The "Stab in the Back" Trap
The "Stab in the Back" Trap
The Democrats and the peace movement are walking into a trap. The Republicans are preparing with Rovian cunning to focus the mind of the public on the question: Who lost
And they are already giving the answer: The Democrats and the peace movement.
Republicans are preparing to dominate future decades of American politics by blaming the failure of the
It's a weak reed right now. But it will be much more serious when Americans are forced to face the chaos and humiliation that will come with recognition that
At the moment, a combination of war weariness and President Bush's unpopularity prevent such an argument from gaining much traction. As long as people are eager for the war to end, they will think of the Republican argument primarily as an obstacle to getting out.
But that will no longer protect the Democrats or the peace movement once the
Democrats in Congress instinctively recognize this danger. Many respond by promoting mild policies like benchmarks and non-binding timetables notwithstanding their constituents' demand for withdrawal. But the Republican strategy will cleverly ensnare even those who endorse such tepid measures, because it will blame defeat not only on an actual failure to provide material support for the troops, but on any 'defeatist' who 'sends a message to our enemies' that American domination will not be there forever.
The crucial problem is that most Democrats seem to be calling for withdrawal or 'redeployment' not because the war is wrong, but merely because it is failing. By framing the war as lost because of mismanagement, poor planning, or being bogged down in a civil war, Democrats cede the argument that the war itself was a 'noble cause.' But if the war is right, if as Bush maintains it is necessary to prevent horrendous consequences, then the public will predictably blame those consequences on the 'defeatists' who made America 'cut and run.'
What's necessary to evade this trap is to define the war itself - rather than just the fact that
The means to define Bush's war for the American people are at hand in the power of Congress to investigate Executive branch actions. We are seeing that power being flexed in the use of subpoenas for documents and testimony by committees investigating the firing of
What's become of the investigations of the origins and conduct of the war and occupation that Democrats promised when they took over Congress at the start of the 2007? According to a congressional aide quoted in the April 25 Washington Post, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have assigned staff members to monitor 'what fights we're picking and how we're picking them.' If so, they've assiduously avoided picking any fights that might implicate the Bush administration's 'war on terror' in violations of
Senate majority leader Harry Reid told the New York Times soon after last year's election that 'the first order of business' when Democrats take over would be to reinvigorate Congressional scrutiny of the Executive branch, with a focus on
Senator Carl Levin said he planed to investigate 'extraordinary rendition.' In the meantime, European governments have produced extensive documentation on the subject, and CIA officers are currently being tried in absentia in
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, 'The photographs and reports of prisoner abuse in Iraq, GuantÃƒ¡namo Bay and elsewhere that have emerged during the past two years depict an interrogation and detention system operating contrary to U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions.' The American people deserve 'detailed and accurate information about the role of the Bush Administration in developing the interrogation policies and practices that have engendered such deep criticism and concern at home and around the world.' Where are the subpoenas for that information?
The Democrats can safely discredit the Bush administration by investigating scandals that illustrate corruption while leaving a criminal 'national security' policy and its institutions unscathed. This is highly reminiscent of their strategy in the Watergate impeachment, when crimes like burglary were prosecuted but charges for far greater crimes like the secret, illegal, and deadly bombing of
In the aftermath of the Vietnam war, Democrats and the peace movement were smeared for 'losing
There's plenty of evidence for the criminal violation of national and international law and the U.S. Constitution by the architects of the
Many progressive members of Congress head committees that can begin serious investigations of those crimes at any time, but they're being 'monitored' by Pelosi and Reid. Fortunately, Democratic leaders in Congress are unusually eager right now to curry favor with the peace movement. They should be told loud and clear: Unleash your committees to reveal the truth about the war to the American people. Otherwise, you'll be shot because you were the messenger who brought the bad news of American defeat.
[Jeremy Brecher is a historian whose books include Strike!, Globalization from Below, and, co-edited with Brendan Smith and Jill Cutler, In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in
Brendan Smith is a legal analyst whose books include Globalization From Below and, with Jeremy Brecher and Jill Cutler, of In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in