By now you've heard that the Democrats folded like the proverbial cheap suit on the "showdown" over the next round of funding for George W. Bush's Excellent Iraq Adventure. There are justifications for this--the votes weren't there, this will prove to be a pyrrhic victory for the Republicans, and so on--but those change neither the public perception ("President Wins Showdown") or, much worse, the underlying reality that we're committed to further deepening the hole in Iraq.
What bothers me most is that the vote in some sense validates and perpetuates the tragedy of Iraq, which itself exemplifies everything that's gone hideously wrong with our "democracy," so-called: the erosion of checks and balances, the disappearance of a constructively critical press, the terrifying indifference to the suffering of other peoples, how quick we are to toss away our own supposedly central values.
I read this piece on the way home tonight; I wish I could dismiss it as overblown, wild-eyed lefty ravings, but the diagnosis on Iraq seems to me almost inarguable:
Without question, the administration's catastrophic war in Iraq is the single overarching issue that has convinced a large majority of Americans that the country is "heading in the wrong direction." But the war itself is the outcome of an imperial presidency and the abject failure of Congress to perform its Constitutional duty of oversight. Had the government been working as the authors of the Constitution intended, the war could not have occurred. ...
Instead of uncovering administration lies and manipulations, the media actively promoted them. Yet the first amendment to the Constitution protects the press precisely so it can penetrate the secrecy that is the bureaucrat's most powerful, self-protective weapon. As a result of this failure, democratic oversight of the government by an actively engaged citizenry did not— and could not— occur. The people of the United States became mere spectators as an array of ideological extremists, vested interests, and foreign operatives— including domestic neoconservatives, Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi exiles, the Israeli Lobby, the petroleum and automobile industries, warmongers and profiteers allied with the military-industrial complex, and the entrenched interests of the professional military establishment— essentially hijacked the government.
Some respected professional journalists do not see these failings as the mere result of personal turpitude but rather as deep structural and cultural problems within the American system as it exists today. In an interview with Matt Taibbi , Seymour Hersh, for forty years one of America's leading investigative reporters, put the matter this way:
"All of the institutions we thought would protect us— particularly the press, but also the military, the bureaucracy, the Congress— they have failed… So all the things that we expect would normally carry us through didn't. The biggest failure, I would argue, is the press, because that's the most glaring…. What can be done to fix the situation? [long pause] You'd have to fire or execute ninety percent of the editors and executives."
Veteran analyst of the press (and former presidential press secretary), Bill Moyers, considering a classic moment of media failure, concluded : "The disgraceful press reaction to Colin Powell's presentation at the United Nations [on February 5, 2003] seems like something out of Monty Python, with one key British report cited by Powell being nothing more than a student's thesis, downloaded from the Web— with the student later threatening to charge U.S. officials with 'plagiarism.'"
As a result of such multiple failures (still ongoing), the executive branch easily misled the American public.
Iraq is a nightmare in every sense, from how we got there to how it’s unfolded and, worst of all, what it’s shown us about ourselves. When you’re stuck in a nightmare, all you want to do is wake up. The Democrats’ caving on the spending measure, tactically justifiable though it might be, is at bottom a guarantee that the nightmare will continue for at least a little longer.