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Iraq, McGovern, and Me… Now It’s Your Move

By Gary Gordon, Nov. 1, 2006

      Last Sunday I watched the most moral, sensible, reasonable hour and forty-five minutes of TV I’ve seen in, well, maybe decades.
      So what?
      The thing is, it was former Senator George McGovern and a guy named William Polk talking about their plan to get the U.S. out of Iraq while at the same time doing the right thing for the Iraqi people.
      I’m not sure that I’ve heard anything as sensible since I heard McGovern in front of the California delegation in Chicago in 1968 declare that he supported withdrawal from Vietnam—a position Hubert Humphrey and the majority of establishment Democrats could not bring themselves to embrace.
      The TV show was on BookTV, on a fairly civilized network called C-SPAN2. It’s 48 hours of programming about non-fiction books every weekend. Imagine, as John Lennon might sing, 48 hours of programming every weekend featuring authors; authors interviewed, speaking at bookstores, universities, book festivals, on panels conversing with and debating other authors—all very civil, no wrestlers, shouting heads, sans O’Reilly. And, get this, no commercial interruptions. So, last Sunday, McGovern & Polk, moderated by the distinguished John Brademas, for 105 minutes.
      As a disclaimer, before I proceed with an endorsement of McGovern’s & Polk’s plan and urge you to support it and use it as litmus test by which to measure Democrats and others who vie for your vote and support in 2008, I should mention two things: I gave my political heart to McGovern in 1971 as I worked for him in Georgia and Illinois, and I have been an opponent of Bush, his military misadventures, and his wholesale destruction of the American revolution and the American way of life since 1999. It boggles my mind (as it may yours) that so many people are only beginning to grasp that elections are referendums as well as contests for power and that so many people are finally coming around to the notion that 2006 ought to be a referendum on the wars as if 2002 and 2004 were too early to really frame the discussion. In the words of my people, “Oy!”
      Be that as it may, 2006 is certainly shaping up as that referendum, even though my friend John, whom I agree with, declares flatly that the war is a side-show.
      The problems in this country are so great as to require the economic equivalent of the Marshall Plan, the philosophical and legislative muscle of the New Deal, and the vision of many of the founding fathers, Paine, and the unsung revolutionaries combined with Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, the trust-busting inclinations of Teddy R., the visions of Debs, FDR and JFK (jawboning the steel industry, ignoring his generals and top intelligence and military advisers in the Cuban Missile Crisis) and LBJ’s Great Society, plus a dash of early Nader (the Highway 61 Revisited years), MLK and the other great souls who found that by mixing the small c christian values with the Enlightenment with American values, attitudes and resources you could work to create a society that would define greatness not by size or world domination but by a legal and judicial system and political system that was inclusive, democratic, oriented to justice, the dignity of the individual and the clear concept of society, especially anti-European, with its royalty and vulgar, brutal class systems, and especially anti-theocratic.
      Note: I have few illusions about American ideals and the American revolution, realize almost everyone and everything mentioned in the paragraph above has it flaws, hypocrisies, buts and “did you knows?”—for further insight, read Gary Nash’s “The Unknown American Revolution”—but I still think justice, democracy, inclusiveness, and individual dignity are pretty good ideas.
      Now, short of some as-yet uninvented Star Trek technology, how do we get there from here? How do we heal? How do we roll back the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush years and get back (and forward) to a vision that can incorporate the best of Debs, FDR, LBJ and McGovern? How do we get on a path that picks up where Frank Church et al left off, reining in the CIA and the multinational corporations? How do we end what Marvin Harris called the Permanent War Economy and implement what was politely known a couple of decades ago as Conversion. And how do we do this in time so that the religious fanatics and warmongers in our own leadership and those around the world, and the impacts of Global Warming don’t succeed in irrevocably dooming civilization?
      We start with the side-show.
      The side-show must be ended so full attention to re-building America can begin.
      And how do we end the side-show?
      McGovern and Polk have a simple, eloquent, cost-effective, moral and diplomatically ideal plan, published in their book “Out of Iraq” and summarized in a recent issue of Harper’s.
      The highpoints of the plan are these:
  • Withdraw American military forces and private mercenaries within 6 months, beginning in December
  • Terminate all post-war oil contracts and return the Iraqi oil industry to Iraqis
  • Adopt and implement an economic plan that would:
         1. Rebuild Iraqi infrastructure,
         2. Build hospitals and schools,
         3. Close U.S. prisons in Iraq and release P.O.W.s,
         4. Eliminate U.S. bases,
         5. Provide financial assistance to create a national reconstruction corps,
         6. Provide for an independent audit of all funds spent on the war,
         7. Fund reparations to Iraqi civilians,
         8. Fully fund veterans’ services in the U.S.,
         9. Rebuild Babylon, and
         10. Finance the creation of a national Iraqi police force (instead of an Army).
         Additionally, they insist the United States must offer condolences to Iraq. This significant gesture is non- negotiable.
          The cost of this plan? Around $12 billion… or, at the current $250 million-a-day cost of the war, about seven weeks cost.
          A further note: both Polk and McGovern readily acknowledge that this will be difficult and bloody. It is a plan for what America should do. It is not a plan for what Iraqis should do. There will be violence. People will kill each other. Their plan does not make every Iraqi nice. It does not require everyone behave. It does explicitly state that the major cause of the insurgency, the presence of the American military, will be removed and that over time this will lead to a decrease in violence. As both McGovern and Polk (who has studied the history of insurgency and guerilla warfare) said, bloodbaths predicted rarely occur; historically the withdrawal of the occupiers is the beginning of a return to order.
         Now, as to criticisms that will be made, left, right and center, of this plan. Well, the right-wing criticisms are as predictable as they are self-righteous, ignorant, wrong-headed, pathetic, evil and dangerous. ‘Nuff said. As for centrists (Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman etc.), they will argue timetable, they will argue details—they will study and argue and bluster and recount their own self-serving histories--such are the actions of American Tories. As for the left, they might argue that this plan doesn’t address the larger issues (as they see it) of the American war machine, troops in over 140 countries, Israel & Hamas, capitalism, and a host of other worthwhile issues that this plan is not designed to address.
          So, what is our plan? You and me? The ones who are against the war, want us out of Iraq, but also believe there is a moral obligation to unbreak some of what was broken.
          My humble proposal is this: we, you and me, should endorse this plan. Unequivocally. Without hesitation. Entirely. Not piecemeal. Not qualified. Not “I kind of like it but…” To use the flip of Bush’s line in the sand, with the Ken Kesey spin, “you’re either on the bus or you’re off the bus.”
          We should start insisting that every single Democrat in congress, all the representatives and all the senators, propose this plan as legislation and pass it.
          Let’s imagine, for a moment, that the Democrats take the House and Senate. Let’s imagine they endorse and pass into law the McGovern-Polk plan. Let’s suppose Bush doesn’t sign it, or flails about, or tortures syntax, or flails about some more. I like the scenario.
          Of course the reality is that this plan won’t satisfy some readers. Some Democrats, even if they take the House and/or Senate, won’t support this.
          Then what do we do? Well, then it becomes the litmus test. That is, if you really care about the war, either as the number one issue, or as the side-show that must be dealt with before we can move forward.
          See, it’s not enough to be against Bush. It’s not enough to declare a war immoral. It’s not enough to support Democrats (and as we will learn, boys and girls, someday the notion that they are the solution will have to go the way of Santa Claus—but that’s another column)—it’s not enough. You have to have a plan.
          Now there is one.
          The McGovern-Polk Plan.
          Moral, reasonable, sensible.
          And timely.
          And you have to get the plan implemented.
          Your move.