Cutting through the bullshit.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Congress disapproves

Every once in a while, the NY Times publishes an editorial that makes a sensible point. And you end up wondering whether they are doing as much good as harm.

Yesterday’s editorial, for example, welcomed

the House of Representatives’ long-overdue attempt to shake some sense into Mr. Bush with a resolution opposing his decision to send another 20,000 combat troops to fight this disastrous war without any plan to end it.

As if the non binding resolution was going to ‘shake some sense into Mr Bush’! I think he’s too far gone for that at this stage. But in any case, check out what the House debated day and night for a week.

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring) that —

(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and

(2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on Jan. 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.

‘Disapproves’! That’d give any lame duck president the willies!

Anyway, the Times editorial immediately goes on,

The next necessary steps will require harder thinking and harder choices. Congress needs to do what Mr. Bush is refusing to do: link further financing for the war to the performance of Iraq’s Shiite-led government, which is making no serious effort to rescue its country from civil war.

It’s all very well for the Times to demand harder thinking from Congress, but in my view, they could make a more convincing case for this if they exercised their own cognitive capacity at least to the extent of observing the situation in Iraq. The ‘Iraqi government’ is an instrument of US policy! It was established as window dressing for the US occupation. What it does and doesn’t do corresponds to what the occupation forces demand of it. It can’t rescue ‘its country’ from the civil war that the US precipitated with malice aforethought. If the Times were the least bit serious in its professed concern about the sectarian violence, it would refrain from demanding that

Congress needs to impose clear benchmarks and rigorous timetables, insisting that the Iraqi government stop equivocating and start disarming sectarian militias, adopt a formula to share oil revenues equitably and end employment discrimination against Sunni Arabs. Congress must be prepared to cut off financing if the Iraqis refuse.

Instead, it would attribute blame where it lies, with the invasion and occupation itself. Instead of the smoke and mirrors of their puerile and transparent calls to threaten the Iraq quislings, they need to make demands directly on the organ grinder. As for the oil revenues, well, why do they keep going on about that, as if that little ‘production sharing agreements’ scandal weren’t already out in the open.

Congress’s overriding goal must be to find the most responsible way to extricate American troops from what is becoming an increasingly unwinnable war, while trying to contain the suffering and minimizing the damage to American interests in the region.

The war was never winnable because it started off on bogus grounds. A US invasion could never achieve the disarmament of Iraq for the simple reason that Iraq had no WMD. So what could they mean by ‘win’. The US has already installed the compliant ‘government’ it always wanted. Cheney’s Halliburton cronies have made off with billions in ‘reconstruction’ loot and the Iraqis still don’t have power, safe water, sewerage, schools, hospitals, and all the other stuff two US wars and over a decade of US sanctions have deprived them of. They’ve instituted the tax and oil exploitation regime of the neocons’ dreams. They have a military foothold in the middle of the planet’s principal oil producing region. The only problem is the hearts and minds of the Iraqis. That’s all that’s left to win. And maybe that’s not so much of a problem.

Which reminds me, I don’t think I’ve mentioned this in an actual blog post, although I’ve put it in a comment or two. The Johns Hopkins survey report in October that estimated the number of excess deaths in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion at about 655,000 was conducted in May-July last year. Iraqis have obviously continued dying since then, and at an accelerating pace, from all reports.

Deploying a slightly suspect methodology, I have averaged the estimate, along with the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval that the Lancet paper reported, to arrive at new estimates. On this basis, the probable number of excess Iraqi deaths as of this month stands at 769,583. Projecting from the July figures, we would be 95% certain that the true number lies in the range between 461,750 and 1,107,597. And counting. Since the numbers dying is on the increase, this is almost certainly an underestimation and the probability that at least 450,000 have died is therefore very high. Clearly there’s no point in even asking why these numbers don’t see the light of day in the mainstream press – only American deaths count.

So, of the estimated pre invasion population of 27 million, the occupation troops have already killed at least 450,000, and perhaps as many as 1.1 million – that would be over 4% of the population, and counting. Another 2 million have been driven into exile, with 2000 more leaving daily.

But surely that can’t be what they mean by ‘contain the suffering’? These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. For every estimated death, there are quite literally uncounted injured people, most of whom don’t have access to the treatment and medication, even the pain relief, that might ameliorate their personal suffering. Nobody knows how many have received injuries that will make them miserable for the rest of their lives. And for every injured person, there must be at least one family member suffering alongside them, perhaps devoting themselves to the care of the wounded.

Obviously the bottom line is, as always, ‘American interests in the region’. It goes without saying that America has interests in the Persian Gulf region just as it goes without saying that Iraq has no interests in, say, the Caribbean. In a shameless replay of the tradition of US ‘left’ criticism of the Vietnam adventure, it’s not that there was anything wrong with invading Iraq on bogus pretexts, turning the place into a shambles, deliberately setting ethnic and religious groups at each others’ throats… It was an honest ‘mistake’. ‘We’ meant well. After all, ‘we’, in the words of Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, who makes Thomas L Friedman look like a rational human being, conducted ‘a war that toppled a monstrous dictatorship, opened the door to decent Arab governance, and has become the central front in the struggle against radical Islam’. And due to Bush’s bungling, and not any ulterior motives or greed or anything like that, now ‘our’ precious ‘interests’ are in peril and we need to minimise damage to them.

The LA Times in a slightly less cynical vein, thought

But what the members said was less important than what they did, which was to give vent to the American people's impatience with a war that has cost more than 3,000 American lives and will soon begin its fifth year.

Giving vent to impatience is at least as good as actually ending the carnage, obviously, and the carnage that counts is the 3000 US troops recorded as killed in the invasion and occupation so far, not counting mercenaries and the like.

The LA Times also reports

But Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) asked Democrats: "How can we say you support the troops when you don't support sending the people necessary to back them up to do the job that we sent them there to do to start with?"

I don’t suppose there’s anything particularly unusual about electing representatives whose memories don’t extend back four years when ‘the job that we sent them there to do to start with’ was to disarm Saddam Hussein’s regime of the WMDs that could reach London within 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe’s editorial makes the point that

A non binding resolution has rarely resolved anything. But that vote, and another expected today in the Senate, are the beginnings of a serious effort on Capitol Hill that could -- and, it is to be hoped, will -- force a change in the administration's calamitous war policy.

They note further

There is an irony here that may transcend the Iraq war itself. For six years, Bush has steadily grasped at the powers of Congress, the courts, and the people themselves, brazenly claiming them for the executive branch. Now, his invasion of Iraq, with its false advertising and bungled occupation, plus his stony resistance to wise counsel, including that from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, have led Congress to challenge two of the most fundamental presidential prerogatives -- the powers to prosecute wars and to set foreign policy.

And they quote, seemingly with approval,

Representative Henry Waxman of California said flatly on the House floor yesterday that it is "time for Congress to use the appropriations process to end this war."

Since then, of course, the Senate failed by four votes to decide to consider the resolution from the House of Representatives. A shame, really, when according to the Globe

Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware has suggested that the 2002 congressional authorization of force in Iraq could now be declared null and void since its rationale -- weapons of mass destruction -- has turned out to be nonexistent and the target -- Saddam Hussein -- is dead. A congressional vote to withdraw the 2002 resolution could leave Bush with questionable authority.

But the Senate will have to consider the funding bill and from what I read there is very little cause for optimism. Even though the Democrats acknowledge that they gained control of the House on the strength of the perception that they would get out of Iraq, I don’t think there’s any question where they really stand. Majority Leader Pelosi has absolutely ruled out impeachment, which strongly suggests bad faith at least on her part. And she’s not the leader because she bucks the trends in the party. The majority in the Senate was a myth to begin with, as it counted Connecticut Senator Joseph ‘Starve the Palestinians into submission’ Lieberman as a Democrat, even though he was elected as an independent over the Democratic candidate.

What I want to see from the Democratic Congress is starts out by refusing to fund the occupation for another minute. Biden’s recission resolution sounds like a good idea. Everyone who voted for that should be deeply ashamed and frankly, I’m surprised they are even prepared to appear in public, much less run for public office. Not that I believe for an instant that Obama would have hesitated to authorise Bush to do his worst, but at least he wasn’t there at the time. Senator Clinton, for one, however, is not in the least embarrassed.

“If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from,” Mrs. Clinton told an audience in Dover, N.H.

There are indeed others to choose from, though I couldn’t say whether any of them would be an improvement. Still, if she can’t admit a mistake, ‘the Free World’ will be better off without such a leader. Sure, it’s about time the US had a woman as head of state, but is it absolutely de rigueur that she be cut in exactly the same mould as Mrs Aquino, Mrs Bhutto, Mrs Meir, Mrs Çiller, and Mrs Gandhi?

Everybody in the peace movement knew the Office of Special Plans ‘intelligence’ was a crock, but why should a Senator with access to information resources we can’t even dream of be embarrassed to have swallowed that neocon crap hook, line, and sinker?

Beyond that, none of this weaselly talk of ‘withdrawal’, ‘over the horizon’, ‘bases’, and whatnot. Get the troops onto all those ships lurking in the Gulf menacing Iran and sail them back to the Continental US, where they can, if they’re so inclined, protect US citizens from the Nicaraguan and Venezuelan hordes poised to attack.

Then we can start talking about reparations.


  1. Yeah, every time I read or listen to or watch any corporate news sources, I have to make a concerted effort not to smash something when the whining about "the Iraqis not living up to their side of the bargain" or some such bullshit is delivered, inevitably by some liberal who is "opposed to the war". Often this will be accompanied by further ruminations about the disappointing fact that "we invaded the wrong country" while Iran or North Korea are "busy threatening us" and Sudan is "perpetrating genocide". Such is what passes for "anti-war" sentiment among liberals. Still, it's silly not to enter into a tactical alliance with them to help liberate Iraq (from us, that is).

  2. Thanks for your comment, Christian. I sympathise with your frustration, but please don't take it out on innocent pieces of electronic gadgetry. Best of luck with your tactical alliance with the Democrats. I sincerely hope it gets the troops well and truly out of Iraq. But I'm not holding my breath. A few million people on the street would probably be more effective, if you can manage it.

  3. ernie, I totally agree. I didn't mean an alliance with Democratic politicians - they won't move without pressure - but rather with the large segment of the US population that opposes the Iraq war without sharing my/our general political/ideological convictions, in order to put sufficient pressure on said Democrats. Is it possible? I dunno. It might be that ruling class disenchantment with the war will become strong enough to end it. That has happened before.

  4. That has indeed happened before. But in the early 1970s, nobody was talking about 'peak oil' and Vietnam never had the second biggest petroleum reserves on the planet. So I'm not sure the parallel is that exact. If there were a real antiwar component to the Democrats' verbiage and activity, I would consider that evidence of a change of heart on the part of the ruling class, or at least a split among them.

    But as far as I can tell, there are only one or two Democrats way out at the fringe who are even talking about actually bringing troops home, as opposed to redeployment to Kurdistan and Kuwait or the like.

    And even if they were, they still refuse to distance themselves from the position that it is essentially ok for the US to send troops where it likes to 'protect US interests'. I haven't heard any Democrats, for example, saying, 'Iran has interests, too, you know, and surely if anyone had a real right to preemption, it would have to be them.' Or anything like that. Much less rejecting the whole bogus concept of 'national interest'.

    When people get organised and take action with a will to win, we can extract whatever concessions we like from whatever party the ruling class happens to prefer at the time. If people put their mind to it, we could have the troops home, and socialised medicine to boot, tomorrow. Well, within a few weeks, anyway. If you know how to get people off the couch and into the street, please let me know!

  5. As if to make my point for me, in support of his proposal to defund the Iraq war, Senator Russ Feingold told the Senate Friday,

    '…Congress can and should use its power of the purse to end our involvement in the Iraq war, safely redeploying the troops while ensuring, as I do in my bill, that important counterterrorism and training missions are still carried out.

    'We should be coming up with a strategy for post-redeployment Iraq and the region that is squarely within the context of the global fight against al-Qaida. That means replacing a massive, unsustainable and unlimited military mission with a long-term strategy for mitigating the mess left behind by this war. With such a strategy, we can redirect substantially more resources and attention to the fight against al-Qaida and other international terrorist organizations.'