Imperialist Democrats

The three "Election Dissension" articles in the March issue are part of a 2008 Z Magazine series on all things electoral.

Upcoming contributions will include Michael Albert’s Radical "Shadow" Campaign, as well as Lydia Sargent on the current refrain of "I’d like a woman president but…"

We welcome your contributions to the discussion. Send to [email protected].

As the 2008 primary season progresses the leading Democratic candidates have gone to great pains to express their opposition to the continued occupation of Iraq. Anti-war legislative action, speeches, and press releases have all grown increasingly aggressive. This is hardly a surprise when poll after poll finds public discontent with the war and its handling. But it must be pointed out that these Democrats now oppose the Iraq war not out of a rejection of imperialism and militarism, but because it offers them an opportunity to gain a bit of ground in elite maneuvering against the opposing party.

In an April 23, 2007 speech Barack Obama “called for an increase in defense spending and an extra 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 marines. He called for these military increases so that the U.S. can “stay on the offense” against terrorism. In that speech Obama “talked about building democracies, stopping weapons of mass destruction, and the right to take unilateral action to protect U.S. ‘vital interests’.” On August 1 Obama said that he would use military force against Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan if the Pakistani government did not take aggressive action against them quickly enough.

Obama also stated on March 2, 2007 on Fox News that, “We should take no option, including military action, off the table” in dealing with Iran. He has additionally indicated that, though he has called for withdrawal, if he were elected a “small” number of troops might remain in Iraq.

Is it any wonder that neo-conservatives such as Robert Kagan and Matthew Dowd have expressed their support for Obama and that he has drawn comparisons to John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan?

Hillary Clinton, a senate member at the time of the invasion of Iraq, supported the military action then and resisted Rep. Murtha’s early call for withdrawal. In 2004 Clinton joined with Republicans and called for “a larger active-duty military” and greater military funding. Her work in the senate over the years has earned her respect within military circles, including that of retired general Jack Keane, former vice chief of the Army, who “says he’s praised her to ‘the guys’—meaning the Pentagon brass.”

In a February 14 speech Clinton said that “Iran poses a threat to our allies and our interests” and that “no option can be taken off the table” in dealing with that country. Furthermore, though she has called for withdrawal and bringing the troops home, Clinton sees “remaining vital national security interests in Iraq that would require a continuing deployment of American troops.”

The Democratic candidates speak of strengthening the military and protecting “national interests.” They use the phrase “national interests” in order to move ambiguously between the interest of stopping terrorism against American citizens and the interests of big capital. These same Democrats have admitted that even though they call for withdrawal, they desire a continued military presence in the region and they refuse to rule out military action against Iran.

The criticism by these Democrats of the Iraq war stems from political expediency, not from principle. Even emboldened by this support, the most incisive critique the Democratic candidates can manage is that Iraq is a failure on practical grounds. According to the consensus opinion of the leading Democratic candidates Iraq is only a failure due to various blunders of the Administration in the prosecution of the war. The Democrats excoriate the Administration for these numerous errors and promise not to repeat them. In essence they are promising to do imperialism better than the Republicans.


David Steel is a Phd student at the University of Cambridge, UK.