Tuesday, August 30, 2005


"The war’s political managers have made absolutely no effort to create even a simulacrum of equal sacrifice, and 9/11 did nothing to change what has been from the beginning, and remains, the Bush Administration’s top priority, not excluding fighting terrorism: the use of the tax code to transfer wealth to the rich and, especially, the superrich. Next week, even as the national debt grows by another $11 billion and military recruiters scramble with ever-mounting desperation to fill their quotas, the Senate will reassemble to take up the proposal, already passed by the House, to permanently eliminate the estate tax, thereby shifting some $1.5 billion a week—about the same as the Iraq war—from the public treasury to the bank accounts of the heirs to the nation’s twenty thousand biggest fortunes.

Yes, it’s a different type of war. This ambiguity also makes for a different type of antiwar politics. The opposition to the Vietnam War relied on the active mobilization of masses of people—first tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, finally millions—and its demand was clear: Get out. Its Iraq counterpart, so far, is more rudimentary and, unlike its predecessor, almost completely without hostility to the military or illusions about the enemy. Not quite a movement, it is more a pyramid of complaint ranged along a line from dissent to discontent. At its peak, for the moment, is Camp Casey, the makeshift tent vigil, a mile or so from President Bush’s Texas vacation estate, that has grown up around a woman named Cindy Sheehan, whose son, an Army enlisted man, was killed in Iraq seventeen months ago. In the middle is a congeries of left-populist Web groups, such as MoveOn.org. At the base is a large slice of the public, as measured by the crude instrument of public-opinion surveys—a silent majority, you might say. In a Newsweek poll, 61 per cent disapprove of Bush’s “handling” of Iraq. In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 54 per cent say that the war there was a mistake, 57 per cent that it has made us less safe, and 56 per cent that we should withdraw all (33 per cent) or some (23 per cent) of our troops.

The numbers are eerily similar to those the Vietnam debacle generated at its worst. The sentiment they reflect, however, is not the same. The movement against that war had the support of thousands of elected officials, including, toward the end, a majority of both Houses of Congress; the opposition to this one has no such thing. But the reticence of so many Democrats is rooted as much in perplexity as in timidity.

In Iraq, the strategic rationales for war—terrorism and “weapons of mass destruction”—have turned out to be as phony as the Gulf of Tonkin incident. With scores of thousands of Iraqis dead, an Islamist theocracy in prospect for part, if not the whole, of the country, and the possibility of civil war growing, even the humanitarian rationale has begun to wither. And the hubristic dream of Iraq (in the words of Fouad Ajami, in an essay included in a new anthology entitled “The Right War? The Conservative Debate on Iraq”) as “a beacon from which to spread democracy and reason throughout the Arab world . . . has clearly been set aside.” Last week, even as Bush was taking a break from his vacation to denounce “immediate withdrawal of our troops in Iraq or the broader Middle East” as a step that “would only embolden the terrorists,” the Financial Times was reporting details of the Pentagon’s plans “to pull significant numbers of troops out of Iraq in the next twelve months.” The chilling truth is that no one really knows what to do. No one knows whether the consequences of withdrawal, quick or slow, would be worse or better—for Iraq and for the “war on terror” of which, willy-nilly, it has become a part—than the consequences of “staying the course.” It is a matter of judgment, and the judgment that will count, more chilling still, is that of George W. Bush."-from Hendrik Hertzberg's column in The New Yorker.

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