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Antiwar activists can seize opportunities to organize
The election that said no to war

November 17, 2006 | Page 3

THE CENTRAL message of the 2006 election was so unmistakable that even George Bush couldn't miss it.

Get. Out. Of. Iraq.

Within hours of the polls closing, the despised Donald Rumsfeld was history--Bush announced his resignation at a press conference amid peevish insults directed at Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.

Rumsfeld's replacement is Robert Gates, one of the top officials in George Bush Sr.'s administration, and a member of the Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker, which will soon present recommendations for a "new course" in the war.

Triumphant Democrats patted themselves on the back while reinforcing the media's unanimous verdict--that discontent over the war on Iraq was the most important factor in their resounding return to majority control in both houses of Congress.

For opponents of the U.S. war, this was a breath of fresh air--and a complete contrast to the climate in mainstream politics since the Bush White House launched the U.S. "war on terror" following the September 11 attacks.

Bush can no longer get away with claiming that victory is around the corner if the U.S. "stays the course"--and the Democrats can't get away with avoiding all discussion of the war on the grounds that Republicans can't be challenged on the "war on terror." Finally, there are different sides in the mainstream discussion on Iraq, and this will embolden people outside Washington in their questioning of the war.

But it's important to remember the limits of the mainstream debate. Republicans and Democrats are now united that a "change of course" is needed in Iraq, but they also agree that this "change" should be restricted to rearranging the occupation of Iraq and intervention in the Middle East--not ending them.

However heated it becomes, the discussion among U.S. political leaders will be about how to repackage the Iraq war. For those who want to end the war, our job is to take advantage of the new opportunities opened up by the election to build an antiwar struggle from the grassroots.

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POLITICIANS OF both parties are eagerly awaiting the recommendations of the Baker commission, but no one should expect many surprises. "The great irony is that with nothing new to offer, the Baker commission's forthcoming report--if it takes the shape most observers predict--will probably suffer the same fate as similar past efforts," wrote the discredited neoconservatives Robert Kagan and William Kristol.

Of course, their solution is an increase in U.S. troop levels, a view taken also by Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential contender. Given the unpopularity of the war, the call for sending reinforcements is less a serious proposal than positioning for an I-told-you-so moment when the "redeployment" strategy that will likely be the focus of the Baker commission report inevitably fails.

"Our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives--the ones that are out there in the political debate of 'stay the course' and 'cut and run,'" Baker said in a pre-election interview.

Translation: The U.S. will try to preserve control of Iraq by reducing troop levels and keeping them out of conflict as much as possible, while rebuilding forces in the Gulf states or the quasi-independent Kurdish territory in Iraq. This would dovetail with proposals put forward by Democratic Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for a redeployment of U.S. troops to neighboring states, while the Pentagon steps up the air war to try to impose a pro-U.S. "stability" in Iraq.

Another option apparently considered by the Baker group is promoting the partition of Iraq along ethnic and sectarian religious divides, while rumors continue to circulate that some Bush administration officials favor backing a coup to impose a new strongman regime in Iraq, with the support of members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist Party, no less.

Despite the post-election talk about bipartisanship, there are certain to be continuing conflicts between Republicans and Democrats, and the media will portray them as profound disagreements over diametrically opposed principles. But the real source of the coming battles will be the fact that the Iraq war can't be brought to a successful conclusion.

The reason the U.S. war in Iraq failed under the Bush-Cheney strategy wasn't the strategy, but the character of the war itself. It is a war of conquest to plunder Iraq's oil wealth and promote U.S. imperial power, which inevitably sparked a resistance fighting to throw out the occupiers.

The talk from both parties about "changing course" is about shifting tactics in order to protect U.S. interests, leaving the character of the war--and thus its fundamental injustice and immorality--unchanged.

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LEFT TO themselves, the Democratic Congress--still less the new-look Bush administration--won't produce meaningful change in Iraq or the Middle East. Whatever their differences over tactics, both mainstream parties are committed to the same imperialist priorities--securing corporate interests and promoting U.S. power around the globe.

Unfortunately, many leading organizations of the antiwar movement put a high priority on mobilizing a vote for the Democrats, and they are claiming the result as a vindication of their strategy of trying to build alliances with Democratic Party politicians.

Yet during their post-election interviews with the media, Democratic leaders took every opportunity to pour cold water on the hopes placed in them by their liberal supporters.

The election was a referendum that rejected the Bush administration and its right-wing agenda, but the Democratic leadership remains convinced that it succeeded because it adopted many elements of that agenda, and distanced itself from the party's traditionally more liberal base.

Thus, the point made by progressive commentators that liberal Democratic candidates won more often than the conservatives managed by the party leadership may be true enough--but it doesn't change the fact that the center of gravity in the Democratic leadership is firmly with the pro-corporate, pro-war conservative wing.

At the same time, it would be wrong to dismiss the outcome of the 2006 election as no more than a new face on the same old policy of war and occupation.

Certainly the bipartisan Washington establishment hopes the Democrats will help salvage U.S. imperialism from the Iraq disaster. Nevertheless, the scale of the rejection of the Republicans has changed U.S. politics from top to bottom.

Most obviously, for millions of people who felt--because of the bluster of the White House, the failure of the media to question its lies and the cowardice of the Democrats--that they were isolated in their opposition to the war, the election result proved they aren't. The overwhelming vote will give people confidence that they were right all along--a feeling that, in turn, can lead to more active opposition.

If existing antiwar movement organizations relate to the desire to do something more than vote against the war, so much the better--but this sentiment is likely to find an expression in any case.

Already, there are signs of a new stage in the resistance to the war among active-duty soldiers and veterans. For example, in October, an Internet petition for active-duty service members to call for rapid withdrawal from Iraq had hundreds of signers less than a week after it was initiated by a Navy seaman.

This shows the potential for galvanizing an activist opposition to the war--which will be the key to any real advances in the struggle to end U.S. occupations in the Middle East. The weaknesses of the antiwar movement over the past three-and-a-half years won't be overcome overnight, but the stage has been set for a revitalized struggle.

For millions of people, the 2006 election holds out the promise of ending the war. But that promise that won't be realized unless we organize to struggle for real change.

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