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Meditations in a Time of Delusions and Lies 17: No Empire, No Iraq War: Do You Have a Dream?

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Do you have a dream? I know that Bush does, and it's a dream that kills.

Bush finally came up with his plan, and his solution to the situation in Iraq is not only more troops but widening the war. Not only did he ignore the advice of the Iraq Study Group and many others to talk with Syria and Iran, but instead he made obvious threats to both countries. And he backed up those threats with an attack on an Iranian diplomatic mission in the Kurdish part of Iraq at almost the same time he was making his speech. He is attempting to goad both countries, especially Iran, into responding to a provocation so that he could justify an attack in response - or unleash the Israelis to do it for him.

Incredibly, he plows ahead despite widespread dismay and opposition from the American people. Even more remarkable, though, are the divisions among the political elite and the various pundits on TV. In recent days, astonishing statements of disbelief and rejection have come from Republicans as well as Democrats. The folly seems so obvious, the incompetence so staggering, the waste of American lives (not to mention Iraqi lives) so wanton, the risks of widespread conflagration so palpable, that many politicians are beside themselves.

This is a good sign, and opposition to the war includes people with all sorts of motivations and views. The recent documentary "Why We Fight," for example, dramatically illustrates how even Republicans can reject imperial war by calling upon Eisenhower's admonitions against the dangers of "the military-industrial complex."

But splits among the elite are not sufficient. The Democrats may engineer a symbolic vote against Bush's escalation, but they are reluctant to use "the power of the purse" to stop the war. When most politicians offer alternatives they speak about "redeploying" the troops. Some call for moving them to the borders of Iraq or to Kuwait, maintaining America's military domination in the region. In other words, most of the elite cannot change their worldview, cannot remove the blinders from their eyes, and their alternatives all start from one or another view of America as the world's imperial master. Bush, at least, is going for broke, and if he manages to engineer a wider war, he wagers that the rest of the political elite will be forced to follow him. He may be right.

There is good reason to believe that Bush has no intention of America ever ending its occupation of Iraq, of abandoning the permanent bases he has built. There is no reason to believe that he will ever engage diplomatically with Iran or Syria, and he certainly has no intention of putting real pressure on Israel to reach a just accommodation with the Palestinians. He is preparing for constant, total war. This may be insane, but he is not stupid. He will leave "facts on the ground" for the next president to accept. And if he provokes yet another horrific attack on Americans like 9/11, he may even invoke some form of emergency powers or martial law to repress opposition at home. This may sound outlandish or alarmist, but we have never seen anything like the Bush gang before, and they are capable of anything.

But advocates for a more rational or competent empire are not the only ones opposing the war. There are many, mostly kept away from the mass media and from the halls of congress, who can present a vision of America that is not an empire, a vision of a great power that engages with other countries on equal terms, that does not threaten invasion of any country, that concentrates its vast powers on solving intractable problems, whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, global warming or rebuilding New Orleans. This is the America that is always trying to set itself free, to realize the full dimension of democracy, to offset the greed of a few in favor of the needs of the many.

Sound familiar? Yes, once again, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is upon the country - and we will hear over and over the phrase "I have a dream" without ever knowing the full meaning of that dream. One image will be hammered into banality, obscuring the message. We will not hear King's speeches denouncing the Vietnam War or those calling for economic as well as racial justice. We will not even hear the full March on Washington speech in which he catalogued America's legacy of racial injustice.

The movement King was a part of and led is the real "surge," and it is flowing out in demonstrations big and small, in videos and messages across the internet, with millions of Americans still seeking justice and peace. This is the real alternative to Bush's mania for war, not "redeployment."
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Hilton Obenzinger is the author of "American Palestine: Melville, Twain and the Holy Land Mania" (Princeton), among many other books of criticism, poetry and fiction, and the recipient of the American Book Award. His most recent book is the (more...)
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