Are the anti-war groups who want us out of Iraq ASAP deliberately–or unwittingly–playing into the hands of the Bush Admin? The “Out Now” contingent does seem to be echoing–for different reasons, perhaps–the Bush/Rove determination to bring the troops home well before the election.
When Chuck Palson, a free-lance writer and prime mover at FITE, made that observation in an email, I asked him to expand on it for Omnium.
Should anti war protesters help President Rove?Is the dominant Out Now faction of the peace movement in bed with President Rove? In bed or not, they share a common goal with him – quick withdrawal from Iraq. As often happens, politics makes for some strange bedfellows, even if the parties don’t notice who lies beside them. When there’s an unholy alliance, it’s helpful to look at the losses and gains of each side. First, the relevant facts.
Do the “Iraqi people,” meaning at least a majority, want a quick withdrawal? There’s plenty of evidence that they don’t. First, some very good reporters from both the American and foreign press say that the Iraqis do indeed want us out, but not now because they fear that chaos would certainly result with a quick withdrawal. Those who doubt this fear have probably never examined the character of life without a stable government. It’s like this: every essential and tiny detail of daily life is excruciatingly unpredictable, from going to work to getting gasoline to being alive. Life is so difficult under these conditions that people will vote for vicious and murderous leaders if only to get the proverbial brains to run on time. Or they will accept an occupation force, however grudgingly. The names Hitler, Stalin, Tito, Vichy, and Saddam Hussein come to mind.
Second, we now know that about 60% of Iraq – the Shiites – don’t want the troops to leave just yet because their highly respected leader, al Sistani, tells us so. He only wants them to leave after the election. They are currently aiming for a June exit, but that could change. More on that later.
President Rove’s strategy:
He wants the troops out in June, 5-1/2 months away, but there are problems with this. He says that this time span precludes having direct elections because it is not time enough to arrange the complex logistics necessary for a fair election. But there are three reasons to doubt his rationale. First, when a practical plan for arranging the logistics was presented by the Iraqi census director Nuha Yousef at the beginning of October, Bremmer refused to answer.
Second, there are political reasons for avoiding direct democracy. Time Magazine reports that U.N. officials privately say that “the real concern is that Iraq’s Sunnis, already a minority, are so poorly organized that direct elections would lead to a Shi’ite monopoly. That not only would stoke the flames of a potential Sunni rebellion but also could prompt Sunni states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to refuse to recognize the new Iraq and pave the way for an anti-American alliance with Iran.”
Third, Bremmer’s complex caucus method is probably designed to prevent the election of a Shiite majority and to install a pro-American regime. That is what many Iraqis are saying, and it is probably true. The time span allows him to credibly insist on the caucus alternative.
The costs and benefits of Rove and Out Now.
The benefit of Rove’s strategy is well known by pundits and news junkies: Shrub could claim Iraq had been transformed into a democracy by the time of the Republican national convention. It probably doesn’t matter that chaos would ensue because perceived employment conditions here are good enough to ensure that unemployment won’t be an election issue. (Polls show that while a large majority of Americans think the economy isn’t so hot for others, they are doing fine. More than 80% say they will have a job, and neither the hours nor the wages will be reduced. That’s the same percentage that felt that way during the boom years.) Without the unemployment issue, voters won’t give much weight to the Iraqi situation.
There’s a downside for Rove – uncertainty. Iraq might spin out of control, and that might spin Iraq out of the control of the US. But Rove has never been one to think beyond getting votes, so he is incapable of considering that criteria.
The benefits for the Out Now people aren’t so clear cut. Uppermost is probably the satisfaction that moral certitude always brings – even when “doing the right thing” doesn’t necessarily advance the stated goals. Shrub got us into this stupid thing; it was wrong; get out. War is bad; peace is good.
Another benefit is organizational unity. Once an organization rallies its members around a slogan, changing it can fracture the organization. “Out Now” could bring into the streets the same millions that protested the war in the fall of 2003 because it speaks most directly to the moral outrage anti-war protesters are feeling in a way that other slogans might not.
The disadvantage of their position is that insofar as they actually succeed, it will help Shrub get elected again. That poses 2 profound moral dilemmas. First, another term will leave Shrub free to invade other countries, and he very well might. Is it morally desirable to trade off one invasion for another? Second, the civil war that will almost certainly take place will be a terrible bloodbath. Is that morally desirable? Nobody wants to send a message that Iraqi lives are less important, but reasonable people could justifiably read it that way.
It would be a compromise between those who don’t mind supporting Rove by calling for a quick withdrawal, and those who are interested in making it difficult for Bush and, possibly, easier on the Iraqi people. Push the exit date forward about 5 more months so the Iraqi’s can implement the plan of Nuha Yousef. This would not only help to contribute to Bush’s defeat – if that is possible – but also broaden support beyond the traditional anti-war demographic. It would be using Shrub’s own rhetoric against him. And he won’t be able to claim a clear cut victory by convention time. Is it worth explicitly extending the date an extra 5 months? Only the members of Out Now can answer that, but, one hopes, only after they discuss the benefits and disadvantages of all the options.
Granted, Shrub dumped a bad situation in our laps. But before embracing President Rove’s goals, wouldn’t it be a good idea to lay everything out on the table? There has so far been no serious discussion of this dilemma.
Chuck Palson, FITE, Sherborn, MA.