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Mike Davis on US politics

This article is over 17 years, 1 months old
The neo-cons at the centre of George Bush’s foreign policy are united in their imperialist project, writes US author and activist Mike Davis, but the anti-war movement shows hope
Issue 2038

Not since 1949 has the US foreign policy establishment been so theoretically unified as it is today around the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton plan and the “realist” strategy of multilateral imperialism.

All the leading figures from the George Bush senior and Bill Clinton years are singing in unison – a dramatic contrast to 1968, during the Vietnam War, when open civil war raged in the ranks of the Cold War mandarins.

The neo-conservatives are politically discredited and intellectually marginalised.

Yet their ultimate goal – a military attack on Iran – looks highly likely.

Despite the midterm election victory of the Democratic Party, US policy, for the moment at least, is still being dictated from the bunker.

George Bush junior (the puppet of Dick Cheney) is no more willing to concede defeat or personal error than was Hitler in early 1945.

But what would the victory of the “realist” consensus bring us?

Possibly a phased withdrawal (if that is possible) from the wreckage of Iraq, but an intensified emphasis on collaborative military interventions with Europe and possibly Japan.

Afghanistan – another wrecked country governed by druglords and mass murderers – is the realist utopia, the “good war” that needs to be waged everywhere.


The debate over Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s forced at least temporary reflection on the underlying dogmas of Cold War anti-Communism. Today’s debates are simply about “smart” versus “dumb” imperialism.

The Democrats’ critique of Bush’s policy in Iraq is about reinforcing the larger logic of the phoney “war on terror”, including interventions in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, the oppression of the Palestinians, and so on.

There is another paradox – the vote that gave Congress back to the Democrats was an overwhelmingly anti-war vote, yet – unlike during the Vietnam War – there is no national anti-war movement to hold politicians’ feet to the fire.

The broad grassroots movement that so dramatically contested the march to war in 2002-3 was absorbed into the Howard Dean campaign during the Democratic primaries in 2004 and then liquidated altogether during John Kerry’s presidential candidacy.

If organised anti-war forces have continued to exist in New York, Washington DC and the Bay area, the movement has also lost its national presence and identity.

Hopefully the large and very grave demonstration in Washington at the end of last month – I have never seen American protestors so sober or conscious of the darkness of the hour – is the beginning of the rebirth of a national movement.

Otherwise, the Democrats – the Black Caucus and a few genuine progressives aside – have no more real interest in ending the war than Bush has had in killing or capturing Osama Bin Laden.

Moreover, there is a shrinking and small difference between the Democrats and the Bush regime over Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, etc.

According to one poll, only one third of GIs support the US strategy in Iraq.

Nothing is more unpopular than the extensive deployment of the National Guard in Iraq and the high casualties these “dad’s army” units have suffered.

I live in San Diego, one of the most militarised cities in the country.

I have been convinced by conversations with young sailors and Marines that unless there is some movement toward withdrawal, you will see strikes or de facto mutinies by the end of this summer.

More immediately, there is the defiant symbol of Lieutenant Ehren Watada, the first regular US army officer to refuse to serve in Iraq.

He has refused to serve on the grounds that the war is “immoral and unlawful… and would compel complicity in war crimes”.

His court martial began last week in Fort Lewis, Washington.

It has become the rallying point for anti-war resistance within the military.

Further reading

Mike Davis’s latest book, Buda’s Wagon: A brief history of the car bomb (£12.99) is published this month.

Also by Mike Davis:

  • Planet of Slums (£15.99), looks at the growth, development and political implications of the huge slum cities of the Global South.
  • Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino famines and the making of the Third World (£14), charts the role of imperialism and colonialism in the creation of so-called natural disasters in the Global South.
  • The Monster at our Door: the Global Threat of Avian Flu (£12.99), is a timely examination of the role of big business and neoliberal governments in the creation of the avian flu crisis.

These are all available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE, phone 020 7637 1848 or go to

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