Not only about the war

As the Democrats give contradictory signals on Iraq, the US anti-war movement prepares to exert pressure for withdrawal and compensation for war damage. But it's not only on the military front that Bush is weakened. David Moburg reports

December 1, 2006
5 min read

After their victory in the 7 November elections, Democrat leaders in the US Congress seem to recognise that they have a mandate from voters to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. But even if they express resolve now, action won’t be easy: George Bush controls more levers of power than they do as legislators. Though they have the power of the purse, top Democrats in the House and Senate indicate that they are unwilling to cut off funds for the war. They fear being accused of endangering US soldiers. Moreover, Democrats are not unified on a single plan, and divisions are likely to remain over the key issue of whether to set a clear date for final withdrawal.

Anti-war groups are optimistic. ‘There is jubilation by the major groups organised against the war,’ says Judith LeBlanc, national co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of 1,400 groups that has called for another demonstration against the war shortly after the new Congress convenes in January. ‘There are high enough expectations for the movement to exercise its muscle right away. There will be no honeymoon.’

Many pundits have portrayed the election as a victory for centrism, even conservatism, arguing that Republicans lost because they had become corrupt and abandoned conservative principles. But despite the views of some of the newly elected Democrats – such as supporting the gun lobby or opposing abortion – nearly all of them ran as sharp critics of the war.

Most also ran on a platform of what Americans call ‘economic populism’ – that is, government action to protect working- and middle-class living standards. Real income has been flat or declining for all but the top fifth of earners over the past six years, and job growth has been anaemic despite low official unemployment figures.

On the war and economic issues, voters were both repudiating Bush and the Republicans and tilting in a more progressive direction. In 2004, Bush was narrowly re-elected because in key states enough voters believed that he was preferable on issues of national security and fighting terrorism.

But the deteriorating course of the war in Iraq and the growing sense that the war is not being fought to increase security combined to undercut Bush’s credibility. This allowed voter unease over economic issues to come to the fore. The Democrats have a basic plan that they hope to push through quickly, including raising the minimum wage (now $5. 15 an hour and last raised a decade ago). The popularity of this move is demonstrated by the very strong referendum votes in six states to raise their own minimum wages above the federal level.

Democrats also plan to roll back oil company subsidies, pass new ethics legislation and change a Republican prescription drug plan for the elderly that actually prohibited the federal government from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies over the price of drugs.

There will be other clashes on economic issues, including the continuation of Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, new trade deals (which growing numbers of Democrats insist must include protections for labour and the environment) and the expansion of public health insurance to cover some of the 46 million Americans lacking it.

On Iraq, both the Senate Democrat leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and Michigan senator Carl Levin, who is expected to head the armed services committee, announced after the election that they would push for starting a ‘phased withdrawal’ of troops within the next four to six months. In the House, Jim McGovern from Massachusetts has proposed tying funding for Iraq (which has already cost $500 billion and for which the administration is prepared to request $160 billion for the coming year) to troop withdrawal and reconstruction.

The anti-war movement will be focused on withdrawing troops. Its credibility in making that demand has been bolstered by support from growing numbers of war veterans and a surprising group of 200 active duty soldiers in Iraq. But campaigners will also argue that the US should pay for war damage to Iraq, a proposition that may be much harder to sell to American voters.

Democrats are divided, and as a party they are vulnerable to political blackmail from senator Joe Lieberman. A pro-war Democrat who was defeated by an anti-war candidate in the primary election, Lieberman nevertheless won re-election in Connecticut as an independent with heavy Republican support. If Lieberman – still an ardent defender of the war – switched to the Republicans, as he has hinted he could consider, Democrats would lose control of the Senate.

With discontent about the war growing steadily, Democrats will need to deliver on getting the US out or risk repudiation by voters in two years time. But all the signs are that those same voters want progress on solving their own pocketbook issues – including health care, stagnant incomes and growing insecurity – as much as on ending the war.David Moburg writes for In These Times www.inthesetimes.com


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.