It's nice to know that, as the New York Times reported last Monday, there is "widespread skepticism about the Bush administration's Iraq strategy" among congressional "Democrats and some Republicans" (Michael Gordon and Jeff Zeleny, "Latest Plan Sets a Series of Goals for Iraq Leaders," NYT, 8 January 2007, A1).
Too bad the newly emboldened (one would think) Democratic leadership in Congress has taken de-funding of Bush's war (not to mentioning impeaching Bush for the deceptions that led to that war and the criminal nature of the war's conduct) off the table in advance of the new legislative session.
Too bad top Democrats are too frightened of being tarred with "losing Iraq" to act fully and forcefully in accord with the majority of (United States of) Americans (and Iraqis, for what that's worth) opposition to the war.
And too bad the Democrats' centrist presidential hopeful Barack Obama says that his party will be "punished in '08" if it doesn't seem like it wants to "work with" the criminal, monumentally incompetent, messianic, vainglorious and (surprise) remarkably unpopular Bush administration.
What about the troops charged with actual prosecution of Washington's illegal, racist and imperialist oil occupation, currently poised for a deadly escalation (a so-called "Surge")? How do they feel about the war? Their resistance to Bush's terrible Iraq policy could become a major factor leading to the end of the war before untold thousands more GIs and Iraqis die because of the mass violence the invasion incites and encourages.
"Duty Without Question" and With a "Unique Quality of Optimism"
In a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA) two weeks after George W. Bush's party received its mid-term "thumping," centrist presidential hopeful Barack Obama tried to curry favor with the gatekeepers of imperial power by praising US occupation soldiers for "performing their duty with bravery, with brilliance, and without question." ("A Way Forward" speech to CCGA, November 22 2006).
This claim of unthinking "service" by loyal troops was consistent with the tribute Obama gave to an obedient Marine in his heralded Keynote Address to the 2004 Democratic Convention. After referring to Americans as "one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America," Obama the Keynoter told the story of "a young man" named Shamus who "told me he'd joined the Marines and was heading to Iraq the following week." One of Shamus' endearing qualities, Obama said, was "absolute faith in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service." "I thought," Obama said, "this young man was all that any of us might hope for in a child."
The claim of unquestioning GI "service" in Iraq is consistent also with Obama's portrait of solider opinions he allegedly encountered during a trip to Iraq in January of 2006. In his recent highly conservative and power-worshipping book, The Audacity of Hope (2006), Obama claims that the only thing American troops wanted to tell him about was the "pride" they felt in what Obama calls "the house we were building" in Iraq with what he terms "the best of intentions." "Again and again," Obama claims, "I was asked the same question: Why did the US press only report on bombings and killings? There was progress being made, they insisted -- I needed to let the folks back home know that their work was not in vain." Obama claims to have been "reminded of that unique quality of optimism that everywhere was on display -- the absence of cynicism despite the danger, sacrifice and seemingly interminable setbacks, the insistence at the end of the day our actions would result in a better life for a nation of people we barely knew" (B.O., Audacity of Hope, pp. 297-298).
Pessimism and Alienation Born of Hard Ground Truth
It's hard to determine which is more disturbing in these comments from the junior Senator from Illinois: (i) Obama's upholding of the unquestioning execution of frankly criminal military orders as a good thing; (ii) his declared blindness to the cynical and brazenly imperialist nature of the mass-murderous "best-of- intentions" oil invasion; or (iii) his declared blindness to the important and welcome fact that many US troops question and oppose the war -- as well they should.
Antiwar activists and others who care to look have known about that GI opposition for some time now. Thanks to a survey of active duty US military personnel conducted as Obama was touring to sell his book (and his campaign) last fall, we now have hard data that makes Obama's rendering of troop attitudes look inaccurate and (I think) dishonest. We've got the 2006 Military Times poll, carried out by the US Armed Forces leading (Gannett-owned) newspaper. It is based on a mail survey of its active-duty military subscribers, two thirds of whom have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan at least once.
Here are the most relevant findings on active duty military opinion:
* Percentage who feel that "success in Iraq is likely": 50% (down from an "optimistic" peak of 83% in 2004)
* Percent who approve of the way President Bush is handling the war: 35% (down from 63% in 2004)
* Percent who disapprove of Bush's handling of the war: 42%
* Percent who think the US should have gone to war in Iraq in the first place: 41% (down from 65% in 2003) -- four points lower than the general US population in a recent USA Today/Gallup poll
* Percent who think US should have NO TROOPS in Iraq: 13%
That's right, more than 1 in 10 troops polled say there should be NO US forces in Mesopotamia.
Other interesting Military Times discoveries include the finding that less than half the active-duty military thinks War Criminal Bush has their best interests at heart. Less than half think the war on Iraq deserves to be considered part of the so-called war on terror. And less than a third thinks the nation's civilian military leadership has their best interests at heart.
These interesting findings come despite the fact that just 10 percent of the military identifies as "liberal" (the leftmost category troops are permitted to use). They also arise in spite of what Dr. Alan Segal (director of the Center for the Study of Military Organization at the university of Maryland) calls "a strong strain in military culture not to criticize the commander-in-chief" ("Down on the War," Military Times, 29 December 2006).
Authoritarian ideology and culture are trumped by real experience as troops are seeing more fatalities and (often terrible) casualties and less "progress." There's no substitute for actually "serving" on the killing fields of Empire. Troops know the war's grisly "Ground Truth" in ways that Obama will never grasp (even if he cared to) by squeezing an occasional flight into the Green Zone between photo shoots for Vanity Fair, Men's Vogue, and Ebony and endless visits to the dining, lobbying and lecture halls of Empire and Inequality, Inc.
Politicians can make all the calculating, false-patriot assertions they like about supposedly noble GI obedience in the execution of Bush's agenda. The deeper reality is that a large and growing number of the Empire's active-duty military are understandably and heavily conflicted about the war on Iraq. By one measure at least, their experience of harsh on-the-ground realities makes them more opposed to "Operation Iraqi Freedom" -- a supposed exercise in the export of "liberty" curiously opposed by the preponderant majority of its purported Iraqi beneficiaries (less than two percent of whom share Obama's notion that the occupation was carried out with benevolent, democracy-promoting intentions) -- than the US population as a whole.
Remember, antiwar activists: you have a growing and large number of potential allies inside the US military and among the rising mass of Iraq War veterans.
Paul Street is a veteran radical historian, social policy critic, journalist and political commentator located in Iowa City, IA. Street is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004), Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005), and Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, and Policy in Chicago (Chicago, 2005) Street's next book is Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (New York, 2007). He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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