“The most influential interpreters of our public affairs are accepting, rather than expanding, a noose-tight frame the Washington political culture is enforcing to limit permissible discourse on the war in Iraq . Look at almost any major daily op-ed page, watch the Sunday shows or listen to nightly cable-babble. See how seldom you encounter voices against the war permitted to argue we should just end it, not try to mend it.”
As former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, however, Michael ought to be fully aware of just how and why this sad state of affairs persists even as the rationale for our continued presence in Iraq collapses. The reason is because practically everything is presented and discussed in partisan terms, i.e., in terms of the never-ending conflict between Democrats and Republicans, and the reality is that the Democrats are just as hawkish albeit in a “multilateralist” way as the GOP. In a perceptive piece published in The Nation, Ari Berman described the views of “the strategic class” that dominates the Democratic party’s foreign policy councils:
“At a time when the American people are turning against the Iraq War and favor a withdrawal of U.S. troops, and British and American leaders are publicly discussing a partial pullback, the leading Democratic presidential candidates for ’08 are unapologetic war hawks. Nearly 60 percent of Americans now oppose the war, according to recent polling. Sixty-three percent want U.S. troops brought home within the next year. Yet a recent National Journal ‘insiders poll’ found that a similar margin of Democratic members of Congress reject setting any timetable. The possibility that America’s military presence in Iraq may be doing more harm than good is considered beyond the pale of ‘sophisticated’ debate.”
The war-hawk mentality of these “national security Democrats” trickles down the “pyramid” of power from the apex, where party leaders like Senators Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton dwell. The former criticizes the administration’s war policy from the right, and the latter has a bill in the hopper increasing the size of the army by 80,000 soldiers. On the second level, we have former government officials like Richard Holbrooke, one of the main architects of Bill Clinton’s Kosovo adventure. Holbrooke, a key adviser to John Kerry, was instrumental in blocking any hints of antiwar sentiment from coming out of the Democratic side during the last presidential election. As Berman points out:
“Nine days before the election, Holbrooke addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and reiterated Kerry’s support for the war and occupation, belittled European negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program and endorsed the Israeli separation wall. ‘Hardly a Dove Among Dems’ Brain Trusters,’ read a headline from the Forward newspaper.”
A third level of the pyramid is the pundit class, which retails the “talking points” developed by the think tanks and the policy wonks: The New Republic’s Peter Beinart, whose articulation of a left-neocon approach to the “war on terrorism” was presented in his “A Fighting Faith” piece, is the exemplar of this subspecies of hawk. This slender, squeaky-voiced ephebe waxing passionate over the alleged necessity of a “muscular” foreign policy may seem slightly comic to the average television viewer, but Washington insiders who recognize TNR as the voice of the Democratic establishment and the “left” face of the War Party take him seriously. Here is someone who was wrong about everything not only about Iraq’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction,” but also about Saddam’s intentions and the “threat” posed by his regime. Beinart ignored numerous warnings from war opponents that the aftermath of the war was likely to be a costly chaos, yet still he persists in offering his warmed-over Cold War nostrums as if they had any credibility! Don’t these people know when to shut up?
Berman asks “Why does so much of the Democratic strategic class march in lockstep?” but fails to come up with any real answers. “Insularity,” “careerism,” and “the absence of institutional alternatives” are all listed as contributing factors, but these are just different ways of re-asking the same question: Why is the assumption of interventionism dominant in Washington’s foreign policy discourse?
Contra Berman, there is a “simple answer,” and it is the natural tendency of the Washington elites to assume the efficacy of government action as the solution to all problems. The “strategic class” is founded, after all, on the premise that the U.S. must intervene militarily and otherwise in the affairs of other nations in order to secure its own “national interests.” The question isn’t whether or not to intervene, but what strategy ought to underpin our intervention.
Aside from this inherent prejudice in favor of militarism, albeit of the “multi-lateralist” sort, the Democrats in particular have a tendency to be hawkish on account of their constant search for rationales to increase the power of government on the home front. What better way to serve the Democratic agenda of increased government spending and “national sacrifice” as a good in and of itself than to take the nation to war and keep it at war? Listen to Will Marshall, chief theoretician over at the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank most associated with the “centrist” (i.e., left-neocon) Democratic Leadership Council, touting the virtues of “national service and shared sacrifice”:
“True patriotism is at odds with the selfish individualism that shapes the Republicans’ anti-government ideology. It means accepting obligations to the community to which we all belong and must contribute if we are to enjoy the fruits of membership. In wartime, not everyone can fight, but everyone can find ways to sacrifice for the common cause. Bush has sent U.S. troops into battle, but he hasn’t challenged the rest of us to do our part.”
Here is the perfect amalgam of warmongering and left-wing statism, which any neocon could easily endorse with hardly a deviation in word choice. Yet there is a leftish slant to PPI’s creed of “shared sacrifice,” which mandates a program of full-bodied militarism, as specifically enumerated by Marshall:
“Democrats ought to insist on a major expansion of the military, by as many as 100,000 troops. Some of these troops should be channeled into the post-conflict and nation-building specialties that we have been chronically short of in Iraq: linguists, special forces, psychological operations, civil affairs, and economic reconstruction. Rather than add to Bush’s budget deficits, however, Democrats should insist on paying for a larger force by rolling back the administration’s unconscionable wartime tax cuts. This would neatly frame the real choice facing patriotic Americans: a stronger military versus tax cuts for the privileged.”
We need plenty of linguists to translate Washington’s edicts into all the languages known to man, we need “special forces” to carry out the war crimes that make our military “victories” possible, and don’t forget those “psychological operations” that involve systematically deceiving not only the world community but our own people, always an essential component of propaganda in wartime. This is “progressivism” set to military music. A tax cut? Fuggeddaboutit! Don’t you know there’s a war on?
The Bush Doctrine, as interpreted by its more effusive adherents including the president has little to do with securing the homeland against terrorist attacks, except in the most attenuated sense. Americans rightfully feel less safe from further attacks as a result of the Iraq war, and, since the London terror bombings, no one believes we are fighting them in the streets of Baghdad so we won’t have to fight them in the cities of the West. As expressed in the president’s infamous “fire in the mind” inaugural address, it is a militant universalism that animates American foreign policy these days, and the Democrats’ only criticism is that the president’s actions don’t always live up to the highfalutin “idealism” of his words. Our interventionist foreign policy, which mandates a perpetual crusade to spread “democracy” and solve all the world’s problems before even confronting our own, is armed altruism run amuck.
Yes, it is “selfish individualism” that opposes a materially and morally untenable doctrine unleashed by this rotten war which is precisely why antiwar sentiment is rising among Republicans as well as Democrats. It’s true that the Democratic base is against the war, but how much of this is due to Bush-hating and how much to principled opposition to a conflict that adheres to none of the necessities attached to a just war? The pure partisanship of some war opponents is indicated by this post by one of the founders and “leaders” of DailyKos.com, the “netroots” of the Democratic party machine:
“I’m not anti-war. As I’ve said before, I’m a military hawk. I supported the Afghanistan War and I supported the Bosnia and Kosovo interventions. I’m not one of these touchy-feely hippy types that thinks war is inherently bad. I laugh at people who think they can ‘visualize peace.’
“Unlike most people reading this, I grew up in a country at war. I’ve seen the effects first-hand. I also served in the Army. To me war isn’t a video game or an abstract concept. It’s real. Yet sometimes, many times, military force is a force for good. There are evil people in the world, doing evil things. And all the sanctions in the world, all the strongly worded denunciations, will never have the effect of a 1,000 pound bomb.
“I oppose the Iraq War. But I refuse to be labeled ‘anti-war.’ I’m not. I’m anti this war. Why? Because I’m a war pragmatist. I understand the costs of war, but I also understand the potential benefits.”
So Markos Moulitsas Zúniga grew up in a country at war so what? If he liked it so much, why doesn’t he go back there?
Yeah, he served in the Army the same Army that trained and equipped the death squads that tortured his own people, in an illegal war that was run by some of the same neocons who are now turning Iraq into a pile of bloodstained rubble. Is it really necessary to point this out?
Spare me the “war pragmatism” of Señor Zúniga. He supported the rape of Yugoslavia a country that had never attacked us, represented no threat to us, and that we bombed without bothering to go to the UN. The very same people who swallowed the war propaganda of the Clintonites all of it subsequently exposed as grotesque lies are now howling that they were bamboozled into war by the Bushies. Well, isn’t that just too f*cking bad?! These people can dish it out, but they sure can’t take it.
Oh, they don’t like “this war,” do they? How, then, do they differentiate this particular war of “liberation” from all the others undertaken in the post-Cold War era by those benevolent hegemons in Washington? Saddam Hussein was merely a Middle Eastern version of Slobodan Milosevic, right down to the quasi-fascistic official state ideology, the blustering Mussolini-esque buffoonery, and the brittle weakness of his politico-military apparatus when push came to shove. Serbia’s lack of proximity to Israel may account for the absence of charges that Slobo was harboring “weapons of mass destruction,” but that is the only difference I can think of.
When I ran against Rep. Nancy Pelosi in 1996, challenging her to justify the Balkan intervention, she answered: “Genocide!” Her bug eyes practically popped out of her head as she said it, even though there was zero evidence to back it up and the myth has since been thoroughly debunked. However, Saddam’s crimes against the Iraqi people are far less dubiously sourced than the claims of “mass murder” lodged against the Serbians, yet somehow these are successfully ignored by Zúniga.
The Democratic opponents of the Iraq war are, all too often, motivated more by hatred of Bush and the Republicans than by any real, substantive position against an aggressive and immoral foreign policy. Not that hatred doesn’t have its uses: but as long as their stance is confined to opposing only Republican wars, the willingness and ability of the Democrats to oppose this war effectively is severely limited. “War pragmatism” will not stop the war, nor is it very practical. As long as the debate is carried on in purely partisan terms, the American people will tune it out because there will be no debate, only a tired reiteration of “talking points” that don’t diverge in terms of fundamentals.
I don’t mean to denigrate those grassroots Democrats who sincerely oppose the war and want to see U.S. troops withdraw as soon as possible. I mean only to warn them against their party leaders, all of whom are ideologically committed to interventionism abroad as well as at home. Perhaps one day they will ask how it is that the majority of Americans can oppose this war, and still the leaders of both “major” parties and the peoples’ alleged representatives in Congress continue to pour lives and treasure into the Iraqi charnel house. The answer could spark a revolution.
The widely noted divide between the Democratic leadership and the party’s base on the war is bound to lead to an internecine contretemps, but in going into battle, the antiwar grassroots had better understand who and what they are up against. They won’t win with “war pragmatism” or by aping the militaristic posturing of the Republicans: they can win, however, with a principled opposition to interventionism, and a healthy (and very American) suspicion of the exercise of state power, especially in the international arena. Not pacifism but skepticism in the face of Republican hubris and the neocons’ overweening arrogance: these are the keys to a Democratic victory.
They need less Bidens, and more Fulbrights: we need to see less of Nancy Pelosi, and more of Iraq war veteran (and antiwar Democrat) Paul Hackett. Forget Hillary: no pro-war candidate can beat the Republicans, especially if war skeptic Chuck Hagel somehow gets the nod.
Hey, what about a Vacaville housewife who lost her son in the neocons’ war, and whose face is by now far more familiar to most Americans than John Kerry’s ever was? Luckily for the Republicans, they wouldn’t dare or would they?
If I were an antiwar Democrat, I’d trust Cindy over Hillary in a minute, on strategic as well as ideological grounds. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, Mrs. Sheehan could just possibly give Bush a run for his money if an election were held today, what with his rapidly sinking poll numbers and the growing unpopularity of the war the point being that the Democratic party has so far failed to fill the leadership gap and show the country a way out of this quagmire.
So much for the self-correcting mechanisms of democratic governance that supposedly keep elites from running off on their own. This time the Washington insiders have gotten so far ahead of themselves, and the rest of the country, that the illusion of “democracy” is dangerously close to being completely debunked. We are rapidly approaching the point where it will only take one incident, perhaps a relatively minor one, to spark a social explosion from that will make our republic reel.
The party of Thomas Jefferson, the anti-elitist, anti-royalist libertarian party known as the Democrats has a long and distinguished tradition of opposition to foreign wars. From the Sage of Monticello’s opposition to a standing army to the antiwar activism of Eugene McCarthy, the Democrats have always had a strong noninterventionist populist impulse to contend with. Whether or not it finally manages to take or rather, retake the party leadership is an open question. Unless a self-conscious antiwar movement develops within the party, however, and finds some real leaders, the Democrats will remain what they are today the left wing of the War Party.