Playing Politics With the Iraq War Brings Out the Worst in the Duopoly

Both Parties Refuse to Accept Their Shared Responsibility for the Iraq Quagmire

The 2008 elections for Congress and the presidency seem to be the dominant domestic factor in determining the outcome of the Iraq War. The Democrats are using the war to position themselves to win the presidency and expand their majority. The Republicans are trying to keep their base happy until it is too late for incumbents to be challenged. And, the president is using his veto power to show he is still the “decider” not Congress.

One thing both parties agree on — blame the Iraqis rather than take responsibility for a catastrophic quagmire. The leadership of both parties are complicit in supporting the war. Bush certainly led us into war based on lies, but the Democrats knew they were lies as Sen. Dick Durbin admitted last week on the Senate floor, but voted in favor of the use of force resolution. Bush has mismanaged the war but the Democrats have voted for all of the more than $400 billion in funding he has asked for.

The other thing the duopoly agrees on: push the Iraqis to pass an oil law that divides Iraq’s oil wealth between western oil companies and Iraq, while falsely saying it is to divide the oil wealth among Iraqis. The pressure for passage of the oil law shows the real purpose of the invasion of Iraq all along was to ensure that western oil companies get more than their fair share of the trillion dollars in profit that will come from Iraq’s immense oil fields.

The Democrats are walking a tightrope. They are trying to convince their anti-war base, which dominates the party, that they want to end the war. But, the anti-war movement is actually reading the bills and not buying their rhetoric and media summary. The Democratic bill does not end the war. The bill offered a non-binding, exit dates that only covered “combat” troops (less than half the troops in Iraq) and provided loopholes to keep combat troops in Iraq that essentially describe what the troops are currently doing, e.g., protect U.S. interests (especially long-term bases, the embassy, and perhaps also the oil fields that U.S. companies will control), fight terrorists and al-Qaeda, and train Iraqi soldiers. This is not an exit from Iraq it is an extension of the war. Further, the failure to put up any requirement that Bush seek approval from Congress before military action against Iran means the Democrats approach is more likely to lead to a larger war than to the end of the Iraq war.

One thing the Democrats phony end the war efforts have done is shown who the real peace movement isn’t. Unfortunately the establishment media doesn’t get it or does not want to get it. They label groups that are essentially Democratic Party PACS,, VoteVets and unions, as the anti-war movement. These groups have provided cover to the Democrats to extend the war in by supporting the Democrats approach (is it a surprise that Democratic leaning PACS support the Democrats?). The real peace movement, made up of thousands of local and national groups, has consistently opposed the Democratic strategy.

The Democrats will get a sense of their failure to fool the anti-war movement when demonstrations against them continue this summer. Already more than 200 demonstrators have been arrested occupying the offices of Democratic legislators. This summer a coalition of peace organizations have announced a SWARM on Congress beginning on May 14 and extending through July 31 that will escalate opposition to the Democrats failure to end the war. In 2008 Democrats should not expect the peace movement to sit quietly if they run a presidential candidate who does not oppose the war and has not taken action to end the war. A Democrat who is weak on ending the war should expect anti-war protesters to be campaigning at their public events.

Why is President Bush vetoing these weak Democratic bills, because he is nearing the end of his presidency, has historically low approval ratings and is drifting toward irrelevancy — becoming a very lame, lame duck president. By vetoing the Democratic bills he shows he is relevant and that he has more power than the Democrats because they cannot override his vetoes.

The Democratic leadership has helped to empower Bush by rapidly backing down. After his first veto the Democrats took out the advisory deadlines to leave Iraq and now are joining him in blaming the Iraqis and pressuring for passage of an oil law. The House Democrats are suggesting they give Bush all the money he requests but divide the $95 billion appropriation in two parts with the first $43 billion given immediately and the remaining only after Bush shows that the Iraqis are making progress. But, Bush has threatened to veto this as well. He knows he has the Democrats back pedaling, and that if he threatens veto they will back pedal more, disappoint their anti-war base further and if they back pedal fast enough who knows how badly they will trip and fall.

The Republicans are staying with the president. They see that the Republican voting base still supports the war and does not want to leave until the U.S. “wins.” But time is running out for Bush keeping their support. The early primary schedules, developed as a result of the jockeying for the presidential race, will help incumbents by making it hard for challengers to run effective campaigns. By fall it will be evident to incumbents whether they are being challenged and free them up to start focusing on the general election where independent and Democratic voters become more important — voters who oppose the war.

The Republicans know that the repeated votes on Iraq pushed on them by the Democratic leadership are putting them in a deep Iraq War hole. They need to start climbing out. Yesterday, a group of 11 moderate Republicans met with Bush to warn him that the Iraq War threatens the Republican Party. The moderate Republicans shared with Bush polling data that showed serious problems for Republicans because of Iraq. They warned him that they will stick with him for now, but don’t count on it for long.

Even conservative, pro-Bush Republicans, have sent warning signals. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), Republican Whip, told reporters “I do think this fall we have to see some significant changes on the ground, in Baghdad and other surrounding areas.” He warned that without some progress future spending on Iraq is in jeopardy. And Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) the House Minority Whip said “By the time we get to September or October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn’t, what’s Plan B.”

President Bush can help the Republican legislators out of their Iraq hole by starting to bring troops home in 2008. The surge will bring troop levels up to 170,000 so even a withdrawal of 50,000 troops will leave a lot of troops in Iraq but might be enough to fool the voters into thinking that the war is winding down but in reality it would be a ploy to extend the war and neutralize it as an issue in the 2008 election.

The Democrats will only be able to keep the Republican legislators in their Iraq hole by getting serious about ending the war. That means a safe and orderly withdrawal of troops, civilian security forces and U.S. corporate interests along with funds to allow the Iraqis to rebuild their country. This would be the type of actions that would fulfill the voters’ mandate of 2006 and get the peace movement to support Democratic candidates in 2008.

Both parties are playing to their base and trying to fool the voters — the public wants the war to end, but the leadership of neither party is ready to end it. The duopoly remains complicit in one of the most catastrophic foreign policy decisions in U.S. history.

Kevin Zeese co-directs Popular Resistance and is on the coordinating council for the Maryland Green Party. Read other articles by Kevin, or visit Kevin's website.