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READING BETWEEN THE LINES
When Iraq becomes the Democrats' war, too

By Lance Selfa | February 16, 2007 | Page 4

THE PERIOD since the November election has heightened the increasing loss of confidence in the Bush administration, not only on the part of the population at large, but among large sections of the ruling establishment itself.

A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found Bush's popularity dropping to truly Nixonian levels--below 30 percent. Near two-to-one majorities in most national surveys tell pollsters they would like to see the "Democrats" or "Congress" take the lead on Iraq and domestic policies. Perhaps most damning of all was a recent Newsweek poll that found 58 percent of Americans surveyed wished the Bush administration were over.

The Republicans and conservatives have yet to recover from their defeat in the November congressional elections.

Developments since the vote have accelerated disintegration in Republican ranks, symbolized prominently by willingness of leading GOP conservatives, like Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), to offer their own resolutions condemning Bush's troop "surge" in Iraq. The presidential candidate seeking to be seen as a successor to Bush, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), has seen his support decline.

But even outside the machinations in Washington, other pieces of the conservative conventional wisdom of the last generation are under challenge.

Due to court decisions challenging lethal injection as a method of execution, there is now a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in California and Florida, which have the first and third largest death rows in the country.

Overwhelming support for minimum wage referenda and the fact that most Americans continue to view the economy warily despite "objective" indicators that it is strong--new highs for the stock market, strong economic growth figures, low unemployment--show that even the dominance of neoliberal ideology has eroded since its heyday in the 1990s.

This new reality has also made the Democrats more assertive than a few months ago. While they certainly aren't putting forward genuine antiwar positions, they have become bolder in criticizing Bush and the war on Iraq.

They are exercising their new congressional subpoena powers to hold hearings that have exposed the shameless cronyism, corruption and ineptitude of the Bush administration and its many disasters, from Iraq to its manipulation of scientific research to cast doubt on global warming.

The Democrats' current strategy is to unite against the troop "surge" in Iraq by offering non-binding resolutions condemning the escalation. Meanwhile, they continue to vote to support the war at its current funding level while proposing various scenarios for troop redeployment in the future.

At this point, only a few liberals have put forward bills asserting Congress' right to cut off funds for the Iraq adventure.

While these fund cutoffs will give many rank-and-file liberals hope that their "vote to end the war" will succeed, Democratic leaders, from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to foot-in-mouth Senate Foreign Relations chair Joe Biden (D-Del.) have been far more cautious--and in Biden's case, dismissive--of such proposals.

All of this positioning shows that the Democrats want to take advantage of the public mood of opposition to the war, while not taking the fall for defeat in Iraq. For this reason, most leading Democrats have embraced the recommendations of the establishment-dominated Iraq Study Group as their road map out of the Iraq debacle.

Democratic assertiveness reflects more than just politicians holding their fingers to the political winds. The Democrats--and along with some Republicans--are providing a vehicle through which sections of the establishment (embodied in the Iraq Study Group) are expressing their vote of no confidence in the Bush administration and its failure in Iraq.

There are many indications of this--an increased willingness of media to expose Bush's lies; the votes against the "surge" in Congress; open admissions from generals and admirals that the Bush plan will not work.

But it is crucial to recognize that this opposition to Bush represents the ruling class' concern with saving, rather than burying, the U.S. imperial project. The problem for the Democrats is that they can only play the role of virtual opposition for so long. In the effort to gain the broadest anti-surge resolution they could, they essentially adopted Warner's position--which includes a number of key concessions to Bush and the war--as their own.

If the latest Bush gambit in Iraq has the outcome most experts are predicting--failure--will they actually move to take decisive action to end the debacle?

So far, the Democrats have been able to provide a sounding board for "responsible" exit strategies and symbolic opposition to the war. Their voting base and much of the public is giving them the benefit of the doubt now. But that honeymoon will run out fast.

Any serious step they take in Iraq will implicate them in the war. As much as they like to hang responsibility for the Iraq war around Bush's neck, Iraq is their war, too.

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