The last couple of days have indeed been a tipping point in the conceptualization of the Iraq War in the American mind as reflected in the mainstream media. First, new “Defense” Secretary Gates baldly states in his Senate confirmation hearings that the US is losing in Iraq. Then the Baker Commission report openly states that current policy is a failure. Pundits flail about in vain for a viable direction toward something they might be able to call success, all starting from the assumption that the current situation is a disaster growing steadily worse. The Baker Commission report is delivered to Bush like a death warrant on his legacy. But George W., with everything to lose, will almost certainly, given his shortcomings and insecurities, once more futilely exert his ever-shrinking manhood against these harbingers of defeat.
Today, 10 more US soldiers were killed in combat in Iraq. Tonight the cable news commentators exhibit unvarnished contempt for Bush. They question his ability to even comprehend the depths of his dilemma. The ubiquitous assumption is that the policies (and lies) of George Bush that led the US into Iraq have resulted in catastrophe for US power and influence and the process of extrication from this morass will cost much more. This is now conventional wisdom. Look for Bush approval ratings falling into the 20’s. It’s fast heading toward only Laura and his dog, Barney, standing with him and he shouldn’t count on them.
It is the dawn of the Iraq syndrome era, a public backlash against the type of policies that drug the US into this quagmire. One obvious potential characteristic of this era will be a repudiation of American militarism on a historic scale. Iraq is such a fiasco for the US’s ability to dominate the world by military force that mere defeat within Iraq with the attendant humiliating retreat might be the least horrible option for US militarism. Far worse would be a spreading regional war possibly stretching from Afghanistan to the Gaza Strip, which the US has little or no power to seriously influence. Recently, the Saudis, Syrians and Turks (all majority Sunni) have all warned that circumstances might draw them into the fray in Iraq, especially if the US unabashedly allies with the Shiites to slaughter the Sunnis as Bush’s Monday White House guest, Shiite cleric and death squad leader Hakim suggested.
The Vietnam syndrome is credited with exerting a restraining influence on US aggression for at least a few years – until 1980. Iraq syndrome has much more potential to effect future US foreign policy. Vietnam was not a war over seriously strategic territory or resources. Iraq is. Vietnam only spilled over into Cambodia and Laos only due to the US bombing campaigns. Iraq may spill over in every direction regardless of every US effort to stop it. Furthermore, never was the Vietnam War as universally discredited as the Iraq War has already become. There may not be throngs marching down the streets, but the antiwar position never had such good poll numbers as that position has now in the US and virtually everywhere else as well.
Objective conditions clearly indicate that the period between now and the next presidential election will provide the most fertile period ever for an anti-imperialist, anti-militarist critique. The most powerful way this critique could manifest would be as part of a independent presidential campaign by charismatic left leaders who espousing anti-militarist and other popular policies (e.g., universal healthcare, end the drug war) outside the conventions of capitalist party politics. Regardless of the corruption of the electoral process, it is the venue for debate provided and the capitalist parties are very likely to cooperate by nominating candidates with long histories of supporting now discredited policies.