The Day After Tomorrow

Posted: March 17, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday marks the sixth anniversary of the U.S.’s military assault on Iraq. The occupation continues today, although President Obama recently stated his intent to withdraw our forces:

Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end….And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

The endpoint outlined by the president will come five years after public opinion turned solidly against the war.

It will have taken the anti-war movement in the United States more than five years to make the official policies match the will of the people. That should be a glaring warning to our movement: online petitions and rallies on the Capitol lawn are insufficient to change policies in a timely way. The policymakers in our country manage orderly dissent very well.

That’s not a critique of the powerholders; it’s a critique of us. The function of the incumbent is to manage dissent. Our job as peacemakers is to make dissent unmanageable.

The saga of Cindy Sheehan, which was a microcosm of the relationship between the larger anti-war movement and the powerholding elite in this country, transformed her lone, principled and powerful voice for the human cost of war into a political force, which was then co-opted by Democratic elites, marginalized and ultimately discarded once it lost its utility. The same dynamic happened in the larger political world over the same time period: Democrats took power in Congress in 2006 on the rising tide of anti-war sentiment in America and used it in part to take the White House in 2008, only to marginalize the anti-war movement in the policymaking process.

To keep the occupation going as long as politically possible, powerholders framed the debate on withdrawal as “responsibility vs. irresponsibility.”

During the 2008 presidential race, Republican powerholders portrayed proposals to end the occupation as “irresponsible” and raised the spectre of genocide:

“[We] cannot consign Iraqis to genocide that would follow reckless, irresponsible and premature withdrawal,” McCain said in his speech to the World Affairs Council.

Democratic powerholders responded to this with some wily framing of their own. Portraying themselves as moderates situated between Republicans and get-out-and-get-out-now anti-war activists, Democrats adopted a frame of “responsible redeployment.” This frame draws an unspoken contrast with advocates for “irresponsible redeployment,” i.e. the principled anti-war movement on the Capitol lawn. This movement to slow-walk an end to the occupation succeeded in marginalizing advocates for immediate withdrawal by appealing to the same nightmare scenarios as the Republicans. Then-candidates Obama and Biden pushed for “a responsible, phased withdrawal,” but cited “potential genocidal violence within Iraq” to stave off calls for a faster end to our occupation.

The outcome of these combined framing efforts was to paint the anti-war movement as “irresponsible,” bordering on “pro-genocide.” Today’s message is “we can’t end the Iraq war any sooner because we’re concerned about civilian casualties.” That’s an interesting new development, considering that powerholders, suddenly so concerned about civilian deaths in 2008-2009, were deaf to that very same concern voiced by members of their own parties back in 2002, including U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey:

I believe that a decision to invade Iraq would be a terrible mistake: The President’s single-mindedness threatens the lives of thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, ignores international law, disregards our Constitution, and undermines our fight against terrorism.

These same policymakers, suddenly so concerned about civilian casualties, do not even count the civilian dead:

In the evenings, women in black gather at Umm Fatin’s house to remember the dead.

Each family in the four neighboring houses in Tahrir, a former Sunni insurgent stronghold in Baqubah, has lost loved ones to bombings or shootings. Yet these deaths and countless others have fallen under the radar of the Iraq war. Nobody keeps an accurate tally of Iraqis killed because nobody knows.

As the Iraq conflict approaches its sixth anniversary, the number of American troop deaths – more than 4,250 – has been meticulously logged by the US military. Yet analysts are no closer to knowing how many Iraqi civilians have been killed, and they acknowledge a credible death toll will probably never be recorded.

Our national politicians take on a deformed version of responsibility, meticulously avoiding responsibility for actual civilian deaths (which we “regret” but always with caveats) while claiming the policies that cause civilian deaths are necessary to prevent more civilian deaths. This tension led to a now-famous exclamation from Muqtada al-Sadr, after then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said we would not interfere with a potential civil war in Iraq :

…US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said last week that the US military would not intervene in an Iraqi civil war, leaving that to Iraqi forces.

‘May God damn you,’ Sadr said of Rumsfeld. ‘You said in the past that civil war would break out if you were to withdraw, and now you say that in case of civil war you won’t interfere. ‘”

This dynamic continued to play out during the “surge.” The military claimed the surge brought a reduction in violence, despite clear evidence that a brutal civil war and ethnic cleansing concluded right as the new troops hit the ground, leading to a drop-off in violence (which tends to happen when one group slaughters their opposition). But despite the fact that our occupation did not take responsibility for stopping this real civil slaughter, powerholders want us to stay as long as possible so we can be responsible for stopping a hypothetical slaughter.

Obama’s election represented a partial victory for the anti-war movement in the United States, and we should celebrate that. But as our official policies set a course toward ending this murderous misadventure in Mesopotamia, we should keep the historical account of powerholders’ motives honest. And as our powerholders slow-walk the end of one war while intensifying another, the anti-war movement must take a hard look at our own tactics to prevent being hamstrung like this in the future.

We owe that much, at least, to the dead.

  1. Sporkmaster says:

    I would like to challenge this, but I am just coming off of a 22+ hour day, (also not a great day to boot) so I am not sure that my reply would not be something that I would have said with more rest and something equal to rational thought process. May not be at the computer for a while.

  2. dcrowe says:

    Ok, will look for your response. Get some rest!

  3. Sporkmaster says:

    Ok the first point I want to address is the chart. In one of your older posts you talk about how a question is worded can affect the answer. But I think that question on if Iraq was a mistake is too broad. Before the war started I would have said that I do not think that it would have been a good idea. But I am sure you are asking if I thought that then why and I over here right now. The answer is that I that the mission has changed over the past few years to make it where people that did not support the war now are going over there to serve. For me it was a few issues. One was that I was disturbed about those that where 18-22 in age that where getting killed or seriously injured. I had the impression that those older should step up and take more of the risks to allow those younger to enjoy their youth. At the time I was about 27 (turning 30 in July) if something where to happen to me I can say that I had a good run with almost a decade more then some. Also I was reading about how some of the soldiers have been doing three or more deployments and still be open fore more. My logic was that it was about time that some one should volunteer for the deployment. Because if I had been deployed two to three times and was about to go again, I would be very thankful if some one came in said” Don’t worry, (about the deployment) I got this one”.

    The problem that I have against the anti-war crowed is that they seem to care about something is if the US military is involved some how. But the second we leave, all interest in the area disappears. Even if they do have a interest they are unwilling or unable to do anything to help. That right there is the frustrating part where nothing seems to chance for the better.

    About Cindy Sheehan, the reason that most military people do not like her is that should took what could have been a valid point about making sure that we are doing the best we can to help out the locals rebuild and address any areas of issue in the county. Instead she turned it into a second rate freak show by using it at any and every case just to get people to pay attention to her rant a generic -prescript line about how everything we are doing in Iraq is horrible with nothing going right. To me that is why the left abandoned here because she had lost any creditably just for a quick minute in the spot light. The same way Fred Phelps did when he was picketing military funerals. Her comment about about being under the “Shadow of the Death Start” was out there.

    I do think that it matters as far as responsibility. I would be willing to bet dollars to cents that if we where to leave and Iraq descended into the type of chaos that happed in Somalia, the same people that called of a immediate withdraw of all forces would be decrying the US military and government for allowing the chaos to happen. They will never be happy with any of our actions regardless of what they say now.

    About the causality counts and why the do not added them is that despite that most will agree that any death is bad, that those can related more to the dead will be have more interest then those who are not. You can have ten people die in another state, but I can promise you that you would be more interested in if you found out that one of your immediate family was to have died in the general time frame. I have seen it in the news too. Remember in 2002 where there was a hostage situation in a Russian theater that later 100 people died because of the suspected gas that they used? That Got overshadowed by the death of at least 5 people at a White Snake concert in the same time frame. The concert got a lot a press, while the Russian one got a small footnote. Also what plays into determining the importance is if people could have the chance to prevent it. You get attached to things in where you chose or forced into taking part.

    Also seems that Al-Sader is old news in the same way that Donald Rumsfeld is now. That is why Al-Sader had his truce to see which of his commanders where still loyal to him. As far as now he is now where near as influential as he was in 2004-2006.

    If you disagree that a military presence cannot bring stability, then how is it different when the National Guard is sent in to disaster areas, such and New Orleans when a large portion of the police abandoned their posts. Also when the Army was used in the middle fifties to enforce de-segregation?

    Also have you seen this yet? It seems that Obama wanted to put a plan where those that where seriously injured in combat would now be required to pay for their own insurance. I have a guy in my unit that has a TBI injury from hitting three IED in a fifteen minute time frame, so I am following this one.

    Yea last night was not fun, got up at 4 am and went to bed at 3:30 am. Three breakdowns in 20 minutes. Plus there was more drama after that.

  4. dcrowe says:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond after a rough day. I hope today is better.

    Regarding the poll: I can understand concern about the wording of the poll since, as you’ve pointed out, the wording of a poll can affect the outcome. For example, another poll I cited recently regarding Afghanistan also asked about Iraq, and here’s what they found:

    The poll found more optimism about the war in Iraq, where security gains have dramatically reduced U.S. casualties. In 2008, 314 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq, compared with 904 in 2007.

    A majority, 51%, said the war is going well there, about the same as in September. Those saying it is going badly declined to 43% from 47% in September and a peak of 71% in January 2007.

    So depending on how you want to spin it, you could say “Hey 51 percent of the people support the effort in Iraq.” That would be stretching, but it speaks to your overall concern. But if you look at the vast majority of polls, worded in a variety of ways, it’s very safe to say what I’m using the Gallup poll above to say: that the general public soured on the Iraq war long ago and want our troops brought home. Other examples:
    A Newsweek poll conducted March 4-5, 2009, showed that when asked “Do you favor or oppose removing most U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of next year?” 73 percent favored it, 20 percent opposed it and 7 percent were unsure.
    CNN/Opinion Research Corporation polls have asked for years “Do you favor or oppose the U.S. war in Iraq?” and 59 percent or above have consistently answered “oppose” at least since 2006. You can find these and a ton of other related polls at Polling Report. The reason I used the Gallup poll in the above post was the clear illustration of the trend lines, and the reason I wanted to show the trend lines was not so much to discuss whether the public opposes the Iraq occupation, but rather to critique the anti-war movement for not being organized enough to capitalize on those numbers in a more timely way. We allowed ourselves to be taken in too easily by policymakers and as a result dissent was deflected for an extended period.

    Although I flatly reject the legitimacy of any violence for any purpose, I do want to absolutely commend you for putting yourself in danger out of concern for injured young people. That’s extraordinary and we should celebrate that. Did you know Gandhi was also a medic during wartime at one point?

    Regarding Cindy Sheehan, I’m not really focused on her tactics, per se, vs. how she was used by the policymakers who adopted her cause. I watched her rise to prominence from inside the Democratic establishment (I was working for Pelosi during much of it) and agreed with several conservative commentators that she was better off before my party got involved with her. I felt they elevated her to prominence, used her, and then marginalized her, and felt the same was done to the anti-war movement. These larger concerns, in part, led to me leaving D.C.

    Re: the anti-war movement’s interest in regions where the U.S. military is deployed–I agree that we should be concerned about violence everywhere. I can understand your frustration at your perception of a loss of interest among anti-war people for the suffering of people not in areas where our troops have boots on the ground. I don’t know if I share that perception, but for the sake of addressing your concern, I’d tie that very closely to your comment about civilian casualties: if the anti-war movement in a given country focuses on areas where troops from that country have forces engaged in combat, it’s likely because a) they feel complicit in actions taken by their government in their name and b) that’s where their loved ones are in danger. I’d suggest it’s not a lack of concern for other places, if your perception is true, but rather that those two factors make the concern so intense that it crowds out people’s ability to focus on other areas. I’m not defending that, just trying to explain it.

    In the same vein, you’re probably right about why we don’t count the civilian casualties, but that in no way excuses it. Dr. King said:

    A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

    We can’t just go on counting the cost to ourselves while refusing to quantify the cost to other human beings outside our tribe. Not only is it immoral, but it obscures the actual choices before policymakers and makes it easier to sell the next war to the public.

    I’m also concerned about the VA health care proposal, though this is the first I’ve heard of it. Regardless of what you think about a given war or war in general, if the nation sends you to war and you get hurt, the nation should pay for your medical care.

    Just to reiterate: my main point is that the anti-war movement should reassess the anti-Iraq war effort and engage in some honest self-reflection, even as we celebrate partial victories. How quickly we force changes in policy is very, very important. Again, to quote Dr. King:

    We are now faced with the fact, my friends, 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. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.”

    We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

    Thanks again for stopping by. Hope you get some rest.

  5. Sporkmaster says:

    I am feeling better now, thanks. The main thing that got me upset was that there was a unit that got hit with a IED a few minutes before we where to cross the same area. You could see the vehicle burning out of control with the ammo inside cooking off. From the damage you would have thought that everyone was killed, but it turned out that no one was hurt. But there was not much conversation for a good while. It is one thing to read about IED attacks but another to see the results or been in one. We had to stay there to help block the area off because the enemy can and usual does put a secondary IED to try to hit those that come to help. If it was not for the IED we would have gotten back at 10:30 rather then 1:30. To add insult to injury we missed midnight chow. Yea I was in a foul mood, but then again a IED usual has that affect on most people here.

    I understand that Iraq has become unpopular, but then again extended conflicts usually never are. Everybody want a quick end to any conflict. I think that is the reason that the war had such support at the beginning because people thought that it was going to be as short as Desert Storm and I do not think that the Bush administration did anything to convince people otherwise. That is why I think that people really mean when they accuse Bush of lying about the war. Gallup is a good pollster.

    The main thing that did a couple of problems is;

    1. The anti-war crowd tried to put too many issues into one protest. Because rather then sticking to one issue, the group is viewed as using the war just as a excuse to push other issues as well.

    2. Your not going to get people behind any cause if they cannot relate too you. Pulling stunts like the type that Code Pink does attracts attention, but I doubt that many people would rush out to join. To me it just looks like a bunch of college frat house antics that most people should have grown out of by there late twenties, much less in there late thirties, forties and up.

    Go to the archive and look up “Got Kicked out of a Anti-war Rally” The artiest summery does a good job of backing my statements.

    3. Intentionally trying to get arrested to some how recreate the Rosa Parks arrest should not be a goal of any protest. But how many times do you see Code Pink, and IVAW and someone leavening in handcuffs.

    These things are a few that I can think of that make it hard for anti war groups to be taken seriously.

    I never knew Gaudi was in the medical profession.

    I do not blame you for leaving DC. One thing that is interesting to know is that I have talked a few contractors that said that they would volunteer for Tallulah over Bagdad because of all the politics. Also where you still there when Cindy Sheehan challenged Pelois, saying that if Pelois did not put active legislation against the Iraq war that she would run against her in the next election?

    I do not have a problem having a over watch to make sure that we are doing out best to make sure that there are not any civilian deaths. But in order for that to work you should be as un-biased as possible. Meaning not actively looking for wrong doing when it does not exists and not apathetic be quick to brush aside civilian deaths as unavoidable ether. But that would be a logical explanation.

    As far as saying why people care more about some deaths over others I see as a explanation of the problem rather then a justification. The one thing when you read something affecting people, but another to be right in the middle of it. When that happens, it become “real”to where it is not some faceless guy that got hurt somewhere in the world but on a stretcher stoned out of his mind on morphine and looking right at you. You cannot ignore that. But most people do not have that chance unless they actively seek it when they volunteer to help at different places, in and out of country. I would not mind doing something like this but I would imagine it would be hard to get that much time off.

    As far as the VA bill it is a wait and see game.

    Always good to stop by.

  6. stuperb says:

    Fantastic post, dcrowe, and I’m riveted by the discussion. I hope it continues.

    And I think you’re spot on about Sheehan. Sweet lady was completely used, molded into a shrill caricature, and ultimately discarded.

    Keep up the great work.


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