Monday, February 11, 2008

The Guantanamo Gambit. A Smart But Vulnerable Establishment. Tactical Options in US Politics.

Though they never said it, it now appears that Bush, or at least his Pentagon, did not, for whatever reason, want Rudy Giuliani to be US president.

Though purportedly weaker than the Democrats, these Republicans have made an ingenious move by announcing a surprise 9/11 death-penalty tribunal just months before the US election.

Giuliani must be pounding the earth at the news that -- just after he dropped out of the race -- the US pre-election discussion will now be shaped, in important part, by the theme that was his only issue.

The Republicans were already in position to maybe overcome some bad fundamentals (Iraq, the US economy, too much incumbency) with the political brilliance of Senator John McCain, a man who is at once a rich military aristocrat (his father and grandfather were admirals), a regular guy in personality, a bomber, a torture survivor (by the people he was bombing), and a conservative Republican lauded for candor who manages to convince some liberal Democrats that he's actually lying -- excusably -- when he repeatedly says he's conservative.

To non-US readers asking what these US political terms mean (in Australia, for example, "liberal" is the name of the "conservative," "right wing" party), the short answer is: don't puzzle over it too much; it doesn't really affect you.

"Liberal" or "conservative," US foreign policy is quite consistent, historically -- as each new US Secretary of State accurately tells the world when there's a White House change of party.

Now, whatever small distance might have existed between the US establishment left and right (see posting of January 2, 2008, "The US Election is Already Over. Murder and Preventable Death Have Won") will be subjected to a powerful converging pull with this big Al Qaeda Guantanamo proceeding.

Senator Barack Obama, who, at this instant, may be slightly ahead for the Democrats' nomination, will now have one more reason to make sure that his eloquent, vague, talk of "change" will, if in office, actually amount to small change (See my January 3, 2008 Democracy Now! discussion of atrocities by advisers to Obama, as well as to Clinton, McCain, and others).

But one aspect of vast US killing/sparing power is that even tiny relative changes, can -- in absolute terms -- produce many more or many fewer corpses.

If, say, in theory, a series of US policy decisions can kill or save 1,000,000 people, a variation of just one percent can kill or save 10,000 people.

So even if the bitter, minimal, electoral choice must be made among 99% - identical candidates, that 1% difference does make a difference, though you may not know in which direction.

(It was the Democrats -- John F. Kennedy, for example, who created the Central American death squads [see my "Behind the Death Squads: An exclusive report on the U.S. role in El Salvador’s official terror," The Progressive, May, 1984, and a resulting Senate Intelligence Committee report, which you can't see, because it's classified] and did the most damage on Vietnam, and who, in the Kerry-Bush campaign had the harsher rhetoric on South American matters like Venezuela [key Democrats like James Carville and Mark Penn have been paid consultants to Chavez's anti-democratic, pro-coup opponents]).

Though Bush II varied from post-Vietnam establishment tactics with an Iraq invasion that made Washington look bad (not, in their terms, because of the mass civilian death, but because of the US failure to win fast) Bush himself has now been partly pulled back into line, and McCain was already in line (McCain helped to oust Rumsfeld, who, with Cheney, hurt US power by overplaying it, i.e. by invading a non-defenseless country, and, to boot, getting lots of US troops killed and maimed, conspicuously, on television).

What this means is that though the public rhetoric appears to stake out big differences, Washington insiders agree that on Iraq, as on many matters, the Republicans and Democrats are on the same page.

The Democrats' talk, for example, of starting to withdraw troops immediately does not mean anything. There are always troop rotations, so when some come home that can be called a withdrawal. Or you can withdraw -- drawing down numbers -- today and build them up tomorrow. The only pull-out statement that would be meaningful would be an expressed willingness to let Iraq's regime fall, something inconceivable for a Democratic nominee -- more so now with the Al Qaeda tribunal.

Its not just that the US has a habit of killing civilians, it's also that it has such huge power to do so (see posting of December 5, 2007,"It Takes [Out] a Village: Illegitimate American Power"). Neither is acceptable. Both should be broken, and the killers tried. But electing a Democrat -- or Republican -- as president won't do that. Other tactics must be attempted.

The US system is, in some respects, unusually open and even vulnerable. The electoral process, for one thing, is, as in most places, heavily influenced by rich people's money (it's a combination of one - person - one - vote, and one - dollar - one - vote), but it is also susceptible to not-fully-controlled television spectacle.

At one point, in 1992, the wild card candidate Ross Perot, actually led Bush I and Clinton, almost entirely based on some cable TV appearances that seemed to strike a chord (though a rich man, he hadn't even yet spent much campaign money).

Then, however, Perot self-destructed, starting with a speech implying racist sentiments and dropped out (though he later re-entered, weaker) suggesting that North Vietnamese snipers were on his lawn, and hinting that there was also some sinister plot to disrupt his daughter's wedding.

If a somewhat crazy man could come that close, it says something about US politics.

The whole thing may not be quite as tightly nailed-down as we think.

People and movements (beyond electoral matters) can, in the US, figuratively catch fire, today through TV -- which is big-corporate owned, but finds it hard to resist a circus -- and can, when given space by still-existing civil liberties, win change, as in the '60s and '70s.

That's yet to happen much in recent years, but the US social underpinnings are shaking slightly. Obama's smart enough to see that and imply promises he has no plans to keep.

If many other, more serious, less indebted-to-power people saw it, the shaking could grow stronger still.

But so far, tactically, the US establishment is still smarter than its' real opponents.

We'll now be talking 'Fry these Al Qaeda bastards or not?' instead of 'Why let a child die when you can save it?' and 'When are we going to get tough on crime and really start enforcing the murder laws?'

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