A speech about nothing

To those who advocate a swift end to the disastrous, illegal U.S. war and occupation of Iraq, here’s the good news — we are winning the struggle for public opinion. Yes, the latest polls bear this out, as does rising opposition to the war in Congress. But the real sign we are winning is the desperation of the Bush administration, on exhibit in the president’s speech June 28 as he tried to re-sell the war to skeptical Americans.

Bush, a Master of War masquerading as a president, gave a speech devoid of any real plan, or for that matter any logical argument for his position. His speechwriter must be Jerry Seinfeld, for it was truly a speech about nothing, or certainly one containing no discernable substance.

Bush, Karl Rove and company seem to think they can turn things around with the mantra “9/11, terrorists, stay the course, support our brave men and women in uniform” repeated over and over.

According to NBC News, Bush mentioned 9/11 five times in the speech, and I’m sure they lost count of the number of times he said “terrorists.”

Retired Marine Corps General Bernard Trainor, giving post-speech analysis on PBS, correctly criticized Bush for conflating 9/11, terrorism and the insurgency in Iraq. The resistance in Iraq is mostly homegrown, and while nobody condones car bombings and acts of violence targeting civilians, the insurgents are resisting an illegal occupation of their country.

Of course, Bush has no choice but to try to equate the Iraqi armed resistance with al-Qaida and 9/11, because he needs to divert attention from the fact that his policies in Iraq are a dismal failure, as Americans see on their television screens every night.

The Bush administration and its supporters are increasingly desperate, and they are using the troops on the ground in Iraq as hostages. Republican Senator John Warner, interviewed on NBC News after Bush’s speech, raised the specter of low troop morale because of dissension at home, and urged members of Congress to stifle their talk of “quagmire” and criticism of the war.

We who oppose the war have not betrayed our troops in any way. We did not send them, illegally, into a war based on lies, with inadequate equipment, with no post-war plan whatsoever. We did not try to cut the benefits they will need when they come home with all kinds of physical and psychological needs. No, we who oppose Bush’s quagmire support the troops by working to get them home to the warm embrace of their families as soon as possible.

While he did not say so in his speech, it has been reported that the Bush administration feels vulnerable to charges that, if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, the deaths of over 1,700 of our military personnel will have been in vain.

So evidently, this argument goes, we must stay the course — killing more Iraqis, with more Americans being killed.

This “reasoning” might prompt Bob Dylan to ask of Bush, “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”

For this president, there is no answer to that question, blowin’ in the wind or anywhere else. There is only the political need to stay the course, ensuring more death, destruction and chaos.

However, just because Bush’s aura of invincibility on national security issues has been pierced does not in any way mean the war in Iraq will end soon, or that he won’t threaten Syria, Iran or North Korea. The peace movement, backed by solid public support and growing congressional allies, must redouble our efforts to end the war, bring the troops home, and return some sanity to U.S. foreign policy.

There is a growing consensus in this country that the U.S must get out of Iraq. The only two questions that matter are how quickly, and how completely? We’ve gotten bogged down quite a bit on the first question, with those who advocate an immediate end to the war being tagged as unrealistic “cut-and-runners.” Frankly, it is not our job to set a timetable for withdrawal; it is our job to continue to raise the demand to end the war as soon as possible, until that demand is politically irresistible.

Less attention has been paid to the “how completely” question; yet it is just as important. Completely means completely — no permanent U.S. bases or remnant troop or “advisor” presence in Iraq, no “embassy” with over 1,000 U.S. personnel (many of them CIA or other intelligence agents) forming a shadow government (a la Afghanistan), no control over Iraqi oil, no control over the reconstruction of the economy (though we must pay for it, and for reparations to the Iraqi people). In short, we must accept no U.S. imperial presence in Iraq.

We must continue to press Congress to demand an end to Bush’s quagmire, sometimes politely in meetings and with letters and telephone calls, other times upping the ante with nonviolent civil disobedience at congressional offices. We must make the Iraq war the defining issue of the 2006 congressional elections. Every candidate for House and Senate next year must be made to answer the question, “If you are elected, what are you going to do to get us out of Iraq as soon as possible?”

We must stage massive demonstrations for peace, and we must engage our neighbors, family and colleagues at work, school and places of worship in quiet conversation about ending the war. In sum, we must embrace a diversity of tactics and we must broaden our base of activism.





Kevin Martin is executive director of Peace Action. This article originally appeared at commondreams.org and is reprinted, slightly abridged, by permission of the author.