This just in from today's Wall Street Journal: "Pain From Free Trade Spurs Second Thoughts." Can you believe it? A "downer" story on globalization from the mother church of free-market capitalism. Who knew it was so bad? Actually, many millions of working Americans knew and have known for many years. They were regarded as mindless "protectionists." WSJ gave them the back of its hand.
Think of today's lengthy, revelatory story as a massive "correction." It led the newspaper's front page and recounted the heavy doubts accumulating among establishment free-traders about what they have wrought. The actual destruction from globalization is worse than anything they had imagined and it's going to get far worse.
The Journal is playing catch-up, to put it kindly. This is the bad news that newspaper was never willing to face frankly and publish. Now that it has, however, the impact will be truly significant--mainly by opening the way for other newspapers (think New York Times and Washington Post) whose editors and reporters have been similarly afraid to tell the whole truth about free-trade dogma's destructive impact on American prosperity. I look forward to many more confessional "corrections" from our leading media.
The WSJ reporters featured Princeton economist Alan Blinder as their influential truth-teller, now bravely breaking the news. Blinder was Federal Reserve vice chair and economic advisor to Bill Clinton, who participated directly in the facile promotion of unregulated, lopsided free trade with Mexico, China and other developing economies. Blinder was one of the credentialed "experts" cited to assure everyone that free trade is a blessing for all, pay no attention to those whining workers who lost their jobs.
So now he wants to warn us? I regard him as a "running dog" looking for a little absolution, after the fact.
I also have a bone to pick with David Wessel and Bob Davis, the two WSJ reporters who wrong the piece. Wessel and Davis have been preeminent cheerleaders for establishment line for many years, though I always suspected they knew better. We had an unpleasant encounter ten years ago, when my own book on the global economy was published – One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. Davis and Wessel made a very public point of disparaging my analysis and predictions. Wrong, wrong, wrong, they said on a public affairs TV show where we both appeared. The thrust of my book's argument is what these two reported today as news.
I sent them an e-mail this morning congratulating their breakthrough in understanding things. "Time for an apology?" I asked. "Not holding my breath."
Take a deep breath. The nation has arrived at an extraordinary political moment. The Congress is about to instruct the President he should withdraw from the ongoing war. Yes, I know the fine print in the House and Senate versions has lots of wiggle room. But the congressional action is still breathtaking when you think about it, possibly without historic precedent.
I assumed it would take many months and numerous failed efforts for the new Democratic majority to reach this juncture. When House leaders kept softening their terms, I even thought it might be a good thing for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to lose the first time around. She would then be assailed by outraged Americans and get the message: stiffen up, this is not business as usual. I was mistaken. Many of the final details are disappointing, but the message has been delivered and received--get out of Iraq. It will rule politics until the American exit actually occurs.
Democrats did not create this new dynamic--it arose volcano-like from the American people--but Democrats have had the wisdom to embrace it. I remember the torturous struggle in the Sixties waged by congressional opponents--Republicans and Democrats--trying to end the war in Vietnam. Their first resolutions were mild and deferential, politely urging Lyndon Johnson to start negotiating for peace. They were rejected. Subsequent measures raised the ante, but it took years of frustrating failure to get Congress to speak clearly. By comparison, the shift in politics this time moved like lightning.
Democrats now have the Republicans in a political vise and will keep squeezing them. Let Bush veto whatever anti-war measure House and Senate finally produce. Let the president's GOP troops uphold his veto. Democrats will then rally for another legislative assault on the willfully blind chief executive. Each new roll call will stick it again to the Republicans. Do they want to stand with the public's common-sense grasp of reality? Or are they going to keep voting with the crackpot commander-in-chief and his delusional search for victory?
The guy in the bunker, unfortunately, may never get the message. That deepens the tragedy, both for America and Iraq. Each new needless death will deepen the hurt and anger. But it looks like George W. Bush will stick with denial, even as Congress keeps toughening its attempts to force withdrawal. I hope I am wrong about that, but a wise friend explained the logic of Bush's desperation politics.
Bush and Cheney, he said, are trying to run out the clock--keep this war going until they leave office and can dump the mess on the next president, very likely a Democrat. In retirement, the Bush crowd will then begin to sow the "if only" revisionism that blames Democrats or the media or the American people for a "loss of will." Sounds absurd now, but that is roughly what happened after the lost war in Vietnam. We could have won, "if only." Sad to say, many Americans came to believe it, especially resentful veterans seeking explanation for why they fought and lost.
Given all he has done to this country, Bush could do something truly valuable for history by accepting the blame in a stand-up way. Admit his great errors. Acknowledge the failure. This might ensure him a tragic but noble legacy. I am afraid there is nothing noble in the man.
The carnage in Iraq continues, but what did anyone expect? Roadside bombs (IEDs) take their deadly almost daily toll on U.S. troops in and around Baghdad (and adjoining provinces). Seventy-five Americans have already died in March, at least 50 of them from roadside bombs. Of course, that's a drop in the bucket, when it comes to Iraqi casualties. The now widely discussed Lancet study of Iraqi "excess deaths" between the invasion of March 2003 and June 2006 offered an estimated figure of 655,000. Its careful, door-to-door methodology was vehemently rejected by both George Bush (not "a credible report") and Tony Blair. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, however, recently obtained British government documents indicate that the study's methodology was indeed sound. ("[T]he chief scientific adviser to the Defense Ministry, Roy Anderson, described the methods used in the study as ‘robust' and ‘close to best practice'… In another document, a government official -- whose name has been blanked out -- said ‘the survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones.'")
None of this is likely to fully penetrate the mainstream in the U.S. During the week of the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, both NBC and ABC in their prime-time news shows typically continued to cite the figure of 60,000 for Iraqi deaths -- despite the fact that the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq calculated 34,452 Iraqi deaths for 2006 alone and this is known to be an honest undercount, because some bodies never make it to morgues or hospitals and, in the embattled no-go zones of the Sunni insurgency, official reporting of deaths is weak at best.
With the President's surge plan well underway and "encouraging signs" of progress in Baghdad already being hailed -- how long can we be encouraged on the road to hell? -- Iraq is ever more a charnel house, a killing ground. The latest real surge is in car and truck bombs driven by Sunni jihadis, which have reached record levels in exact conjunction with the attempt to flood Baghdad with American troops. On this roiling planet, the car or truck bomb is the weapon of the under-armed and under-funded, and, for almost a century, it has proven remarkably unstoppable no matter whose hands have been on the steering wheel. No one who wants to understand the particularities of our violent age should, then, miss Mike Davis' remarkable new history of this devastating weapon of our time, Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb.
It's a cliche: what a difference a Democratic congressional majority makes. The US attorney scandal, Walter Reed, the suppression of global warming data, the FBI's misuse of national security letters--Democratic legislators have been demanding documents, testimony and answers. Given that they now hold the purse strings and can shoot out subpoenas, the Democrats can no longer be ignored by the White House, executive agencies, and the media. Representative Henry Waxman, the relentless Democratic chairman of the government oversight and reform committee, has been leading the pack in investigating allegations of administration wrongdoing. (See my 2005 profile of Waxman here.) There's a lot for Waxman to cover, and he's being thorough. Consider the letter he sent the White House on Monday.
In that note to Joshua Bolten, President Bush's chief of staff, Waxman requested information about a $140,000 contract the White House awarded in July 2002 to MZM, Inc. This was Mitchell Wade's company. He's the (now former-) military contractor who paid more than $1 million in bribes to Republican Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who's in jail for having accepted these and other bribes in return for steering federal contracts to Wade and Brent Wilkes, another defense contractor. (Wade pleaded guilty; Wilkes has not.) What's intriguing about the contract Wade received from the White House is that its amount equals the price Wade paid in August 2002 to buy the Duke-Stir, the yacht Cunningham lived (and partied) on in Washington. According to the sentencing recommendation memo in Cunningham's case, Cunningham himself negotiated the $140,000 purchase price of the boat in the summer of 2002. This raises the intriguing possibility that Wade that summer needed money to buy Cunningham the yacht and--presto--a White House contract materialized.
And there's more: this contract was Wade's first prime contract with the federal government. The firm had been incorporated in 1993 but had pulled in no revenue through 2001. So Cunningham scandal watchers have wondered, did a White House contract help launch Wade on his felonious ways, and was this contract legitimate?
The modest contract reportedly covered supplying computers and office furniture to Vice President Dick Cheney's office. By the time it was signed, MZM, which had become an approved federal contractor only two months earlier, was already bribing Cunningham, a member of the influential defense appropriations subcommittee. Two months later, in September 2002, MZM hit it big, scoring a $250 million, five-year contract with the General Services Administration. Look at the timeline, one congressional investigator notes: May, MZM was listed as a federal supplier; July, it won a White House contract for $140,000; September, it obtained a $250 million contract. A not-too-suspicious mind could wonder if something--or someone--was juicing the process.
A look at that first contract--and how it had come to be--would seem a no-brainer for investigators. Plenty of MZM's subsequent doings have been probed. But as Waxman notes, "To date, however, there has been no examination of the circumstances surrounding MZM's initial federal contract and the role that White House officials played in the award and execution of the contract."
Months ago, I tried to obtain information about this contract. According to federal procurement records, the contract was for "ADP systems development services" and "custom computer programming services." What did MZM do for the White House under these terms? I contacted the Interior Department. Why Interior? It's home to an interagency contracting office that handles procurement for the White House. This office was established during the Clinton administration as a good-government measure aimed at consolidating contracting efforts. But this procurement reform has become subject to abuse. A recent Senate armed services committee hearing examined how this change in the procurement system has allowed agencies to escape effective oversight. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report slammed the Interior Department's interagency contracting office for "significant problems" in handling Pentagon contracts granted to CACI International for interrogation and "other intelligence-related services" in Iraq.
I asked the Interior Department if I could obtain a copy of the MZM contract under the Freedom of Information Act. The answer: you can submit a FOIA request, but you won't get anything. "It's national security," an Interior official told me, reciting various exemptions. The release of this information, he said, was restricted not by the Interior Department but by the Executive Office of the President because it "includes techniques and procedures used by the Secret Service for law enforcement investigations" and because its disclosure "could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law." He added, "There is no way to get any details."
A committee chairman with access to subpoenas might have better luck. Waxman has asked for all MZM contracts related to the White House and other materials, such as any communications between Wade, Wilkes, MZM officials and White House employees. Waxman's request also covers communications between the White House and Interior relating to MZM--for the obvious reason.
It could be that MZM in the summer of 2002 managed to snag a small White House contract in legitimate fashion, even as Wade was plotting a quick, bribery-greased rise to the top. But given that the Cunningham/MZM tale is one of sleaze and crime--I haven't even mentioned the prostitutes Cunningham received as bribes--Wade's first contract with the Bush administration deserves scrutiny. Republican legislators--no surprise--expressed no interest in this when they ran Congress. And, coincidentally or not, the US attorney in charge of the Cunningham case, Carol Lam, is one of the prosecutors who was fired by the Bush administration. But here comes Waxman, and the Case of MZM's First Contract is alive and open.
Update: See this Talking Points Memo posting for more news on this MZM contract.
DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.
Alaskan wood carver Mike Webber unveiled his "Shame Pole" this past Friday in Cordova to mark the 18th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which devastated the area and ruined lucrative herring and salmon fisheries.
The pole tells the grim story of the spill: sea ducks, a sea otter and eagle float dead on oil. A sick herring with lesions is featured. There's a boat for sale with a family crew on board, commemorating fishermen who went belly up, and a bottle of booze to remind people that Joe Hazelwood, who was captain of the Exxon Valdez, had been drinking before turning the helm of the ship over. Topping the pole is the upside-down face of former longtime Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, sporting a Pinocchio-like nose.
None of these apocalyptic images were the hardest part of the job however, as Webber told the Anchorage Daily News. "No, the toughest part was etching the words 'We will make you whole again' from the trunk of yellow cedar,' said the Alaska Native carver. That infamous promise was made to the state's inhabitants after the spill by Don Cornett, formerly Exxon's top official in Alaska.
The reality is that after eighteen years and countless false promises, ExxonMobil has still not paid the billions of dollars in punitive damages that the courts have determined it owes the spill victims--this despite the fact that the company posted the most profitable year in 2006 of any corporation in history. In 1994, a federal court in Anchorage, Alaska, awarded $5 billion in punitive damages to fishermen, Native Alaskans, and other plaintiffs in a class action suit against the oil giant. But rather than accepting its obligations Exxon has been fighting the verdict, employing hundreds of lawyers, filing countless appeals and effectively buying science that supports its claims.
This has added injury to injury as more than 30,000 people whose lives and livelihood were disrupted by the spill have now been dragged through years of litigation. During this time, according to the advocacy group ExposeExxon whose excellent mailing prompted this column, 6,000 plaintiffs have died waiting for compensation.
The company is even employing a strategy straight from the White House's fact-challenged department by arguing that the affected area of Prince William Sound has recovered and is "healthy, robust and thriving." (The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council reports that, in fact, the multi-million dollar herring fish industry, which once supported thousands of lives and livelihoods in the area, remains closed indefinitely.)
As Ashley Shelby concluded in an extensive investigative report outlining Exxon's legal tricks and maneuvers in the April 5, 2004 issue of The Nation, this is a classic story of how corporations can use and abuse the legal system and the seeming apathy of the federal government to avoid responsibility for their actions. It's been twelve years since a federal jury awarded the fishers and Natives on the Cordova sound $5.2 billion in punitive damages from Exxon, but not a single check from that award has been cut.
ExposeExxon is offering facsimile solidarity to Webber and his educational campaign. Click here to send a fax to Exxon's CEO Rex Tillerson and Exxon Board Chair Michael J. Boskin imploring them to stop appealing the guilty verdicts and pay the damages the company owes.
You can also help get the word out about ExxonMobil's misdeeds by distributing flyers in front of your neighborhood Exxon or Mobil stations, by passing the information out generally, and by writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper asking them to report on Exxon's continued refusal to pay its debts. (Click here for downloadable materials.) Lastly, if you can make it to the next exit without stopping, try to speed past Exxon and Mobil gas stations! It should be pretty simple to refuse to buy the company's gas.
Pontificators of conventional wisdom in Washington have been warning Democrats not to overreach in their probe of why 8 US Attorneys were unexpectedly fired last December. "It seems doubtful that Democrats can help themselves a great deal just by tearing down an already discredited Republican administration with more investigations such as the current attack on the Justice Department and White House over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys," Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote on Sunday.
Broder's an astute analyst of polling, so let's hope he sees the latest USA Today poll on Attorneygate [see questions 14-16]. Seventy-two percent of the public believes Congress should investigate the involvement of White House officials. When asked how the Bush Administration should respond to a Congressional probe, 68 percent of respondents want top officials to "answer all questions." The same number believe White House aides should testify under oath.
It seems pretty clear cut what the public wants Congress to do on this front. Of course they'd like Democrats to try and pass substantial pieces of legislation (even though President Bush will probably veto them). But they also realize that after six years of one-party rule, a measure of accountability is long overdue.
Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough had me on his MSNBC show tonight to talk about impeachment.
It was smart, civil discussion that treated the prospect of impeaching the president as a serious matter.
Scarborough took the lead in suggesting that Bush's biggest problem might be that Republicans in the House and Senate who -- fearful of the threat Bush poses to their political survival -- do not appear to be rallying 'round the president. The host's sentiments were echoed by two other guests, columnist Mike Barnicle and Salon's Joan Walsh.
The impetus for the show was Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel's ongoing discussion of the impeachment prospect -- Hagel's not quite a supporter of sanctioning Bush, more a speculator about the prospect -- and a new column by Robert Novak that suggests Bush has dwindling support within the congressional wing of the GOP.
Speaking about impeachment on ABC's "This Week," Hagel said, "Any president who says 'I don't care' or 'I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else' or 'I don't care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed' -- if a president really believes that, then there (are) ways to deal with that."
Novak wrote "The I-word (incompetence) is used by Republicans in describing the Bush administration generally. Several of them I talked to described a trifecta of incompetence: the Walter Reed hospital scandal, the FBI's misuse of the Patriot Act and the U.S. attorneys firing fiasco. 'We always have claimed that we were the party of better management,' one House leader told me. 'How can we claim that anymore?'"
Scarborough drew the two statements together for the purpose of asking whether Bush could count on Republicans to block moves by Congressional Democrats to hold Bush to account for high crimes and misdemeanors.
When a conservative commentator who was on the frontlines of Newt Gingrich's "Republican revolution" entertains a thoughtful conversation about the politics and processes of impeachment on a major cable news network, it should be clear that the cloistered conversation about sanctioning this president has begun to open up.
No, Scarborough is not jumping on the impeachment bandwagon.
He is simply treating the prospect seriously, as did CNN's Wolf Blitzer earlier in the day.
What I told Scarborough is what I have been saying in public forums for the past several weeks: We are nearing an impeachment moment. The Alberto Gonzales scandal, the under-covered but very real controversy involving abuses of the Patriot Act and the president's increasingly belligerent refusals to treat Congress as a co-equal branch of government are putting the discussion of presidential accountability onto the table from which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to remove it.
Does this mean Bush and Cheney will be impeached? That, of course, will be decided by the people. Impeachment at its best is always an organic process; it needs popular support or it fizzles -- as with the attempt by House Republican leaders to remove former President Clinton in a process that, fairly or not, seemed to be all about blue dresses.
While the people saved Clinton – by signaling to their representatives that they opposed sanctioning a president's personal morals – it does not appear that they are inclined to protect Bush.
With each new revelation about what Gonzales did at the behest of the Bush White House to politicize prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys, the revulsion with the way this president has disregarded the Constitution and the rule of law becomes more intense. And citizens are not cutting their president much slack.
A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll -- conducted over the weekend -- shows that, by close to a 3-to-1 margin, Americans want Congress to issue subpoenas to force White House officials to testify in the Gonzales case. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed say the president should drop his claim of executive privilege in this matter, while only 26 percent agree with the reasoning Bush has used to try and block a meaningful inquiry.
If the president wants to get in a fight with Congress over how to read the Constitution, it appears that the people will back Congress. And that backing is what will begin to restore the backbones of House members who, despite Pelosi's attempts to quiet talk of impeachment, are getting more and more intrigued by the prospect of holding this president to account.
As Hagel says, "This is not a monarchy. There are ways to deal with (executive excess). And I would hope the president understands that."
If Bush doesn't recognize this reality now, he soon will.
John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
Nonbinding this and that, deadline lah-di-dah, Bush/Cheney are going to ignore the mandate of the midterm elections and every pressure from Congress on Iraq, because Bush/Cheney know their opponents' bark has no bite. And that's because those opponents have yet to renounce the Bush/Cheney vision of US supremacy in the world. In fact, mostly, they share it.
William Pfaff> writes about US Manifest Destiny in the New York Review of Books: "It is something like heresy to suggest that the US does not have a unique moral status and role to play in the history of nations," he writes. Bush/Cheney tap into a belief that's as old as the state itself. (Pfaff quotes Paine: "The case and circumstances of America present themselves as in the beginning of the world… We are as if we we had lived in the beginning of time.")
Belief in US "exceptionalism" is the hop-skip-jump that led to US intervention in Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Central America--and now Iraq. It's the "exception" that okays the breaking of global rules, from the Geneva Convention, to the conventions against torture to the chucking-out of Habeas Corpus. Like Dirty Harry, Bush knows Americans believe "good" cops can break the rules if they're on a mission to save the world from terror, evil, tyranny.
Neo-cons came up with the chilling phrase "The New American Century," but even their critics accept the concept. In his testimony to Congress on global warming, Al Gore referred not once but a handful of times to the US "unique" role to save the planet.
At the risk of being burnt at the stake I'd like to suggest that this month provides a special chance to review all this stuff about specialness. March 25 marked the 200th anniversary of the British Parliament's abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. (A US law took effect in 1808.) To take a second look at the foundations of the country is to be reminded of the reality behind the rhetoric.
The New World wasn't so new. Ask the people who lived here. Slavery wasn't a new beginning. It was ancient. The first place to throw off slavery was Haiti in 1801, sixty-three years ahead of the United States. That makes Haiti special. Does it give Haiti a unique role in the world, to invade other countries and pursue a Project for a New Haitian Century?
We've got the brawn, but does that give us the right or the responsibility to rule the world? The problem isn't this deadline or that. The problem is the ideology of supremacy. The same ideology (that some are by nature better, or more valuable than others) that undergirded slavery in the first place.
Commentary, RadioNation, 3/24/2007.
Among the missing-in-action of these last years are all those Americans who went out into the streets before the invasion of Iraq began, part of the largest global antiwar demonstrations ever mounted. Even a fine piece like Frank Rich's "The Ides of March 2003," his recent return to the countdown to war, leaves out that mass of people -- a distinct minority in the U.S., but already part of a global majority.
They carried a plethora of handmade signs, including "No blood for oil," "Contain Saddam -- and Bush," "Uproot Shrub," "Oil for Brains, We Don't Buy It, Liberate Florida," "The Bush administration is a material breach," "Pre-emptive war is terrorism," "W is not healthy for Iraqis and other living things," "Use our Might to Persuade, not Invade," "Give Peace a Chance, Give Inspections a Chance," "How did USA's oil get under Iraq's sand," "Peace is Patriotic," and thousands more. In their essential grasp of the situation, they were on target and they marched directly into the postwar period in vast numbers before seemingly disappearing from the scene and then being wiped from history.
It wasn't, as people now often claim, that almost everyone was gulled and manipulated into supporting this war by the Bush administration, that no one could have had any sense of what a disaster was in the making. Millions of Americans had a strong sense of what might be coming down the pike and many of them actively tried to stop it from happening. I certainly did and I found myself repeatedly in crowds of staggering size.
Women traced out pleas for peace naked on beaches, while in the Antarctic well bundled bodies formed similar peace signs in the snow. And almost everywhere on the planet hundreds of thousands, millions, marched. After the invasion was launched and we had broken Iraq like a Pottery Barn vase, Americans in startling numbers went to the effort of officially apologizing in photos at the Sorry Everyone website.
The demonstrations of that moment were impressive enough that my hometown paper, the New York Times, which loves to cover large demonstrations as if they were of no significance, had a fine front-page piece by Patrick Tyler claiming that we might be seeing the planet's other superpower out on the streets.
Here is a description I offered of an enormous demonstration in New York City four days after the shock-and-awe invasion was launched:
"Twenty to thirty minutes after the group I was with ended our march at Washington Square and dispersed, I called my son -- thanks to the glories of the cell phone -- and he told me he was stuck at the end of the march over 30 blocks north of us. And we hadn't even been near the front of the march. That's a lot of people and there were sizeable crowds of onlookers, cheering from the street side as well as people waving or offering V signs from windows all along the way. It was a remarkably upbeat experience. We were all, perhaps, stunned by the evidence of our existence. Many, many young people. Wonderful signs. Drums and music. Roaring waves of cheers at the end. I think we felt something like shock and awe -- of the genuine kind -- that we had not gone away, that we were not likely to go away."
And then, in a sense, we were gone. And yet, in another sense, we never left the scene.
At the time the invasion was launched, polls showed over 70% of Americans in support of the President's war (or in a state of terror about terror, should we not stop Saddam Hussein from nuking us). Now, here we are, four years later, and the pundits who were telling us that we should indeed do it are still familiar fixtures on our TVs, while the faces of the pundits who didn't, and of the Americans, in their millions, who arrived at similar conclusions and tried to stop possibly the maddest, most improvident war in our history, have been erased from memory.
And yet, to offer a little hope to those who believe that the mainstream media holds the idling brains of hundreds of millions of Americans helplessly in its thrall, that we are all merely the manipulated, let's consider something curious indeed: The general point of view of the minority represented in those giant prewar demonstrations took deep hold as time passed and has now been embraced by a striking majority.
Back in December 2006, when James Baker's Iraq Study Group released its report -- and was hailed in the press for finding genuine "common ground" on Iraq -- I argued that the American people, without much help from politicians or the media, "had formed their own Iraq Study Group and arrived at sanity well ahead of the elite and all the 'wise men' in Washington."
The Bush administration, of course, rejected the findings of the Iraq Study Group, while the Democrats, by and large, accepted them. But no one turned out to be particularly interested in the "Iraq Study Group" formed by ordinary Americans whose "findings" were expressed in that least active of all forms: the opinion poll (and later, the midterm election). Nonetheless, the numbers in those polls represent a modest miracle, if you think about it.
According to a poll released that December by the reliable Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), 58% of Americans wanted a withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq on a timeline -- 18% within six months, 25% within a year, 15% within two years; 68% of Americans wanted us completely out of that country with no permanent bases left behind, including a majority of Republicans -- despite the fact, that you could search the American press, most of the time, in vain for any indication that the Bush administration had built a series of vast military bases, big enough to have multiple bus routes and capable of housing 20,000 or more American troops and contractors. In addition, according to PIPA, by the end of 2006, 60% of Americans had reached the conclusion that the U.S. military presence was "provoking more conflict than it is preventing"; while only 35% still thought it a "stabilizing force" in Iraq.
Too bad we don't have similar polls for politicians, opinion-makers, and media gatekeepers. They would surely bear little relation to PIPA's findings.
In 2007, if anything, such polling figures have only grown more emphatic. A recent Newsweek poll, for instance, offered the following figures: 69% of Americans disapprove of the President's "handling" of the Iraqi situation; 61% think the U.S. is losing ground in Iraq; 64% oppose the President's "surge" plan; 59% favor Congressional legislation requiring the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the fall of 2008.
In the most recent CNN poll, 61% of Americans feel the decision to launch the invasion of Iraq was "not worth it"; 54% think the U.S. will not win there; 58% believe we should either withdraw "now" or "in a year"; in the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 58% favor total withdrawal from Iraq either immediately or within 12 months. So it goes in poll after poll, while the President's approval ratings continue their slow slide into the low 30s.
Let's remember, by the way, that, unlike mainstream Democratic "withdrawal" plans, the American public is talking about actually leaving Iraq, as in that old, straightforward slogan of the Vietnam era: Out now! In other words, there is a hardly noted but growing gap -- call it, in Vietnam-era-speak, a "credibility gap" -- between the Washington consensus and what the American people believe should be done when it comes to Iraq.
Add in one more odd fact here: It's possible that American public opinion is now actually closer in its conclusions to its Iraqi equivalent than to the Washington consensus. A number of recent polls, in which Iraqis expressed grim feelings about what has happened to their country, have been released and, like the American polls, they seem to reflect a belief that American forces are anything but "stabilizing" and an urge simply to have the Americans out. A PIPA September 2006 poll found "that seven in ten Iraqis want U.S.-led forces to commit to withdraw within a year."
The question is, of course, will this public sea change someday be translated into actual policy?
This is part of a longer piece, "Demobilizing America," at Tomdispatch.com on why public opinion about the Iraq War has become so strong and has diverged so much from the "Washington consensus," while public protest has remained so relatively weak.
There's been a lot of evidence recently that the Bush administration is causing (or perhaps amplifying) an ideological shift among the American public away from Reagan/Gingrich conservatism, towards something resembling social democracy. That might be a touch pollyanna, but check out the latest data from the massive Pew survey released last week. Kevin Drum runs down the most important data points: a sharp decline in the percentage of voters identifying themselves as Republicans, a significant increase in the percentage of people who think "government should help the needy even if it means greater debt," and similar decline in the percentage of people who think "school boards should have the right to fire homosexual teachers."
In other words the populace is getting a) more socially liberal b) more economically progressive c) more identified with the Democratic party.