Selected Predictions 2007:
Obama, Iraq, Impeachment, the CBC’s Future, and Katrina by Executive Editor Glen Ford
“Congress has demonstrated its sheer incapacity to confront the corporate forces that feed on human tragedy.”
Predicting the social and political future is much more complicated than forecasting the weather. Human beings are more volatile than any meteorological system, more destructive than hurricanes, and far more fast-moving than their most dangerous looming by-product: out-of-control global warming. But we will try to present some self-educated guesses on the course that 2007 will take – self-educated because the U.S. corporate media are sources of only confusion regarding any aspect of reality, past, present or future.
It appears we are in for one helluva year in 2007.
Run, Obama, Run?
Will Barack Obama go the distance in his as yet undeclared presidential run? Is he really running, at all? And who IS he?
One thing is certain: Barack Obama is a genius at encouraging divergent groups to (wishfully) believe he is on their side. The trick is to avoid revealing where he stands and thereby risk shattering the illusion. It’s a difficult balancing act, that requires Obama to send a variety of conflicting signals at key political junctures. He is against trial lawyers and “their” (actually, poor and working people’s) class action suits; unworried about the ascension of rightwing judges to the U.S. Supreme Court; cautious on pulling out of Iraq (but as livid as any Rudyard Kipling-era imperialist over the “coddling” of childish Iraqis who pursue their own perceived interests rather follow the Americans’ strategy-of-the-day). Yet his mostly boilerplate presentations are bathed in a cosmetically “liberal,” exquisitely upbeat and inclusive, infinitely ingratiating tone, (punctuated by the neon flash of the best set of teeth on Capitol Hill).
“Obama makes the appearance of ‘diversity’ easy, and real change unnecessary.”
Mostly, Barack Obama broadcasts that he has no “baggage” of animus towards white people. None of them. Or, at least, none he will mention. The unmentioned ones, despite their historical political behavior (at the very least, voting for racist Republicans and Democrats), can expect absolution if they proclaim willingness to support Obama – a moral redemption that can be purchased in a very short time at a suburban voting booth or by simply saying it out loud at a gathering of friends. Obama makes the appearance of “diversity” easy, and real change unnecessary.
Obama took great pains early in his term to convince senior Democrats he would be a team player. The question is, Whose team? All indications are that, politically, he’s on the Hillary/Bill Clinton-Democratic Leadership Council team. Indeed, the editors of Black Agenda Report have for some time strongly suspected that Barack and Hillary are playing presidential tag-team, in order to hold down the top two funding and popularity slots in the Democratic primary race. The longer the duo can keep this up, the poorer the rest of the field’s prospects. The Washington Post said as much, on Christmas Eve:
“Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), trading on star power, the capacity to raise tens of millions of dollars with relative ease and an ability to dominate media attention, are rewriting the script of the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign, driving potential rivals to the sidelines and casting a huge shadow over all others who may run.”
It takes courage to run the two-year-long, grueling race for president. Since setting foot on Capitol Hill, Obama has shown great stamina, but nothing in the way of an inclination to challenge entrenched power – and in the Democratic Party, the Clintons ARE power. Obama’s voting record is less progressive than that of his senior senatorial colleague from Illinois, Dick Durbin. Rhetorically – and all we hear from Obama is the blandest of rhetoric – he more closely resembles…Hillary.
We will not have to wait long to find out if Obama and Clinton are closet tag-team mates. If Obama has not put forward at least a position or two that clearly sets him apart from Clinton by sometime this Spring – they are in cahoots!
“Obama has shown great stamina, but nothing in the way of an inclination to challenge entrenched power.”
You can guess who will get the top slot, at the end of the game. However, it is not clear to me that the plan calls for Obama to wind up on the national ticket, at all. Having guarded Hillary’s flank, he will be entitled to duffel bags full of political chits, for future cashing in – on and off The Hill.
The year 2007 may see Barack Obama emerge as Queen-maker. But somehow, I don’t think he is the (Black) Man Who Would Be King – not in 2008.
On March 20, 2003, the day the U.S. invasion of Iraq began, I published an article in Black Commentator titled, “They Have Reached Too Far: Bush’s Road Leads to Ruin for Himself and his Pirates”:
“Bush's plan for world domination was doomed before the burning, blasting, thundering, screaming display. The Pirates have accelerated the processes of their own ruin….
“War is the great and terrible engine of history. Bush and his Pirates hope to employ that engine to harness Time and cheat the laws of political economy, to leapfrog over the contradictions of their parasitical existence into a new epoch of their own imagining.
“Instead, they have lunged into the abyss, from which no one will extricate them, for they will be hated much more than feared.
“In attempting to break humanity's will to resist, the Bush pirates have reached too far.”
The entire, fantabulous edifice of U.S. “liberation” of Iraq crumbled beyond even corporate media rehabilitation in 2006 – and with it, neo-con dreams of Iraq as a U.S. base camp for land and energy grabs throughout South and Central Asia. The Bush men and their comrades-in-defeat among the Democrats – Barack Obama included – now wail that their ungrateful Iraqi “allies” are holding up an American exit by bloodily consolidating the power they were never supposed to have achieved under the original American blueprint. As was written is 2003, “no one will extricate” the U.S. from Iraq, with our without a grace period. What’s an imperial aggressor to do?
“Common sense is no match for American Manifest Destiny.”
Common sense says, leave now. But common sense is no match for American Manifest Destiny, and has never figured into Washington’s Iraq adventure. For the purpose of predicting what the U.S. will do in 2007, we consult a dead Chinese thinker by the name of Mao, one of whose many sayings went: “All the reputedly powerful reactionaries are merely paper tigers. The reason is that they are divorced from the people.”
Certainly, the Americans are “divorced” from the 60 percent of Iraqis who want them dead. However, American armaments are anything but paper and, if Vietnamese (U.S. carpet bombing) and Iraqi (U.S. levels Fallujah) history is any guide, the American military may lash out like a cornered beast before leaving the scene. Maddened by their failure to defeat the Sunni-based resistance, the Americans now toy with the idea of cleansing “anti-American” Shi’ite cleric Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr’s forces from Baghdad’s Sadr City slum – home to two million people – with the help of the Dawa and Sciri Shi’ite militias. In other words, U.S. strategists would impose a Shi’ite vs. Shi’ite civil war on top of a Shi’ite vs. Sunni civil war! (Not to mention the low-level Kurdish vs. Arab civil war on the periphery of supposedly “pro-American” Kurdistan, in northern Iraq.)
The American tiger may be insane, but Iraqi Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali Husaini Sistani is not. On Christmas weekend Sistani vetoed American proposals to isolate co-religionist al-Sadr. It was Ayatollah Sistani who ushered in one-man, one-vote elections, against U.S. wishes, by threatening to bring a million Shi’ites into the streets, early in the occupation. He also brokered a cease-fire in al-Sadr’s series of revolts against the Americans. More than two years ago, the British commander in southern Iraq declared that, if Sistani told him to get out of the country, he’d have no choice but to leave.
“U.S. strategists would impose a Shi’ite vs. Shi’ite civil war on top of a Shi’ite vs. Sunni civil war.”
Only Sistani can save American face – what is left of it – by ordering the U.S. out of Iraq. I predict that’s what will happen, sometime in 2007 – and sooner rather than later.
However, we are not practitioners of mad tiger psychiatry, and therefore cannot predict what the crazed Bush men will do when told the game is up. Like the rest of the world, we shudder to contemplate the depths of imperial delusions – the demons that burst forth with murderous fury when a superpower is confronted with defeat.
What Will Congress Do?
Very little, but that’s par for the American course. The U.S. Congress only called for a halt to U.S. military activities in Vietnam in the summer of 1973, six months after President Nixon had already signed the Paris Peace Accords, promising to withdraw the few remaining U.S. forces on the ground from Vietnam within sixty days. When the final offensive against Saigon was underway in 1975, the U.S. nevertheless used massive airpower and experimental aerosol ordinance against North Vietnamese tank columns – all of which cost money that Congress had supposedly quarantined from use in Vietnam. The world-famous photo of a young Vietnamese girl aflame from U.S. napalm was taken at this last stage of the war – an immolation paid for by U.S. tax dollars two years after Congress voted to cut off war funding.
House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi and her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid, will behave no differently than their predecessors of three-plus decades ago – although events on the ground in Iraq will surely proceed more quickly than in Vietnam.
Only Americans believe they dwell at the center of history. (Some Chinese may also vie for the honor.) Americans, including many folks who consider themselves people of the Left, are under the delusional impression that the Capitol Rotunda and the White House are World HQ. So, let us put it simply: The U.S. Congress will not force an end to the American ground war in Iraq before it is a fait accompli brought about by the Iraqis themselves, in their many ethnic, sectarian and ideological manifestations. And even then, the Congress will fail to halt the Bush men’s later and inevitable barbaric hi-tech air and special operations atrocities against that country until…some unknown date – certainly not in 2007.
“Congress will not force an end to the American ground war in Iraq before it is a fait accompli brought about by the Iraqis themselves.”
The incapacity of the U.S. Congress – indeed, of the entire, rigged American electoral system – to effectuate fundamental policy change in the face of resistance from the executive branch and arrayed corporate interests, is a fact of history. But this does not mean that electoral and grassroots actions are futile – only, that they are incremental. Mass action and electoral pressure can reap a great harvest in the future – if not in the coming year.
For Americans, 2007 will be a pivotal 365 days of sowing political and organizational seeds, nourishing the roots and branches of an oppositional force. Meanwhile, the planet will continue to spin on its own – not our American – axis.
Will Conyers Put Impeachment Back on Table?
There is no more historically reliable and committed progressive in the U.S. Congress than John Conyers, Jr. Elected from Detroit in 1964, Conyers is a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, served on the Judiciary Committee when the panel approved three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon in 1974, and will chair the committee in the next congress.
Conyers has been the focus of pro-impeachment yearnings since the run-up to the Iraq invasion, but always demurred. Finally, in late 2005, Conyers seemed ready to start the impeachment ball rolling with introduction of House Resolution 635, which, in his words “creates a select committee to investigate the administration's intent to go to war before they received congressional authorization and manipulation of pre-war intelligence and encouraging and countenancing torture of detainees and retaliating against critics and to make recommendations regarding possible grounds for impeachment.”
Shortly thereafter, Democratic House boss Nancy Pelosi put her formerly progressive foot down. Impeachment was “off the table,” a “diversion,” she said, apparently buying into the Republican bluff that any effort to impeach Bush would work to the GOP’s advantage in the 2006 congressional elections. In almost unseemly haste, Conyers backed off, yet many continue to believe he will crank up the process once the full Democratic Caucus confirms him as Judiciary chair, in January.
“Many continue to believe Conyers will crank up the impeachment process once the full Democratic Caucus confirms him as Judiciary chair.”
I believe Conyers wants nothing more in public life than to punish George Bush for his multitudinous crimes – that a big chunk of Conyers’ soul wishes it were he, rather than outgoing Rep. Cynthia McKinney, who had the honor to introduce the first impeachment resolution. But Conyers cannot lightly discard his commitment to House Pelosi, who will doubtless deploy the same rationale for burying the impeachment issue in the run-up to the 2008 presidential race as she did in 2006. (The unspoken subtext of Democratic no-impeachment reasoning is: don’t rile the white, racist Republican base – and by all means, avoid a scenario in which Black faces are leading the charge against the White House.)
Conyers has the option of immersing his committee in hearings on the huge backlog of justice-related ills that have accumulated since Republicans took over the House in 1994: the explosive growth of the American prison gulag; the wholesale post-9/11retreat in the battle against racial profiling; outrageous outbreaks of murderous police violence, etc. However, Iraq-related hearings will be popping up in Democrat-controlled committees all over The Hill, all of them leading inexorably to re-consideration of the “I”-word. And remember, it was Conyers who converted his office into a clearing house for evidence of massive Republican vote fraud in 2000 and 2004 – another huge portal to impeachment.
Conyers’ stated excuse for backing off on impeachment, can also release him from his promise to Pelosi. In a May 18, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed piece, the congressman wrote that although the “allegations I have raised are grave, serious, well known… none of these allegations can be proved or disproved until the administration answers questions.” White House stonewalling meant no such answers would be forthcoming – certainly not while Republicans controlled the Congress. Conyers’ Resolution 635 sought to circumvent the existing 2006 machinery through a Select Committee made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, co-chaired by members appointed by the two party leaders in the House.
Conyers no longer needs the Resolution 635 contraption. If he chooses, Conyers can simply say that circumstances have changed; that his committee’s duty requires the Democrat-dominated panel to initiate a full probe into evidence already gathered, and to demand cooperation from the executive branch which, if not forthcoming, could ultimately lead to additional considerations of impeachment. That’s how Richard Nixon was cornered in 1974, in the second year of his second term – precisely the period of Nixon’s presidential career through which George Bush is now passing.
Will Conyers go for it, despite Pelosi’s certain opposition? He may have little choice. Pelosi will have great difficulty muffling the many Democratic committee and subcommittee chairs who are intent on finding their own investigative wedge into the near-infinite criminal scenarios of Iraqgate.
“Pretending that impeachment remains ‘off the table’ will be like living in 1929 Chicago and pretending that Al Capone isn’t a big man in town.”
We are likely to witness a cacophony of Iraq-related congressional probing beginning early in the 110th session – a noisy challenge to the man whose committee is the constitutionally mandated venue for ultimately making presidents accountable.
Meanwhile, the unraveling of the U.S. position in Iraq will proceed apace, each disaster more horrific than the last. In such an environment, pretending that impeachment remains “off the table” will be like living in 1929 Chicago and pretending that Al Capone isn’t a big man in town. Already, Rep. Henry Waxman is gearing up to issue subpoenas on war profiteering when he assumes chairmanship of the House Government Reform Committee – an investigation that, by itself, could lead to high crimes at the top.
It is inconceivable to me that John Conyers would allow Nancy Pelosi to stay his gavel hand as the year moves toward a crescendo of Iraq probes and debates. The “Dean” ain’t going out like that.
Can the CBC Rise Again?
Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick takes over the wreckage of the Congressional Black Caucus, in January. The five-term Detroit congresswoman, mother of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, inherits a Caucus that lost all political cohesion under the chairmanship of North Carolinian Mel Watt, who during his two-year tenure showed himself to be as much a lap dog to Nancy Pelosi as Britain’s Tony Blair is to George Bush.
2005 and 2006 were catastrophic years for the CBC. Under Watt, the Caucus’ rump right wing – Harold Ford, Jr. (TN), Artur Davis (AL), William Jefferson (LA), Sanford Bishop (GA), David Scott (GA), Albert Wynn (MD) and Gregory Meeks (NY) formed a kind of “caucus within the caucus” to vote with Republicans and their soul mates in the corporatist Democratic Leadership Council. Other, shaky members, seeing that there was no penalty for voting against their constituents’ interests, went with the corporate flow. The effect was devastating: in 2005, fully 37 percent of the Caucus supported GOP measures on bankruptcy, energy, and the estate tax. In 2006, two-thirds of the CBC caved in to the giant telecom companies’ cable and Internet legislation, ensuring that the national digital media delivery system divide will grow ever larger in coming years.
Incoming chair Kilpatrick is nobody’s lap dog. However, she will have to muster more than moral suasion to reverse the rot in the CBC. If the Caucus is to rediscover its own voice, it must abandon past practice of avoiding action in the absence of near-unanimity – a formula that relegates the Caucus as a body to endorsement of narrow “civil rights” measures that even Republicans can support.
“Incoming chair Kilpatrick will have to muster more than moral suasion to reverse the rot in the CBC.”
To save itself from irrelevance in the near-term, and to break the stranglehold of the corporatist faction, the CBC must institute “sense of the Caucus” procedures based on majority or supermajority (two-thirds or three-fourths) vote. Thus, the Caucus as a body could have opposed the GOP’s infamous bankruptcy legislation in 2005, despite the desertion to the Republicans of ten CBC House members. A “sense of the Caucus” process would also expose and isolate the most egregiously wayward members, shattering their sense of impunity and anonymity. Some might even come “home” again.
It is unlikely that Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick will undertake such an initiative in 2007, since it would amount to an admission that the CBC has become dysfunctional. In the longer term, there is no substitute for kicking some of the African American bums out of Congress – as Donna Edwards nearly did in her under-funded but close bid to unseat Maryland’s Albert Wynn, this year.
With the CBC in disarray and Nancy Pelosi intent on smothering all vestiges of a true opposition party, progressive lawmakers will in the coming year find themselves more deeply involved in issue-oriented groupings like the 75-plus-strong “Out of Iraq Caucus” – five of whose eight founding members are Black. Although necessitated by misleadership in the CBC and the Democratic Caucus, the trend toward activist congressional groupings is probably a positive one, since it moves lawmakers closer to activists at the grassroots and removes the drag of “brothers who ain’t brothers” – and wayward sisters, too.
Katrina: The Permanent Scar
As University of Chicago political scientist Michael Dawson has predicted, the Katrina catastrophe “could very well shape this generation of young people in the same way that the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King shaped our generation.”
Literally thousands of young – and not so young – people have journeyed to New Orleans to lend their bodies and minds to the project of return and reconstruction. They have witnessed ethnic cleansing and capitalist rapacity in the raw, and will be forever changed by the experience.
A Movement cadre is in the making from among a political generation forced to behold a fast-forward version of what is in store for urban America as a whole: displacement, disenfranchisement, the discarding of whole populations.
The ongoing horror of New Orleans is the existential bridge between the “civil rights” struggles of the Sixties and the battles that must be waged against late capitalism enveloped in a racist political culture. Congress has demonstrated its impotence in allaying the suffering of New Orleans – its sheer incapacity to confront the corporate forces that feed on human tragedy while presenting themselves as the only model for development.
“New Orleans survivors are little closer to being made whole than when the storm hit.”
Congress approved $88 billion dollars for Katrina relief – yet New Orleans survivors are little closer to being made whole than when the storm hit. Inevitably, activist youth realize that – like Iraq “reconstruction” – the entire Gulf project was methodically crafted as a gift to the rich, a theft involving many of the same corporate players, most notably Bechtel and Halliburton.
The nature of the beast becomes clear. The people’s present-day tormentors are bigger than yesterday’s Birmingham Sheriff “Bull” Connor, meaner than Mississippi Klansmen; they have a grand plan, and they own the government.
My final prediction goes way beyond 2007. In a sense, millions of young eyes were opened wide by Katrina, in ’05 and ‘06. They will see things more clearly than past generations mired in the muck of Jim Crow or obsessed with Run, Obama Run games. They will observe up close the attempt to reconstitute New Orleans as the “new city” of the future – with as few as possible Black and poor people in it. Wherever they call home – Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles – they will recognize the same forces at work.
And they will resist. That’s the good news.
BAR Executive Editor Glen Ford can be reached at [email protected].