After weeks of political show-boating, the Democrats have voted to continue the war in Iraq. Without even the fig leaf of a time line for a partial withdrawal, they have appropriated over $100 billion more public dollars to continue the occupation of Iraq, condemning thousands more Americans and Iraqis to death and dismemberment. This is another $100 billion that will not be used to create jobs, provide health care, or build schools and affordable housing. The total spent on the war now totals over $556 billion. Even the richest nation on earth cannot afford this policy of “guns before butter” forever.
Bush is completely discredited, with little popular support and virtually none of his infamous “political capital”. And still the Democrats caved on the one issue that has galvanized the entire country, the one issue that propelled them to Congressional power in the mid-term elections. The message in November was crystal clear: “end the war now!”
The vote to continue the war has disillusioned many, but was in fact entirely predictable. After all, the Democrats represent the same fundamental class interests as the Republicans, that is, the interests of big business and the capitalist system of exploitation. They are therefore organically incapable of leading a genuine opposition to the war, which would mean revoking the war authorization bill and cutting off all funding except that required to immediately withdraw the troops. They cannot even open a serious investigation into the launching and conduct of the war, as their own complicity would be exposed. While opportunistically posing as an anti-war alternative to gain votes, they are in reality more interested in proving that they can defend the interests of big capital as well, if not better than Bush and co. In the final analysis, preserving the system that they are an integral part of is far more important than following through on their election year promises.
Even prominent anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, who personified the human face of the movement after her son Casey was killed in Iraq, has momentarily stepped back from activity in disgust. “Now, with Democrats in control of Congress, I have lost my optimistic naiveté and have become cynically pessimistic as I see you all caving … It used to be George Bush’s war … Now it is yours and you all will descend into calumnious history with BushCo.”
The long-term political implications of this changing mood are significant. The illusions many had in the Democrats have been shattered in just a few months. Millions of voters, understandably fed up with years of Bush’s policies, sincerely believed that things would start to change with the Democrats in power. However, most people learn best from their own experience, and many who had honest hopes that the Democratic party could somehow be reformed have just received a bitter lesson in the realities of the two party system.
As for the war itself, Bush’s “surge” strategy in Iraq has resolved nothing. U.S. casualties are as high as they have ever been, and there is no end in sight to the sectarian killings tearing the country apart. This combination of an ever worsening situation on the ground and the total lack of a political alternative is fertile ground for an explosion of the anti-war movement in the coming period. After giving the Democrats a chance, millions are coming to the conclusion that “if the politicians can’t stop the war, we’ll have to do it ourselves.”
The anti-war movement has been divided for years, and as a result, has been largely ineffective in pressuring the government to stop the war. Many demonstrations have taken on an almost routine character, with even lower participation than before the invasion. This despite the fact that opposition to the war is far more generalized as it drags into its fifth year. What is needed is a far-sighted leadership, fighting for maximum unity among all who oppose the war, while patiently explaining that this is above all a class question requiring working class organizational and political independence.
There are encouraging signs in the growing calls to unify the anti-war movement around the basic demand: “End the War Now!” This is a reflection of the changing mood and of the growing pressure from below to put aside secondary differences and work together to end the war, especially among the youth. The Workers International League wholeheartedly endorses the spirit of these proposals, and will work energetically to build a broad, united anti-war movement.
Already during this spring’s demonstrations, one could sense the stirrings of a new mood. It is no longer only the “usual suspects” who are against the war – it is the vast majority of the population – including many former supporters of Bush and his foreign policy. Multiple and in many cases extended tours of duty, often against soldiers’ will through “stop loss” programs, have torn apart families, ruined civilian professional careers, and forced the “weekend warriors” of the National Guard and Reserves to become full time soldiers. Poor wages, bad conditions, shoddy equipment, and the growing realization that this is not a war worth fighting has led to growing opposition within the military itself. Iraq War veterans, military families, and even active duty soldiers are increasingly vocal in their opposition to the occupation. Several high-profile cases of veterans refusing to re-deploy and at least one officer who has refused to serve in Iraq are indications that discontent within the military runs deep.
Foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy. The same class which wages wars of exploitation in the pursuit of profits abroad is waging a war of exploitation in the pursuit of profits here at home. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just one side of the equation. The other side is the relentless attack on workers’ jobs, wages, conditions, health care, education, and dignity.
The worsening economy and the lack of a political solution to end the war will shift the struggle from the corridors of government to the streets, as millions search for an alternative. Meanwhile, the social, economic, and political pressure that is boiling beneath the surface of U.S. society will continue to build. The longer it takes for these contradictions to be resolved, the more convulsive and explosive the process will be. Under these conditions, support for a mass party of labor on an anti-war platform could grow rapidly into a powerful challenge to the two-party system.
The labor movement must give a bold lead, putting itself at the head of the movement to end the war. It must break its unholy alliance with the Democrats and clearly link the war in Iraq with the war on workers here at home. Workers are the vast majority of society, and we have a key role to play in building a mass, united anti-war movement. We must organize in our workplaces, neighborhoods and schools, building strong coalitions to prepare for massive mobilizations against the war in the coming months.