GEORGE BUSH’S free-falling popularity rating plummeted past the
30 percent mark this summer. The U.S. war on Iraq--the central political issue
of the Bush years--is opposed by 75 percent of the population. Only one in five
people think the U.S. is headed “in the right direction.”
By rights, the Bush administration should be on life support and fading
fast--its only hope for a political “victory” being to hang on through
January 2009 without impeachment, or having many of its principals thrown in
Instead, according to the headline of a New York Times story at the
end of August, the “White House Is Gaining Confidence It Can Win Fight
in Congress Over Iraq Policy.”
Nearly a year after they won control of Congress from Republicans in
the November elections, the Democrats not only haven’t stopped the war
in Iraq--they haven’t done a single thing to stop Bush from escalating
The administration is so confident that it arranged for Bush to make a photo-op
visit to Anbar province in Iraq in advance of Gen. David Petraeus’ report
to Congress on the “success” of the troop surge. Meanwhile, leading
Democrats kept up the bickering among themselves--while simultaneously calling
for “withdrawal”--about how they would continue Bush’s occupation
under a different guise.
Hillary Clinton says she would maintain a combat force in Iraq to “fight
terrorism” and “guarantee stability” in the northern Kurdish
region--apparently using the supposed “success” of Bush’s
surge as a model. Barack Obama also says he supports a continuing military presence
in Iraq, and John Edwards wants a combat force ready for action “if violence
The situation in Iraq grows worse in Iraq by the week. Millions of Iraqis have
fled their homes. Violence from a civil war stoked by the U.S. claims a terrible
price every single day. There is still less electricity in Baghdad today than
before the invasion.
You’d never know this from the White House, and that’s
to be expected--the Bush administration has never, for a single moment, told
the truth about Iraq. But you’d be hard-pressed to learn anything about
the grim reality in Iraq from the Democratic “opposition”--and that’s
a source of immense frustration for large numbers of people.
The same polls that show public disgust with the administration indicate that
Congress’ approval rating has fallen even faster than Bush’s, to
the lowest point since figures were available, in the last Gallup poll.
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AT THE same time, the national antiwar movement has failed to build on the
momentum from last November’s election and mobilizations earlier this
The largest national coalition, United for Peace and Justice, backed away
from talk of a national protest this fall in favor of local and regional actions
on October 27. As of the end of August, there were still no details for any
event on October 27 available on the UFPJ Web site. The smaller ANSWER coalition
and the split-off Troops Out Now Coalition are sponsoring separate national
events on September 15 and 29, but they are likely to be modest in size.
Signs of anger with the war and a willingness to protest remain--take, for
instance, the sit-ins at lawmakers’ offices that continued through the
summer. But at the national level, there will be no united show of force by
the antiwar movement this fall, even though the potential is as great as any
time in the four-and-a-half years since the invasion.
This coincides with a political shift among some liberals. For example, when
the Democrats caved and voted for funding the Iraq war last spring, the Nation
magazine criticized Congress’ “blank check” for war. Now,
however, two Nation columnists, Katha Pollitt and Gary Younge, have taken Cindy
Sheehan to task--Pollitt head on, Younge more delicately--for daring to challenge
House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the November 2008 election. Why? “Pelosi
may prove to be an obstacle--but she is not the enemy,” writes Younge.
Likewise, when Sheehan and other activists sat in at liberal Rep. John Conyers’
office to protest his failure to open an impeachment investigation of Bush and
Cheney, as he promised last year, many progressives came to Conyers’ defense.
The latest: former TransAfrica Forum President Bill Fletcher, who says Conyers
“should be treated as an ally rather than as an enemy.”
But this is exactly the question for activists like Sheehan, who previously
worked closely with Conyers and other Democrats: Should Pelosi and Conyers be
considered allies when they are given a chance to do something concrete to stop
the war and retreat at each turn?
Either the antiwar movement holds the politicians who claim to stand for its
interests accountable--or it is tailoring its politics and actions to their
needs, not to the goal of ending the war.
Clearly, the 2008 election--and the hope that “regime change” in
Washington is finally coming into view--has started exerting an influence on
liberals in general and on the activist opposition to the Bush administration.
But it’s a long time until January 20, 2009. Opponents of the war who
want to organize for the long term can take advantage of the opportunities this
fall to build a stronger movement. Congressional testimony on the success--or
lack thereof--of Bush’s surge will certainly push Iraq back into the headlines,
providing an opportunity for forums and debates on the war.
One thing that the Democrats’ record on Iraq has proven is that there’s
no shortcut to ending the war, by hoping that mainstream politicians will take
action. We have to organize the kind of pressure at the grassroots--inside the
military, in the streets, on campuses and communities--that leaves the politicians
of either party no choice.