The wishful thinking of the antiwar Left

The leftwing Nation magazine still manages to get some things right– especially on the Bush administration’s pro-corporate, anti-labor domestic agenda.

But when it comes to foreign policy– and especially Iraq– it stubbornly holds on to a Vietnam-era willingness to believe, almost reflexively and in every instance, the worst about the US motives and behavior.

A recent editorial, “Anti-war, Pro-democracy,” is a case in point.

The editorial starts with a denunciation of Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean for daring to say last month, “Now that we’re there [Iraq], we’re there and we can’t get out.” The Nation’s editors call this a “startling” reversal. It’s nothing of the kind. Long-time readers of this blog know I had very little good to say about Dean’s Presidential campaign, largely because of his opposition to the Iraq war. But the editors seem to have selectively fond memories of Dean’s run for President. In fact Dean never advocated an immediate withdrawal, declaring in December 2003, “We cannot pull all the U.S. troops out of Iraq. We have to stay there for the duration…. We need to reduce our troop strength in Iraq. We cannot do that until we get foreign replacements.” He was criticized by other war opponents for that stand.

The editorial continues:

In a recent Gallup poll, Iraq topped the issues Americans would like to discuss with the President, and three-quarters of those for whom Iraq is the top issue want to see an American withdrawal.

Who does not want to see an American withdrawal? The crucial question, which the editors glide over, is when and under what circumstances?

The occupation of Iraq is a military, fiscal and moral crisis. Democrats who rejected Dean’s defeatism (among them Tom Hayden and Dennis Kucinich, whose open letters to Dean can be read at correctly argue that if their party tries to evade a strong and principled position on ending the occupation it will lose credibility and votes.

Opposing immediate withdrawal is defeatism? I think the label belong more properly to those, like The Nation’s editors, who put the gloomiest possible spin on everything that has happened in Iraq since the the overthrow of the Baathist regime.

And frankly, if the Democrats lose votes (to whom?) for failing to demand a precipitous end to “the occupation,” I for one will not shed many tears at the loss. A strong Democratic position supporting the spread of freedom worldwide and challenging the Bush administration’s ambivalent record– combined with a willingness to fight the enemies of freedom when necessary– will win the Democrats more votes than it will lose them.

The Administration portrays the choice in Iraq as between occupation and insurgent atrocity. But it’s a false choice. Practical alternatives already exist. In the Iraqi election the consensus of all leading parties was that there is a need for a timetable for American withdrawal. Only a timetable accompanied by, and spurring, negotiations among all parties will give hope for an end to the instability and violence. One lesson from Vietnam, Palestine and Northern Ireland is that many insurgent nationalists can be drawn in, isolating those addicted to nihilistic sectarian violence.

If the elected Iraqi government wants a timetable for American withdrawal, I presume they will ask for it. They haven’t done so yet. The Iraqi government is making efforts to draw in Sunnis, with some success. Do the editors really believe an immediate US withdrawal can induce the Baathists fighting to win back absolute control and the jihadis fighting for their version of Islam to stop killing and to enter a democratic political process? If so, they are indulging in dangerously wishful thinking.

The Nation’s editors then make a rather astonishing suggestion:

The US antiwar movement–activists outside and inside electoral politics–must now seize the language of democracy that Bush has so devalued, finding ways to support the majority of Iraqis who want to regain control of their own future. As Naomi Klein said recently at a teach-in sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies, “The future of the antiwar movement requires that it become a pro-democracy movement.”

Klein also acknowledged at the teach-in, “[I]t disturbs me that a lot of progressives are afraid to use the language of democracy now that George W. Bush is using it.”

I’m willing to give The Nation’s editors credit for not supporting the Iraqi “resistance”; this makes them (unlike others who claim the label) part of the genuine antiwar Left. But what is the mysterious connection between a hasty US withdrawal and the advance of democracy in Iraq or anywhere else? Neither Klein nor the Nation’s editors are able to explain it.

There is of course a connection, but it’s the opposite of what they want to believe.