We Live On Borrowed Time: Talking Points for Democrats and Activists

"I know, therefore, that we live on borrowed Time." Ending the War in Iraq, 2007, p. 208

1. We need to understand, name, blame, and frame the Long War Doctrine:
The Long War Doctrine -- advanced by Pentagon planners and neo-conservatives almost ten years ago -- projects up to 80 years of US military intervention to "win" the battle with radical jihadists. The implications are almost unthinkable to most Americans, or at least they have been until now.

Eighty years means 20 presidential terms, twice as many congressional sessions, and bloodletting beyond description, with costs that exceed decades' worth of GDP -- not to mention our political capacity. Can it possibly be winnable or affordable, and based on unified public opinion? Will it bankrupt our budget for health care, social security, education, and climate/environmental protection? Politically, few Republicans or military officials have wanted to open this discussion up to the American people -- yet it's a crucial dimension we need to insert into public debate right now.

2. We need to turn up the pressure on Republicans to vote for an Authorization for the Use of Military Force against ISIS:
Authorization with timelines that check a 'Long War' and require periodic congressional review and renewal; otherwise the Republicans will advocate a permanent and unlimited Long War. This is an untenable position for most Americans given what they now know about ISIS. It requires a shift in thinking as well for many Democrats shaped by the previous fights over an Iraq timetable for withdrawal.

3. We must demand a surtax for the war:
A war tax, from the military-industrial contractors and the wealthy elite who will profit from escalation and see few of their children become combat troops.

4. We must demand protections of fairness:
Each of our wars has involved huge questions about fairness -- from the '30s to the '60s, about providing veterans pay and bonuses, the GI Bill, ending Jim Crow in the army and the defense industries, advancing the Great Society during Vietnam, and the reducing the vast disparities of opportunity tearing us apart today. Any war against ISIS will set off a domestic conflict at home. The question is not whether we will have a war presidency -- that's almost inevitable. The real question is whether the Republicans will escalate this war ahead while exploiting the opportunity to dismantle Social Security, Obamacare and the gamut of voting rights, equal opportunity and diversity protections achieved so painfully in the past decades. Will the Republicans and their ultra-fervent base demand a war against domestic programs as the "necessary" price of war with ISIS?

5. We must assume that a war presidency lies ahead:
Obama and the Democrats already have added 25,000 ground troops, an increase of Special Operations forces well beyond the fifty already promised, more bombing and strafing, and training of Iraqi and Afghan ground troops, the latter approach so far unsuccessful. The more hawkish Hillary fits the American mood and Bernie's statements seem to assume the necessity of some sort of war ahead. What they both share, however, is a commitment to taxing the rich and protecting or expanding the civilian budget. That promises a political war at home against neoconservatives and Republicans who share a faith-based view of austerity and rollback of civil rights, labor, health care, and Social Security protections. The enemy here is not simply Donald Trump with his shock talk, but the whole Republican Party.

6. We all must realize now that the era of mass shootings and police killings has escalated:
The latest massacre in San Bernardino conclusively ties the issues of war abroad and at home into one crisis. Like 9/11, the killings in San Bernardino were not expected by the FBI or law enforcement, and in fact the links to jihad were denied at first. Official cluelessness only worsens public confidence and spikes the sales of domestic weapons of destruction. The Chicago police debacle is the latest, and perhaps most shocking, example of the reflexive tendency of police officers to overreact at the least perception of "threats" by underclass youth and resume the "war on gangs" from the early Nineties. My sources in LA say the street wars are beginning again. The deep differences in racial perception are obvious from polling of white/black/brown opinion on stop-and-frisk reforms from liberal Manhattan to "reformed" Los Angeles. The national security crisis is becoming seamless. Paul Krugman is right in shaming Republicans and the NRA as enemies of civilization. Lines will harden, with progress on gun control coming from progressive states and cities. Perhaps with background support from the US Supreme Court.

7. We must trust that heroes like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln will emerge in this crisis:
The left and labor movements paved the way towards the New Deal, just as slave resistance and Abolitionism led to a Union Army with thousands of black volunteers. Icons like "Rosie the Riveter" and Sojourner Truth inspired a more progressive nation. In recent decades, however, icons like FDR and the slain Lincoln have been more remembered for the New Deal and the 13, 14, and 15th Amendments. The truth is that they fought bloody wars during their presidencies, until their enemies surrendered. Americans died in many battlefields, paying for our domestic gains in pools of blood. The right-wing forces, including racists and domestic fascists, still resist the progress for civil rights and labor rights a century later. The liberal-left still argues for "ending the war" without practical achievable steps for doing so. Insistence on mandatory power sharing through a peace summit may ripen in the days ahead, but further escalation is what our history suggests. Leadership arises from crisis; starting with an independent Senator here or a powerful journalist there, with people marching as the background beat. This is a marching season.

8. Beyond the New Deal and civil rights era gains, we need to recognize that the next great chapter of social progress has to be a clean energy economy that will aim to save the planet itself: The current war means burning fossil fuels in a greedy scramble to extract even more. In this case as well, the Republican Party represents an unpatriotic threat to our own national security and global civilization.
My wife Barbara Williams has added a new meaning to the Albert Camus story of Sisyphus, who was condemned to push the rock back up the hill eternally. In her version, in pushing the rock we become stronger, not weaker. The chant "Push that rock" is realism for radicals and reformers today. We are getting stronger, and we can hope that the balance of forces will reach and pass over the tipping point sometime soon. That's our history, and we must make it our future.