One of the Ten Key Values of the Green Party is nonviolence, which says in part, "We will work to demilitarize..." In the wake of the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a state of perpetual war that has lasted my entire lifetime. Last fall I taught a course in Cold War Literature at City College of New York and while our last book was from the 1970s and the Cold War ended in 1989, not much really changed and within two years we were back in a full-scale war in Iraq, the first Gulf War.
I have no illusions that if I make the ballot, I have any chance of being elected to Congress. Even in the most progressive district, no Green Party candidate has ever come close to getting elected (and only one Green has even ever been elected to a state legislature). Indeed, there hasn't been a U.S. House member from a third party since my Fort Lauderdale neighbor and fellow adjunct professor at Nova Southeastern University, Leo Isacson, won a special election in the Bronx in 1948 on the American Labor Party ticket. (Vito Marcantanio also was an ALP congressman earlier from East Harlem.)
In his year in office, Leo Isacson tried to stop the militarization of the United States: he opposed the Marshall Plan and the peacetime draft and was one of three Congressmen to oppose legislation to increase the size of the Air Force. Perhaps he was extreme, but we do need to stop being the giantic fortress America national security state championed by hawks from Curtis LeMay to Dick Cheney.
Writing in his column in the New York Times today, Frank Rich notes, speaking of President Obama's tone-deaf Oval Office speech on Iraq (Freudian slip: I started to type "Vietnam"):
Of all the commentators on the debacle, few speak with more eloquence or credibility than Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University who as a West Point-trained officer served in Vietnam and the first gulf war and whose son, also an Army officer, was killed in Iraq in 2007. Writing in The New Republic after Obama’s speech, he decimated many of the war’s lingering myths, starting with the fallacy, reignited by the hawks taking a preposterous victory lap last week, that “the surge” did anything other than stanch the bleeding from the catastrophic American blundering that preceded it. As Bacevich concluded: “The surge, now remembered as an epic feat of arms, functions chiefly as a smokescreen, obscuring a vast panorama of recklessness, miscalculation and waste that politicians, generals, and sundry warmongers are keen to forget.”
Bacevich also wrote that “common decency demands that we reflect on all that has occurred in bringing us to this moment.” Americans’ common future demands it too. The war’s corrosive effect on the home front is no less egregious than its undermining of our image and national security interests abroad. As the Pentagon rebrands Operation Iraqi Freedom as Operation New Dawn — a “name suggesting a skin cream or dishwashing liquid,” Bacevich aptly writes — the whitewashing of our recent history is well under way. The price will be to keep repeating it.
We can’t afford to forget now that the single biggest legacy of the Iraq war at home was to codify the illusion that Americans can have it all at no cost. We willed ourselves to believe Paul Wolfowitz when he made the absurd prediction that Iraq’s oil wealth would foot America’s post-invasion bills. We were delighted to accept tax cuts, borrow other countries’ money, and run up the federal deficit long after the lure of a self-financing war was unmasked as a hoax. The cultural synergy between the heedless irresponsibility we practiced in Iraq and our economic collapse at home could not be more naked. The housing bubble, inflated by no-money-down mortgage holders on Main Street and high-risk gamblers on Wall Street, was fueled by the same greedy disregard for the laws of fiscal gravity that governed the fight-now-pay-later war.
Our attitude toward the war’s human cost was no less cavalier. We were all too content to let a volunteer army fight our battles out of sight and out of mind, on a fictional pretext yoked to a military strategy premised on a cakewalk. For too long we looked the other way as the coffins arrived in Dover off camera in the shroud of night, as the maimed endured inhumane treatment in military hospitals at home, and as the Iraqi refugees who aided Operation Iraqi Freedom at their own peril were denied the freedom to seek a safe haven in our country.
Both President Obama and Glenn Beck, in his “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington last weekend, were fulsome in their praise of the troops, as well they should have been. But the disconnect between the civilian public, including the war’s die-hard advocates on the right, and those doing the fighting remains as large today as ever. As one Iraq war vet e-mailed to me after hearing Beck’s patriotic sermons: “What does gathering in D.C. do for the troops?” He was appalled at the self-regard of those who thought their jingoistic rally would help returning troops abandoned by the military’s “criminally poor mental health care” or save any soldier who was “two seconds away from getting his leg blown off by an I.E.D.”
The other American casualties of Iraq include the credibility of both political parties, neither of which strenuously questioned the rush to war and both of which are still haunted by that failure, and of the news media, which barely challenged the White House’s propaganda about Saddam’s imminent mushroom clouds. Many pundits, quite a few of them liberals, stoked the war fever as well.
It's important to reiterate that both Democrats and Republicans were wrong about the war. The Green Party was not.
The same theme of two-party delusion is discussed in a review of Bacevich's book Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War in today's New York Times Book Review. An excerpt from the review by Gary J. Bass:
From Harry S. Truman’s presidency to today, Bacevich argues, Americans have trumpeted the credo that they alone must “lead, save, liberate and ultimately transform the world.” That crusading mission is implemented by what Bacevich caustically calls “the sacred trinity”: “U.S. military power, the Pentagon’s global footprint and an American penchant for intervention.” This threatening posture might have made some sense in 1945, he says, but it is catastrophic today. It relegates America to “a condition of permanent national security crisis.”
Bacevich has two main targets in his sights. The first are the commissars of the national security establishment, who perpetuate these “Washington rules” of global dominance. By Washington, he means not just the federal government, but also a host of satraps who gain power, cash or prestige from this perpetual state of emergency: defense contractors, corporations, big banks, interest groups, think tanks, universities, television networks and The New York Times. He complains that an unthinking Washington consensus on global belligerence is just as strong among mainstream Democrats as among mainstream Republicans. Those who step outside this monolithic view, like Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul, are quickly dismissed as crackpots, Bacevich says. This leaves no serious checks or balances against the overweening national security state. [emphasis ours]
Bacevich’s second target is the sleepwalking American public. He says that they notice foreign policy only in the depths of a disaster that, like Vietnam or Iraq, is too colossal to ignore. As he puts it, “The citizens of the United States have essentially forfeited any capacity to ask first-order questions about the fundamentals of national security policy.”
Bacevich is singularly withering on American public willingness to ignore those who do their fighting for them. He warns of “the evisceration of civic culture that results when a small praetorian guard shoulders the burden of waging perpetual war, while the great majority of citizens purport to revere its members, even as they ignore or profit from their service.” Here he has a particular right to be heard: on May 13, 2007, his son Andrew J. Bacevich Jr., an Army first lieutenant, was killed on combat patrol in Iraq. Bacevich does not discuss his tragic loss here, but wrote devastatingly about it at the time in The Washington Post: “Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.’s life is priceless. Don’t believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier’s life: I’ve been handed the check.”
Bacevich is less interested in foreign policy here (he offers only cursory remarks about the objectives and capabilities of countries like China, Russia, North Korea and Iran) than in the way he thinks militarism has corrupted America. In his acid account of the inexorable growth of the national security state, he emphasizes not presidents, who come and go, but the architects of the system that envelops them: Allen W. Dulles, who built up the C.I.A., and Curtis E. LeMay, who did the same for the Strategic Air Command. Both of them, Bacevich says, would get memorials on the Mall in Washington if we were honest about how the capital really works.
The mandarins thrived under John F. Kennedy, whose administration “was fixating on Fidel Castro with the same feverish intensity as the Bush administration exactly 40 years later was to fixate on Saddam Hussein — and with as little strategic logic.” The Washington consensualists were thrown badly off balance by defeat in Vietnam but, Bacevich says, soon regained their stride under Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — setting the stage for George W. Bush. Barack Obama campaigned on change and getting out of Iraq, but when it comes to the war in Afghanistan or military budgets, he is, Bacevich insists, just another cat’s-paw for the Washington establishment: “Obama would not challenge the tradition that Curtis LeMay and Allen Dulles had done so much to erect.”
Bacevich sometimes overdoes the high dudgeon. He writes, “The folly and hubris of the policy makers who heedlessly thrust the nation into an ill-defined and open-ended ‘global war on terror’ without the foggiest notion of what victory would look like, how it would be won and what it might cost approached standards hitherto achieved only by slightly mad German warlords.” Which slightly mad German warlords exactly? Bacevich, an erudite historian, could mean some princelings or perhaps Kaiser Wilhelm II, but the standard reading will be Hitler.
And he underplays some of the ways in which Americans have resisted militarism. The all-volunteer force, for all its deep inequities, is a testament to American horror at conscription. He never mentions Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the great New York senator who fought government secrecy and quixotically tried to abolish the C.I.A. after the end of the cold war. Although Bacevich admires Dwight D. Eisenhower for his farewell address warning against the forces of the “military-industrial complex,” he slams Eisenhower for enabling those same forces as president. Yet the political scientist Aaron L. Friedberg and other scholars credit Eisenhower for resisting demands for huge boosts in defense spending.
Bacevich, in his own populist way, sees himself as updating a tradition — from George Washington and John Quincy Adams to J. William Fulbright and Martin Luther King Jr. — that calls on America to exemplify freedom but not actively to spread it. It isn’t every American’s tradition (and it offers pretty cold comfort to Poles, Rwandans and Congolese), but it’s one that’s necessary to keep the country from going off the rails. As foreign policy debates in the run-up to the November elections degenerate into Muslim-bashing bombast, the country is lucky to have a fierce, smart peacemonger like Bacevich.
If elected to Congress (I know: in my dreams or your nightmares), I'd try to be that kind of fierce, smart peacemonger.
Luckily, with his recent vote against further funding of the Afghanistan War, Rep. Jeff Flake - who unquestionably will win re-election, no matter what I or the Democratic or Libertarian candidates do - at least seems to be one of the few Republicans who can see beyond the bipartisan militarism.
On this issue, as on most, we need new Washington rules.