A Bush Win?

Mark Levine, an assistant professor in the History Department at UC – Irvine, has written a piece for Alternet that asks a simple but important question: How will the Left respond to a “Bush Wins” scenario? In other words, what will happen to the energies and coalitions formed around the anti-war movement this year when American forces depose Hussein quickly and with relatively few casualties — few enough, at least, to avoid swaying public opinion back home? What will happen when Bush successfully establishes something resembling (superficially, at least) a democratic-like regime in post-war Iraq? Remember that the general opinion of the American populace is that we have already achieved an overwhelming victory in Afghanistan — a victory against terrorism, a victory for democracy. Problem solved. Time to move on.

The political Left, having established its most public position in decades, could be heading toward another in a series of significant embarrassments. With war now only days away (I assume), parts of the anti-war movement seem to be — and I say this with some hesitation — relishing the prospect of disaster. Today, Antiwar.com posted a link to this article, which promises “thousands of U.S. fatalities.” Surely the Left — which, you must admit, expresses its concerns in moral terms as often as the President does — can stake out its position on stronger grounds than, “Well, when thousands of Americans die, then, then the whole world will finally see how misguided Bush really is.” Surely the Left can hope for better than a bloody “I told you so.”

Levine writes:

the reality is that if the war is quick and a U.S.-occupation established effectively, progressive forces need to accept the removal of Hussein as a great opportunity to build democracy and justice in Iraq, whatever the actual motives of the Bush Administration. The social and political forces unleashed by the end of decades of Hussein’s murderous rule will not easily be penned in by a US-sponsored show-democracy; but whether these forces use a reopened public sphere or turn to violence to respond to the likely betrayal depends in good measure on how adroitly the world progressive community can lay fast but deep roots in Iraq.

Levine argues that the Left should be working overtime now “to inoculate the American people against what the Carnegie Endowment for Peace has already labeled the ‘mirage’ of democracy that will likely be planted in Iraq after a short war.” Doing so is a tricky game, though, especially when American attention spans are busily occupied by American Idol and Anna Nicole. Harkening back to the finest hours of the New Left, Levine suggests that our greatest potential might lie in student movements. But he warns that the Left’s credibility also rests on its ability to refocus “on the larger world systems which have produced toxic conflicts such as Iraq, Sudan, Colombia and the Congo. In other words, taking steps toward a more holistic approach to peace and justice.” I hope I get to see it happen.

But, of course, the Left continues to hold out hope for peaceful resolution, and the White House waffling of the last few days has offered occasional glimpses of promise. The best initiative for peace that I’ve found was offered this week by Sojourners – Christians for Justice and Peace. After meeting with Tony Blair and Clare Short, an ecumenical delegation of church leaders worked with Sojourners to draft a 6-point “Alternative to War for Defeating Saddam Hussein.” It seems remarkably pragmatic and just to me — a welcomed relief after months of naive anti-war sloganeering. Instead of annotating the proposal, I would encourage you to read it for yourself and pass it along.