“I will be voting to give the president of the United States the authority to use force if necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security.”
– Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Oct. 9, 2002
Although it was indeed sad, it was not surprising that Dennis Kucinich, the feisty liberal representative from Ohio who ran or hobbled for the Democratic presidential nomination, would roll over and play dead for Senator John Kerry just days before the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston. “Unity is essential to bring change in November,” announced Kucinich on July 22, 2004. “Unity is essential to repair America. Unity is essential to set America on a new path.”
Despite Kucinich’s emphasis on the importance of “unity,” it wasn’t exactly clear what his “new path” mantra was all about. After all, Kucinich delegates failed (though they never really had a chance) to make “immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq” a central plank in Kerry’s narrow platform just one week earlier. Kerry, of course, promised to put more troops in Iraq and call on NATO to intervene in the occupation and essentially be a more kick-ass administrator of Bush’s egregious foreign policy than the neocons had been.
The second Democratic presidential candidate to abandon his antiwar base, Kucinich allowed his candidacy to be absorbed back into the dank establishment sponge. Just months earlier, Howard Dean embarrassingly touted the novel Democratic line of “unity at all costs,” snarling in late March 2004, “In the end, it is Generation Dean voting for John Kerry for president of the United States that is going to send George Bush back to Texas, where he belongs.”
Like Dean, Kucinich urged his former supporters not to succumb to Ralph Nader’s tempting antiwar allure even though John Kerry did not oppose the war in Iraq or the ongoing occupation. “I intend [to] reach out on behalf of the Kerry-Edwards ticket to unite our party with all those who may have felt left out,” he contended. “I will let them know that the time has come to unite in a common effort for change, which is essential, not only for America but for the world.”
Meanwhile, many Kucinich delegates at the convention felt dejected. Initially, the man for whom they had devoted much time and energy intimated that he would “release” them, paving the way for their robotic votes for Kerry.
Later, after hearing impassioned (and tearful) testimonies from his delegates, Kucinich changed his mind and told them to “vote their conscience.” Fair enough. But most ended up voting for Kerry regardless. And what did they receive in return for their candidate and most of their delegates’ support for Kerry? Not much.
Despite the generally symbolic role of the platform in modern politics (Bush in 2000 infamously bragged that he had never read the GOP platform), 17 Kucinich platform demands were axed in exchange for a borderline illogical statement with no indication of an exit strategy or an impending pullout from Iraq. It pledged to remove troops “when appropriate so that the military support needed by a sovereign Iraqi government will no longer be seen as the direct continuation of an American military presence.”
Absent from the platform was support for Palestinian rights, homosexual civil unions and marriage, as well as repudiation of the preemptive-war doctrine in principle and as executed in Iraq.
“I ask you, are millions of antiwar/anti-occupation Americans welcome in the Democratic Party? If such voters are indeed welcome, I urge you to demonstrate this by permitting debate within the party on the war and occupation issue, both in Miami and in Boston,” wrote Jesse Jackson, prior to campaigning for John Kerry, who said nary a word about the exponential proliferation of the racist prison-industrial complex, increasing poverty, or black male unemployment, now over 50 percent in New York City alone.
The Democratic National Convention itself was a difficult affair for many who attended. As polls indicated, 80-90 percent of the attending delegates declared themselves antiwar. Those trying to express such a view quickly received the muzzle.
Charles Underwood, the only Minnesota Kucinich delegate to vote for Kucinich, told Amy Goodman’s radio program Democracy Now!:
“I am just very disappointed that there is no ability to express any hope for peace on the floor of this convention. We have had our signs confiscated, we’ve had our scarves for peace, you know, ‘Delegate For Peace,’ confiscated. We have had people that tell us to sit down and be quiet.”
Meanwhile, the antiwar delegates were not lucky enough to hear any speeches at the DNC that reflected their point of view and were instead presented with two gung-ho militaristic orations.
Vice presidential candidate John Edwards told the antiwar delegates:
“We will always use our military might to keep the American people safe. And we, John and I, will have one clear unmistakable message for al-Qaeda and these terrorists. You cannot run. You cannot hide. And we will destroy you.”
Move Over, MoveOn
MoveOn, the liberal online advocacy group that backed both Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich, had also been asking its members, who overwhelming opposed the Iraq war, to donate cash and time to the pro-war Kerry campaign.
Following the release of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, the organization sent an e-mail plea to its constituents.
“This is the moment for us to send Kerry a powerful message, one he’ll want to hear. The more we show Kerry that real people with strong, progressive values are key to his success, the more strongly he’ll fight for our values as president it’s an especially good time to reinforce that we value this kind of leadership from John Kerry. Help send this message now by giving to his campaign through the link below.”
MoveOn was at least attempting to put pressure on John Kerry, you say? Unfortunately, an organization can’t donate money to a campaign without articulating certain demands, and MoveOn’s demands were far too meager.
When I e-mailed MoveOn staffer Noah Winer regarding the role he wanted his organization to play if Kerry prevailed in the election, he responded,
“It’s a big question, and I don’t think anyone can answer it unless it becomes a reality. It will take time and member input to find that new role. MoveOn will certainly continue to work on the issues our members care about, no matter who is elected.”
So I e-mailed Noah back and asked him whether MoveOn would be as hard on a Kerry administration as it has been on Bush, for Kerry would certainly continue the illegal Iraq occupation. Winer failed to reply.
Lacking any visible remorse just like Dean and Kucinich, MoveOn alienated its huge antiwar base, continuing to operate under the illusion that progressively garnered PAC funds could influence Kerry or any of the other New Democratic elite. Waging this futile effort, MoveOn should’ve known better.
History was not on their side. Prior to the Iraq war, for instance, MoveOn, hoping to stop Bush’s imminent assault, organized meetings between its members and U.S. senators. Few senators attended the gatherings, leaving their underlings and MoveOn spokespeople to debate this heated subject. Predictably, few listened, and most ignored the activists’ distress.
Despite what the spin doctors say, Democrats are largely to blame not only for discounting the peace movement but also for laying the groundwork Republican hawks needed to justify attacking Saddam’s regime and waging Bush’s greater “War on Terror.”
As Democratic Leadership Council kingpins and proponents of Bush’s war Al From and Bruce Reed wrote in the July 2004 issue of Blueprint magazine,
“In the 1990s, Bill Clinton showed Americans once and for all that Democrats could make the economy grow again, make government work again, and make America safe again. As a tough-minded internationalist and decorated war hero, Kerry has a chance to make his own mark, and complete the transformation of the Democratic Party as the one Americans can trust to make the nation stronger both at home and abroad.”
What From and Reed failed to acknowledge was that bin Laden, on Clinton’s dutiful watch, allegedly masterminded the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City as well as the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The CIA claimed the strikes on these buildings were carried out by the same ring of thugs that hit the USS Cole in October 2000, killing 17, and masterminded the horrific terror attacks in September 2001, which intelligence officials concur were being planned well before Al Gore’s 2000 defeat.
In 1993, Clinton himself bombed Iraqi intelligence centers for what he said was retaliation for the attempted assassination of George Bush Sr. “He said publicly that the U.S. strike on Iraqi intelligence headquarters was retaliation for Saddam’s attempt to kill [ex-president] George Bush,” Laurie Mylroie, who worked as Clinton’s Iraq specialist during his 1992 campaign, told WABC Radio’s Steve Malzberg. “[But] he also meant it for the Trade Center bombing.”
“Clinton believed that the attack on Iraqi intelligence headquarters would deter Saddam from all future strikes against the United States,” she claimed. “It was hopelessly naïve.”
It was also off the mark, for it wasn’t Saddam that allegedly struck U.S. targets, but Osama.
Then in 1996, Clinton bombed Iraq yet again. Eat the State! explained the pretense:
“Kurdistan, home of ethnic Kurds, was divided by colonial powers early this century into land now belonging to Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and a handful of former Soviet republics. Power in the portion of Kurdistan within Iraq’s borders is divided primarily among two factions, hostile to each other and both hostile to Saddam Hussein. One faction got lots of arms from Iran recently and started to attack and overrun the other. Fearing for their lives, the other side asked their enemy, Hussein, to intervene and restore the original balance. Responding to a request from Iraqi citizens, who were under attack from a foreign-supplied army, Hussein moved some of his troops into the area, re-secured it, and withdrew.”
Orchestrated by the Clinton administration in early September 1996, the bombings walloped several civilian targets and military facilities without the approval of the UN or any international alliance, for that matter. The Iraqi government reported dozens of deaths and millions of dollars worth of damages. Sound familiar?
Of course, this wasn’t a first for Bill Clinton, who had already been sadistically cruel to the children of Iraq. As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported a year earlier in 1995, as many as 576,000 Iraqi youth died as a result of United Nations sanctions that the U.S. had imposed and supported since 1991. This conservative tally did not include the over 90,000 annual hospital deaths that the World Health Organization estimated would have not happened had Clinton not compelled the UN to enforce harsh sanctions against the Iraqi people. Sadly, it seems the litmus test for U.S. presidential aspirants must include the will to brutalize Iraqi citizens.
In 1998, Clinton retaliated for an East African U.S. embassy bombing by firing 70 cruise missiles at a suspected bin Laden terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and heaving 17 missiles at a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan. But as author and activist Howard Zinn explained in Z Magazine following the episode: “[Clinton] claimed that the Sudanese target was a plant producing nerve gas, but could not produce convincing evidence for this. Almost immediately, it became clear that the plant, contrary to the American claim, had been producing half the medicines used in Uganda.” Needless to say, countless people died.
Later that year when Clinton signed into law the Iraq Liberation Act drafted by the same hawkish neocons, including Republican staffer Randy Scheunemann, Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA director R. James Woolsey, and Ahmed Chalabi, who helped thrust forth Bush’s own Iraq policy into law later that year the U.S. outlined its ultimate objective for its involvement in Iraq. That is, extinguishing the life of Saddam Hussein and his government.
It was as if D.C. already had the champagne on ice; regime change was so close, Congress could almost taste the after-party. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly supported the legislation, and the Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill.
When Clinton signed the legislation in mid-October 1998, Republican Senator Trent Lott sang his praises:
“The Clinton administration regularly calls for bipartisanship in foreign policy. I support them when I can. Today, we see a clear example of a policy that has the broadest possible bipartisan support. I know the administration understands the depth of our feeling on this issue. I think they are beginning to understand the strategic argument in favor of moving beyond containment to a policy of ‘rollback.’ Containment is not sustainable. Pressure to lift sanctions on Iraq is increasing despite Iraq’s seven years of refusal to comply with the terms of the Gulf War cease-fire. Our interests in the Middle East cannot be protected with Saddam Hussein in power. Our legislation provides a roadmap to achieve our objective.”
In what many criticized as an effort to deflect attention from his impeachment trial, Clinton tried his luck with Saddam one more time two months later on Dec. 16, 1998. But unlike previous Iraqi bloodbaths, which paled in comparison, this attack was waged with primitive anger. As President Clinton asserted in a national televised address on the day of the first U.S. offensive,
“Earlier today, I ordered America’s armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors. Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world.”
“Six weeks ago,” he continued, “Saddam Hussein announced that he would no longer cooperate with the United Nations weapons inspectors called UNSCOM. They are highly professional experts from dozens of countries. Their job is to oversee the elimination of Iraq’s capability to retain, create, and use weapons of mass destruction, and to verify that Iraq does not attempt to rebuild that capability. The international community had little doubt then, and I have no doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.”
But as M.I.T. linguistics professor Noam Chomsky responded,
“I think the major reasons [for the use of force] are the usual ones. The U.S. and its increasingly pathetic British lieutenant want the world to understand and in particular want the people of the Middle East region to understand that ‘What We Say Goes,’ as Bush [Sr.] defined his New World Order while the missiles were raining on Baghdad in February 1991. The message, clear and simple, is that we are violent and lawless states, and if you don’t like it, get out of our way. It’s a message of no small significance. Simply have a look at the projections of geologists concerning the expanding role of Middle East oil in global energy production in the coming decades. The manner and timing of the attack were also surely intended to be a gesture of supreme contempt for the United Nations, and a declaration of the irrelevance of international law or other obligations; that too has been understood. The bombing was initiated as the Security Council met in emergency session to deal with the crisis in Iraq, and even its permanent members were not notified.”
Surely Iraq had been brutalized for decades under the thumb of Saddam Hussein. But Clinton only escalated the cruelty. Writing for the Guardian Unlimited in 2000, journalist John Pilger lamented:
“Six other children died not far away on Jan. 25 last year. An American missile hit Al Jumohria, a street in a poor residential area. Sixty-three people were injured, a number of them badly burned. ‘Collateral damage,’ said the Department of Defense in Washington. Britain and the United States are still bombing Iraq almost every day: It is the longest Anglo-American bombing campaign since the second world war, yet, with honorable exceptions, very little appears about it in the British media. Conducted under the cover of ‘no-fly zones,’ which have no basis in international law, the aircraft, according to Tony Blair, are ‘performing vital humanitarian tasks.’ The ministry of defense in London has a line about ‘taking robust action to protect pilots’ from Iraqi attacks yet an internal UN Security Sector report says that in one five-month period, 41 percent of the victims were civilians in civilian targets: villages, fishing jetties, farmland, and vast, treeless valleys where sheep graze. A shepherd, his father, his four children, and his sheep were killed by a British or American aircraft, which made two passes at them. I stood in the cemetery where the children are buried and their mother shouted, ‘I want to speak to the pilot who did this.’
“This is a war against the children of Iraq on two fronts: bombing, which in the last year cost the British taxpayer £60 million. And the most ruthless embargo in modern history. According to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the death rate of children under five is more than 4,000 a month that is 4,000 more than would have died before sanctions. That is half a million children dead in eight years.”
This disaster in fact laid the groundwork for George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion. It also took John Kerry down a tough road during the 2004 campaign, as the Democrats had actually done Bush’s job for him in the Saddam country. How could Kerry oppose what had already been done by his own party regarding Iraq? The Democrats had been just as much to blame for the mess in Iraq as the Republicans.
Following the decision by Bush and the Democrat-controlled Senate to take out the Taliban in Afghanistan by attempting to nab suspected 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, Howard Zinn again reflected:
“We can all feel a terrible anger at whomever, in their insane idea that this would help their cause, killed thousands of innocent people. But what do we do with that anger? Do we react with panic, strike out violently and blindly just to show how tough we are? ‘We shall make no distinction,’ the president proclaimed, ‘between terrorists and countries that harbor terrorists.’ Will we now bomb Afghanistan, and inevitably kill innocent people, because it is in the nature of bombing to be indiscriminate, to ‘make no distinction?’ Will we then be committing terrorism in order to ‘send a message’ to terrorists? We have done that before. It is the old way of thinking, the old way of acting. It has never worked. Reagan bombed Libya, and Bush [Sr.] made war on Iraq, and Clinton bombed Afghanistan and also a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, to ‘send a message’ to terrorists. And then comes this horror in New York and Washington. Isn’t it clear by now that sending a message to terrorists through violence doesn’t work, [that it] only leads to more terrorism?”
In retrospect, it is evident that Clinton and his Democratic cohorts did more than their fair share of laying the groundwork for Bush’s war against and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only did Clinton construct the political leverage Bush needed by signing the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, but he also provided a model for Bush’s relentless bombing of Iraq as he led several significant strikes on Afghanistan and the Sudan.
So when Bush began talking about regime change in Iraq, those who looked to the Democrats to halt the offensive were seeking out the wrong allies.
Bush’s Iraq Attack
On Oct. 10, 2002, the House of Representatives voted 296-133 in favor of giving Bush the green light to punish Saddam. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush on the White House lawn, Dick Gephardt, who helped draft the measure, explained,
“I believe we have an obligation to protect the United States by preventing [Saddam] from getting these weapons and either using them himself or passing them or their components on to terrorists who share his destructive intent.”
Meanwhile, Bush was amassing support for his war in the Senate. Helping Bush’s cause was Tom Daschle, the Democrat Majority Leader at the time, who surmised that Saddam’s threat “may not be imminent. But it is real. It is growing. And it cannot be ignored.” Hitching a ride on the war-wagon, New York Senator Hillary Clinton added,
“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock his missile-delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaeda members. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.”
Buying Bush’s war propaganda hook-line-and-sinker, the Democrats were all too eager to support the Iraq war. They believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and joined with Republicans in using it as a pretext to support aggression. They were convinced he was a threat to U.S. sovereignty. They even thought Saddam had ties to Osama bin Laden. The donkeys were bewildered.
As far back as 1998, President Clinton articulated his concerns about a possible Iraq threat, announcing after a Pentagon briefing, “If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.” It should come as no surprise that Senators John Kerry, Tom Daschle, and Carl Levin wrote President Clinton that same year to illuminate the threat Saddam allegedly represented, emphasizing,
“We urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions, including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites, to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.”
The tide, it seemed, had a window of opportunity to turn away from this prelude to war, but predictably, the Democrats, on their heels and hoping not to lose control of the Senate in a congressional election year, cowered in 2002. Although Rep. Kucinich perceptively saw the looming war as a momentous error and organized opposition in the House some 130 votes his decent effort failed.
With political interests and propaganda in mind, most establishment Democrats ignored his rationale, leaving the millions of protesters who took to the streets across America prior to the invasion with few representatives in Washington, historically or otherwise. And as the story goes, Bush easily got his way, much to the protesters’ chagrin: on March 19, 2003, U.S. forces rattled Baghdad with a military conquest like no other seen in history. The warmongers proudly dubbed their lethal deed “Shock and Awe.”
By then, the Democrats, who had failed to articulate any basis for citizens to vote for them as opposed to their Republican rivals regarding the Iraq situation, had lost control of the Senate as well as many seats in the House. They didn’t challenge Bush on any major issue. They supported his invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq. It was a horrific display of political ineptness. The Democrats unlike the millions of Americans who knew Bush and Co. had ulterior motives for unilaterally attacking Iraq had been eager to back an illegal war.
By mid-summer 2004, the U.S. death toll in Iraq had reached well over 1,000, with soldiers dying at a pace that far outnumbered the Vietnam War at its comparable stage. Tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis had perished; millions more mourned the loss of loved ones. There were no WMD hiding beneath Iraq’s turbulent soil. Saddam didn’t have ties to bin Laden’s gang after all. Iraq had posed absolutely no threat to the United States, let alone its neighboring countries, which did not support the U.S. invasion.
Bush and the Democrats’ war had played right into the terrorists’ hands. According to intelligence reports, and bin Laden himself, recruitment for such groups escalated almost exponentially. The ensuing level of hatred toward the U.S. was unprecedented.
Needless to say, claims that this war has made the United States and we the people any safer are laughable. Democratic henchmen Al From and Bruce Reed must have been hallucinating when they proclaimed Kerry would protect America from all that is evil. Kerry, of course, has proven to be no different from Bush on foreign policy issues, save for the “D” next to his name on the ballot in 2004.
An aggressive unilateral policy only breeds terrorism, and Kerry’s foreign policy would have only nurtured future terrorist activity, as Bush’s is surely doing now.
Unfortunately, the same cretins continue to control the Democratic platform. They dictate what is or is not acceptable discourse within the party. Being antiwar, as we know, is most definitely unacceptable, which explains why those who listened did not hear Kerry breath even the faintest sigh of peace rhetoric along the campaign trail.
Although 82 percent of registered Democrats believed the war to be a grave mistake, according to a 2004 USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll conducted on June 21-23, Kerry was steadfast in his support for the Iraq war. His own campaign platform was a glaring memento of the Democrats’ inability to offer significant alternatives to George W. Bush. They simply believed they could manage the situation more astutely. “This administration did not build a true international coalition,” Kerry’s campaign platform proclaimed. He simply would have done it better.
In the context of a party hell-bent on war, whose foreign policy is essentially identical to the Republican policy, it doesn’t matter how many MoveOn members donate money to the Democratic Party. In the end, such reformers are left with nothing. No party. No money. No hope. And perhaps worst of all no unity.
Joshua Frank’s Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush will be released in April, but is available for advance purchase now.