Democrats Take on Murtha

Hillary Clinton was quick to distance herself from Rep. John Murtha’s impassioned plea to get us out of Iraq:

“The New York Democrat said she respects Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., the Vietnam veteran and hawkish ex-Marine who last week called for an immediate troop pullout. But she added: ‘I think that would cause more problems for us in America.'”

Aside from the fact that Murtha did not call for an “immediate troop pullout” – his plan calls for an exit after six months – the question is, what sort of “problems” is she talking about? Of course, for Hillary, the Bush tax cuts are a “problem” – and they would be a lot more credible if we were no longer bogged down in Iraq. Another “problem” for the putative Democratic presidential candidate: the pro-war wing of the Democratic Party, which wields a lot of clout – albeit more financial than electoral – would be none too pleased if Mrs. Clinton jumped on board the antiwar bandwagon. Her rationale for continuing the war is indistinguishable from that of the Bush-Cheney gang, although she does her best to make a distinction without a difference:

“‘It will matter to us if Iraq totally collapses into civil war, if it becomes a failed state the way Afghanistan was, where terrorists are free to basically set up camp and launch attacks against us,’ she said. At the same time, Clinton said the Bush administration’s pledge to stay in Iraq ‘until the job is done’ amounts to giving the Iraqis ‘an open-ended invitation not to take care of themselves.'”

With the Clintons, as we all know by now, you have to parse their words very carefully, but if anyone can tease a coherent position out of the above, they are welcome to try.

States “fail” when they are defeated in war and occupied by a foreign army. The moment we invaded, Iraq’s future as a “failed state” was assured – and who is to blame for that? Not just Bush and the neocons, but all the Democrats who voted to authorize a military strike – including, very notably, Senator Clinton. And for the life of me, I can’t imagine what she means by conjuring up a scenario in which “terrorists are free basically to set up camp and launch attacks against us.” What does she think is happening in Iraq now? One is forced to conclude that Clinton is merely rephrasing the core argument advanced by the Bush administration in the run-up to war and since: she has bought into the idea that we’re fighting them in Fallujah so we don’t have to battle them on the streets of Brooklyn.

La Clinton is restrained from saying this for fear of alienating her Democratic Party base, but she clearly wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, we can’t leave – lest Iraq become a “failed state” – and yet, on the other hand, we can’t stay “until the job is done,” because… well, because that’s what George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are saying.

So what does Hillary want? When push comes to shove, she comes out an agnostic on the Iraq question:

“Clinton, who is running for re-election to the Senate and is seen as a likely presidential candidate in 2008, suggested that the United States wait for Iraq’s Dec. 15 elections for an indication about how soon the Iraqis can take over. ‘Until they vote for a government, I don’t know that we will have adequate information about how prepared they are,’ she said.”

Translation: Go away and don’t bother me, because, amid all this strenuous positioning, I really don’t have a position to unveil this early in the game.

Unfortunately, the nation can’t wait until the Democratic Sibyl is ready to come out with an oracular pronouncement we can make sense of. Americans are dying at an alarming rate over there, and the military is getting chewed up pretty badly – to the point where a man like Murtha, who has the ear of the generals, is speaking for his military constituency when he raises the cry of “Out now!” The Bushies, however, aren’t listening, and neither are the Democrats – and I don’t just mean She Who Would Be President. Even worse is Sen. Joe Biden, who gave his own presidential ambitions a well-deserved rest a while back, yet still speaks with the diction of a paralyzing caution, as if he has to watch his every word lest an original thought creeps in undetected.

In a recent speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden essentially attacked the Republicans from the right and did everything but accuse them of cutting and running:

“Here is my conviction: in 2006, American troops will begin to leave Iraq in large numbers. By the end of the year, I believe we will have redeployed at least 50,000 troops. In 2007, a significant number of the remaining 100,000 American soldiers will follow.”

How he comes to this conclusion is anybody’s guess: the American troop presence is increasing, not decreasing, and this will continue right up to the year-end elections, with no end in sight. We never had enough boots on the ground to pacify the country in the first place. When Gen. Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, dared say we needed 200,000 troops at a minimum, he was out on his butt without further ado, as Biden knows all too well. This was a major talking point for the Kerry campaign: we need more troops, not less.

To hear Biden tell it, the Bush administration is abandoning Iraq, even as Commandant Cheney rails against any talk of withdrawal, and so “the real question is this”:

“As Americans start to come home, will we leave Iraq with our fundamental security interests intact or will we have traded a dictator for chaos?”

Those irresponsible Republicans will leave us with the latter, but the Democrats – or, at least, the Biden wing of the party – have a plan to achieve the former. Unfortunately, due to the mismanagement of this essentially righteous and necessary war,

“Many Americans have already concluded that we cannot salvage Iraq. We should bring all our forces home as soon as possible. They include some of the most respected voices on military matters in this country, like Congressman Jack Murtha. They’re mindful of the terrible consequences from withdrawing. But even worse, in their judgment, would be to leave Americans to fight – and to die – in Iraq with no strategy for success. I share their frustration. But I’m not there yet. I still believe we can preserve our fundamental security interests in Iraq as we begin to redeploy our forces.”

Biden is just as threatened by Murtha’s call for withdrawal as Bush and Cheney are, and he – like the Republicans – is forced to address it, albeit a bit less demagogically. He is not above sophistry, however:

“That will require the not to stay the course, but to change course and to do it now.”

Politicians play with words while the greatest strategic disaster in our history unfolds. When the full story of this war is written, both parties will stand condemned out of their own mouths. Oh, but don’t worry, says Biden, we’re the government, and we’re here to help you:

“Though it may not seem like it, there is actually a broad consensus on what the must do. Last week, 79 Democrats and Republicans in the Senate came together and said to the president: we need a plan for Iraq. Level with us. Give us specific goals and a timetable for achieving each one so we know exactly where we are and where we are going. … The problem has been compounded by the president’s failure to explain in detail his strategy and to report regularly on both the progress and the problems.”

True to the modern liberal faith in central planning and “scientific” management, Biden believes if only we have the right “plan,” the Best and the Brightest – armed with timetables and the rightmetrics” – will carry us forward to victory. The “problem” isn’t in our aggressive foreign policy of preemptive conquest, it’s a failure to “explain in detail” why the export of “democracy” at gunpoint isn’t an oxymoronic illusion. If only the Democrats were given the job of explaining, says Biden, they would do a much better job at winning American hearts and minds. Says Biden:

“As David Brooks reminded us in the New York Times yesterday, ‘Franklin Roosevelt asked Americans to spread out maps before them and he described, step by step, what was going on in World War II, where the U.S. was winning and where it was losing. Why can’t today’s president do that? Why can’t he show that he is aware that his biggest problem is not in Iraq, it’s on the home front?'”

We Democrats wouldn’t have that problem, is what Biden means to imply. We could really sell this war.

Good luck with that one, Joe.

One can’t help but notice that the distinguished senator cites none other than the New York Timeshouse neocon, whose advice is an odd source of inspiration for the Democratic base, which hates this war and the men who started it. But Biden isn’t addressing them: he’s talking to the Council on Foreign Relations, after all, the elite foreign-policy movers and shakers.

Yet surely such a knowledgeable group wasn’t about to be taken in by this invocation of World War II, and recognized it as hyperbole of the first order. Iraq wasn’t even close to being a military power on the scale of Nazi Germany, and Saddam – for all his brutality – was no Hitler. World War II raged across three continents, and the death toll was in the millions: the Iraq war has yielded but a small fraction of that destructive power.

However, such inconvenient facts are irrelevant, in any case, because the neocons couldn’t care less about reality: after all, they are in the business of creating their own reality, as one White House official confided. It’s a matter of constructing the right narrative, perhaps one gleaned from their historical mythos of supposedly heroic wars, and certainly World War II is one that the neocons and Biden can agree on. Aside from being horribly overblown, however, the WWII analogy is applicable to Iraq in a certain sense, as Ahmed Chalabi pointed out to New Yorker writer Jane Mayer:

“Ahmed Chalabi, the wealthy Iraqi Shi’ite who spent more than a decade working for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, prides himself on his understanding of the United States and its history. ‘I know quite a lot about it,’ he told me not long ago. … One episode in American history particularly fascinated him, he said. ‘I followed very closely how Roosevelt, who abhorred the Nazis, at a time when isolationist sentiment was paramount in the United States, managed adroitly to persuade the American people to go to war. I studied it with a great deal of respect; we learned a lot from it. The Lend-Lease program committed Roosevelt to enter on Britain’s side – so we had the Iraq Liberation Act, which committed the American people for the liberation against Saddam.'”

Like Bush, Roosevelt lied us into war with the aid of a well-oiled and ruthlessly efficient propaganda machine. Backed up by the power and resources of the British, who employed a number of covert means to influence American public opinion and goad the U.S. into war, the War Party of that era was joined by the pro-Russian Left after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. If Bush is Roosevelt, and Saddam is Hitler, then the Iraqis are the Brits, Chalabi is Churchill, and the Israelis, perhaps, are the Russians, picking up the pieces – as the Soviets did in Eastern Europe – and using their American fifth column to consolidate and expand their gains in the region.

The analogy pans out even in some of the details. The Niger uranium forgery of Roosevelt’s day was that fake map of a Nazified South America wielded by President Roosevelt as proof positive of Hitler’s plan to invade the Western Hemisphere – another forgery whipped up by the Brits in their laboratory of dirty tricks, as documented in Nicholas John Crull’s Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign Against American Neutrality in World War II. “The most striking feature of the episode,” writes Crull, “was the complicity of the president of the United States in perpetrating the fraud.”

History repeats itself – the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

Today’s Democrats are whining that they were “misled” and even lied to, but they don’t really object to this in principle, as history shows. Biden wants the Republicans and this president to “level” with the American people. But does he really? I doubt it. Because that would mean extrapolating from his analogy with World War II, and, as Chalabi points out, we can learn an awful lot from that example. The problem for Biden and his fellow Democratic interventionists is that the lesson learned is not favorable to their case.

We intervened in Europe’s internecine war, and postponed the destruction of the Soviet Union by half a century. Having assured the survival of Stalinism, we furthermore ran the risk of another world war – one that could have wiped out the human race. All in all, a bad bargain – a net loss, which continued to take its toll in blowback decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of the Soviet empire.

Al-Qaeda is the mutant spawn of the Cold War era, birthed by the Reaganites of yesteryear who hailed the Afghan mujahedin as “freedom fighters,” supporting them by word and deed against the Red Army in Afghanistan. The U.S. government sided with and subsidized Osama bin Laden and his core group of Islamic internationalists, paving the way for the creation of a terrorist organization with global reach – until one bright day in September 2001, when the Islamist Frankenstein turned on its creators.

Now, once again, we are creating an Islamic Frankenstein, in the form of a Greater Iran. In a bid to split the Muslim world, and turn Shi’ite against Sunni, we are playing “balance of power” politics, classic divide-and-rule tactics, in an overall strategy to “democratize” (i.e., subjugate) the Middle East. How long before the Shi’ite superstate we are creating turns on us with the same vengeance wreaked by bin Laden?

Why do our rulers keep making the same mistakes, over and over, like some mental patient dominated by his compulsions?

The problem is not the lack of will, nor the lack of a “plan” to win in Iraq. The problem is our foreign policy of perpetual war, which presupposes the wisdom of a policy that deems it our business – our duty – to intervene everywhere for the alleged benefit of mankind. The problem is the arrogance of our rulers, and their apparently limitless capacity for hubris. This is what blinds them to the folly of their course, which does not need to be “changed,” as Biden avers, so much as it needs to be ended.

We are on a course set for Empire, and there’s mutiny in the air. Biden, Clinton, and the entire Democratic Party establishment, as well as the GOP, are frantically trying to quell it. After Rep. Murtha announced his support for a plan that would have us out of Iraq in six months, Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi demurred when asked if she endorsed it. Naturally, Biden, too, shied away from Murtha, while praising the old Marine’s courage – and demonstrating his own lack of it.

The Democratic Party is worse than useless in the struggle to extract us from the Iraqi quagmire: it is an obstacle, not the lever that will get us out. Combined with their hopelessly statist domestic policies – which cry out for a wartime atmosphere of permanent emergency, all the better to increase the size and power of government – the Democrats’ stance is indistinguishable from the Cheneyites in everything but tone. The two parties may trade barbs over the merits of what Cheney calls the Democrats’ “historical revisionism,” but this is a quibble best settled by the historians. When it comes to acknowledging the wit and wisdom of David Brooks, there is a bipartisan consensus.

If the Republicans lied us into war, one might say, with Dr. Chalabi, that they learned it all at Roosevelt’s feet, and what of it? The Democrats don’t have a plan to get out, won’t even say the dreaded word “withdrawal,” and are positioning themselves to accuse the president of preparing to “cut and run.”

The two-party monopoly is the last – and strongest – bastion of the War Party, one that can be successfully defended in spite of overwhelming antiwar sentiment in this country. What gets me is that Biden, in his speech, has the gall to talk about a “credibility chasm” opening up between the administration and the American people. The only proper answer to that is: look who’s talking!

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].