It was just over two years ago that I learned a little-known “antiwar” Democrat from Vermont was planning to run for president. At a rally on the eve of Bush’s Iraq invasion, a fellow protester handed me a leaflet touting the now infamous Howard Dean, hoping that the propaganda would entice me to support his forthcoming candidacy.
Of course, I was intrigued. Few other Democrats were speaking out against the imminent war on Iraq. Luckily, I ended up not taking the bait. Nevertheless, many other activists unabashedly latched onto the Dean campaign in hopes he would represent their interests in Washington. Luckily for Howard, they all had credit cards and Internet access. But as the story goes, Dean was embarrassingly sacked during the primaries and his followers were told to traverse the pro-war Kerry trail instead.
Howard Dean isn’t dead yet, however, as he has safely landed himself a lofty position within the establishment as chair of the Democratic National Committee. Unfortunately, Dean’s nomination means little to the peace movement, as his antiwar convictions have vanished.
The second anniversary of the Iraq war came and past, yet the most popular “antiwar” Democrat remains speechless. Dean has said nothing about Bush’s potential forays in Iran and Syria. He has not muttered a single word about ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Should we be surprised?
Nope. Howard Dean’s “antiwar” convictions haven’t vanished they never existed to begin with.
Looking back into the dirty Dean files, we find that the good doctor has had a long pro-war history. He praised the first Gulf War, NATO’s intervention in Bosnia, Bill Clinton’s bombing of Sudan and Iraq. He even went so far as to write President Clinton a love letter praising his foreign policy in 1995 as the U.S. waged a brutal air attack on Serbia, bringing death and destruction upon civilians and the infrastructure that provided their only life support.
As Dean told to President Clinton: “I think your policy up to this date has been absolutely correcy. Since it is clearly no longer possible to take action in conjunction with NATO and the United Nations, I have reluctantly concluded that we must take unilateral action.” According to most postwar accounts, U.S. air bombardment left the Serbian military relatively unscathed, while ethnic cleansing and violence increased drastically.
Nonetheless, Governor Dean supported Clinton’s deadly policy without a wince of shame.
Candidate Dean was no different. Despite voicing his opposition to Bush’s war when he entered the race for the White House, he never wholeheartedly opposed overthrowing Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. In September 2002, Dean had announced that if Saddam failed to comply with the demands of the United Nations, the U.S. reserved the right to “go into Iraq.” Dean claimed he would gladly endorse a multilateral effort to destroy Saddam’s regime. In fact, Dean wasn’t even opposed to a unilateral effort lacking the support of the UN, NATO, or the European Union (see Part Two forthcoming).
On NBC’s Meet the Press in July 2003, Dean told Tim Russert that the United States must increase its pressure on Saudi Arabia and Iran. “We have to be very, very careful of Iran” because President Bush “is too beholden to the Saudis and the Iranians,” he explained. But later in the broadcast, he conceded, “I support the president’s War on Terrorism.” Dean even went so far as to tell Russert: “I believe that we need a very substantial increase in troops. They don’t all have to be American troops. My guess would be that we would need at least 30,000 and 40,000 additional troops.”
In a New York primary debate two months later, Dean elaborated: “We need more troops. They’re going to be foreign troops [in Iraq], not more American troops, as they should have been in the first place. Ours need to come home.” Dean, it seems, would have had the disorder in Iraq go on at all costs, though he wasn’t quite sure whose soldiers should do the occupying.
When Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich grilled Dean during that same debate about Bush’s $87 billion Iraq package, Dean claimed that he would support it since “we have no choice we have to support our troops.”
So do we support our troops by bringing them home, or by financing the occupation? The self-proclaimed antiwar candidate never clarified.
War Opposition a Political Move
On April 9, 2003, Howard Dean all but endorsed George W. Bush’s preemptive (preventive) war doctrine. Though Dean didn’t join in the hawks’ celebration of Bush’s "liberation of Iraq" that day, he stressed the necessity of pressuring Iran and North Korea, saying he would not rule out the use of military force to do so. As Glen Johnson of the Boston Globe quoted Dean as saying on April 10, 2003, "Under no circumstances can we permit North Korea to have a nuclear program. Nor, under any circumstances, can we allow Iran to have nuclear weapons."
By conceding that effective containment of such rogue states may necessitate the use of force, Dean endorsed a preemptive creed that has had the effect of isolating the United States from the international community. It goes without saying that by embracing the doctrine, Dean’s foreign policy vision would not have reversed this trend.
Despite the similarities between Dean and Bush on preemption, many antiwar liberals eagerly embraced Dean’s nuanced position against the Iraq war. As he told National Public Radio political correspondent Mara Liasson, "There are two groups of people who support me because of the war. One are the people who always oppose every war, and in the end I probably won’t get all of those people." The other group, Dean said, were constituents who supported his Iraq position because he spoke out early and "represented the facts."
But this so-called "representation of the facts" demands closer examination, as it contradicts Dean’s "antiwar" label.
According to Dean, had Bush produced accurate data proving that Saddam harbored weapons of mass destruction, Dean would have supported the unilateral invasion of Iraq. As Ron Brownstein reported in The Los Angeles Times on Jan. 31, 2003, Dean said, "[I]f Bush presents what he considered to be persuasive evidence that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction, he would support military action, even without UN authorization." However, Dean failed to note that the UN Charter forbids member countries from attacking another country except in self-defense.
Just one month later, Dean alienated his antiwar base, admitting in a Feb. 20 Salon.com interview: "[I]f the UN in the end chooses not to enforce its own resolutions, then the U.S. should give Saddam 30 to 60 days to disarm, and if he doesn’t, unilateral action is a regrettable, but unavoidable, choice." Dean, had he taken a legitimate antiwar position, would have argued that when the U.S. puts itself above international law, as it did by disregarding the UN Charter, it further encourages other nations to do the same.
As Dean initially articulated his muddled position on Iraq, Danny Sebright, one of the premier architects of Bush’s Afghanistan conflict, played puppeteer behind the theatrical curtain. According to Sean Donahue, the Project Director of the Corporations and Militarism Project of the Massachusetts Anti-Corporate Clearinghouse, Sebright constructed and wrote Dean’s early statements on war. At that time, Sebright worked under Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon as the director of the Executive Secretariat for Enduring Freedom. As Donahue wrote in an Oct. 30, 2003 article on CounterPunch:
"When Sebright left the Pentagon in February of 2002, he went to work for his old boss, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, at the Cohen Group, a Washington-based consulting company. The firm uses its political connections to help companies obtain contracts with the Pentagon and with foreign governments. While it is discreet about its clientele, the Cohen Group does list some of its successes on its Web site a list that includes helping to negotiate arms sales to Latin American and Eastern European countries, and Advis[ing] and assist[ing] [a] U.S. company in working with U.S. government officials and the Coalition Provisional Authority in securing major contracts related to Iraq reconstruction."
The fact that a close Dean advisor worked for a consulting firm involved in pitching contracts for reconstruction projects in Iraq raises questions about the true motives of Dean’s support for the president’s $87 billion Iraqi reconstruction program.
Dean’s choice of Sebright as an advisor shows how little difference there actually was between Dean and the Bush administration on the issue of the Iraq war.
Based on the statements made by Dean after announcing his campaign in the summer of 2003, it appears that he only opposed the war in Iraq because he didn’t believe the Bush administration had proven that Iraq posed an "imminent threat" to the United States.
Certainly, there are many reasons he should have raised opposition to the Iraq war. However, by failing to do so, it became quite clear that Dean was not an "antiwar" candidate. The fact is, Dean proved he was just another politician from the Democratic mainstream whose position on Iraq was not grounded on a philosophical aversion to war. On the contrary, Howard Dean’s opposition was political in nature.