Wednesday, November 29, 2006

National Resistance Movement or Civil War?

The other day, someone from Left Spot, which is, as far as I can tell, the blog of an old friend of mine who's now part of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), argued in a comment on my last post that I shouldn't refer to what's occuring in Iraq right now as a civil war. There are others in the revolutionary socialist left who have made similar arguments, most notably ,the International Socialist Organization (ISO) which, at least the last time I checked, had been arguing that the anti-war movement should support the Iraqi resistance.
Since I'm no longer a member of any sectarian left group, I haven't been involved in such a debate for a while, but I can see the relevance of this particular seemingly far-fetched position denying that there is a civil war going on in Iraq to the US anti-war movement, and had an email exchange about it two years ago with Rahul Mahajan of Empire Notes, who certainly doesn't see the current insurgents as a group that Americans should laud as a national liberation movement. He also argues that the situation in Iraq is now a civil war, or at least close to it, commentng that: "it’s already at somewhere not too far from the level in the Lebanese or Bosnian civil wars."
I haven't seen many articles that characterize the Iraqi resistance as a "heroic national liberation movement," though there is this one which seems to be based more in the theory of resistance than the actual on-the-ground happenings in Iraq. England's Respect party also defines the current action in Iraq as such a movement.
Loretta Napoleoni, whose book may be the most detailed look into the Iraqi insurgency, describes the resistance as follows:
Beyond the myth of Zarquawi there is a much more frightening reality made up of complex forces: independent Iraqi jihadist groups that gravitate toward Al Qaeda in Iraq, Islamo-nationalist and Baath party resistance fighters opposing coalition forces; ethnic conflict among the Sunni, Shi'ites and Kurds; fully armed and active ethnic and religious militias' and an endless stream of foreign suicide bombers. This is a scenario that may well haunt Americans for decades. It is the true nature of the insurgency.

Based on what I've read from people who take the "heroic national liberation movement" line on describing the mass killings of civilians going on in Iraq, it seems like the resistance to calling it a "civil war" has to do with what this means for whether Americans support immediate withdrawl or not, and the relationship of anti-Shi'ite violence to the relationship of the Shi'ites and the US. However, with the current situation, I don't think it's safe to say that the US is simply pro-Shi'ite anymore. Also, the assumption seems to be that if we call it a "civil war" it means we have to stay there. I don't like this particular tendency in the debate, because it seems to me to deny an apparent reality in order to justify a political position, instead of basing a strategy on what's actually happening. Second, I haven't seen anyone who's in any real contact with people in Iraq take this position, which makes me think it's ill-informed. There are plenty of people who say that the Iraqis are in a civil war - and that the civil war is being provoked by the US occupation, although it would probably not end with the occupation's departure. Patrick Cockburn, whose work I linked in the last post, and more recently, Nir Rosen on Democracy Now, and Al Jazeera are perfectly capable of taking a "troops out" now position while also describing the violence in Iraq as a civil war.
But, perhaps LS and others have more to say to explain their position?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Civil War

It's distressing to read that in the midst of annual consumer hoopla over "Black Friday" that government officials in Iraq "do not believe that this is a civil war."
Juan Cole's blog has a collection of the ongoing news reports about the continuing Shiite reprisals for Sunni violence, including a translation of Muqtada Al Sadr's address demanding that Sunnis not kill Shia, not join Al Quaeda, and his continuing call for the US troops to set a time-table for withdrawl from Iraq.
Cole says...
Members of Muqtada's bloc in Parliament, such as Faleh Hasan Shanshal, have threatened to pull out of the al-Maliki government if the prime minister follows through with his plans to meet US President George W. Bush in Amman on Wednesday. Bush's spokesman say that the meeting would be held nevertheless. Why US news services feel the need to report the rest of what the spokesman said, especially fairly high up in the article, is beyond me. Nonsense such as that Iraq is not in a civil war or that the violence will be "high on the agenda" at the Amman meeting is only worthy of being ignored or derided. If Bush was able to do anything about the violence in Iraq, he wouldn't have to meet al-Maliki in the neighboring country of . . . Jordan. I think the Pentagon has concluded that Baghdad is just too dangerous and unpredictable to allow Bush to go there anymore.

If the Iraq war is our generation's Vietnam, this latest upsurge in violence may be this war's Tet Offensive - inasmuch as it reveals the true failure of the US occupation to maintain peace or stability. Patrick Cockburn was reporting three weeks ago in the London Independent that Iraq is not "on the way to civil war" but that the entire country is disintegrating and is actively in the midst of a civil war and has been for some time. In his article "Baghdad Under Seige"
he sums it up:
The scale of killing is already as bad as Bosnia at the height of the Balkans conflict. An apocalyptic scenario could well emerge - with slaughter on a massive scale. As America prepares its exit strategy, the fear in Iraq is of a genocidal conflict between the Sunni minority and the Shias in which an entire society implodes. Individual atrocities often obscure the bigger picture where:

* upwards of 1,000 Iraqis are dying violently every week;

* Shia fighters have taken over much of Baghdad; the Sunni encircle the capital;

* the Iraqi Red Crescent says 1.5 million people have fled their homes within the country;

* the Shia and Sunni militias control Iraq, not the enfeebled army or police.

In the midst of this ongoing disaster, it appears that the ever-predictable Fox news was covering something else. Now, Cheney is in Saudi Arabia, while Bush heads off to talk to Al Maliki in Jordan, and Tom Hayden, in articles at Huffington Post, says that he has documents proving that the Bush administration has been secretly negotiating with the Sunni armed resistance. None of us would put it past them to rewind the tape in Iraq to the pre-2003 war solution: ensure stability and keep the Shia out of power by ushering an appropriate Sunni "strongman" into place in the region. Alexander Cockburn puts it this way, "If some Sunni substitute for Saddam stepped up to the plate the US would welcome him and propel him into power..." However, with the carnage and dissaray we see now, "it is too late for such a course."
Who can say what the next step will be. Cockburn continues:
As Henry Kissinger said earlier this week, the war is lost. This is the man who -- if we are to believe Bob Woodward's latest narrative -- has been advising Bush and Cheney that there could be no more Vietnams, that the war in Iraq could not be lost without humiliating consequences for America's status as the number # 1 bully on the block. When Kissinger says a war is lost, you can reckon that it is.

Here is my prediction. Since Cheney is in Saudi Arabia attempting to get the US's "friends" the Saudi Wahabbis to "calm" the Iraqi Sunnis, we are going to try to create some kind of "multi-national" regional force involving the Saudis to attempt to impose order on Iraq and to keep Iran in check. The US will try to sell this group the way they sold the Taliban to us back in 1995....I just wonder where it will lead - especially given parallel efforts on the Iranian side. If a civil war isn't enough to bring on the "endtimes" maybe a regional one will be.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Trying Vietnam All Over Again

If at first you don't succeed "try, try again." This can be a nice motto for many endeavors in life, but it shouldn't be for wars, no matter what John McCainsays.
When Kerry ran for prez. in 2004 he arguedthat he would send more troops, that he wouldn't try to win "war on the cheap," and since then, others of those critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war have made similar arguments that the problem with the war is that we haven't sent in enough troops to win the war. Many in the general population, even those against the war, will say the same thing. Just last night I was talking to a bartender in Windsor Terrace (hardly a lefty neighborhood) who was as critical of US foreign policy as anyone I've met in recent years. He was going on about the US's support of the Saudis and the Shah, and talked about his hatred for the whole Bush family. And he asked me, "in one or two sentences, how do we fix the problem in Iraq?"
My answer began, "first, pull the troops out." He objected strongly and said, "the root of this whole thing is the Sunni Shia conflict," and suggested that if the troops were to come out now, Iraq would be overtaken in chaos and civil war.
I almost replied that the "send in more troops" solution hadn't' worked in Vietnam and it wouldn't work here either, until I remembered that there's a whole popular school of thoughtthat the reason that we lost the war in Vietnam was that we fought it with "one hand tied behind our back."
My students always say on the first few days of class that they think history is important because if you don't know about the past, you'll be doomed to repeat past mistakes, but I beg to differ. It's not complete ignorance about the past, but the knowledge of useful mythologies about the past that allows people to confidently reapply wrong-headed strategies in the present day.
We need people like George McGovern, with all his incapacity to win elections, to remind us that "more troops" didn't work then, and it won't work now. The US occupation is the reason for the insurgency, so if the troops are pulled out, much of the energy and support for the insurgency will disappear, making it much easier for the Iraqis to quell any remaining "sectarian violence."
If your jury's out on what the insurgency is, and what is driving it, I recommend the following reading: Christian Parenti's The Freedom and Loretta Napoleoni's Insurgent Iraq.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Scandalous Exclusion of Howie Hawkins

There are few better examples of the corporate freeze-out of the public than the Senate race in New York. The candidates are: Hillary Clinton (D), John Spencer (R) and though you wouldn't know it, Howie Hawkins (G). Hawkins is running on an anti-war position, was endorsed by anti-war candidate Jonathan Tasini as well as by Cindy Sheehan, but because Hillary Clinton refused to debate him, and because the mainstream anti-war voices have not covered or endorsed his campaign, despite his meeting all the League of Women Voters' standards for legitimate candidacy(including fundraising and poll numbers), he has received no media attention. In the progressive blogosphere, as represented by the Dailykos, his name appears only once in a diary.
Those who listen to Pacifica radio's "Democracy Now" probably know that the League of Women Voters have withdrawn their approval not only from the debates between Clinton and Spencer, but from a number of debates because of Democratic candidates refusal to appear in debates with third party anti-war candidates.

After reading just a few stories based on "man on the street" feeling about the voters who may turn out again this time around because of their disgust about the war, I'm sure that if some of those New Yorkers knew Hawkins was running, or what he stood for, they would vote for him rather than Hillary C.
New York Newsday puts it like this :
People don't turn out only for cliffhangers," said Miringoff. "They show up when they have something to say or to send a message. For Democrats in New York, it's send a message to George Bush about Iraq and they'll use the congressional races to do that.

But what message are voters who vote for Hillary Clinton sending about Iraq?
Maybe it's to "stay the course" after all, and it doesn't send a good message to the dems about 2008. I think she should be punished at the polls for the greater good, and here's why:

In 2002, Hillary Clinton, made this speech explaining why she would support Bush's resolution to use force in Iraq:

I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible. Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely, and therefore, war less likely, and because a good faith effort by the United States, even if it fails, will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause, I have concluded, after careful and serious consideration, that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation. If we were to defeat this resolution or pass it with only a few Democrats, I am concerned that those who want to pretend this problem will go way with delay will oppose any UN resolution calling for unrestricted inspections. This is a very difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make -- any vote that may lead to war should be hard -- but I cast it with conviction.

In late 2005, Clinton was critical of the president and presented herself, as well as other members of congress, as being "duped" into voting for war based on faulty intelligence - despite the fact that anyone with a brain was already saying in 2002 that the Bushies were not to be trusted. However, her argument was still for war:
"It is time for the President to stop serving up platitudes and present us with a plan for finishing this war with success and honor," she said,
– not a rigid timetable that terrorists can exploit, but a public plan for winning and concluding the war. And it is past time for the President, Vice President, or anyone else associated with them to stop impugning the patriotism of their critics.

In her other, more recent positions, Clinton continues to triangulate. Like John Kerry, who blew the 2004 election because he refused to take an anti-war position, she is critical of the management of the war "on the cheap," but doesn't call for withdrawl of troops. In fact, the Democratic plan for Phased redeployment that Clinton and other milque-toast dems support does not include a meaningful time-table for withdrawl, and because it suggests little more than the "Vietnamization" strategy that Bush seems already to have put forth, does not inspire confidence in the Dems' will to truly "change course" in Iraq.
As Norm Solomon reminds us:

Tactical critiques of war management are standard ways that politicians keep wars going while they give superficial nods to voters' frustration and anger. Those kinds of rhetorical maneuvers went on for the last several years of the war in Vietnam, while the death toll mounted at the same time that polls showed most Americans had turned against the war. These days, Hillary Clinton must be very appreciative that MoveOn is helping her to finesse the war in Iraq while she continues to support it.

But, say, people, at least Hillary Clinton will be better on domestic issues than Bush. I wonder how true that really is. Medea Benjamin, who went with the "Anybody But Bush" line and cast her support to Kerry in 2004, describes how Clinton thwarted efforts of anti-war activists to be heard at a "take back America" conference, at which CODEPINK was a registered participant organization with a table and an pre-conference agreement with the organizers. Despite this, they were turned away at the door.

A few CODEPINK women did manage to get inside the breakfast, however, as they were legitimate ticket holders. Once inside, the CODEPINK women soon realized that they had been deceived about the second part of the agreement: They would not be allowed to ask the first question, or any question, because Hillary Clinton would not be fielding questions from the audience. “We were really upset that we had been lied to by Take Back America, and that there would be no space at this ‘progressive conference’ to have a dialogue with Hillary Clinton about the most critical issue of our time—the war in Iraq,” said Katie Heald, DC coordinator for CODEPINK. “We got up on our chairs holding up our hands with the peace sign, and were pulled down from the chairs. We tried to take out our banner that said “Listen Hillary: Stop Supporting the War” and it was grabbed from us. And when Hillary started talking about her Iraq strategy, criticizing Bush but not posing a solution, we shouted ‘What are YOU going to do to get us out of Iraq,’ but she ignored us.”

If anything, the complete blackout of anti-war candidates and voices from this year's political races is even worse than it was in 2004, and that may just be because the public's position has shifted so dramatically against the war that the Democrats are running scared, not just from the Republican machine, but from the true wishes of the majority of Americans.