I know I’ve been a bit AWOL from watching Iraq/Iran developments this past month. So this post is intended as a quick September’s-end round-up of all the biggest developments in official Washington’s consideration of the (increasingly closely linked?) challenges regarding Iraq and Iran.
“September” was awaited with considerable advance publicity and anticipation. It was a long-awaited rock star of a month. For it was September that was to bring us… (drum-roll)… The Petraeus Report! The showdown in the Senate! The sight of the two big parties going mano-a-mano over the war, with the prospect that maybe enough GOP senators would switch sides as to cause serious embarrassment!
In the end, though, I think September fizzled. The antiwar movement in this country seems noticeably weaker (well, certainly, in noticeably greater internal uncertainty and disorder) than it was a month ago; and I am still trying to figure out why. Here is my preliminary list of reasons:
1. Bush’s strategy of, essentially, “hiding behind Petraeus” largely succeeded.
Petraeus received a much gentler reception from the Democrats in Congress than any civilian cabinet member would have. The Dems– like the antiwar movement in the country at large– has taken to heart as one of the key “lessons” of the Vietnam-era antiwar movement that it’s wrong to demonize the military, since they are “only carrying out the orders” of the civilian leadership. Well, I certainly agree that no-one should be demonized. But still, I think the present general pandering to the military may have gone quite a lot too far. We should remember, after all, that unlike in the Vietnam era, the people in today’s US military are all volunteers. No-one drafted them. They chose to do this job which involves killing and running the risk of getting killed. And (again, unlike in the Vietnam era), many of them get paid quite decently for doing this job.
I also think that Moveon.org made a really stupid mistake in publicly impugning Petraeus’s patriotism. Their ad was childish and counter-productive. Most importantly, it failed to engage with the content of what Petraeus said in his testimony. How much better if they had waited until after his two appearances and ran an ad drawing attention to the admission he was forced to make, in response to Sen. John Warner’s questioning, that he couldn’t actually clearly state that the campaign in Iraq is making the US any safer! But no, they didn’t want to wait till after his testimony and then respond to it– they insisted on designing their ad before he had even spoken, and used up– presumably– huge amounts of their money on that ill-conceived project… which then itself largely diverted attention from the content of what was discussed in the hearings.
2. Discussion of Iraq/Iran affairs has now been caught up heavily in an intense fundraising phase of the 2008 presidential election.
I guess this one caught me by surprise a bit. But basically, what’s been happening is that (a) in both parties there are extremely hard-fought pre-primary contests going on, and at the same time (b) the calendar for the various states’ primary election has been moving further and further forward (i.e. from February 2008 to very early January 2008– and there is still a possibility that Iowa and New Hampshire might hold their primaries this December!)
Of course this latter development is sheer craziness, and brings us closer and closer to the specter of US politics becoming a single continuous election season with no interlude left for any rational governance. But its effect on poor old September has been devastating. Under US election laws, the campaigns have to file reports at the end of each quarter on how much money they’ve raised to date. These reports are seen as important early indicators of the degree of support each candidate has within his/her party. So right now– Sept. 29– the candidates are all screeching to their supporters to “Write your checks now! Now!”
Compiling these reports and getting them published takes a few days. So what is now increasingly clear is that the end-of-September reports will be the last ones published before the primary voting begins.
Now, during the primary process itself, there’s a certain general dynamic whereby the candidates have to appeal to the slightly more radical and/or committed wings within their own parties. But during this pre-primary, fundraising period, the candidates need to appeal overwhelmingly to the well-organized fundraising organizations… And among the very best of these are lobbies like the pro-gun lobby, the Big Agribusiness lobby… and of course, the pro-Israel lobby.
It is this latter player–well, actually, a widely distributed network of staunchly pro-Israel organizations from within both the Jewish and the evangelical Christian communities– that has probably had the most effect of all on the behavior of candidates regarding Middle East-related questions.
AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is the “information headquarters” for this network, publishing calls to action for its supporters nationwide– like this one, titled “Support Sanctions Against Iran”, and then also publishing detailed lists of which senators and Congressmembers voted for or against AIPAC’s favored legislative initiatives.
… And thus, we had 76 Senators voting this week in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment that expressed the “sense of the Senate” in favor of tightening up the sanctions on Iran. That, despite this eloquent explanation by Virginia’s very own Sen. Jim Webb as to why this was such a reckless act. Sen. Clinton voted FOR the Amendment. Sens. Obama and McCain– who should have voted against it, chose not to vote at all. Biden, to his credit voted “Nay.” (Note: I had gotten that wrong here earlier and am glad to correct it. Sorry about that, Senator.) Only 21 other senators ended up voting against it.
Here by the way is the text of a letter that the Friends Committee on National legislation sent to the 22 bravely dissenting senators. It said,
We at the Friends Committee on National Legislation thank you for voting yesterday against the Kyl-Lieberman S. Amdt. 3017 expressing the sense of the Senate on Iran.
Although the modified amendment passed by the Senate omitted a section that could be construed as authorizing military action against Iran, the amendment still increases the likelihood of war and undermines efforts to persuade the Bush administration to pursue diplomacy with Iran.
The amendment’s call for the administration to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization reinforces administration policy to provoke and threaten Iran instead of engaging in negotiations. The administration could agree to apply the terrorist label and conclude that it had Senate backing to attack the IRGC, which is part of Iran’s army…
Another distinctly unhelpful amendment passed by the Senate this week was the one that Sen. Biden had proposed, which requested the administration to “encourage” Iraqis to find a “federal” (that is, radically decentralized) formula for the governance of their country.
Note to Biden: The US Senate is not the Senate of Classical Rome, which sought to order the governance structures of distant, Roman Army-controlled provinces according to its own whim! Nor is it the Parliament of Empire-ruling Britain! (And pssst: The Iraqis already have a “Constitution”.)
Biden was, as usual, showboating, trying to “prove” he had something distinctive to say regarding Iraq, and was able to pull around half the GOP senators away from the administration’s position on this (which is the rather sensible position that unwarranted interference on this point by showboating US senators is not helpful to anyone in Iraq.)
Anyway, read Reidar Visser’s excellent commentary on this whole issue, here.
And finally, I cannot let this survey of “This month in Washington-by-the-Persian-Gulf” pass without highlighting this really disturbing report from the WaPo’s Tom Ricks about the positions that B. Obama, H. Clinton, and J. Edwards all staked out during a pre-primary debate in New Hampshire– to the effect that they could not promise to have the U.S. military out of Iraq by January 2013 — more than five years from now.
I was gobsmacked when I first read about that.
What has happened to the passion of the antiwar wave that carried the Democratic Party so high during the elections held just over 11 months ago today? Why are these three– the frontrunners in the Democratic primary process– all being so extremely timid regarding the still-urgent need to bring the troops home and end the occupation?
My big guess is two things have been happening: (a) they’ve been talking to their fundraising people much more than, recently, they’ve been talking to their get-out-the-vote people, and (b) they are all three desperate to “look presidential”– without realizing that, in truth, the way to “look presidential” right now is to adopt bold and clear ideas that stand in clear contrast to the failed policies pursued by Pres. Bush.
Well, more on this later, no doubt. But for my part, I just might have to whip out my checkbook and make a donation to Bill Richardson or Dennis Kucinich. They, along with GOP candidate Ron Paul are the only ones calling straighforwardly for a rapid and total troop withdrawal from Iraq.