As the campaign began, consultants and bigwigs of both parties sought to keep Iraq from becoming an election issue. To their credit, the American voters disagreed, insisted on changing course, and let Iraq become the critical factor in overthrowing a rigged Republican majority.
For sure, Rep. Henry Waxman will hold the gavel and subpoena power for hearings into war profiteering by corporate contractors. The issues surfacing in civil society, for example through distribution of Robert Greenwald's fiilm "Iraq for Sale", will suddenly be exposed under the glare of Congressional hearings.
This is not a scandal at the margins but a mortal threat to one of the pillars of the war. In recent days, both Kroll and Bechtel have quit Iraq. Others will follow, according to a strategic forecasting report available to insiders in the security business. That Nov. 3 memo memo says other contractors will "leave the theatre of operations when the risks get too great." The strategic threat is that the "combat capability of the US army is breaking" because the "contractor support it relies on won't be there." In short, the Pentagon does not have the military capability of filling in for its private contractors, who are profit-oriented.
Some Democrats will join Republicans in trying to rein Waxman in, but it appears that the contractors have lost much of their previous bipartisan immunity. Indeed, the contractors may wish to avoid the negative publicity and possible subpoenas that are sure to result from any serious Waxman hearings.
In addition, the Democrats are sure to hold hearings, and use subpoena power, to get to the bottom of other ugly truths of the Iraq war, like the Administration fixing the "facts" to go to war.
The airing of these issues is welcome and overdue.
But the Iraq War will not end.
The Administration will continue the conflict into the 2008 election year. The Democrats refuse to end it. The national security elites believe America's image as a superpower is at stake. We've heard it all before. No one is willing to lose a war even when they know the war is unwinnable.
It is possible, of course, that the bottom will drop out of the military effort, resulting in a military defeat and debacle. But the Administration will avoid that outcome at all costs.
The anti-war movement, and their supporters in Congress, therefore will need to pursue an "inside-outside" strategy. On the inside they will have to mobilize the "Out of Iraq" caucus around an exit strategy alternative, including such proposals as:
- the appointment of a peace envoy to begin a process of conflict resolution instead of military occupation.
- setting a deadline for bringing our troops home within one year.
- at the same time, ending the formal occupation and requesting the United Nations to appoint an international consortium to work with the Iraqis on security, economics and reconciliation.
The White House may wish to lure the Democrats into a "bipartisan", or no-fault, approach to Iraq in order to extend the war while defusing it as an issue with voters. They may even have to sacrifice Donald Rumsfeld as a gesture to gain time for "new leadership." It is almost certain that they will replace the current Iraqi regime with a strongman to go after the Madhi army of Moktada al-Sadr, the main Shiite leader who wants the US to withdraw its troops. Finally, both parties will hide behind the recommendations of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton study group, which is likely to propose a partial "redeployment." The Democrats' successful House campaign strategist Rahm Emanuel, who never wanted to make Iraq an issue, already is suggesting such a new bipartisanship even as the polls show that tonight's new American majority believes the Democratic Party will end the war sooner than the Republicans.
These are steps in the right direction, but only baby steps. The Vietnam War continued for seven senseless years after the Paris peace talks began. While scaling back its original victory plans, the US still wants to station tens of thousands of troops in a subdued, and perhaps partitioned, Iraq, and it wants the issue neutralized by the 2008 elections.
The peace movement therefore needs to gear up for the 2008 elections, by establishing anti-war coalitions that no candidate can avoid in the primary states. The first four states - Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina - have large peace-and-justice constituencies.
The electoral anti-war movement is the big winner of the 2006 elections, especially the legions of activists associated with MoveOn.org. Having virtually abandoned the Iraq issue in the six months following the 2004 election, MoveOn presumably has learned to stay with the issue.
But can this movement sustain itself in the face of bipartisan efforts to neutralize Iraq as an issue? Should that movement align with an anti-war candidate or be a non-aligned independent force pressuring candidates from both parties? Can it connect with domestic constituencies like the fair trade movement, the environmental [anti-Big Oil] movement, and Katrina's victims?
Whatever the answers to these complicated questions, peace advocates will have to keep up people pressure on the pillars of the war policy - until those pillars fall. Tonight the Democratic Party has fallen as a pillar of bipartisan support. So has Bechtel. So have several generals, overtly and covertly. So have the neo-conservatives. The pillar of the armed forces is breaking. So is the "Coalition of the Willing." Above all, 80 percent of the Iraqi people are demanding a US withdrawal timetable, and 60 percent endorse armed struggle against the Americans.
The next weeks and months will reveal the balance between democracy and Empire.
Tom Hayden, who has been active in social movements since 1960, teaches at Occidental College. He is the author, most recently, of "Street Wars and the Future of Violence."