Juan Cole: What the Election Means





The fourth popular revolution of the twenty-first century (after the Ukraine, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan) swept America on Tuesday, as voters engaged in the moral equivalent of storming the Bastille. The United States of America has roundly repudiated the Bush Administration and Republican Party dominance of all three branches of the Federal government and its dominance of many state offices, as well. Corruption and war drove this slap in the face to the Old Regime crafted by Newt Gingrich and Traitor Rove.

The Democrats have control of the House of Representatives as I write early Wednesday morning, with a gain of perhaps as much as 30 seats. They don't appear to have lost any seats. Indeed, Democratic incumbents won in other sorts of contests, as well-- governors, state legislators, etc. The mood of the electorate was not to punish incumbents. It was to throw out the rascals.

I think the Democrats will take the Senate. CNN is calling 2 Senate races too close to call, but Webb announced that he had won in Virginia, and his margin later that night went on up to 11,000. That might be enough to forestall a recount. Montana will determine the outcome.

Bill Bennett opined that the Democrats had actually not done that well, since the party out of power often picks up 35 seats in the second midterm of a two-term president. Bennett, as usual, is being dishonest. In fact, this was not an ordinary election but rather came at the end of 14 years of low blows and dirty tricks. The Republicans had tried very hard to have a permanent majority, using ruses such as state gerrymandering (e.g. Texas) and convincing Republican House members who were thinking of retiring to serve one more term so as not to risk having the open seat go to the Dems. Tom Delay's K-Street Project even envisioned depriving the Democrats forever of big lobbying money. The impeachment of Clinton was a cynical misuse of the Republican majority aimed at permanently wounding the Democrats. The Dems did not impeach Reagan for stealing Pentagon weapons, selling them to Khomeini, and using the black money to fund death squads in Central America! The deployment of a Republican Supreme Court to gain the White House in 2000 was typical of the new end run around popular sovereignty perfected by the party hacks in Washington. Given the giant berms the Republicans had built against any Democratic rebound, and the viciousness with which raptors like Delay, Weldon, Rove and Abramoff went for the soft underbelly of the democratic system, it is an irridescent miracle that the Democrats have taken the House.

In my view the real significance of the Democratic victory is four-fold.

First, it demonstrates once again that the American public simply will not put up with a return to the age of colonialism and does not want to occupy Asian countries militarily. Do you think that Abu Ghraib and American torture-pornography, the daily grind of violence, the stupid mistakes, have passed them by so that they didn't notice? They might swallow all this reluctantly but they want light at the end of the tunnel. There is not any in Iraq, as these pictures strongly suggest. They want it over with. It isn't. [Here's today's Iraq update.]

Second, Bush is not going to be able to put any more Scalia types on the Federal benches or the Supreme Court.

Third, a Bush administration war on Iran now seems highly unlikely. A major initiative of that sort would need funding, and I don't think Congress will grant it. The Democrats don't want an Iran with a nuclear weapon any more than the Republicans do. But they are more likely to recognize that there is no good evidence that Iran even has a nuclear weapons program, and have been chastened by Iraq enough to distrust purely military solutions to such crises.

Fourth, there will now finally be accountability. It is obvious to me that the Bush administration has been engaged in large-scale crimes and corruption, and has gotten away with it because the Republican heads of the relevant committees have refused to investigate these crimes. Democratic committee heads with subpoena power will finally be able to force the Pentagon and other institutions to fork over the smoking gun documents, and then will be in a position to prosecute.

Here is the sort of corruption, exemplified by Curt Weldon, that was going on in the Old Regime:

' Weldon himself was a key promoter of Finmeccanica for the Marine One contract, which has been widely reported as a payoff for Italy's support of Bush's Iraq policy. Italy provided what have now been proved to be forged documents that ostensibly showed Saddam Hussein attempted to acquire uranium ore from Niger -- a claim that President Bush leaned upon in his 2003 State of the Union address preparing for pre-emptive war. Italian defense groups have since become partners with the United States in the sale of American warfare technology to sensitive and controversial countries such as Israel, Libya, Iran and republics of the former Eastern Bloc.

During the months leading up to Finmeccanica's surprising capture of the Marine One contract, consulting money flowed to Cecelia "Cece" Grimes, Weldon's real estate agent who calls herself "a longtime family friend." According to disclosure records, Rep. Weldon's chief of staff made a $14,400 trip to Rome, Bari, Genoa and Milan with his wife. This and an $8,200 Italian trip by another Weldon staffer were covered by Fincantieri, an Italian ship maker fully owned by Finmeccanica. '


Note to John Dingell: Weldon's nexus of the Niger forgeries, Italian military intelligence, a sweet contract for the Italian military-industrial complex, and sinister contacts with shadowy figures from the Iran-contra scandal with a view toward getting up a war on Iran-- this deserves investigation as much as anything Bush and his cabinet have done.

The Democratic victory has enormous implications for US domestic politics. There will likely be an increase in the minimum wage, e.g. And the creeping tyranny of the evangelical far right has been slowed; even a lot of evangelicals seem uncomfortable with where that was going, and a lot of them deserted the Republicans in this election.

What are its implications for Iraq policy? Those are fewer, just because the executive makes foreign policy. Congress can only intervene decisively by cutting off money for foreign military adventures, which the Democrats have already pledged not to do. Moreover, the Iraq morass is a hopeless case and even if the legislature had more to say about policy there, it is not as if there are any good options.

One downside is that some Democrats campaigned on a platform of dividing Iraq into three ethnic provinces under a weak federal government, an idea they got from Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. I don't think they will be in a position to follow through on this (as if the US could dictate Iraq's future!), but one wouldn't want them to implement their rash promises in this regard.

What we can say is that the electoral outcome is a bellwether for the future of American involvement in Iraq. It will now gradually come to an end, barring a dramatic disaster, such as a guerrilla push to deprive our troops of fuel and then to surround and besiege them. More likely, the steady grind of bad news and further senseless death will force Bush's successor, whoever it, is, to get out of that country. One cannot imagine us staying in Afghanistan for the long haul, either. Bush's question in 2003 was, can we go back to the early 20th century and have a sort of Philippines-like colony with a major military investment? The answer is, "no." Iraqis are too politically and socially mobilized to be easily dominated in the way the old empires dominated isolated, illiterate peasants. The outcome of the Israel-Hizbullah war this summer further signalled that the peasants now have sharper staves that even penetrate state of the art tanks. The US can still easily win any wars it needs to win. It cannot any longer win long military occupations. The man who knew this most surely in the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld, most egregiously gave in to the occupation route, and will end up the fall guy as the public mood turns increasingly ugly in both countries.


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