The Democrats Are Selling Out the Peace Movement

by , August 14, 2007

I love going over to DailyKos.com – a site for very partisan Democrats – and reading the passionate antiwar screeds, the outrage at the escalation of the Iraq conflict in the face of rising opposition, the often timely and interesting analysis of our disastrous foreign policy posted by Kossacks with monikers like “antiwarrior” and “Cheneysucks,” but I have to wonder: how in the name of all that’s holy can these people support any of the Democratic “majors” in the race for the White House? After all, the leading Democratic candidates for president support keeping our troops in Iraq – for years, as the New York Times reports:

“Even as they call for an end to the war and pledge to bring the troops home, the Democratic presidential candidates are setting out positions that could leave the United States engaged in Iraq for years.

“John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, would keep troops in the region to intervene in an Iraqi genocide and be prepared for military action if violence spills into other countries. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York would leave residual forces to fight terrorism and to stabilize the Kurdish region in the north. And Senator Barack Obama of Illinois would leave a military presence of as-yet unspecified size in Iraq to provide security for American personnel, fight terrorism and train Iraqis.”

So who does that leave us with? Bill Richardson? Dennis Kucinich? Mike Gravel? There’s just one problem with these guys: none of them will get the Democratic presidential nomination. Which leaves us with the Janus-faced candidacies of the Axis of Ambiguity.

Well, but isn’t this a case of making the perfect the enemy of the good? After all, Hillary-Obama-Edwards routinely pledge to get our troops out of Iraq – aren’t their hearts in the right places, even if their programs are lacking in reassuring details?

To begin with, we can’t know what’s in someone’s heart. We can only evaluate what they say and what they do. Second, the whole point of leaving Iraq – aside from stopping the killing, the senseless American sacrifices, and the billions draining out of the Treasury – is to ensure that we don’t get sucked into a conflict beyond that country’s borders. Every day brings new and more alarming claims of Iranian aid to Iraqi insurgents and militia groups, as well as accusations from the administration that our troops are being killed with weapons supplied by Tehran. (Of course, the influx of weapons to the Iraqi insurgents has nothing to do with those 190,000 weapons we lost track of in Iraq.)

Dick Cheney has been insistently lobbying the president for air strikes at Quds bases in Iran, and Lord knows Dubya’s hardly averse to the idea. First, however, the administration has to engage in the elaborate kabuki dance of going the diplomatic route and pulling the rug out from under the Iranian peace party whenever it looks like negotiations might prove fruitful. Then they step on the accelerator and get their war propaganda campaign in high gear, overemphasizing the power and influence of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – who really doesn’t run Iran’s foreign policy – and conjuring the nightmare of nuclear terrorist attacks on the U.S. sponsored by Tehran.

When the rhetoric really begins to smoke, they’ll spark a shooting war by overblowing some border incident and framing the war question in terms of regaining America’s “honor.” Will we “cut and run”? Or stand and fight? It’s an argument the War Party always wins – until it comes out that the incident in question was either completely manufactured (as in the Gulf of Tonkin incident [.pdf] during the Vietnam War era), provoked by the Americans, or wildly exaggerated.

Unfortunately, at that late date, it’s hard if not impossible to do anything about it: the war has already begun, the orgy of “patriotic” mindlessness is unleashed, and cries of “we’re here, we have to make the best of it” drown out all else. Stripped of partisan hoo-hah, rhetorical pandering to the base, and outright demagogy, that is the basic Democratic position on the war, and the core of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s stance.

The front-running Hillary is the darling of the neocons these days, partly because of her spat with Obama over what Fred Barnes calls the “would-you-meet-with-despots” question. Our future commander in chief answered “firmly and coolly,” says the man who coined the phrase “big government conservatism.” “She excels,” raves National Review editor Rich Lowry, who says Clinton “has done more than any other Democrat to show she’s ready to be president.” Neocon bellwether David Brooks’ paean to Hillary, the Warrior Goddess, heralds her as “the perfect combination of experience and change.” Even Charles Krauthammer, the neocons’ resident Cato (the Elder), hailed “the grizzled veteran” Hillary in her alleged victory over “the clueless rookie” Obama in the talk-with-tyrants spat.

I long ago predicted that the neoconservatives would switch sides in the partisan divide: having drained the GOP of its vital juices and left it a dry husk, they are readying themselves for the era of “Bush lite.”

Sucking up to Hillary and her court won’t be too difficult: the neocons already have an inside line in her camp in the person of Marshall Wittmann, the former Trotskyist-turned-Christian-Coalition-director-turned-McCainiac who is now Hillary’s Rasputin. This ideological chameleon, whose advice to go hawkish and prove her credentials as a potential commander-in-chief she appears to be taking, is the archetypal neocon, which is not so much a doctrine as it is a history. Wittmann’s political odyssey from the fever swamps of Spartacism to the storied heights of Washington’s neoconservative network is an exaggerated version of Hillary’s own hegira, from the far Left of the Democratic Party to the DLC-Lieberman-Scoop Jackson far Right.

This presents a dilemma for self-styled “progressive” activists involved in the antiwar movement. On the one hand, many of these otherwise sincere and quite dedicated opponents of our interventionist foreign policy are working to end the war, and their efforts are admirable. On the other hand, they have a partisan bond – and, of course, a domestic agenda – that often works at cross purposes with their ostensibly antiwar views. The Huffington Post’s resident progressive-in-chief, David Sirota, has defended the spinelessness of the Democrats – not very convincingly – on the grounds that “purists” don’t understand the alleged “realities” of Washington politics. However, the more radical lefties have no strong partisan loyalties – except maybe to the Communist Party, USA – at least in theory, but in practice these “radicals” are just interested in building a left satellite of the DNC. Yet they do have their limits, and these appear to have been reached with the Democrats’ recent rollover on the war funding bill.

The ugly truth of the matter is that the Democrats’ capitulation on the Iraq war funding issue was rationalized by the pork ladled out to compliant “antiwar” lefties in Congress. Bribery, in short, in the form of tax dollars handed out to favored interest groups, enabled the party leadership to whip the “antiwar” faction into line. Pork trumps principle, every time: that’s life in the Imperial City, and it’s part of the reason why this war is dragging on in spite of the fact that it’s wildly unpopular. But there’s more to this sad story…

When “blue dog Democrats” consistently vote for the president’s war funding and give the War Party the margin of victory in Congress, it is laughable that the big question, these days, in antiwar circles is not how but whether to respond to this blatant betrayal. The Hill reports:

“Congress’s failure to secure a timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq has split antiwar activists on the tactical question of whether to attack Democrats, who now control Capitol Hill. The split has also underlined accusations among some activists that MoveOn has abandoned its credentials as an issue-based advocacy group and now instead provides cover for Democratic Party leaders.”

The issue of MoveOn.org, the left-liberal online voter-mobilization machine conceived as an adjunct to the Democratic Party’s Clintonian wing and its generally counterproductive role in the antiwar movement, has been dealt with here, here, and here, so I won’t go into elaborate detail. Suffice to say that, along with some of their allies in the labor movement, notable the SEIU, they have created a front group known as Americans Against Escalation, which has been targeting Republican members of Congress on the war, running television ads in their districts and carrying out protest actions at their offices.

The anti-escalators wouldn’t dream of targeting pro-war Democrats, however, since that would get in the way of their domestic political agenda, which is ultimately more important – to them – than the slaughter of a bunch of foreigners. It would also get in the way of their sucking up to the Democratic establishment, create obstacles in their upwardly mobile path to lucrative careers as political appointees, and pull down their stock on the D.C. cocktail party circuit.

The Hill goes on to note that “some activist groups” accuse MoveOn of letting Democratic leaders off very lightly, “but MoveOn argues that burning bridges with Democrats is not an effective strategy. Much better, the influential organization says, is to work with them to peel away Republican support for the war and thus force President Bush’s hand.”

This argument makes zero sense. The problem with congressional efforts to rein in our war-crazed chief executive is that the Democrats haven’t been able to keep their own troops in line. Is it too much to ask of the Democratic “leadership” that they use the whip on their recalcitrant pro-war caucus members? Are the Democrats really depending on the Republicans to end the war?

“Ultimately, the war ends because there is this cataclysmic showdown between the Republicans who are getting pinched by the public and the White House,” babbles Tom Matzzie, Washington director for MoveOn. Yet the partisan attacks launched by the MoveOn-SEUI lash-up are delaying that showdown by making the war a partisan issue – and setting a new world record for hypocrisy by giving pro-war Democrats a pass.

Anyone who believes the Democratic party leadership is committed to getting us out of Iraq, and out of the business of world-saving, democracy-exporting, neo-colonialist base-building, is living in a dream world. The party Establishment is in cahoots with the War Party, and not only on the Iraq issue. The neocons, for their part, are just as comfortable supporting Democrats as they are Republicans – and, as their newfound admiration for Hillary demonstrates, this partisan ambidexterity isn’t limited to such special cases as Joe Lieberman.

President Hillary Clinton will inherit a war that she intends to fight and win, no matter what she says to the Democratic base. And her “antiwar” cheerleaders at MoveOn and the SEIU will still be “building bridges” to cushy jobs, choice cuts of pork, and their fair share of political perks. Then, with sudden swiftness, we’ll be hearing about the progress of labor unions in American-occupied Iraq, and why it’s much better and more “humane” to continue a “residual” presence that will, like all such presences, grow of its own accord.

The criticisms of the Bush policy by such Democratic foreign policy mavens as Joe Biden and Ivo Daalder have been based around the argument that the Iraq war was wrong in its execution, not its conception. There was insufficient planning, the decision to disband the Iraqi army was a disaster, etc., etc., all assuming that the Democrats could have done a better job – and even deserve a chance to “succeed” where the Republicans failed.

This has been the major charge by the warbots in the GOP, who are now saying that the “surge” is saving the day and who blame the “defeatist” Democrats for obstructing the war effort: Republican neocons claim congressional Democrats, and, indeed, all war critics, don’t want America to succeed in Iraq. The Democrats hasten to disagree, but never think to ask: what is it that we are supposed to be succeeding at?

The neocon project is all about creating a reliable ally in the region, a base from which to wage new wars of “liberation” – and ensure American control over much of the world’s dwindling oil supply. What the Democrats are promising, therefore, is to be more successful at being imperialists than their incompetent Republican rivals. This is a distinction without a difference, one that is certainly not worth either voting for or even passively cheering on in the name of “change.” After all, it could well be a change for the worse.

I know that’s hard to imagine, at present, but, then again, it always is. It is not all that inconceivable that the Democrats will take up where the Republicans left off. With Iran looming in the background as the next theater in our perpetual “war on terrorism,” all the major Democratic candidates are outdoing each other in appeasing the Israel lobby and pledging to confront Tehran.

As the political process becomes more restricted, with draconian limits on single-issue groups and the primary season front-loaded, the big contributors, many of them in defense-related fields, and the foreign lobbyists have a stranglehold over the electoral machinery of both parties. With the two-party monopoly ensconced in law and custom, when it comes to foreign policy, the Democrats and Republicans can be fairly described as two wings of a single party – the War Party.

Yes, there are exceptions to this dictum – for example, Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic camp, and Ron Paul in the GOP – and yet the odds against one or another insurgent antiwar candidate breaking out into the so-called mainstream are so great that the War Party can continue to operate even in the face of overwhelming antiwar sentiment on the part of voters. After all, when two pro-war candidates are vying for the role of commander in chief, are we really giving peace a chance?

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You’ll note that our summer fundraising drive is swinging into gear starting today. I don’t want to rant at you – anymore than I already have – or lecture you about the absolute necessity of maintaining Antiwar.com at a time like this. As the War Party goes full bore with a campaign to strike at Iran, and while the conflict in Iraq is still raging, information is the key to winning the battle for peace. Citizens taking direct action, rather than entrusting their elected “representatives” to do the right thing, is the only way we’re going to effect a real change in American foreign policy. Yet we can’t do that if we aren’t informed – and that is the great service provided by this Web site.

Since 1995, we’ve been giving you the most up-to-date news and edgy analysis of all things international – and keeping watch on the ramparts as the War Party moves its battering rams to the gate. We’ve built up quite an audience – and quite a reputation for being fearless, and, for the most part, dead right about America’s impossible Middle Eastern crusade.

We’ve done our job, and, I believe, done it fairly well. Now it’s your turn to step up to the plate and support the sort of independent journalism that is the best antidote for the War Party’s poisonous fantasies. We depend on the voluntary contributions of our readers and supporters, whom we turn to four times a year (I know it seems like more!) for the funding we need to continue.

Each time, I am initially pessimistic, then, at the end, surprised – and amazingly gratified – that we made it after all. Last time, however, we barely made it, and this time – in the dog days of summer, and amid a looming economic meltdown as well as at the start of the political season and the onset of the presidential election – I fear the worst.

But, then again, that’s just me: dour, dark, and depressed at the prospect of having to go through the ups and downs of yet another grueling week-long fund appeal. However, as much as we hate dunning and otherwise inconveniencing our readers, it has to be done: we don’t have the near-limitless resources available to the War Party. We don’t need limitless resources, in any event: we do our job with a minimum of folderol and a maximum of elbow-grease and good old-fashioned nose-to-the-grindstone penny-pinching. I would even say we rival the Ron Paul campaign in our penuriousness. There are no corporate perks in this cyber-office, at least none that I know about.

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