Congress finally got the message and began its own withdrawal from the Bush war policies this week, after many months of silent paralysis. On Wednesday I met with a staffer involved for three months in “slow, painful” internal Senate negotiations which had resulted in the murky bipartisan resolution passed with 79 votes the day before. The Washington Post headline summarized it well: “Senate Presses for Concrete Steps Toward Drawdown of Troops in Iraq.” Would there be follow up?, I asked the longtime insider. “I doubt it, because it took so much to get even to this point”, was the reply. It would be “premature” to expect much more in the short term, I was advised.
The aide was wrong. The Senate may have been exhausted for the moment, but in the next 24 hours:
Nineteen House members attended a press conference to endorse various resolutions to cut off funding (McGovern) or set withdrawal timetables (Abercrombie-Jones).
The once-hardline Rep. Jane Harman advocated an exit strategy proposal in a Capitol Hill publication.
Rep. John Murtha stunned the pundit class by advocating a six-month withdrawal, too much for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
In the previous few days, Sen. John Kerry and former senators John Edwards and Tom Daschle
stepped up their calls for a withdrawal plan.
It is much too early to predict a flood, but the ice age has ended in Washington. It is a time reminiscent of Watergate, when the US intervention in Vietnam collapsed as the White House was weakened by scandals arising from its covert operations against the anti-war movement.
The strategy of “Iraqization” seems finished except as a figleaf. The new Iraqi constitution, which damages the interests of Sunnis and women, barely passed amidst widespread accusations of voter fraud. Then came the discovery of the Saddam-style torture chamber operated by Shiite militias under cover of the Iraqi army. The discredited Achmad Chalabi brazenly flirted with high US officials about returning to power. If US and British troops redeploy, it is hard to imagine the Iraqi army standing up against the Iraqi resistance.
Reeling from internal turmoil, scandals and declining poll numbers, the White House has lost its sound bite. When Bush and Cheney accused Democrats of changing their minds, as if they should continue to embrace fabricated evidence, Murtha blasted Cheney as a five-deferment Dick.
The media’s humiliating wartime collaboration with the Bush Administration, shown last week by the New York Times’ dismissal of Judith Miller, was underscored anew by revelations that Bob Woodward, considered a media “god” according to the Washington Post, had kept from his own editors his secret interviews with White House officials about Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame. As Nixon once dismissed the Watergate scandal as a “third-rate burglary”, Woodward dismissed the current scandal as merely “chatter”, lacking an underlying crime, “not one to go to court with” – the very day before Lewis Libby was indicted. [nyt, nov. 17,05]
These were dizzying, stupifying role reversals. The former hawks were calling for peace! The former investigative reporters were keeping state secrets! Republicans were turning into Democrats faster than Democrats could switch from being Republicans!
And of course it all was defined as an inside game of jockeying among the powerful, when in fact it was the outside pressure of thousands of activists, letter-writers, marchers, door-knockers, bloggers, anti-recruiters, quakers, code pinkers, moveon.niks and angry military families who were the motors turning the fans that blew the wind.
Those at the top can’t cope with the idea that movements with an outside game are capable of upsetting the future that the inside elites have planned. It’s as hard for them as for pigs seeing what they are stepping in. So in explaining the sudden Congressional shift, Dan Balz of the Post made eight references to “public opinion” without a single acknowledgement of organized public opinion. Balz notes “growing public frustration” (twice), “public anxiety”, “increasingly unhappy” constituents, and quotes Sen. John Warner as “’not unmindful’ of widespread unease in public opinion.”
It is a moment for anti-war activists to claim some measure of success, after many months of pounding against the walls of war.
But progress has a painful price. Americans and Iraqis continue to die everyday in a widely-rejected war, and not a single American soldier has been withdrawn. While the anti-war talk in Washington is a welcome development, it is also prompted by an incumbent desire to lull the public into trusting their leaders during an election year. According to one insider, the official debate “has now shifted to how to get out of Iraq” because “that is where the public is, and the senators were making sure that were on the right side of the political debate.” [W. Post, Nov. 16, 05].
The question is how the invisible anti-war movement can intervene to make the politicians keep up their forced march out of Iraq. The Nation magazine, in an historical front-cover editorial, has one suggestion for starters: refuse to support any candidate in either party unless they commit to a speedy end to this war. In an election year promising to be relatively competitive, that’s a message any candidate can hear.