Perpetual War, Perpetual Power

May 19, 2014

As previously aired on KUNM, Albuquerque, NM, KSFR, Santa Fe, NM, and KRZA, Alamosa, CO.

The Iraq war lurches forward from day to day apparently without negative political consequences. The conflict has, rather to the contrary, been a political winner. In the midst of drum-beating preparations in 2002 Mr. Bush increased a Republican majority in Congress, and in 2004 he styled himself a war president and secured a second term. The timing of the war and its tattoo of supporting slogans suggest that one of its major purposes has always been to secure political power at home.

It cannot therefore be of great concern to Republican strategists that the Iraq invasion and attendant scandals in Abu Ghraib and Fallujah have spawned increased anger and hatred among Muslims around the world. The more enemies the US has, the greater the continued need for a fully-armored, tough-talking war party to stay in power. The formula is transparent. Keep the pot boiling and rely on continued threats of war to coerce public support and, of course, perpetual re-election. It is a policy reminiscent of Roman emperors who used war for the exact same purpose.

It is accordingly likely that Mr. Bush does not actually seek peace in the Middle East, so much as a continued series of threats for which he can demand a combination of political obedience and military spending, silencing nearly all other domestic priorities, rendering Democrats speechless and voiceless. If he succeeds in removing any troops from Iraq one can expect him to stir up trouble in Syria to coincide with Congressional elections in 2006, and to repeat the pattern with Iran in time for presidential elections in 2008.

Mr. Bush has massively violated international law which prohibits invasion and aggression, has spawned war crimes and violations of the Geneva Conventions, has flaunted constitutionally protected rights to counsel and fair trials. Such violations cut to the core of what it means to be an American, undercut the very constitutional and historical basis for our unique role in history; render us a petty state, a state of empire and militarism. And yet, through all this, Democrats have so far failed to sing their own song which might be fashioned from our marvelous and unique legal history, failed to make a dream again of powers that are balanced around the world, failed to honor those who fought and died, not at all for empire, but for the rule of law, not at all for oil but for fairness and decency, not at all for corporate governance but for governance by the people, on behalf of the people, in honor of the common man.

We hear, that is, no song in America today for the modest, indebted, family; no hymn to hard work; no honor for those who, above all, tell the truth and do what they say they will do. And yet, on the farms, in the small grocery stores of yesteryear, those values were the backbone of our culture and our strength. Seduced by war propaganda, Americans instead are lured today to believe that arrogance and dominance substitute for integrity, are encouraged to ignore the poor, and are asked to forget the community values which settled a frontier, fashioned a labor movement, built a new nation and forged an international community.

Generosity was always more the song of the American heartland than militarism and yet no recent Democrat has planted his or her feet firmly in the spirit of that generous tradition. Nor has any Democrat claimed the glory of the law which comes to the aid of the common man. Nor has any revived the memory that it was community, not selfishness, which built the public squares, the national parks, protected the forests and rivers upon which we all depend. As a result, generosity, law and community are fading from American politics replaced by a drum beat for self interest, aggression and empire. It is a course which forever in history has led to decline not only of military empires, but to inevitable social and political collapse at home.

If the country is to be saved from all this, Democrats will have to learn to sing again. They will have to sing not just of how to get rich, or be safe, or be insured, or be healthy. They will have to sing of how to be great. They will have to sing of the deeper message which moves the heart and moves history. They will have to sing of generosity and honesty and sacrifice and caring and of a society not only ruled by law but inspired by fairness and tolerance. We were like that once. We will have to be reminded to be like that again.