foreign policy, cheap

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Returning you now to your regularly scheduled program.

Brent Scowcroft’s interview with Paul Goldberger in the New Yorker has been going the rounds in the anti-war sphere. And in one way, that’s a good thing – LI believes that the anti-war movement has foolishly excluded its natural adherents, Republicans with their state at home instincts, partly because anti-war organizers are as naturally attuned to the Democratic party as bats are to their echolocation systems. Unfortunately, there is no reason to think that the Democratic party leadership was opposed to invading Iraq. The main difference is that the Democratic party leadership thinks it could have occupied Iraq in a gentler, friendlier fashion. We think the Democratic party leadership is a load of piffle.

But so, too, is it a load of piffle to welcome Scowcroft, the man who was on board operation Just Cause in Panama, the first post Cold War Intervention, into the anti-war camp as a long lost prophet.

The day Gulf War one erupted into troop movements, LI was out there with other marchers protesting it, chanting that eternal leftist joke, the people united will never be defeated. It was not a war America should ever have constructed. But our opposition to the war changed with the war. Opposing the start of the war, we also opposed the end of the war. If there was ever a time to occupy Iraq, it was, of course, at the end of Gulf War One. The call for an uprising among the Shi’a and the refusal to do anything to help as Saddam Hussein cut them down in their thousands was a great and brainless crime. Once the war was commenced, ending it halfway and then trying to preserve the patient etherized upon the table indefinitely was obviously a blunder. Or rather, there was a brain behind this – a brain that construed realism as the fantasy that the U.S. could pretend that Iran could be preserved cryogenically outside of the Middle Eastern system, and that looked at the whole area as an American opportunity for dominance. That fantasy required a Saddam Hussein to fill multiple roles. There was also another thought in that reptilian brain: any attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein, at that time, would have been made by a real coalition. Hence, the Americans wouldn’t be able to treat the country like a playground for the stupider American ideologists. The dreaded French would have had a say in how things were run there. Scowcroft and Bush I are not only Cold Warriors, but Monroe Doctrine warriors – they much prefer unilateral action with proxy death squads in countries that can’t protect themselves South of the Border.

Although I haven’t yet read the article, just the excerpts that have been making the rounds, it does seem that Goldberger asked no questions about Bush’s infamous call to revolt:

“A principal reason that the Bush Administration gave no thought to unseating Saddam was that Brent Scowcroft gave no thought to it. An American occupation of Iraq would be politically and militarily untenable, Scowcroft told Bush. And though the President had employed the rhetoric of moral necessity to make the case for war, Scowcroft said, he would not let his feelings about good and evil dictate the advice he gave the President.

It would have been no problem for America's military to reach Baghdad, he said. The problems would have arisen when the Army entered the Iraqi capital. "At the minimum, we'd be an occupier in a hostile land," he said. "Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas, and, once we were there, how would we get out? What would be the rationale for leaving? I don't like the term 'exit strategy' -- but what do you do with Iraq once you own it?"”

This all too neatly superimposes one war over the other, while begging the too easy question of ownership. As we have pointed out ad nauseam, Northern Iraq, carved out by dint of bombing campaigns, was not occupied by the US, went through a bloody civil war, and self organized into what is, by all accounts, the most functionally competent part of Iraq’s slowly dissolving state. The new fantasy being sold by the war defenders is that, without U.S. troops in Iraq, the whole place will be taken over by Al Qaeda. In reality, the U.S. is afraid that the whole place will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran.

To our mind, the antiwar movement will have failed even if the pressure to withdraw proves irresistible in the next five months – pressure that will certainly be helped by the higher heating bills coming, and the money going out to Iraq (where it fills the pockets of American contracting companies) – if it doesn’t pose questions about the relevance of the U.S. in the Middle East. Without a debate about that, America is condemned to compulsive, bloody interventionism. This is not a debate about realism -- this is a debate about the pattern of America's foreign policy, and its future, and how to embed it more securely in a general politics that loosens the grip of the corporate class. Begin by understanding that America is not an empire of liberty, spreading the spores of the bill of rights, but a powerful nation with material interests, among which we count the management of the smooth flow of petroleum, that unique primary product export, and ideological interests, among which we count the preservation of Israel and a tendency to favor democracy only if that can be accorded with the U.S.’s corporate interests. Because, naturally, the interests of no two nations correspond at all points, every total intervention by the United States will work against democracy, giving that term more than a watered down meaning. Lessening the grip of those corporate interests would necessarily impact on foreign policy; but you cannot serve two masters, as Bob Dylan and Jesus said. You cannot adopt a realistic foreign policy that is baked by corporate shills like Scowcroft and at the same time lessen the corporate grip on the country.

Realism about American foreign policy is really this: foreign policy is the most easily captured area in the States, since the vast majority of Americans really have little knowledge or desire for knowledge about it. I mean most easily in the sense of cheapest. Constituency building, here, is easy, given the relative paucity of players, and so it is also easy, given the right circumstances, for a clique to exert power here – as it is not on, say, health care policy. By that I don't mean that, for instance, Big Pharma doesn’t have a lock on health care policy. I do mean that that lock has to be expensively maintained, and that it must yield to counter interests at certain points. But on, say, Syria, one oppositionist in academia can actually make a difference relatively cheaply. Chalabi bought an invasion for peanuts, really. This is why court society in D.C. loves foreign policy -- it is naturally a monarchical enterprise.

Since we think the D.C. Dems are not the secret dissenters so fondly imagined by the liberal sphere, but firm interventionists who are all about “owning” other countries and see Iraq as a fixer upper that is being ruined by a bungling interior designer, seizing the funding of Iraq as a forum to begin withdrawal is probably not in the cards. If the Dems stab their own constituency in the back this way, it will take a some of heart out of Democratic grassroots activists, which will be construed, by the disastrous “centrist” spokespeople as all in all a good thing.


msw said…
Unfortunately, there is no reason to think that the Democratic party leadership was opposed to invading Iraq.

I think the iraq-invasion-free years of 1992-2000 are a pretty good reason.

(And this seems to be a place frequented by the scratchings guys - are they down? For at least a week, "" has been giving me this error: "ERROR: is temporarily unavailable or does not exist. Please check the address and try again.")
roger said…
MSW -- scratchings had to go down. That's a sad story, which I can't tell, (maybe Harry can) but when it comes up again, I will have a link.

As for the dems -- I think what you are saying might well be true of Clinton's foreign policy. Unfortunately, Clinton purchased the attempt to get a grip on the limits of American power by conceding to the hawks on the dumbest level by cementing the dual containment policy, even when the best chance for an opening to Iran in a generation occured, with the election of an Iranian moderate. The speech just made by Iran's new president points, by contrast, to what we missed.

But I don't think your two inferences -- that the Dem leadership and the Clinton administration were the same thing, and that the same non-interventionism ruled after Clinton stepped down -- are correct. Perhaps to talk about Dem leadership in 2002 is an oxymoron -- after all, the nominal leader, Daschle’s, approach to the Bush administration was the same as a pat of butter’s approach to a hot skillet. However – the comparison that I find interesting is between Dems in 1989, in the run up to the Gulf War I, and Dems in 2002. In that first war, you’ll remember, the Dem leadership was not inclined to give George B I a rubber stamp. And this was after Bush’s popular invasion of Panama. Remember, too, the consequence: the Dems won the presidential election. Of course, the D.C. punditry spent the years between 89 and 92 saying that no Dem who opposed the Gulf War could possibly win, even though Gore had voted no. True, Clinton expressed support for the war, but he was safely a governor. This was a leadership that did oppose the war, and did oppose it in spite of feeling that, at that moment, the balance of forces made the war the more popular course. I think the Dems since 89 have not only lost power, but as the power has ebbed away, they have come to be ever more in thrall to conventional wisdom in D.C. Now, if I were going to run history backwards and posit a Gore presidency, would the Iraq invasion have happened? I don’t think so. But I do think that, granting the initial energy by the neocons in Bush’s administration, the Dem leadership latched onto the invasion, instead of seeing it as ultimately a bad thing. A marriage is a marriage no matter who proposed first, as long as both parties have agreed. And Dems are still in that naked and exposed position.