The days are getting longer, but the media shadows
are no shorter as they cover the war in Iraq through American eyes, squinting
in Washington's pallid sun.
Debated as an issue of politics, the actual war keeps being drained
of life. Abstractions thrive inside the Beltway, while the war effort
continues: funded by the U.S. Treasury every day, as the original
crime of invasion is replicated with occupation.
More than ever, in the aftermath of the Scooter Libby verdict, the
country's major news outlets are willing to acknowledge that the
political road to war in Iraq was paved with deceptions. But the same
media outlets were integral to laying the flagstones along the path
to war – and they're now integral to prolonging the war.
With the same logic of one, two, and three years ago, the conformist
media wisdom is that a cutoff of funds for the war is not practical.
Likewise, on Capitol Hill, there's a lot of huffing and puffing about
how the war must wind down – but the money for it, we're told, must
keep moving. Like two rails along the same track, the dispensers of
conventional media and political wisdom carry us along to more and
more and more war.
The antiwar movement is now coming to terms with measures being
promoted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi and Reid have a job to do. The antiwar movement has a job to
do. The jobs are not the same.
This should be obvious – but, judging from public and private
debates now fiercely underway among progressive activists and
organizations, there's a lot of confusion in the air.
No amount of savvy Capitol-speak can change the fact that "benchmarks"
are euphemisms for more war. And when activists pretend otherwise, they play
into the hands of those who want the war to go on… and on… and on.
Deferring to the Democratic leadership means endorsing loopholes that leave
the door wide open for continued U.S. military actions inside Iraq – whether
justified as attacks on fighters designated as al-Qaeda in Iraq, or with reclassification
of U.S. forces as "trainers" rather than "combat troops."
And an escalating U.S. air war could continue to bomb Iraqi neighborhoods for
The position being articulated by Reps. Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey,
and others in Congress is the one that the antiwar movement should unite behind
– to fully fund bringing the troops home in a safe and orderly way, while
ending the entire U.S. occupation and war effort, by the end of 2007.
We're urged to take solace from the fact that Washington's debate has
shifted to "when" – rather than "whether" – the war should
the end of the U.S. war effort could be deferred for many more years
while debates over "when" flourish and fester. This happened during
the Vietnam War, year after year, while death came to tens of
thousands more American soldiers and perhaps a million more
Pelosi is speaker of the House, and Reid is majority leader of the
Senate. But neither speaks for, much less leads, the antiwar movement
that we need.
When you look at the practicalities of the situation, Pelosi and Reid
could be more accurately described as speaker and leader for the
A historic tragedy is that the most hefty progressive organization, MoveOn,
seems to have wrapped itself around the political sensibilities of Reid, Pelosi,
and others at the top of Capitol Hill leadership. Deference to that leadership
is a big mistake. We already have a Democratic Party. Over time, a vibrant progressive
group loses vibrance by forfeiting independence and becoming a virtual appendage
of party leaders.
Last week, while MoveOn was sending out a mass e-mail to its 3.2
million members offering free bumper stickers urging "End This War,"
the MoveOn leadership was continuing its failure to back the efforts
of the Congressional Progressive Caucus for "a fully funded, and
systematic, withdrawal of U.S. soldiers and military contractors from
There are rationales for uniting behind practical measures, and
sometimes they make sense. But the MoveOn pattern has been unsettling
and recurring. Power brokerage is not antiwar leadership.
The U.S. Constitution and the federal courts are clear: Only through
the "power of the purse" can Congress end a war. It's good to see
MoveOn churning out bumper stickers that advocate an end to the Iraq
war – but sad to see its handful of decision-makers failing to
support a measure to fund an orderly and prompt withdrawal from the
On Capitol Hill, most Democrats seem to have settled on a tactical
approach of simultaneously ratifying and deploring the continuation
of the war. The approach may or may not be savvy politics in a narrow
sense of gaining temporary partisan political advantage. But it is
ultimately destructive to refuse to do the one thing that the
Constitution empowers Congress to do to halt a U.S. war – stop
appropriating taxpayer money for it.
In retrospect, such congressional behavior during the Vietnam War –
while attracting sober approval from much of the era's punditocracy
– ended up prolonging a horrific war that could have ended years
sooner. Now, as then, pandering to the news media and other powerful
pressures, most politicians are busy trying to pick "low-hanging
fruit" that turns out to be poisonous.
"Somehow this madness must cease," Martin Luther King Jr. said 40
years ago about the Vietnam War. "We must stop now."
Was the situation then essentially different from today? No.
"We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims
of our nation, and for those it calls enemy," King said. And: "We
are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the
fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there
is such a thing as being too late."
When King denounced "the madness of militarism," he wasn't trying
cozy up to the majority leader of the Senate or impress the House
speaker with how he could deliver support. He was speaking
truthfully, and he was opposing a war forthrightly. That was
imperative in 1967. It is imperative in 2007.