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WHAT WE THINK
Republicans scramble for an alternative war plan
Will the Democrats end the war?

October 27, 2006 | Page 3

THE ESCALATING carnage in Iraq and rising U.S. casualties are turning the November congressional election into a referendum on the war and on one-party Republican rule in all branches of government.

Less than a month ago, George Bush and the Republicans were confident they could hold onto control of both houses of Congress. They would campaign on "security"--the key, once again, would be to accuse Democrats of wanting to "cut and run" from Iraq.

Now, in a matter of a few weeks, some of the main Republican leaders in the Senate are breaking with the White House, party elder statesmen like former Secretary of State James Baker say a significant shift is necessary, and even Bush has been forced to say he will "change tactics" in Iraq. "We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan isn't working," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told the Associated Press.

As for the election, even Republicans admit privately that the Democrats are certain to make up the 15 seats they need to win a majority in the House, that they may gain control of the Senate--and that no one can rule out the possibility of "the bottom falling out" and dozens more Republicans being thrown out of office.

Millions of people who all along opposed the occupation of Iraq and the Bush agenda will take heart from the Republicans' crisis--and look to the election as a signal that there will be a change in the U.S. government's disastrous war policy.

It's a pleasure to see the arrogant Republicans sputter and suffer. But several facts should be kept in mind.

First, a "change" in U.S. strategy and tactics in Iraq is not the same thing as ending the occupation--quite the contrary, under the scenarios being discussed in Washington today. And second, no one should expect the Democrats to honor a promise they never made--to put an end to George Bush's wars for oil and empire.

No Democrat running for national office--with the exception of Bush favorite Joe Lieberman--has anything but criticism for Bush's conduct of the war on Iraq. But this outspokenness is new.

Overall, the Democrats' differences on Iraq have been largely tactical--how the war should be run, not whether it should go on.

Take rising political star Sen. Barack Obama. Obama--who told NBC's Meet the Press last week that he is considering a presidential run in 2008--is looked to by many liberals as a political savior.

But when it comes to the war, Obama won't say it's time for it to end. He wouldn't even support the withdraw-later position of John Kerry--put forward in June as a "timetable" for "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops, to be completed by 2008.

Obama countered that "a hard and fast, arbitrary deadline for withdrawal offers our commanders in the field and our diplomats in the region insufficient flexibility to implement" a "responsible exit." That's not really different from the position of the Bush administration.

No leading Democrat will do more than complain about the Bush administration's tactics--which is why legislation to fund the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan typically passes both houses of Congress with unanimous or near-unanimous votes.

During every election campaign, the mainstream media focus on the horse race between Republican and Democratic candidates leads to an exaggeration of the differences between the two main parties in U.S. politics. In reality, the differences between them are small when you compare them to the fundamental similarities that unite Republicans and Democrats.

Focusing on those differences obscures how government policy--especially on the most important questions, like war and imperialism--is determined by a bipartisan consensus among the political establishment, with only the narrowest spectrum of debate.

Thus, the likely Democratic victory in November may disguise the fact that a change in U.S. strategy in Iraq is a certainty--whichever party wins and by whatever margin.

Democrats have long claimed that the Bush administration's obsession with Iraq was taking attention away from the "real" war on terror. Now, Republicans can be heard echoing the same rhetoric, and the administration-appointed task force headed by James Baker is reportedly preparing the "course correction."

"The options cited most frequently in Washington," reported the Washington Times, a reliable mouthpiece of the right wing, "include the partition of Iraq into three ethnic- or faith-based regions, and a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops, with some remaining in neighboring countries to deal with major threats."

Both these "options" are most associated with the Democrats who have been pushing them for years.

Peter Galbraith, a fixture in the Clinton administration foreign policy establishment, is flogging a new book called The End of Iraq that argues for the breakup of the country along ethnic and religious lines--the same divide-and-conquer strategy he and his boss used in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

As for the formula of "phased withdrawal," "with some [troops] remaining in neighboring countries," that, of course, is the "redeployment" proposal of Democratic Rep. John Murtha. The Murtha plan for "withdrawal" has a flip side--escalate the use of U.S. air power to quell any unrest in Iraq that threatens U.S. interests in the region.

There's another "solution" floating around Washington: Overthrow Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and "replace him with a strongman who would restore order while Washington looked the other way," the Washington Times wrote. The new regime would rehabilitate parts of the Baath Party regime of Saddam Hussein.

Scenarios like this last one may be no more than the fantasies of Washington's many armchair war quarterbacks, but they underline something important--none of the "course corrections" under consideration take the slightest account of what will improve the lives of Iraqis.

Partition of Iraq would only solidify the terrible sectarian and ethnic conflicts stoked by the U.S. in the hopes of maintaining its grip. It would consign the roughly one-quarter of the population that lives in the greater Baghdad area to a future of ethnic violence. The air strikes of the Murtha plan would add to the death toll among Iraqis--now estimated at more than half a million according to a Johns Hopkins research study.

Ultimately, none of the "fresh ideas" about Iraq proposed from the Washington establishment have the least hope of ending unrest and violence in Iraq--because each has, as its overriding aim, the main source of that unrest and violence: defense of U.S. interests in the Middle East at the expense of the people of Iraq.

A Democratic victory in November--if it takes place--will raise the hopes of many millions of people who want the Iraq war and occupation to end. But the Democrats won't put forward an antiwar alternative, because their party is committed to the same imperialist goals as the Republicans.

Whatever "new direction" in Iraq emerges after the election should be judged not by the rhetoric of its advocates--any more than opponents of the Iraq war took Bush at his word when he talked about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or "spreading democracy"--but by how it will affect the people of Iraq and the Middle East.

The urgent need remains to rebuild an antiwar movement that opposes the imposition of U.S. military, political and economic power anywhere in the world--no matter what political party is in charge.

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