Last spring, in our report on the National Situation (see Internationalism No. 134), we described the serious political problems confronting the American ruling class in the wake of their botched attempt to elect John Kerry president and to realign American policy in Iraq. This failure to effectively control the outcome of the election was a reflection of a number of factors flowing from the phenomenon of the social decomposition of the capitalist system, including the difficulty of the main factions of the bourgeoisie to align behind Kerry until quite late in the electoral circus and the impact of Christian fundamentalist right, which appears impervious to conventional political propaganda and manipulation. Instead of a much needed revitalization of the democratic myth, which would have accompanied a Kerry victory as a correction to the “stolen” election of 2000, the outcome of the 2004 was not political euphoria but widespread political demoralization and shock.
However, we also pointed out that “the dominant fractions of the bourgeoisie are well aware of their problems and are not entirely powerless in the face of their inability to achieve the appropriate political division of labor at the polls. There are clearly efforts underway to rectify the damage done by the electoral outcome. Considerable political pressure has been exerted on the administration to modify its more extreme positions, especially on Iraq policy, and to actually move towards the very policies advocated by Kerry in the election campaign. At the same time there is a concerted effort to restore a certain discipline to the state capitalist apparatus, a good portion of which worked behind the scenes to defeat Bush’s re-election.” We were able to cite examples of this political rectification that included the shake-ups in the cabinet and the CIA, sharp criticism of Rumsfeld’s handling of the war in Iraq from prominent Republicans such as McCain, Nagel, Schwarzkopf, Scowcroft, and even Gingrich; the removal of Paul Wolfowitz, the primary neo-conservative architect of the administration’s war policy; and Rumsfeld’s reluctant decision to appoint retired General Gary E. Luck to conduct an independent review of Iraq policy as a prelude to an impending policy shift.
Since the spring, however, the Bush administration has backed away from this process of political rectification and has reaffirmed its “stay the course” orientation and reverted to its gross exaggerations of the success of its policies in Iraq. Bush’s refusal to follow through on a change of course poses tremendous political difficulties for the ruling class, major factions of which see the need for some sort of strategy of progressive disengagement to rescue US imperialism from a deepening quagmire in Iraq and allow it to be capable of initiating further military operations in defense of its imperialist interests in the period ahead. The dominant fractions of the bourgeoisie reject any notion of immediate withdrawal, but there is a growing undercurrent pushing for a disengagement strategy. One academic has proposed a plan featuring a progressive scaling down of American groundforces in Iraq in favor of a longer term commitment of a smaller numbers of mobile troops, stationed in Iraq or aboard ships in the Gulf area and capable of providing strategic air support to Iraqi troops. This would have the benefit for American imperialism of drastically reducing the mounting American death toll and still permit a long term American military presence in the region.
The dismay of significant sectors of the ruling class about the Bush administration political regression is reflected in rising criticism even from Republicans and an escalation of anti-Bush media campaigns over the summer and collapsing administration popularity. The president’s approval ratings have dropped below 40%, to levels similar to those of Nixon shortly before he was forced to resign in 1974 and Clinton when rightwing Republicans attempted to impeach him in 2000. The Bush administration’s inability to cope with the protest by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a young soldier killed in Iraq, who was practically elevated to sainthood by the media as she stood vigil outside the president’s Texas ranch during his August vacation and demanded that the troops be brought home now. The only thing that took Sheehan out of the limelight was Hurricane Katrina, which was an even greater political disaster for the president, as even many Republicans and supporters of the war in Iraq were flabbergasted by the administration’s ineptitude. The incredible media campaign exposing the failures of the Bush administration can only be explained in the context of the efforts by elements of the bourgeoisie to ratchet up the pressure on the administration to modify Iraq policy. In this sense these campaigns are similar to the campaign surrounding the Monica Lewinsky scandal and effort to impeach Pres. Clinton, which, as we reported at the time, was more a reflection of an intra-bourgeois dispute over whether to play the China card or the Japan card in the Far East than some kind of puritanical, moral outrage about Clinton’s sexual activities and lies.
These media campaigns signal a serious effort to force the president to return to the more responsive behavior of last winter. Unlike traditional parliamentary democracies, there is no such thing as a vote of no confidence in the US system that would permit the calling of an early election and the fine-tuning of the ruling team for the bourgeoisie. It is only 10 months since Bush supposedly won a mandate at the polls, but he is increasingly a liability for the ruling class, which is stuck with him for the next three years. On the historic level, the American bourgeoisie has very limited options regarding regime change – assassination (as in the case of Kennedy) or impeachment (leading to forced resignation, as in the case of Nixon), both of which are incredibly traumatic to the body politic and result in the vice president succeeding to the presidency. In the case of Nixon, it should be remembered that Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced to resign in the midst of a corruption scandal and replaced by Gerald R. Ford, as a prelude to the Nixon impeachment/resignation, in order to assure an acceptable replacement. The prospect of a Dick Cheney presidency seems unlikely to mollify administration critics within the bourgeoisie. Whether the Bush administration will succumb to growing political pressure and change course, or whether more extreme options will be needed, remains to be seen. However, if we suddenly see a concerted campaign in the media and on Capital Hill directed against Cheney’s conflict of interest deals with Halliburton or some serious doubts about his health and his continued ability to fulfill his governmental obligations, we might be excused if we suspected that a replay of the Agnew/Nixon scenario was unfolding before our eyes.
When the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989, the bourgeoisie predicted the dawning of a new world order of peace, prosperity and democracy, and promised that the end of the cold war would mean shrinking military budgets and more funds devoted to social programs. In comparison to the growing chaos that has become the reality of the present period, the relative stability of the cold war era looks increasingly like the good old days for humanity. As the only remaining superpower, US imperialism is intent on maintaining its global hegemony and preventing the rise of any potential rival power or rival bloc. To this end, it has repeatedly been forced to exercise military power to send a warning and a reminder to its erstwhile allies and potential rivals. Each of these military ventures, however, only exacerbates the difficulties of American imperialism, and increases the pressure for it to take military action yet again. This chaotic spiral into war and devastation can only be answered by the class struggle.Jerry Grevin