Regime change needed closer to home


Thomas Friedman, the popular and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times, wrote a column of disillusionment this week.

“Three years of efforts to democratize Iraq are not working,” he said. “That means ‘staying the course’ is pointless, and it’s time to start thinking about Plan B—how we might disengage with the least damage possible.”

It was the candid admission by a gifted and decent man with a multitude of influential contacts around the world. Friedman is an evangelist for the possibilities of globalization—“The Earth is Flat”– and for the healing power of democracy. Call him an idealist with an audience and itchy feet to get something done. Four years ago these impulses led him to anoint war in Iraq.

His voice became one of those fronting for an American invasion. It was a voice less shrill than those of the howling warhawks but also less timid than those in Congress who knew better but acquiesced to the intimidating muscle and rigged intelligence of the Bush administration. Friedman’s cause was to change the Iraqi regime, to install democracy in a notoriously fractious land and to unleash the forces of freedom throughout the Middle East.

It’s not likely that the private schemes behind the Bush government’s invention of the war in Iraq reached the airy levels of Tom Friedman’s vision. It’s a vision now turned into a horror. After three years, what has been unleashed in the Middle East is daily slaughter in Iraq, Lebanon and Israel, the assignment of more American troops to Baghdad and, from America, yet one more chorus from the warhawks urging an even bigger war. And as long as the war-loving, power-craving, money-driven monopoly government stays on in Washington, the chorus is not going end.

After three years Iraq is an enormous cemetery and junkyard. The face of the day among millions there is a mask of daily fear, contorted by the sight and sound of Arabs killing Arabs, Islamics killing Islamics, Americans dying in the crossfire, and now a poison of hatred spreading around the world.

The American military commander in Iraq. Gen. John Abizaid, told a Senate committee this week that the sectarian violence in Iraq today is as bad as its been in the more than three years of the American occupation. Abizaid is not a politician with a creative paintbrush and a slick propaganda apparatus to distort the truth. He is not about to call other Americans frail and timorous for demanding an accounting by the ideology-driven jugheads who have turned American government into a bagman for corporate power and a sanctuary for ring-kissing misfits. He is a military leader being asked to make a candid estimate of a military situation at a dangerous time in his country’s history, when it’s political leaders in Washington seem unhinged and paralyzed by their own deceptions.

What the general could not say was that the most pressing regime change needed in the world today is not in the Middle East but in Washington D.C.

This is a crude and mirthless daily soap opera of a government, often mesmerized by the tough-guy images it constructed in its early days, a secret government worried about open transoms and falling pianos. By waving the flag often enough and brutally enough, by rigging electoral districts, by scaring, deceiving and dumbing down the voters, by using money to dominate radio and television and to slander election opponents, it has managed to conceal corruption and ineptitude on scale that would make the old banana republics pass for King Arthur’s Court.

In the process it has launched the country in the direction of eventual bankruptcy while trying to lock in a hereditary Brahmin class of millionaires who will rule the American society of the future.

We saw the latest burlesque of democratic government this week. With the clear approval of the White House, the Republican majority tried to put on a show that would require the Democrats to come grubbing on their knees to prove to their working class constituents that they were defending their interests.

All right, Democrats, the majority leader said—a doctor, no less, who once took an oath to promote healing, to do no harm—if you want that minimum wage increase you been yelling for all these years, you’re going to have to get rid of the estate tax. The majority leader might have offered an aside to his pals in the Republican seats: “You and I know that we’ve got all of the small farmers of America convinced that their families are going to lose their farms unless we get rid of the estate tax. They’re not, but there’s no harm in letting them think that way. We’ve got the Democrats by the short hairs.”

They may have, but enough Democrats and a couple of Republicans told him to go to hell. They stopped the ugly extortion, until it’s exhumed again in the fall.

This is what now passes for government in what was once the moral leader of the free world.

And so there is still no increase in the $5.15 an hour minimum wage. It is still a hostage to the mania for absolute and uncontested power that feeds the agendas of a sick government in Washington.

The question is: Will enough Americans see through the masquerade, see through the use of fear and secrecy and deceit, and declare in November that America is better than the face and behavior we are presenting to the world today.

It’s the stake in the November election. Unless there is a credible check on this gang of incompetents and political neurotics, we are going to have more secrecy and paranoia and bomb-rattling for the next two years, and what comes after that is not hard to predict.

There’s one significant hope: There may be enough Republicans in America who remember the Republican Party when at least part of it understood and honored shared sacrifice and shared purpose, knew that differences in a pluralistic society were normal and inevitable, and that God probably does not advance at the head of invading armies with a terrible swift sword. If so, we will see some silent and surprising coalitions in November.

It may be happening right now.