One thing I've tried to do is highlight the fact that Iraq is not a sharp break with history caused by a malevolent actor, but a part of a strong American tradition that progressives did not notice until it was too late. I mean, do you really think that a stupid insecure manchild like Bush could become President without large forces putting him into office? In Ending the National Security State, I drew links between the sharp right turn of unions, the swings of the racist South in the post-WWII environment, and the Communist purges. This set of forces, which put us on the path of a top-down imperial Presidency, first liberal, then conservative, and then crazy, is what the war in Iraq and the covert actions in Iran really represent. The 2006 election was historic, possibly the first antiwar electoral platform that worked during a war, but it was only one election. We are fighting 60 years of history, and 30 other election cycles, including 2002 and 2004. You can't stop a train that easily.
We're in Iraq because the political system, the public, and all of us became unable to distinguish between truth and falsehood. We're still in Iraq, and will be there until the public is genuinely convinced to leave. Right now, we're not there. I know what the polls say, but I also am watching Clinton, Edwards, Obama, Giuliani, Romney, etc running for President, and not one of them is calling for a full withdrawal. Not one. Clinton, the leading nominee in a supposedly antiwar party, is a hawk and doesn't even think that voting to authorize the war was a mistake. So do not tell me that Pelosi, Reid, and Moveon are doing a bad job. They are not. They are persuading a country and a politics that is used to lazy bullshit that kills a lot of people to think twice about it, and resist.
This will not end, either, for quite some time. And it's not because of George W. Bush. It's because of people like Robert Schanzer, who is apparently some sort of expert on national security. Schanzer, who I'm picking because he worked for Biden and sort of sits in the middle of Democratic foreign policy networks, has the following to say.
2008 is not 2006. There is a big difference in the public's mind about putting a new party in control of the Congress and electing the commander-in-chief. The 2006 election was a protest vote against Bush's war policies and a response to congressional corruption and lack of oversight of an incompetent executive branch. The hurdle that John Kerry could not surmount in the public's mind will still be there for the next Democratic candidate for President -- "Will he or she do what it takes to keep us safe?" The Iraq war has lowered this bar somewhat for Democrats, but it still remains higher for Democrats than Republicans at least until Democrats win a post-9/11 election.
With the Iraq albatross around their neck, Republicans will be even more eager to play the "weak on national security" card against Democrats. This was on clear display last week as Rudy Giuliani took great glee (and got rave reviews in conservative circles), for taunting Democrats for "not understand[ing] the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us" and claiming "America will be safer with a Republican president."
Unfortunately, the Democratic frontrunners did little to dispel this notion during the first presidential candidates' debate. Obama chose to talk about the Hurricane Katrina response when asked the first thing he would do after a terrorist attack on U.S. soil And, when Brian Williams served up the Giuliani quotes on a silver platter to Clinton, she did not discuss how to defeat al Qaeda or combat the spread of the global jihadist movement, but instead expounded on the virtues of greater port and subway security.
This isn't going to cut it in a general election. Because of the still lingering security gap Democrats face, progressives cannot wait until the general election to start speaking convincingly about the threats the nation faces and how to deal with them. Promising to end the Iraq war (as if that could actually be accomplished), will not necessarily be enough to defeat a Republican opponent who is not Bush and will most certainly have his own plan to wind down the war.
This is more of the same. Fear. Fear. Fear. Boo! Are you scared yet? This is what we're up against. It's infiltrated both parties, but it can be beaten. It has also, and this is where I differ from the Naderites, infected me and my community. I'm willing to acknowledge this. We cannot honestly have a debate about Iraq without discussing our lack of activism in the 1990s, when the case for war was built, or the corporate consolidation of our media accelerated. We cannot realistically complain that our leaders are afraid when we are afraid and refuse to organize against Democrats in primaries. We cannot use words like 'circular firing squad' or discuss criticism as problematic if we are to genuinely oppose the National Security State.
This is a powerful and nasty group of actors, and much of the public, while open to a different direction, is not being honest with itself in terms of what that means. Seriously slashing our consumer lifestyle will be a glorious and healthy move, but it will be costly. We are in thrall to war, just as we have been slaves to slavery. That did not end simply, or easily, and neither will this. But it will end, because it cannot go on.
Our greatest President knew this in 1862, when it looked bleak. And so I'll quote him now.
Is it doubted, then, that the plan I propose, if adopted, would shorten the war, and thus lessen its expenditure of money and of blood? Is it doubted that it would restore the national authority and national prosperity, and perpetuate both indefinitely? Is it doubted that we here--Congress and Executive--can secure its adoption? Will not the good people respond to a united, and earnest appeal from us? Can we, can they, by any other means, so certainly, or so speedily, assure these vital objects? We can succeed only by concert. It is not "can any of us imagine better?" but, "can we all do better?" The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.