Grassroots/Hank Kalet

Surge of Irrationality

The Iraqis apparently are standing up. That doesn’t mean that we’ll be standing down anytime soon. Despite promises made by the Bush administration and top military brass over the course of the war, the United States will not be reducing its military force in Iraq.

Press reports from late March indicate that troop levels will remain at current levels for the foreseeable future and possibly until after the next president takes office in January.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of US forces in Iraq, spoke to the president via a secure videoconference, according to the New York Times, and “recommended putting off decisions on further troop reductions for a month or two after the departure in July of five extra brigades sent last year to help secure” Iraq.

“There would be more frequent reviews after that to see when withdrawals might be allowed to resume,” the paper reported, “without any predetermined outcome and, given the time required to put troops into motion, little likelihood of big reductions on short timetables.”

The likelihood that troop reductions will be delayed, as well as the recent upward spike in violence belies the claims of war supporters that the troop surge is working.

The improved security—based on what has proven to be a temporary truce called by the Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al Sadr—was just a small oasis in the much larger desert of disaster.

As journalists in Iraq reported, al Sadr militias and Iraqi forces were facing off, with the militia forces taking control of parts of Basra and Bagdhad.

Deaths are on the rise, as well, in areas “where the American military is thinning out its presence, as the McClatchy newspaper group reported in March. US deaths have now exceeded 4,000 soldiers, while civilian deaths have been rising steadily since November, “when at least 76 people were killed and 306 were injured,”

“In December,” McClatchy reported, “it crept up to 88 people killed, in January 100 and in February 172. As of March 24, at least 149 people were killed and 448 were injured.”

The administration remains indifferent to these facts, with Vice President Dick Cheney demonstrating his lack of concern for American and Iraqi soldiers and their families, Iraqi civilians and American public opinion when he uttered that now infamous “So?” in response to ABC News question about poll numbers.

The problem, according to ardent war opponents like Naomi Klein, Jeremy Scahill and Chris Hedges, is that the antiwar point of view is not represented among the major-party presidential candidates.

Hedges, author of War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning and a regular columnist for, calls a “vote for any of the Republican and Democratic candidates … a vote to perpetuate the occupation of Iraq and a lengthy and futile war of attrition with the Iraqi insurgency.”

“You can sign on for the suicidal hundred-year war with John McCain or for the nebulous open-ended war-lite with Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama,” he wrote in March.

His tells antiwar voters that they need to be honest about what a Democratic vote might mean.

In an interview with me, he reiterated his belief that the candidacies of former Democratic US Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, now running for president as a Green, and consumer advocate Ralph Nader, running as an independent, offer legitimate and necessary alternatives.

“The importance of third parties is that they act as a kind of pressure on the Democratic Party,” he said. “If the Democratic Party feels there will be a significant defection of votes, they will have to address the issue.”

The candidacy of John Kerry in 2004 was a case in point. The antiwar left was so committed to removing George W. Bush from office that it was willing to go along even when he tacked to the right of Bush on the war.

“He tried to be more hawkish than Bush,” Hedges told me. “Why was the antiwar movement backing Kerry? It destroyed the momentum. I think there should be a minimum requirement that if you oppose the war your candidate should oppose the war.”

Klein and Scahill, writing in the Guardian (UK), offer a similar argument, though they don’t go quite as far as Hedges. The notion that the antiwar movement can succeed just by backing the Democrat—the “candidate who is not John McCain”—“is a serious strategic mistake” in an election in which neither of the candidates offers a clear end to the war.

“It is during a hotly contested campaign that anti-war forces have the power to actually sway US policy,” they write. “As soon as we pick sides, we relegate ourselves to mere cheerleaders.”

The ongoing battle between the Democrats, they write, offers an opening. The antiwar movement needs to make it clear what it will take for a candidate to win over antiwar voters, putting pressure on them to do more than call for a moderate troop reduction and permanent residual force. The candidates need to understand that there could be a political cost and forced into “outdoing each other to prove how serious they are about ending the war.”

Should antiwar voters abandon the Democrats if they don’t strengthen their antiwar stances? Not if it means a McCain presidency. But we need to be more vocal, more public in our opposition and make it clear that they need to side with us and not the “realist” insiders and true believers who got us into this awful quagmire in the first place.

Hank Kalet is a poet and managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press. Email See his blog, Channel Surfing, at

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2008

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