defeat of generational proportions looms before the party. The time for willful intractability and the illusions of supremacy are gone.

The message: give it up.

[William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence .His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation , will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.]

2. Iraq Has Worn out My Patience -- by Donald Kaul/ MinutemanMedia

Several months ago, I shocked my Peacenik brethren by saying that despite my early opposition to the war in Iraq I did not think we should pull out. Like Hillary, I had my reasons.

To abandon the Iraqis to a chaos of our making would be less than honorable, I said, and if that chaos enveloped the Middle East, it could a produce a disaster of historic proportions. The stakes were too high to pull out without giving the effort a fair chance.

You see, at the time, I thought we still had a chance of success in Iraq, an outside chance to be sure, but a chance. I no longer think that.

The latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) dragged me into reality on the Iraq war.

The NIE is no mere think-tank opinion, you understand; it is the consensus judgment of all U.S. intelligence agencies. And the judgment is bleak.

“Iraqi society’s growing polarization, the persistent weakness of the security forces and the state in general, and all sides’ ready recourse to violence are collectively driving an increase in communal and insurgent violence and political extremism,” the report stated.

But…“even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard-pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation.”

In English, that means putting a stop to the bombings, shootings and kidnappings will be hard, dangerous work and even if we get it done, there is little chance order will last.

That’s it for me, kids. Count me out. I quit.

This misbegotten war is lost. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars building the best-trained, best-equipped army in the history of humankind and we have contrived to put it in a hopeless situation.

It takes talent to do that. No wonder they used to call Bush’s foreign policy advisers “the dream team.”

They tell us we can’t leave because of the afore-mentioned catastrophic result. But staying will produce the same catastrophe, only with more American soldiers being killed, maimed and scarred for life. They also tell us that if Congress votes to cut off funds for the war or merely registers its disapproval, it will harm the morale of the troops.

Nonsense. You know what really hurts morale? It’s coming to the end of your tour of duty and having that tour extended.

Show me a soldier in combat who doesn’t know, to the hour, how much time he or she has before it’s time to go home. It is a cruel joke to have that day pushed back at the last moment. And that’s what we’re doing.

If I were running things, I’d call in the warring factions of Iraq and say: “We had a good idea here---democracy and all---but you guys screwed it up. We’re going to go fight terrorism someplace else and spend the money we’re spending here on making the United States safer.

“Adios chumps.” Then we could get on with the business of ending the war with Iran. What? We’re not at war with Iran, you say? You couldn’t prove it by the stuff coming out of the White House and Pentagon of late.

Last week, in a series of hush-hush anonymous briefings, we stated we had proof that Iran was supplying Iraqi insurgents with armor-piercing explosives and other weapons.

It could be true. Governments do this sort of thing. We did it ourselves when President Reagan’s boys sold arms to Iran in order to fund the Contra insurgents in Nicaragua. But how can you tell? This could as easily be another Dick Cheney fantasy made flesh.

This administration has cooked the books on every issue it’s laid its hand on, from the war to global warming to stem cell research to Social Security.

You think it wouldn’t bend the truth a little in order to gin up a war with a charter member of the Axis of Evil?

Oh, please.

(Don Kaul is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-losing Washington correspondent.)

3. Anatomy of a Disaster -- by Strobe Talbott/ International Herald Tribune

With the toll of the Iraq war mounting daily and the U.S. Congress gridlocked over how to extricate its troops from the quagmire, the questions that everyone asks are what went wrong, and how can the United States recover?

The answer to the first question can be summed up in one word: unilateralism. While the senior George Bush was an arch-multilateralist, his son has been an arch-unilateralist. Profoundly skeptical about the utility of international treaties, international institutions and international law, the current president annulled, un-signed or otherwise withdrew from a range of international agreements and mechanisms — the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the International Criminal Court, the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

Those examples of unilateralism and numerous others were gratuitous. There was no pressing need to shatter or suspend the work of decades.

President George W. Bush's unilateralism was also apparent in the way he suspended active, high-level American diplomatic engagement in two chronically troubled areas, the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula. Then came Sept. 11 — the goodwill generated worldwide evaporated quickly when it became apparent that the effect of 9/11 on Bush was to reinforce his aversion to working through diplomacy, international institutions and alliances.

To take just one example, the United States gave the back of its hand to NATO when its governing body, the North Atlantic Council, offered, in effect, to make the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan a joint operation. What happened next can be seen on TV screens daily.

In Bush's second term, there has been some course correction on foreign-policy issues other than Iraq. The administration has made an effort to repair its relations with key allies, especially in Europe. It has reinstated diplomacy as an acceptable, indeed necessary, instrument of advancing some U.S. interests — especially with regard to North Korea, where in the recent days we've seen a rare, laudable but fragile diplomatic success. In other respects, the administration has, in the president's phrase, stayed the course — or at least tried to.

Three factors help explain why this has happened. First, Bush came into office determined to eradicate and indeed reverse the legacy of Bill Clinton. I remember, back in 2001, hearing from friends still in the Executive Branch that, in White House meetings, any mention of "globalization" was declared taboo; it was a "Clinton word." Similarly, climate change and global warming were derided as "Gore talk."

Grudges and score-settling do not make for sound policy. Nor do they make for grand strategy. Moreover, by setting out to undo and discredit everything his immediate predecessor had done, Bush was making a radical break with all his predecessors going back to the end of World War II: five Democrats and five Republicans, including his own father.

Second is the president's particular brand of American exceptionalism. All U.S. presidents since George Washington have, to one degree or another, believed in a form of nationalism that ascribes to the nation superior qualities, universal values, global interests, unique responsibilities and a special dispensation to use its unparalleled and unprecedented might on behalf of what its leaders deem to be right.

But Bush adhered, and still adheres, to an uncompromising and extreme variant of exceptionalism. It posits, explicitly, that the United States is strong enough, both in hard and soft power, to make one set of rules for itself and a different set for everyone else.

The third factor involves the division of the world into good and evil as a core principle for organizing the international system and conducting American foreign policy, and letting this geopolitical Manichaeism substitute for what I call a rule-based system. This has been a feature of Bush 43's foreign policy from the beginning, but especially after 9/11.

The president proclaimed the "war on terror" in terms of an epic struggle against "evildoers," and he demanded that all countries choose sides: Either be with us or against us. If nations are with the United States, they get leniency under international law; if they're against, there is hell to pay. President Vladimir Putin was "with us" in the war on terror, so he got a pass on his brutalization of Chechnya and his rollback of political reform in Russia.

On the other side of the Manichean equation, Iran is a certifiably "bad" country, so the United States has refused to negotiate with its leadership. Yet for 40 years the United States conducted intensive, sustained diplomacy with the Soviet Union, which President Ronald Reagan called "the evil empire."

These three factors; repudiation of the Clinton legacy (which was, by transitivity, a repudiation of the Bush 41 legacy), extreme exceptionalism and Manichaeism came together in Bush's policy toward Iraq.

By going after Saddam, Bush tried to prove himself tough where Clinton was soft. The ultra-exceptionalist in Bush set out to topple Saddam in defiance of the international community.

The Manichean in him saw Saddam as the ultimate evildoer — indeed, one he thought to be in league with Osama bin Laden. That was a willful misperception that led the president to conflate two different enemies and to see regime change in Iraq as a natural and necessary sequel to regime change in Afghanistan.

As a result, Iraq has the potential of becoming the most serious, consequential foreign-policy blunder in the history of the American republic.

Precisely because Iraq is a policy disaster, one consequence may well be a national abandonment of the attitudes that brought it about.

Republican as well as Democratic candidates for the presidency are, with varying degrees of explicitness, promising a restoration of what amounts to traditional American internationalism — that is, a repudiation of Bush unilateralism.

The president who will be inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009, needs as much help from the rest of the world as possible. Help must come from countries whose relations with the United States are strained as well as from an enfeebled United Nations, a NATO that is mired in Afghanistan and a European Union that will be nursing grievances against the United States while trying to patch its own internal disputes.

Yet that new administration will have some advantages. In addition to its honeymoon with Congress, it will also have a grace period with the world.

Much of the ill will toward America that has been reflected in surveys of international public opinion is Bush-specific. Foreign critics will continue to find the U.S. often overbearing and sometimes obnoxious.

But many will be willing to give the next administration a chance to demonstrate a form of leadership that is easier to follow than Bush's has been. And the next president will see and seize that opportunity. Or so we must all hope.

[Strobe Talbott is president of the Brookings Institution and a former deputy secretary of state. His book on global governance will be published in January 2008. Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal Online ( ).]

4. Appealing Dissent
Rejecting the radicalism of the Vietnam era, veterans of the Iraq War make unlikely but effective protesters.
By Michael Brendan Dougherty/The American Conservative

Congressmen leap out of cabs along Independence Avenue, some preparing to conduct business for the first time as the people’s representatives. But before they even get in the door, there is a message waiting for them—and it is being delivered by a Marine.

Even out of uniform, Sgt. Liam Madden looks every bit the dutiful jarhead. His dark hair is cut short, his posture stiff and composed, his square jaw barely moves when he speaks. Even in the blistering cold, while reporters look for shelter from the wind, Sgt. Madden’s arms stay at his sides. Dozens of microphones form a media bouquet on the podium, leaving no place for him to rest his notes before he speaks. Facing the television cameras that frame his stern face against the Capitol dome, Madden’s bearing says that he is on a mission. In his hands he holds a message for Congress. The communication reads

As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.

Simple, devoid of radicalism, and most important to Madden, legal. This Appeal for Redress to End the War in Iraq has been signed by over 1,100 members of the Armed Forces, including 100 officers. Delivering it to Congress after the Martin Luther King holiday, Sergeant Madden isn’t nervous. But he never expected to be doing this.

Out of high school in Bellows Falls, Vermont, Madden could not see himself succeeding in college. Like many young men he longed for “structure and direction.” He wanted to challenge himself. The military could provide him a way into maturity and, when he was ready, the means for a college education. Enlisting in the fall of 2002, he thought he would serve in Afghanistan. He wasn’t afraid: “I was willing to take the risk. … I wanted to go.” Despite his aversion to working with computers, he specialized in communications. “I signed an open contract. Whatever the Corps needs, I’ll do.”

Madden’s journey from dutiful Marine to citizen protestor wasn’t typical. His skepticism about the war in Iraq was immediate, but his sense of duty overwhelmed his doubts. He arrived in Al Anbar province in the fall of 2004. He kept telling himself, “I am not doing this for the war, I’m doing it for my fellow Marines. It’s not fair to them if I don’t do my utmost and do it with pride.” His sympathy for the overworked infantry moved him to volunteer his free time filling in for exhausted Marines on patrol. Except when speaking with peers in his rank, Madden kept his doubts quiet. His seven-month tour helped confirm his belief that America’s presence was not making Iraq safer.

On leave from Quantico in June 2006, Sergeant Madden went to Norfolk, Virginia to visit friends. It was a summer Friday night, and the plan was to find a bar and forget the troubles of military life. Instead, his friends dragged him to a screening of the antiwar documentary “Sir! No Sir!” at the YMCA, hosted by Professor David Cortright and Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto. It was the tense encounter of these three men that set the appeal into motion.

Cortright looks like an Irish priest from the movies, his white hair parted to the side over a bright red face and an easy smile. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968 and completed his service in 1971. He now teaches Peace Studies at Notre Dame, and when he isn’t in class or writing, he is a leading peace activist. It was Cortright’s 1975 book Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War that inspired Hutto to invite him to Norfolk. In it, Cortright documents the widespread dissent within the U.S. military that led to combat refusals and open mutiny. He argues that this resistance, accompanied by the protests of Vietnam veterans, was crucial to changing public opinion about the war and ending U.S. involvement in Indochina.

Many active-duty military who went to the Norfolk event were “electrified” by Cortright, Madden would later report. He was not. Ever the skeptic, he protested during the question-and-answer period: “Vietnam had a conscripted force. We volunteered for this.” He reasoned that there is now no huge movement in the streets and college campuses like the 60s, and besides, most personnel love the service.

Unsatisfied by the answers he received, Madden began to leave, but Hutto buttonholed him: “We have to talk about this.” There was only one argument Madden found convincing after all: “We can’t just do nothing.”

Although they felt some affinity for the Vietnam veterans Cortright touted as models of resistance, Hutto and Madden wanted a legal outlet for their dissent. It would be impossible to appeal to a broad part of the military otherwise.

Hutto began studying “the regs.” He found that under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, service members are free to make protected communication to a member of Congress. Military personnel can even demonstrate against a war as long as they are off base, off duty, and out of uniform.

Madden still had concerns. Even if soldiers and Marines are protected from reprisals under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, what about informal punishments—tough assignments and denial of simple requests? “To be honest, that’s exactly what I expected,” he admits. But it hasn’t come yet. Madden has ascended to the highest rank possible in his four years of service, a fact he relates with evident pride. Madden even speculates that, though his immediate superiors may not appreciate his activism, there are people above them protecting him.

Some antiwar groups, even those helping the appeal, have more sweeping goals. Kelly Dougherty, a spunky veteran of Colorado’s National Guard, participated in the invasion of Iraq, patrolling Nasiriyah as a military police officer. She now heads Iraq Veterans Against War, which speaks with the strident voice of its Vietnam era predecessors, denouncing “the corporate pillaging” of Iraq, heroizing “war resisters,” disseminating information about going AWOL, and calling for reparations for Iraq. The IVAW spirit is one of righteous anger, but it is cluttered with radicalism. Madden approached the Capitol in a blue suit and tie. Dougherty wore a black sweatshirt and bandana around her hair.

The simple patriotism expressed in the appeal and by its spokesman may make it more attractive to civilians and military alike than more conventional protests. “The system” is not the enemy this time—the policy is. The signatories are not looking to reform all of American society but instead challenge an already unpopular war. There is no ideological content to the appeal’s language, and Madden’s statements to the media have highlighted his gratitude for living in a country that affords him the right to speak, to seek redress, and to openly call for an end to the war.

Hutto announced the appeal in an editorial in the Navy Times on Oct. 29 last year. By word of mouth, it gathered nearly 1,000 signatures within eight weeks. For an all-volunteer force, this was unprecedented.

Receiving the appeal, Rep. Dennis Kucinich dared his fellow congressman to be brave and to begin defunding the war, “The American people voted for a change, and now Congress must respond.” But when asked whether the appeal will have an important effect on their votes, Madden turns distinctly cold: “I’m a realist. I know that a thousand, or several thousand signatures isn’t going to make votes for withdrawal appear from nowhere.”

Then why risk it? According to Madden, Congress can receive his message or they can choose to ignore it. The appeal enters his name and his convictions into the Congressional Record. It’s a chance to give other service members a voice they didn’t know they had. It is also a chance to say to the public that the troops feel as they do. “I have faith in the American people. Congress has an approval rating of 30 percent, the president has an approval rating of 30 percent, “ he notes. “The American people will end this war.”

For now, Madden is waiting to hear about his college applications to Northeastern and Emerson. He expects to receive his honorable discharge from the Marines later this year. His disappointment with the media in the run up to the war in Iraq may have shaped his plan to major in journalism. But just as he volunteered for extra patrols in Al Anbar, he cannot put his life ahead of his comrades in arms. He joined the Marines to give his life direction before he went to college. Now he finds himself asked to visit university campuses as an antiwar speaker. The feeling these invitations inspire is familiar: he’s reluctant but always proud to serve.


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