Or, as the post-Vatican II generation would put it:
Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault!
I confess: I wanted to believe. I wanted to hope. I wanted to have faith in Howard Dean as the anti-war candidate. I even wrote a column about it, wherein I praised the former Vermont governor and sometime critic of the Iraq war. Good lord, I even compared him to Adlai Stevenson!
Boy oh boy, was I ever wrong! How wrong? Here is Dean giving Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post the real scoop:
“‘I don’t even consider myself a dove,’ he told me and my colleague Ruth Marcus during a conversation before the rally . It’s true that he opposed the war in Iraq, he says, but he supported the 1991 Gulf War and the Bush campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. More interesting, at a time when many politicians are shuddering at President Bush’s ambitions to remake the Middle East conservatives, because they are skeptical of such grand reshaping ambitions; liberals, because they see resources being diverted from social causes at home Dean sounds if anything more committed than Condoleezza Rice to bringing democracy to Iraq.
“‘Now that we’re there, we’re stuck,’ he said. Bush took an ‘enormous risk’ that through war the United States could replace Saddam Hussein and the ‘small danger’ he presented to the United States with something better and safer. The gamble was ‘foolish;’ and ‘wrong.’ But whoever will be elected in 2004 has to live with it. ‘We have no choice. It’s a matter of national security. If we leave and we don’t get a democracy in Iraq, the result is very significant danger to the United States.'”
Now that we’ve made the biggest mistake in our history, we have to pursue the same course until we’ve dragged ourselves, and everyone around us, down into perdition. Iraq was a “small danger” a few months ago, but now, magically, it is transformed after Saddam’s defeat into “a very significant danger to the United States.” And he can always lay the blame at Bush’s doorstep. President Dean can always claim to have inherited the guerrilla war in Iraq, yet claim that now “we have no choice.” It’s the perfect alibi.
As Dean barnstorms the country and charms the left-wing of his party with his brand of pernicious guff, he is turning into a disaster for the anti-war movement, and an embarrassment to his supporters. If we’re lucky, Dean may derail his own campaign with his careening instability long before he gets anywhere near the White House.
I should’ve been warned. A few days before this story came out, it was a sunny Saturday afternoon on San Francisco’s Fillmore Street, when I spied a “Dean for President” table in front of the Royal Ground coffee shop. It was an irresistible urge that pulled me across the street, and led me into my first real live experience with the Dean Phenomenon in the person of a slightly yuppie-ish, thirty-something guy with a square, Dudley Do-Right-ish chin and a determined look in his eyes. He thrust a leaflet into my hand as I approached, and immediately started babbling about the glories of government-guaranteed universal health care.
Uh, gee, I thought, do I look that sick?
“Oh, don’t bother with any of that,” I said, smiling in what I hoped was a disarming fashion. “I could care less about Dean’s domestic views, which I don’t agree with, anyway. However, I do like his foreign policy stance, especially when it comes to Iraq.”
The Dean Guy looked disappointed, yet he nodded anyway.
“But tell me,” I said, checking out the literature on his table, “what’s up with Dean saying we should go into Liberia, but not Iraq? Isn’t that a bit of an inconsistency?”
The Dean Guy looked utterly flabbergasted: “Oh no,” he exclaimed, clenching his jaw, “they’re completely different.”
“Yeah,” I said, “one involves our alleged ‘national interest,’ and the other doesn’t bother with that pretense.”
“Liberia is a humanitarian intervention,” he assured me, “Iraq was for the oil.”
“So the U.S. must intervene everywhere as long as it’s a self-less act?”
“Yes, but what about World War II?” There was a triumphant finality in his voice, as if to say: Gotcha! “What would you have done then?“
“Stayed out of it. After all, what did we get out of it? Soviet-occupied Europe and half a century of Cold War.”
“What are you” the poor kid looked frightened, for a moment, as if he’d seen a ghostly apparition “some kind of isolationist?”
“You got that one right.”
“It’s wrong,” he said, shaking his head vigorously. Was that a rattling sound I heard? “Just wrong.”
“Yeah, that’s right: me and George Washington, we’re both wrong. Not to mention Thomas Jefferson, the founder of your party.”
“Look,” he said, “if we had hours to debate this ”
Only a few minutes to a customer, but I’d already had enough. It was plain to see that hours days, weeks, months of debate would never disabuse this young zealot of the conceit that he and Howard Dean could reform the whole world, if only the voters were willing. If the U.S. federal government can guarantee “universal health care” to its citizens, why not wave a similar magic wand over the people of Iraq? Dean’s all for it, as his remarks to the Post make all too clear:
“Bringing democracy to Iraq is not a two-year proposition. Having elections alone doesn’t guarantee democracy. You’ve got to have institutions and the rule of law, and in a country that hasn’t had that in 3,000 years, it’s unlikely to suddenly develop by having elections and getting the heck out.”
Dean, the alleged “anti-war” candidate, agrees with Condi Rice’s concept of a “generational” project to bring “democracy” to Iraq, and joins Bill Kristol in questioning the depth and endurance of the President’s commitment.
But if the war was a mistake, then the occcupation is not only wrong but also potentially disastrous for the U.S. To realize just how catastrophic, imagine President Dean doing what he told the Post he’d do:
“Dean would impose a ‘hybrid’ constitution, ‘American with Iraqi, Arab characteristics. Iraqis have to play a major role in drafting this, but the Americans have to have the final say.’ Women’s rights must be guaranteed at all levels.”
At least the Bushies keep up the “democratic” pretenses and never openly proclaim their authoritarian intentions. The imperious Dean, on the other hand, makes no bones about America’s role as the hegemonic power: with the Dean administration at the helm, the Americans will always have the final say. The man isn’t running for President. He won’t settle for anything less than Emperor.
The ineffable arrogance of the idea that we can turn Iraq into the equivalent of the 51st state, albeit one “with Iraqi-Arab characteristics,” is frightening coming from a serious candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Coming out of the mouth of the supposed “anti-war” candidate, it is downright eerie. What is this, anyway? Have we suddenly fallen through a hole in the space-time continuum? Has all reason fled, with only madmen left behind? The campaign has barely begun, and already Dean is completely reversing himself and betraying his base.
But it’s a little early for that sort of thing, isn’t it? Candidates usually wait until after they’ve won the election before selling their constituency down the river. Dean’s great novelty may be that he’s the fastest sellout, ever.
Before this presidential election season is over, “Are you deaning out on me?” may yet enter the vernacular to mean brazenly reversing course without ever acknowledging the radical change in direction.
I want to apologize to my readers for ever saying a single good word about the double-talking, double-dealing, dubious Dean, a snake in the grass if ever there was one, slimier even than Bill Clinton. Just as Caligula was a piker, as Rome’s imperial villains go, compared to the megalomanical evil of Nero, so the damage done by President Dean will far surpass that done by any of his recent predecessors. Caligula’s malevolence merely singed Rome: Nero’s burnt it to the ground.
Not to make any excuses for myself I can’t say my friends didn’t warn me but many have been taken in by Dean’s ostensible opposition to the Iraq war. I got a lot of letters from many good people after writing my paean to the Dean “phenomenon.” It’s true, I inserted all the proper caveats, and said politicians aren’t to be trusted, or something to that effect. Yet, still, it’s amazing how gullible I talked myself into being: it’s like watching a fantasy or a science fiction movie, when the sense of disbelief must be suspended in order to enjoy the experience. Hoping against hope that my worst suspicions would be dispelled as the campaign progressed, instead, the development of Dean the candidate has revealed that the man is not merely a liar, but a chameleon of uncommon ability.
There is a case to be made that a Dean victory would be worse than four more years of Team Bush. The Bush crowd at least is now saying that the occupation of Iraq is going to be as short as possible. We know they’re lying, but at least they pay homage to the traditionally “isolationist,” i.e. non-interventionist sentiments of the American people. The Democrats, and the more “internationalist” Republicans, like Senator Richard Lugar, are critical of the President for not “admitting” that the occupation is going to be anywhere from 5 to 10 years, if not more. They take the Dean line, that “we’re stuck” there, and can’t leave because, although it wasn’t before, Iraq is somehow mysteriously tied in with our “national security.”
This stuck-in-the-mud argument is pure balderdash. Every minute we spend there increases the danger to U.S. troops, who are sitting ducks for a major terrorist attack, and increases Iraqi and Arab resentment against the U.S., strengthening the hand of our enemies and endangering the American homeland. We either get out, or get driven out, bankrupting ourselves in the process.
I was really looking forward to an election year with some real debate over the question of the Empire, with at least Dean speaking up for the traditional anti-imperialism of the Democratic party’s Bryanite-McGovenite wing. But I’m afraid that this time around the whole spectacle is going to be a crashing bore. Who cares if the two wings of the War Party engage in a foreign policy “debate”? In order to get a word in edgewise, the antiwar movement is going to have to mobilize behind a third party candidacy, most practically a party that already has ballot status in most states.
This narrows the field considerably, since the Libertarian and Green parties are the only ones that come close to meeting such a tough standard. Ralph Nader, who is well on his way to becoming the Norman Thomas of his generation, is widely known to be considering a run. The Libertarians, too, have an opportunity to make a major impact in 2004, although they show no signs of recognizing it. I’ve had a few letters from readers who would dearly like Congressman Ron Paul to run, as he did in 1988. Now that’s the kind of doctor we need to run for President: not the politically ambidextrous Dr. Dean, but the principled plain-speaking Dr. Paul. If only he would do it .
In any case, the Dean deception is the kind of fraud that opponents of our interventionist foreign policy would do well to steer clear of. He is no more opposed to our imperial foreign policy than is Joe Lieberman or George W. Bush, for that matter. In spite of the electorate’s increasing nervousness over the occupation of Iraq, all the major presidential candidates for President are singing the same hymn to global intervention, albeit in different keys. Wake me when it’s over.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Barring some earth-shattering news, I’ll be taking the long Labor Day weekend off. See you on Wednesday.