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Chickenhawk Politics | The Nation

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Chickenhawk Politics

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The war debate is not over. Bush's chickenhawk brigade huffed and bluffed its way to an important victory in Congress, and the boardroom commandos--Field Marshal Cheney and Generals Rove, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle--may imagine they can topple Saddam, capture Iraq and rearrange control of Middle East oil merely by firing off more bellicose, deceitful threats. But they have not won the American people, or a substantial number of their elected representatives, or their allies abroad, to the cause of war. Many citizens are ambivalent, as public opinion polls show. Many are skeptical, including Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who said two days after Bush's speech arguing for US action that the Administration had its priorities all wrong: "My personal view is I think [Iraq] isn't number one; it's maybe sixth or seventh." Another skeptic, Jimmy Carter, garnered a Nobel Peace Prize that carried a rebuke to Bush's unilateralism. As Congress debated the war resolution, more than 200 demonstrations took place around the nation; fifty-three humanitarian and religious groups issued a statement urging Congress to reject the resolution; AFL-CIO head John Sweeney opposed unilateral action, as did NOW and other women's groups, and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities took out a tough ad with garish photos of Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney headed, They're Selling War. We're Not Buying. Thousands of nonbuying Americans are mobilizing for peace demonstrations in late October.

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American military involvement would inflame, not ease, Iraq’s sectarian divisions.

Congress, it is true, did sign another blank check for open-ended war, acquiescing in the same chickenhawk politics that produced the Gulf of Tonkin resolution of 1964, which led to the quagmire in Vietnam. This time, however, it was not, as advertised, a great bipartisan victory. Three-fifths of House Democrats, including whip Nancy Pelosi (along with six brave Republicans), voted no, defying their leader, Richard Gephardt.

In the Senate, two famous old bulls, Robert Byrd and Teddy Kennedy, stood up for the Constitution, as did Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee. Both senators from Rhode Island, Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota, Vermont and Hawaii voted against the war. But majority leader Tom Daschle sulked, whined and then, as usual, caved. So, too, did John Kerry, who made a somber speech echoing his Vietnam experience, then crumpled (despite the nearly 20,000 antiwar e-mails his office received), joined by other White House wannabes John Edwards, Joseph Lieberman, Joseph Biden and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Among potential Democratic presidential candidates on the Hill, only Senator Russ Feingold and Representative Dennis Kucinich are unbowed; and elsewhere--poignant surprise--Albert Gore.

One reason we are convinced the war issue remains unsettled (perhaps even within the Bush crowd) is that it was birthed and developed by the White House as a political strategy, then foreign policy and defense strategy tagged along. Thus, during the past nine months, Bush has "campaigned" for going into Iraq but never squarely articulated either the justifying evidence or why he was unconcerned by the very dangerous potential collateral consequences. The Administration is not substantively mobilizing for war; instead it's making a great show of moving various commands forward and discusses possible warfighting strategies in the pages of the New York Times. Meanwhile, the unfolding diplomacy at the United Nations has created exit strategies for the President. He can now decide to go or not to go--or keep the war banners flying suspensefully for many months past the 2002 elections, right up to the eve of his own re-election try in 2004.

The antiwar opposition can gather millions of converts to its cause by digging deeper into the questions and objections raised in Congressional debate and elsewhere. One of the most critical is about what happens after we conquer Iraq and, especially, what happens to Iraq's oil. The New York Times revealed recently a US occupation plan calling for Iraq to be governed by a military proconsul. That scheme sounds like a formula for an oil protectorate run from Washington in which the United States attempts to steer global oil prices while handing out drilling and service contracts to Texas business buddies of the Commander in Chief and his field marshal from Halliburton. The bombing in Bali and other terrorist actions overseas underscore another argument against an Iraq war: It would undermine the global coalition needed to fight terrorism, and it would stir up more enmity in the Arab world.

If domestic politics is the true subtext of Bush's imperial adventure, then an aggressive politics of public opposition can stop it. The targets now are bipartisan--every Democrat and Republican who supports war--and the pressure must not cease after the election. A vocal citizenry can put the chickenhawks to flight.

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