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WHAT WE THINK
Bush's surge plan exposes splits in the establishment
War machine in overdrive

January 19, 2007 | Page 3

WITH THE same confidence of presidents during the Vietnam War who responded to all evidence of failure with an escalation of violence, George Bush has announced his "new way forward" in Iraq--a surge of more than 20,000 combat troops.

Bush's plan is certain to cause more death and destruction in an already crippled country--and perhaps sets the stage for a new U.S. war against Iran or Syria or both. And all of this in defiance of not only the vast majority of public opinion, but growing opposition from widening sections of the U.S. ruling class.

Last November's election provided as clear a result as an American election ever has--it was a vote against the Iraq war. Even George Bush abandoned his "stay the course" rhetoric, and Republicans and Democrats began to talk about an exit strategy.

The bipartisan establishment's consensus crystallized in the Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. The study group's report, released last December, proposed a partial phased withdrawal over a long period--though matched by an increase of troops to be embedded with Iraqi military and police units--and diplomatic overtures to Iran and Syria.

DEMONSTRATE ON JANUARY 27

Protests are taking place around the country on January 27 where activists will call for an end to the U.S. war on Iraq. Check below for details on demonstrations in different cities.

Washington, D.C.
Assemble on the Mall, between 3rd and 7th Streets at 11 am. March begins at 1 pm.
Click for more information

San Francisco
Assemble at Market and Powell at Noon.
Click for more information

Los Angeles
Assemble at 9th and Figueroa at Noon. March to the Federal Building at Spring and Los Angeles.
Click for more information

Austin, Texas
Assemble at Austin City Hall at 3 pm. March to the Texas Capitol building begins at 3:30 pm.
Click for more information

Seattle
Assemble at the Center for Social Justice, 2111 E. Union, at 1 pm.
Click for more information

There was something in the study group report for everyone in official Washington. Everyone except George Bush, Dick Cheney and the clique of neoconservatives in charge of U.S. foreign policy since September 11.

The hawks chose to march on alone. Within the Pentagon, they removed top brass who faithfully carried out the Iraq war, but who now--fearful that the crisis will break the U.S. military--resist plans for an escalation. Within the administration itself, insufficiently pro-escalation officials were shoved aside in a "purge of the unbelievers," as Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin put it.

By the time Bush formally announced his surge plan, he was criticized not only by Democrats, but also a newly unsympathetic media and even some leading Republicans. The split over Iraq among U.S. rulers--laid bare in the media every day--is likely the most significant since Vietnam.

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BUSH'S PLAN is the opposite of the Iraq Study Group's tentative search for a face-saving "exit strategy." Instead, Bush aims to advance on every front against every enemy in Iraq and beyond.

In addition to the new troops for Baghdad, Bush announced additional forces for Anbar Province, where Sunni guerrillas lead the resistance. The White House is banking on the use of overwhelming force--modeled on the flattening of the city of Falluja in late 2004--to crush the Sunni resistance.

At the same time, however, the U.S. will target Moktada al-Sadr, the radical cleric who has been the most consistent Shia leader demanding U.S. withdrawal.

Sadr's Mahdi Army has openly battled U.S. forces twice before. Though it lost militarily, its role in challenging the U.S. has gained it growing support. Since then, Sadr has worked within the new Iraqi political system, providing crucial support for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki--who, ironically, took office last year with U.S. backing.

Sadr's forces now reportedly dominate large parts of Iraq's police, especially in the vast poor neighborhood of Baghdad called Sadr City, the main base of the Mahdi Army.

"The basic fact remains that Bush's escalation is designed to smash Moktada's Mahdi Army," wrote Pepe Escobar on the Asia Times Web site. "That can only mean, in practice, a mini-genocide of vast masses of unruly, extremely dispossessed Shiites: the coming battle of Sadr City, which the Pentagon has been itching to launch since the spring of 2004."

And that isn't the end of the list of enemies Bush proposes to take on--his speech also raised the specter of a new war against Iran and Syria.

To underline the point, hours after the address, U.S. forces attacked an Iranian consulate in the Iraqi city of Erbil, arresting five men for allegedly aiding the resistance. The New York Times concluded a few days later that the confrontation marked the opening of a "new front" in the Iraq war.

Significantly, Bush announced in his speech that additional U.S. warships would go to the Persian Gulf, and that U.S. allies in the region would be equipped with new missile defense systems. Both measures are irrelevant to suppressing the Iraqi resistance, but would play a major role if the U.S. provokes a war with Iran.

Since the U.S. debacle in Iraq has left Iran the dominant power in the region, Washington's warlords have concluded that Iran must be cut down to size. Tellingly, it was a Republican senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who likened Bush's rhetoric about Iran to Richard Nixon's attempt to salvage the Vietnam war by invading Cambodia.

Many questions raised by the Bush surge can't be answered in advance. But several things are certain.

First, the escalation will mean more violence, death and destruction--in a country already ravaged by a decade and a half of U.S.-led warfare. And second, whatever short-term victories--if any--Bush and his commanders boast of in the coming months, the fact remains that the U.S. will still be trying to impose its will on an oppressed people, and throughout history, that has inevitably stoked resistance.

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THE BUSH surge will exacerbate growing divisions in the U.S. ruling class over the prospect of an enormous defeat in Iraq.

Six months ago, the leadership of the Democratic Party was united in the certainty that it couldn't challenge the Bush administration on Iraq. But the depths of the crisis--and the continuing plunge of Bush's popularity, especially as he flouted the message of the November election--has compelled them to take a tougher stand.

In the past week, leading Democrats--not only liberals like Sen. Russ Feingold, but moderates, including Rep. John Murtha, who has close ties to the Pentagon and favors redeployment of troops--have started threatening to use congressional power to limit funding for the war.

"The Democrats' rapid embrace of what were once minority positions capped an extraordinary week on Capitol Hill as Congress stirred after years of standing by a wartime president," the Los Angeles Times observed.

If the Democrats are emboldened to take a stand that they avoided in the past, it's a reflection of two things--the pressure they feel from the growing antiwar majority, and the widening consensus in the U.S. military and political establishments that the time has come to wind down a disastrous war.

The test of the Democrats' newfound convictions is still to come. The administration has flung down the gauntlet--saying, in effect: So what are you going to do about it?

Still, while it's unclear if and when the Democrats will move from nonbinding resolutions opposing the war to a serious confrontation with Bush, the battle over the Bush surge marks a major shift in U.S. politics.

It is a reflection of the crisis in Iraq, long denied in mainstream U.S. politics--and it is shaped by the dilemma shared by Republicans and Democrats alike: They don't want to see the U.S. military wrecked as it was in Vietnam, but neither can they squarely face the implications of immediate withdrawal, which would mark the greatest strategic defeat in U.S. history.

The splits at the top over Iraq have profound implications for the antiwar struggle. The resounding defeat of the pro-war Republicans in November and the suddenly vigorous challenge to the Bush administration from Democrats and the media will give millions of people confidence that they were right all along in opposing Bush's disaster in Iraq.

The popular opposition to the Iraq war is larger than it has ever been, according to opinion polls. And within that, there is a growing number of people who will want to do more to show their opposition.

The antiwar movement has an opportunity to turn the antiwar majority from a sentiment into a visible, active force--and put forward its own solution: immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The first step is to organize for the widest possible turnout at the January 27 antiwar protests in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and other cities. And after these protests, marchers need to go home to build activism that can continue to give the antiwar majority a voice--and raise a challenge to the U.S. war machine.

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