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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

St. Patrick's Day Madman

March 17, 2008



"Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released new jobs figures for February. The unemployment rate decreased to 4.8 percent, below the averages for the past three decades..."
-Bush to the Economic Club in New York

See? As we mentioned just a couple of days ago, President Bush did, in fact, lead with "the good news" about his economy. Regardless of the fat that the unemployment statistics exclude those who have simply given up on their search for work after months, if not years, of searching, President Bush found it necessary to lead off with that "good news".

"...but nonfarm payroll employment decreased by 63,000 jobs,"
-Bush, continuing the sentence

Just another temporary glitch in the Bush vernacular. he continues:

"Our economy has added about 860,000 jobs over the last 12 months – an average of 72,000 jobs per month – and more than 8.1 million since August 2003,"
-Bush, from the same paragraph

It's like a roller coaster ride of economic news.

If you had the "good fortune" to hear President Bush's speech to that supportive audience in New York the other day, you would have had to ask yourself just what in the world he was talking about. Even the title of the speech was surreal:

"Taking Responsible Action To Keep Our Economy Growing"

Isn't "growth" measured in increases? The only thing which this administration has done is to keep our economy in the toilet.

"The U.S. economy is structurally sound for the long term, but growth has slowed."

How many times have we heard that very same sentiment over the past seven-plus years in speeches, on Fox News and from any and all of the President's Sunday Morning mouthpieces given a chance to distort reality. Is there even one regular American who thinks the Bush economy is sound? Is there anyone out there in the American middle class who is experiencing "growth"? I don't think so.

"The President and his Administration are taking action to address economic uncertainties and to keep our economy growing."

The key word is "growth" boys and girls. and, as they have done so often in the past with buzzwords, President Bush and his cronies must think that by telling us over and over and over again that his economy is "growing" will, in fact, make it so. it won't.

Yes, "growth" is that new word, boys and girls. The only thing that's actually growing are their noses.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

When the next president–John McCain, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama–takes office on January 20, 2009, the U.S. will have been in Iraq nearly six years. When that president, whoever it is, finishes his or her first term of office in 2013, the U.S. will have been in Iraq for two months short of a decade.

But wait, you say. Hillary Clinton has promised to begin withdrawing troops within 60 days of taking office. Barack Obama has promised to withdraw all American troops by the end of his first term in office. It’s John McCain who has said we may need to have troops in Iraq for 100 more years.

A year ago, when all three candidates began running for president, Iraq was *the* issue for American voters. The 2006 Congressional races determined that Iraq was the pre-eminent concern among voters of both parties. Republicans, viewed as the pro-war party, lost seats in Congress while Democrats–including several new, staunchly anti-war candidates–won seats.

But in the intervening time, the American economy has gone into free-fall and recession, the housing and mortgage crises have exploded, personal bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures have reached a level not seen since the Great Depression and now the overwhelming issue for voters is the economy. The war–the most powerful motivator at the polls in November 2006–is now a very distant third after the economy and health care. The war ranks as the most important issue for a mere ten percent of voters.

On March 14th, John McCain was in Philadelphia campaigning. He noted that al-Qaeda would likely orchestrate something in October to try and sway the American election.

Some might call McCain’s comments the politics of fear, but his comment reflects the politics of reality. The election in Spain swung in a different direction after the al-Qaeda bombings on March 11, 2004 that killed 198 people and injured 1,824. The attacks came three days before the election.

No one can predict what kind of October surprise might jar the candidates for president in a few months, nor in which direction. But what we can predict is this: The troops are not coming home.

Last week when Obama’s senior foreign relations advisor, Samantha Power, was forced to resign, it was promoted in the press as if she resigned due to comments she made about Hillary Clinton to a prominent U.K. newspaper.

But sources within the Obama campaign say that other comments by Power were far more damaging to the candidate, and those were the real reason she was asked to leave.

Obama has been running as the anti-war candidate. The media has ignored his votes to fund the war since he’s been in the Senate and turned an equally blind eye toward his other pro-war votes. But it was Power’s remarks in a BBC interview that were most problematic to the senator, given his rhetoric on the war.

Power said, unequivocally, that Obama’s speeches about withdrawing troops were not reliable in terms of the future. That this was basic campaign rhetoric and that when elected, Obama would have to determine whether or not to withdraw troops based on the facts on the ground.

Power was not some low-level surrogate; she was Obama’s most highly placed foreign relations advisor. She’s a Harvard professor who left her job to work for Obama. She’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who wrote about genocide and Darfur.

Are we to disbelieve Power’s statements about Obama on the war? Does he intend to withdraw troops regardless, as he says in every speech and at every campaign stop? Or was Power stating the obvious: Obama has no real plan to withdraw troops from Iraq.

Much has been made about Hillary Clinton’s initial vote for the war. That vote has been the only rationale some on the left can give for not supporting her candidacy. Film maker Michael Moore, for example, has said he is “morally prohibited” from voting for Clinton because of her initial vote to support Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

But like so many others, Moore was not equally morally prohibited from voting for John Kerry or John Edwards, both of whom also voted for the war initially. Nor is he morally prohibited from voting for Obama who has supported the war in his votes.

Personally, I prefer the Clinton stance–she voted for the war initially, but has rejected it since. Obama professed to be against the war initially (he wasn’t holding any public office at the time nor running for office, so what he said about the war had the same weight as what you or I might have said). But he’s voted to support it ever since.

Seems contradictory.

McCain has more clarity as a candidate on the war. He not only has always supported it, he thought it was being waged badly and repeatedly said so. Few could argue against that assertion, of course. After all, the U.S. sent three times as many troops into the first Gulf War than it did into Iraq.

But on balance, it doesn’t matter what any of these three candidates tell their constituents or possible voters. There is only one reality regarding Iraq: We are there for the foreseeable future.

Bush invaded Iraq on March 23, 2003 because he claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that threatened the U.S. and Europe. Saddam Hussein was deposed two months later. He went into hiding and was captured on December 13, 2003. He was executed after a short trial on December 30, 2006.
Why are we still in Iraq?

There were no weapons of mass destruction. The so-called intelligence saying that there were, including all of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s pie charts and aerial photographs allegedly showing where the WMD caches lay, were lies. There never were any WMD.

That was the initial reason for invading Iraq. President Bush told us that Iraq posed a real threat to the country because of its nuclear arsenal.

When the WMD threat was exposed as non-existent, the rationale for our invasion became retroactively about deposing a murderous dictator. We did that.

Why are we still in Iraq?

One of the perils of deposing dictators is one never can be sure why that country has a dictator in the first place. In Iraq, the reason seems to have been, in retrospect, because ethnic rivalries were impossible to control and contain.

The civil war that the U.S. invasion unleashed in Iraq between Sunnis and Shi’ites claimed the majority of the lives lost among Iraqis after the first year of the war. Daily bombings–cars, markets, mosques, schools–killed tens of thousands and wounded more. The flood of refugees from Iraq to neighboring countries has numbered in the millions. Iraq was a shambles and ethnic and religious rivalries flared to murderous levels. Torture gangs and death squads roamed the cities at night, claiming victims.

The infrastructure of Iraq, never in good condition, was virtually decimated by the U.S. invasion. Electricity and water remain undependable resources. The daily and exponential nature of the violence has riven the country. Sunnis and Shi’ites are not safe in each other’s neighborhoods. The invasion of Iraq caused chaos in the country. The third rationale for invasion–post WMD and post deposing of Saddam Hussein–was to establish a democracy in Iraq. Iraqis held their first election–amid bloodshed and intimidation–on January 30, 2005. The new government is corrupt and inadequate to control the violence or help mend the shattered infrastructure. Outside influences, notably Iran, have stoked the ethnic violence.

Why are we still in Iraq?

At press time, 3,997 Americans had been killed and close to 40,000 had been wounded or injured in Iraq. Two thirds of the wounded suffered life-altering injuries–brain trauma, amputation, blindness, third and fourth degree burns.

There was never a plan for American withdrawal. The Pentagon acknowledges there was no plan. The Bush Administration says no plan was needed.

But because there was no plan going in, there seems no conceivable way to exit.

I support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. I wish I could say that her plan to withdraw from Iraq is the best. It isn’t. Barack Obama has repeatedly stated his objections to the war, but he has no actionable plan for withdrawal either.

Both Clinton and Obama have made it clear that when they say “withdrawal” they don’t mean *all* the troops. Both candidates acknowledge that they will be leaving troops in Iraq. Whether they will be there for the 100 years McCain says they might be needed is difficult to say. American troops have been in Germany and Japan since the end of World War II: 62 years. Our troops have been stationed in South Korea since the end of the Korean War: 58 years.

Does 100 years still sound far-fetched in one of the most volatile regions on the planet?

One of the reasons the war has receded for Americans is because they aren’t involved in the war. Unless yours is a military family, you can go days, weeks, even months and not even think about the war.

Twelve soldiers were killed in Iraq on March 13th, yet it barely made the news. We have other concerns now. Clinton and Obama are at war for the Democratic nomination. That’s the only war we talk about these days.

The Iraq war, and its companion, the war in Afghanistan, have been all but forgotten by a majority of Americans.

In times of war, citizens should be expected to sacrifice. When I was a kid, my grandparents talked a lot about rationing and other sacrifices that they had to make during World War II.

Every time anyone climbs into an SUV they are making the case for keeping our troops in Iraq to fuel their cars. Where’s the sacrifice?

Iraq and Afghanistan might as well be the covert wars of the 1980s. We are not a nation at war. We are a nation at the mall. Only our military–men and women who are almost wholly from the poor and working class–is at war, taking the hits for the entire country.

The war on Iraq has gone on longer than WWI, WWII and Korea.

By November the war will have cost, according to a recent MSNBC report, $1 trillion.

The war is no longer on the radar screens of the majority of Americans because it doesn’t have to be. The President who took us into the war based on intelligence he knew to be false doesn’t seem to think about the war, either. He doesn’t talk about it. He ignores it just as he ignored he Vietnam War when he was supposed to serve.

But for the 160,000 troops in Iraq, the war goes on. Violence–quelled initially by the troop surge–is on the rise. The Iraqi government is no closer to taking the reins of its own destiny than it was three years ago when the elections were held. The troops scheduled to be withdrawn by Christmas–still there. The troops from the surge–still there.

How will we withdraw our troops? If we loosen our control over the most volatile regions, violence will flare there, as it has in Basra since the British withdrawal of troops.

If we begin to withdraw according to the Clinton plan, won’t the violence escalate, putting our remaining troops at risk and also endangering Iraqi civilians?
Does Obama plan to withdraw troops at all?

And where does McCain intend to get the troops to station in Iraq for the next 100 years and how does he “win” a war that everyone says is unwinnable?

The reality on the ground is that Iraq is no closer to real democracy and real freedom than it was the day after the invasion. There’s a government in place, but it doesn’t work. There are Iraqi troops being trained, but they defect to different radical elements easily and readily.

It’s five years since Bush invaded Iraq. Saddam Hussein is dead. The people have voted.

So why are we still in Iraq? Is there really any way out?

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-Noah Greenberg