Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five years on, and what are the options?

Five years on, and Bush scarcely understands how disconnected he is from most Americans:

"Five years into this battle, there is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning, and whether we can win it," Mr. Bush said. "The answers are clear to me. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision - and this is a fight America can and must win."

He spoke of the thousands of Americans and Iraqis who have lost their lives in the war. But he said freedom is taking hold in Iraq, and the extremists and terrorists are losing ground.

Sadly, this narcissistic display still makes Bush seem almost touchy-feely next to his vice president. Five years on, Cheney knows there's a disconnect with the American people but he couldn't care less:

CHENEY: On the security front, I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked. That’s been a major success.

RADDATZ: Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.


RADDATZ So? You don’t care what the American people think?

CHENEY: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.

Cheney's smug indifference--and why shouldn't he feel that way? why would he imagine even for a moment that he might one day be called to account for what he's done?--comes as American military casualties in Iraq are about to reach the 4000-mark.

(Sadly, though, this statistic would come as news to 46% of Americans.)

Five years on.

Here's a good reminder: Public events like last weekend's rally against the war are a good thing, and I recommend participation in them for several reasons I won't belabor again here. But we're in an era quite unlike any before in this country, certainly unlike the Vietnam War era, with which the current debacle is frequently compared.

The difference is this: Nixon tried to break our constitutional form of government, but failed; Cheney and Bush, with the help of the post-Gingrich Republican party, have largely succeeded. Impeachment is certainly warranted, but it's a practical impossibility. Congressional oversight is now at least possible once again with a Democratically controlled Congress, but Bush and Cheney have figured out that if they simply defy the law--by rigging the US Attorney system, stacking the federal courts with partisans, issuing so-called signing statements to abrogate any or all parts of a law that they don't like, and simply ignoring subpoenas--nothing will ever happen to them. True, they're disliked to an unprecedented degree but, paraphrasing an often-repeated quote, how many legions does Zogby command?

In the end, Nixon resigned because Congress refused to ignore his transgressions and because his own party leaders implored him to do so for the sake of the party. Popular disapproval, partly embodied in years of rallies and marches, were the fire at their heels. For Bush and Cheney, though, a cowed Congress makes oversight irrelevant and a complicit Republican Party makes partisan pressure unlikely in the extreme.

I wouldn't have imagined two years ago that, if the Iraq debacle would be chugging along at full speed today, it then wouldn't continue to be the number-one issue in the 2008 campaign, but the recession--the only credible debates are whether we're technically in it yet and how long it will last--has managed to take America's eye off the ball. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised: Fear (of losing one's job, one's health insurance, and one's home) does concentrate the mind wonderfully.

So, to return to my theme, marches and rallies have their purpose, but directly affecting policy is no longer among them. And the media are of almost no use--there'll be no "if we've lost Walter Cronkite, we've lost the country" moment this time. The remaining peaceful alternative is the electoral process--a scary thought, given how unreliable it's become, but there we are.

Which is why I find it encouraging to read about the "Responsible Plan" now being advanced by several Democratic congressional candidates--candidates, mind you, not incumbents--for regaining control of the disaster that is America's Iraq policy. In seven bullet points, it comes down to this, none of which is startlingly new:

1. End U.S. Military Action in Iraq
2. Use U.S. diplomatic power
3. Address humanitarian concerns
4. Restore our Constitution
5. Restore our military
6. Restore independence to the media
7. Create a new, U.S.-centered energy policy

You can read the particulars here. You can read commentary about it from Horse's Ass, Digby, Open Left, Downwithtyrrany, and Pam's House Blend. Oregon US Senate candidates Steve Novick and Jeff Merkley have both signed on.

It's too early to conclude that this will change the game--it could easily be driven off the radar screen by the next congressman with a DUI--but it is encouraging to think of an incoming freshman class committed to this in 2009.

Five years on, and it's a sign of the times that a document that would turn the defining policy of the Bush administration 180 degrees calls itself, without a trace of Swiftian irony, a "reasonable plan."


Richard said...

I'm encouraged, at least mildly, by the plan, and as a (hopeless) Democratic challenger to a very safe House Republican who nevertheless is showing signs of understanding the utter futility of Iraq, I've endorsed it.

But it's frustrating how ignorant some of our fellow citizens still are, as when you cite that poll.

Kevin said...

Excellent post, Bill.

It is a reasonable plan. I like the moxy of Darcy Burner et al in boldly calling it what it is. Whether it'll end up making a meaningful difference has yet to be seen. But my sense from what I'm seeing in the blogosphere is that there is more excitement about this than there has been for anything else along even somewhat similar lines.

One noteworthy perhaps coincidence is that both Darcy Burner and Jeff Merkley are among the scant 15 Congressional and Senate candidates nationwide to have received the endorsement of the Council for a Livable World.

Nothstine said...

Hey, Richard:

Thanks much for the comment. Good luck with your campaign. Don't be a stranger.

[Grayson for Congress (AZ-06) blog is here.]

Hey, Kevin:

I did not know that about the Council for a Livable World--which, I guess, was kind of your point, wasn't it? Thanks.

[CLW's site is here.]