How Republicans Are Stealing November

How the Republicans are Stealing the November Elections
Or, Bushes and Bonapartes

On November 7, the American people delivered a stiff rebuke to the Bush Administration and the Republican Party over its far-right policies. They were especially worried about the Iraq fiasco, and upset over the mounting US and Iraqi casualties. But they also worried about Bush’s coddling of the Religious Right and the erosion of the separation of religion and state, along with the assault on civil liberties.

Washington has been gripped by speculation that the brain surgery undergone by Senator Tim Johnson, D-South Dakota, might lead to his seat falling open, allowing South Dakota governor Michael Rounds, a Republican, to appoint a Republican replacement until 2008. That would throw the senate into the hands of the Republicans, since Richard Bruce Cheney is president of the senate and can cast tie-breaking votes. This scenario is undemocratic in so many ways it is hard to count them. The idea that a Republican governor elected by a few thousand shivering voters (South Dakota’s population is 754,844) could overturn the results of an overwhelming national popular vote by fiat should make the blood boil of everyone who cares about equity in the Republic.

(It is a matter for regret that poor Senator Johnson’s health problems should provoke anything but concern for his well-being, and I wish him a speedy recovery and sympathize with his family’s ordeal.)

The Michael Rounds Coup may or may not take place; if it does, I think the blogosphere should mobilize to see that he never wins another election, and to work to see that both senators from S.D. are Democrats in 08. How many Paypal clicks could it take to affect a South Dakota election? Egregious behavior on the level of national politics should be punished. And, I think a Minnekota, which combined the two Dakotas with Minnesota to form a single state, would make a lot more sense than the current arrangement.

But the Michael Rounds Coup would be a small thing compared to the Iraq War Coup now being conducted by W. You thought that the American people had spoken? They want the troops out? They want to be extracted from the quagmire? Too bad.

You see, we do not have a democracy, with the Bush administration in power. We have an elective dictatorship. The elections are like lotteries. Many of them don’t even reflect the popular vote or the general will. The Rehnquist Coup of 2000 was not intrinsically different from the Rounds Coup (if it happens) of 2006. Nor would the techniques whereby elections are “won” bear much scrutiny. Ask Tom Delay, through the penitentiary window. And the incumbents feel they owe nothing to the electorate, nothing whatsoever. They have the Power. They act as they please. The rest of us are just onlookers.

So Bush’s response to the clear public demand for a change of course and a disengagement? It is to run to Henry Kissinger’s apron strings. And what does the Butcher of Chile and Indonesia urge? That Bush should put another 40,000 US troops into Iraq!

The problem is that Iraq is a 500,000 troop problem. Another 40,000 are just going to anger locals. And, apparently, they would be sicced on the Shiite Mahdi Army in hopes of permanently crippling the Sadr Movement headed (in part) by Muqtada al-Sadr. And maybe they’d be used in a new offensive against the Sunni Arab guerrillas.

Let me explain why it won’t work. It won’t work because Iraqis are now politically and socially mobilized. This means that they have the social preconditions for effective political and paramilitary action (they are largely urban, literate, connected by media, etc.) And they are politically savvy and well-connected. They are well armed, gaining in military experience, and well financed through petroleum and antiquities smuggling and through cash infusions from supporters abroad. The Mahdi Army fighters can be defeated by the US military, as happened twice in 2004. But they cannot be made to disappear, as they were not in 2004. That is because they are an organic movement springing from the Shiite poor, and are the paramilitary arm of a large social movement with a national network and ideology.

Attempts to crush popular movements once they have mobilized have most often failed. No attempts at counter-revolution in France in the 1790s were successful. Even powerful empires like Austria were helpless before the mobilized French infantry (who for the first time used large numbers of conscripts).

In 1905-1907, the Iranian public mobilized to demand a constitution and parliament from the autocratic Qajar monarchy, which the then shah granted shortly before his death. His son and successor, Mohammad Ali Shah, hated the whole idea of constraints on his absolute power, and he tried to get rid of the parliament and the constitution. He simply provoked a national revolution against himself in 1908-1909, with major crowd and paramilitary action in Azerbaijan in particular, and ended up having to flee the country.

To give another Iran example, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi tried to crack down militarily on the mobilized urban crowds demonstrating against him in 1978, and even formed a military cabinet. But hundreds of thousands were coming out for well-organized demonstrations. When the military fired on peaceful protesters in Tehran, it simply enraged the whole country further. By January of 1979 the shah, despite his powerful army, had had to flee to Egypt.

I am not saying that popular protests cannot be crushed. They can and have been. I am saying that when you have a whole country that is politically mobilized and has substantial resources, a crack-down is likely doomed unless it is almost genocidal (Saddam’s use of chemical weapons in 1988 and of helicopter gunships against civilians in 1991 are examples, as is Truman’s use of the atomic bomb against Japan).

The US is not going to commit the half a million troops it would take to have a chance of winning in Iraq. Nor is it going to use genocidal methods to strike absolute terror into the hearts of the Iraqi people.

The Iraq situation has gone beyond the point where 40,000 troops can retrieve it. And that is if we even had 40,000 troops to put into Iraq and keep them there any length of time, which we do not.

In fact, since most of the “coalition of the willing” troops have now left (Italy, Spain, etc.), one of the two US divisions would only be putting the number of Coalition soldiers back up to what it was earlier in the Occupation, when things were also not going well.

The fact is that if provincial elections were held today, the Sadr Movement would sweep to power in all the Shiite provinces (with the possible exception of Najaf itself). It is increasingly the most popular political party among Iraq’s Shiite majority. For the US to cut the Sadrists out of power in parliament and then fall on them militarily would just throw Iraq into turmoil. It would increase the popularity of the Sadrists, and ensure that they gain nationalist credentials that will ensconce them for perhaps decades.

The “surge” tactic is being generated by Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard and by Frederick W. Kagan and Bill Kristol, i.e. by the same plutocratic American Enterprise Institute (Likudnik Central) that brought you the Iraq War with champagne toasts in the first place.

Kagan has a recent book on Napoleon. Napoleon’s most prominent characteristic was his willingness to waste his troops’ lives lightly. On his return from Palestine in 1799, he even had some poisoned because they were ill with plague and he did not want to risk transporting them back to his HQ in Cairo. He took 54,000 men to Egypt in 1798; about half came back. His Russia campaign saw a similar dynamic, on a much larger scale.

Bush is the Napoleon of our age, trampling on whole peoples, a Jacobin Emperor mouthing the slogans of liberty and popular sovereignty while crushing and looting those he “liberated.” And Kagan and Kristol (playing Talleyrand 1798) and Emperor Bush are readying a further slaughter of our US troops, 24,000 of whom have been killed or wounded, and of innocent Iraqis, 600,000 of whom have been killed by criminal and political violence since spring of 2003.

And you thought a mere election would make a difference. No one had to elect the American Enterprise Institute. No one needs to crown the emperor, he can do it himself. Welcome to Year 1 of the Empire.