If the Democrats Want to Lose ...
By Robert Parry
Wednesday 22 August 2007
Many national Democrats saw last year's election as a political turning point. They cheered the voters' repudiation of a Republican one-party state; they hailed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's ouster the next day; and they were sure that resurgent GOP "realists" would help wind down the Iraq War.
In this Democratic view, George W. Bush was going to be both the lamest of lame ducks and a deadly albatross draped around the neck of the Republican Party in Election 2008. The Democrats believed they could pretty much start measuring their curtains for a move into the White House on Jan. 20, 2009.
But a very different reality is now confronting the Democrats. News of the neoconservative demise proved premature; the meaning of Rumsfeld's departure was misunderstood (he was booted when he privately called for an Iraq War de-escalation); and the Republican "realists" remained outside Bush's inner circle looking in.
Then, the Democratic leaders stumbled and crumbled in the face of a president determined to escalate the war in Iraq, expand his "war on terror" surveillance powers, and ratchet up pressure for a possible new war with Iran.
The hard fact that the national Democrats missed was that the political dynamics of Washington had not changed very much. Plus, their wishful thinking in November 2006 and their irresolute actions throughout 2007 alienated millions of Americans who had hoped a Democratic majority in Congress might make a difference.
Today, the U.S. capital is in the midst of a bizarre replay of 2002 when Democrats tried to assuage Bush by acceding to his demands and major mainstream news outlets joined with the powerful right-wing media in a lock-step march toward war.
For instance, the Washington Post's neoconservative editorial-page editors are beating the drums for war with Iran, much as they did five years ago when they bought into Bush's bogus WMD claims in the prelude to war with Iraq.
The Post not only endorsed Bush's plan to label Iran's Revolutionary Guard a "specially designated global terrorist" organization for its alleged role aiding Shiite militias in Iraq, but has suggested that Bush go further.
In an Aug. 21 lead editorial entitled "Tougher on Iran," the Post editors accepted uncritically the administration's claims about Iran's actions in Iraq, such as supplying sophisticated roadside bombs that kill American soldiers.
The Post called the terrorist designation, which could put the two countries firmly on a path toward confrontation, "the least the United States should be doing, given the soaring number of Iranian-sponsored bomb attacks in Iraq."
[For more on the media's Iraq War role, see our new book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.]
What is perhaps most telling about Official Washington's continued "tough-guy" consensus is that the roster of the Post's neocon-dominated op-ed page remains almost the same as it was in fall 2002 with the most notable change the addition of former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson to provide even more pro-Bush opinions.
While it's true the nation's other premier newspaper, the New York Times, has editorialized against the Iraq War and urged serious diplomacy with Iran, it too has bent over backwards to open its op-ed section to pro-Bush propaganda.
The Times gave prominent play to an influential - and misleading - Iraq War article, entitled "A War We Just Might Win" by pro-surge pundits Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon. [See Consortiumnews.com's "NYT's New Pro-War Propaganda."]
By contrast, the Times buried on page 11 of its "Week in Review" section an extraordinary article by seven 82nd Airborne soldiers finishing up 15-month tours in Iraq, entitled "The War as We Saw It."
These seven soldiers, six sergeants and one Army specialist, called the political debate in Washington "surreal" and added:
"To believe that Americans, with an occupation force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. … We are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest that we see everyday."
Beyond the lesser play that the Times afforded the non-coms, their article got far less bounce on the chat shows than did the Pollack-O'Hanlon piece, even though one was written by soldiers with first-hand experience and the other by two think-tank analysts who were chaperoned on a carefully managed tour of selected scenes in Iraq.
When the non-com article was discussed on TV and radio, it often was framed as a debate over the propriety of non-coms in a battle zone expressing opinions. Similarly in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Americans who visited Iraq and expressed doubts about Bush's WMD claims were questioned about their motives and patriotism.
America's right-wing news media also remains a powerful and well-financed force, disseminating pro-war talking points through print, radio, Internet and TV outlets. Anyone who doesn't praise the military progress in Iraq is deemed "wedded to failure" or eager to set a "surrender date" or simply "soft on terror."
For the same career reasons that prevailed in 2002, many mainstream journalists tilt their reporting to the right to avoid the damaging "liberal" label.
Air America's Struggles
After Election 2006, liberals and progressives also turned away from a sustained commitment to build media outlets that would resist right-wing pressure and make sure an alternative viewpoint reached the American public.
Air America Radio went in and out of bankruptcy but remains today an under-funded operation, while progressive and independent Web sites continue to struggle with negligible financial support.
Instead, since November 2006, liberal/progressive money has poured into the political campaigns of Democratic presidential hopefuls or into "organizing." The goal of a new media infrastructure has been neglected again.
On the political front, the leading Democratic presidential candidates have all staked out anti-Iraq War positions, but some - along with a growing list of congressional Democrats - have begun to equivocate in the face of the new pro-war propaganda.
For instance, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, who voted to give Bush war authorization in 2002, is inserting new rhetoric into her speeches praising U.S. military progress under Bush's "surge" strategy.
"We've begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Anbar province, it's working," Clinton told the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Aug. 21.
Other Democrats, who spent part of their August recess taking guided tours of Iraq, also have come back hailing military progress.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not only cited supposed battlefield gains but offered Bush a ready alternative if he wants to guarantee war funding through 2008. Levin recommended the ouster of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an idea that Bush didn't discourage when asked about it.
So, if Bush arranges for Maliki's removal - either with a violent Diem-like coup as happened in Vietnam or by arranging a comfy exile for Maliki - Levin effectively has bought into another year or so of war funding to give a new Iraqi government a chance to succeed.
Some junior Democratic congressmen have returned from Iraq trimming their sails on the war after getting buffeted by both a well-presented military tour of Iraq and an aggressive Republican pressure campaign back home.
For instance, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-California, expressed a readiness to be more flexible on troop withdrawal timelines after being shown the supposed progress in Anbar province and other areas of Iraq.
"We should sit down with Republicans, see what would be acceptable to them to end the war and present it to the president, start negotiating from the beginning," McNerney said in an interview. [Washington Post, Aug. 22, 2007]
In 1967, Michigan's Republican Gov. George Romney (yes, Mitt Romney's father) famously described how he had returned from a military-arranged tour from Vietnam in 1965 having undergone "the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get."
Now, the Democrats are getting the same treatment, focusing on Anbar and other silver linings in the very dark cloud of Iraq.
This latest "brainwashing" also follows a pattern from the past four years at other "turning points" - the capture of Saddam Hussein, the new constitution, the "purple-ink" election, Iraqi military "standing up," etc. [For more on the new Anbar fallacy, see Consortiumnews.com's "Misreading Iraq, Again."]
It's also galling to some rank-and-file Democrats that the congressional leadership caved in on granting Bush sweeping new surveillance powers so members could rush off for their August recess and send some of their impressionable young members to get choreographed inspection tours of Iraq. [Regarding the wiretapping surrender, see Consortiumnews.com's "Bush Gets a Spying Blank Check."]
If national Democrats think that their feckless behavior on war in the Middle East and their timidity in defending the Constitution represent the pathway to victory in 2008, they may find themselves in for a very rude awakening.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there.