Four More Years of Blood
The re-election of George Bush has immediate implications for opposition to the Iraq war, in the US and globally. A second-term Bush administration will be entirely intractable in pursuing its military policies in Iraq. Given that anti-American opposition in Iraq will not cease, nor will the application of superior technology succeed in subduing the urban guerilla campaign, US and Iraqi casualties will continue to soar. The US election results mean not only four more years of George Walker Bush, prospectively they mean four more years of bloodletting.
The chauvinistic Texas-bred nationalism that Bush embodies cannot conceive of retreat as less than ignoble, or in Ann Coulter's vicious version, treason itself. It is a self-reinforcing ideology that views itself as engaged in a defense of American freedom and the highest civilizational values, one whose truths are immanent and undeniable. In this white-heat nationalism, leaving the battlefield without prevailing is to betray the foundational ideals of the Republic.
During the early Cold War a perceptive writer described a superpower leader who was convinced "that his society contained no contradictions and that it was superior to every other society in every way." That writer was the Serbian dissident, Milovan Djilas, in his still immensely readable Conversations with Stalin. Djilas' description of Stalin's imperial insularity could as easily apply today to the hubris-filled insularity of George Bush in the White House, center of the last remaining global military empire. Manifest global opposition to the Iraq war, rather than serving to caution the Bush administration - particularly the neo-conservatives formulating its foreign policy - serves instead to confirm the political weakness and ideological inferiority of opponents to the war. To oppose the Iraq war is to love freedom insufficiently, thus be unwilling to sacrifice in its behalf, and finally be weaker in all social parts. It is the 'Western values' mirror to al-Qaeda's love of Allah as its claim of superior strength based on superior ability to sacrifice.
A system of closed logic that regards voicing of arguments opposed to violence as evidence of inherent weakness is caught in political blindness from which there is no escape but failure, a failure that advances rather than prevents disaster. This leads to the trapped position from which the second Bush administration begins. On the one hand it faces the prospect of unremitting guerilla attacks with massive loss of US soldiers and budgetary resources; on the other hand it faces political and ideological de-legitimization if it withdraws from Iraq without guaranteeing - impossible task - the survival of the Allawi government, preferably but not necessarily through nominally democratic elections.
This is the classic position of a colonial power that cannot disengage because military withdrawal would collapse the native elite power structure that has been imposed at great sacrifice of lives and treasury, undertakings that still require public support under the constitutional rules governing a metropolitan democracy. It is a position comparable to that faced by the French in Vietnam and Algeria during the 1950s, where revolutionary forces against occupation created intense political destabilization in metropolitan France. While conservative analysts in the US are anticipating an unparalleled four-year window of opportunity to enact a massive right-wing legislative program that will profoundly alter American society, it is certain that violence in Iraq will shape US domestic politics just as profoundly, possibly even more. This is not to anticipate a constitutional collapse on the scale of the Fourth Republic, but rather to anticipate that the inability of the Bush administration to withdraw from Iraq will generate intense social pressure in the United States against the war.
The now-concluded campaign featured a Republican multi-millionaire against a Democratic billionaire, one of whom invented and prosecuted the Iraq war and the other of whom voted to support it. Nonetheless, great energies were invested by the Kerry campaign in distinguishing their candidate's position in a never-to-be future from his supportive position when the war started. A majority of the US electorate preferred straightforwardness and took its war-mongering straight up. Insofar as it related to the war, centrist-to-liberal political support for Kerry relied on a belief that a middle-of-the-road Kerry government might have been amenable to a combination of domestic and international pressure towards ending the US occupation of Iraq. Indeed, there might have been some hope that a Kerry administration would have begun a process of withdrawing US troops or have initiated steps towards international peacekeeping, but a likelier analysis would suggest that a Kerry administration would have faced hostile and well-entrenched Republican opposition in Congress and little chance of averting the consequences of a Bush fait accompli in Iraq. In short translation, liberal hopes were possibly false hopes, but even these were better than no hope under Bush.
The futility of the US occupation of Iraq is remarkably simple, and it is that futility that will drive US politics from now until the occupation's end. Some current 130,000 US military personnel are stationed in Iraq, and every one them - including thousands flying back in hospital planes and caskets - will be returning to the United States. Well over 20 million Iraqis will be remaining in Iraq and none of them, including the Allawi puppet government, have any discernable disposition to accept fundamental re-constitution of Iraqi society at the hands of the United States. Unless the entire population of Texas is re-settled in Iraq for the next ten generations, an idea that holds possible attractiveness towards improving US political culture, then nothing decided in the United States is going to determine how life will be lived in Iraq. An administration that cannot or prefers not to distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden has indulged in tragic and delusory surrealism as policy, and the US inevitably will be defeated when its last soldier leaves Iraq.
It is the futility of this war that must at minimum become a centerpiece of anti-war organizing in the United States, organizing work that has been too intermittent and has yet to establish a consistently visible presence in US political dynamics. The anti-war movement was a brief transit in John Kerry's political life and he all but disavowed it during his presidential campaign, choosing instead to fashion himself as a "reporting for duty" war hero. Rather than such a failed copycat strategy towards militaristic patriotism, it will be an anti-war movement - one that argues connections between militarism, capitalism, poverty, rampant civil disciplinarism, racism and other social illnesses -- that will establish more durable terms of challenge and change during the second Bush administration.
Joe Lockard is assistant professor of English at Arizona State University and a member of the Bad Subjects Collective.