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A Spineless “Opposition”: Democrats Continue to Capitulate on Iraq


 

For those who might still be harboring some doubts, it is now official: the Democratic Party has officially abrogating any responsibility for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.  Tuesday, December 18, 2007 marked a milestone for the party, as its leaders in the Senate administered a massive slap to the face of an American public that has favored a timetable for withdrawal for the last two and a half years, and has consistently deemed the Iraq war not “worth it” since at least the November 2004 election.[i]  The Democratically controlled Senate has voted to grant another $70 billion in funding toward the Iraq war – without imposing any concrete conditions or legal stipulations requiring a timetable for withdrawal.  While Democrats may have gained numerical majorities in both the House and Senate following the 2006 mid-term elections, for all intensive purposes, Republicans and pro-war hawks retain firm control of both chambers when it comes to actually setting foreign policy.  The Iraq bill, proposed by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Independent Joe Lieberman, demonstrates the continued strength of pro-war hawks quite clearly.

 

Democratic leaders Russ Feingold and Harry Reid did try to pass an amendment that would have required some troop cuts, although they would have left 70,000 troops in Iraq over the next two years.  The Feingold-Reid initiative failed to gain sufficient support, as did an even more meager initiative sponsored by Democratic Senator Carl Levin.  Levin’s amendment was legally non-binding, and as a “Sense of the Congress” statement, it asked only that the President eventually set a timetable for withdrawal within “a reasonable time.”  That even Levin’s amendment could not muster sufficient support is perhaps the strongest sign yet of the lack of anti-war conviction amongst Democrats elected under the expectation that they would pursue a substantively different foreign policy path than that set by President Bush.

 

This is certainly not the first time that Congressional Democrats have let down the American people.  Remember that Presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has repeatedly refused commit to firm timetables for withdrawal from Iraq.  Clinton is not alone either.  In a mid-2007 Congressional resolution, Senate Democrats presented another “non-binding resolution” that refused to demand a timetable for withdrawal, instead stressing the importance of “success” in Iraq.  Finally, Congressional Democrats running for President (perhaps with the exception of John Edwards) went on record in one debate explaining they may not pursue a full withdrawal until 2013, as many as five years after a Democratic President might come into office.

 

While Barack Obama has taken on a cult-like following amongst partisan Democrats and some disillusioned members of the left, the fact remains that he, like Clinton, is not an anti-war candidate.  Obama may have voted against the Iraq war in 2002, but he has since shed any responsibility for serving as a serious opponent to the American war machine.  The authoritarian implications of Democratic pro-war posturing is all the more disturbing after one reviews American public opinion and Iraqi public and political opinion.  CBS-New York Times polls show that between 71 to 73 percent of Americans (depending upon the month in question) support a withdrawal of “large numbers” of troops from Iraq within two years.  A sizable 49 percent would like to see large numbers of troops removed within one year.[ii]  A Gallup poll from September of this year found that 66 percent favored a withdrawal of most troops from Iraq within nine months, and that remaining troops would serve only in a “supportive” role.[iii]  Such support is hardly recent, as 49 percent supported a timetable for withdrawal as late as July 2005, as opposed to 45% who opposed setting such a timetable.[iv]

 

The Iraqi public has opposed the occupation since at least 2004 as well, as countless opinion polls have shown.  Perhaps more striking, however, is that Iraqi political leaders finally began to pay attention to public opposition to the war this year (which is more than one can say for American political leaders).  In May of 2007, a majority of Iraq’s parliament signed a bill demanding a timetable for withdrawal.  The initiative failed to garner sustained attention in the U.S. press, as it received only a few initial references.[v]  Iraqis are right to think that the demands of their allegedly “sovereign” government will go unheeded by the Bush administration and Congressional Democrats.  Despite Iraqi public and political support for withdrawal, 80 percent of Iraqis questioned believe that the U.S. plans to establish permanent military bases, and 75 percent feel that American leaders will ignore any Iraqi demands for withdrawal.[vi]  Iraqi opinions skepticism of the U.S. has been validated, considering that it has been over six months since the Iraqi Parliament’s passed the withdrawal resolution and neither Democrats nor Republicans are willing to commit to withdrawal.

 

Why have Democrats shown such contempt for the American people, especially during the run-up to a major election?  The short answer to this question is that, while a majority of Americans may support withdrawal, Democrats and Republicans are not looking to appeal to majorities, but instead privileged minorities.  National voter turnout in the 2004 election was just 55 percent of the voting age public, and turnout in 2006 barely broke 40 percent.  In short, Democratic and Republican political elites are not forced to take into account public opinion in the aggregate; rather, they pay far greater attention to minorities who provide tremendous amounts of funding and who vote in greater numbers.  These minorities are comprised disproportionately of wealthy, highly educated Americans who seldom represent progressive interests. 

 

Despite the disconnect between American elites and masses, Democrats running for Congress and the President (if even for cynical electoral reasons) should pay more attention to pro-withdrawal opinion.  A superb article by progressive scholar Paul Street recently noted that populist Democratic candidate John Edwards garners more support amongst prospective voters than do pro-war candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  Across the board, Edwards (who supports an immediate withdrawal of 50,000 troops) is predicted to defeat Republican challengers such as Guiliani, Romney, McCain, and Huckabee by much greater margins than Obama and Clinton.[vii]  While Edwards is no democratic socialist or perennial progressive, his recent New Deal-esque political streak is likely far more appealing to the majority of Americans (who have long supported equalized funding for education and universal health care) than the unpopular neoliberal policy stances of Obama, Clinton, and other “electable” Democrats.  Whether Edwards will actually implement poverty reduction measures and pursue limited withdrawal remains an open question depending of course upon the upcoming election and continued public activism and pressure.

 

Anthony DiMaggio has taught Middle East Politics and American Government at Illinois State University.  He is the author of Mass Media, Mass Propaganda: Examining American News in the “War on Terror,” forthcoming in April of 2008.  He can be reached at: [email protected]



 

    [i] For early statistical evidence that most Americans felt the war was no longer worth it, see the American National Election Study of 2004, conducted during the run-up and following the November Presidential election.

     [ii] New York Times, “The New York Times-CBS Poll,” 5-9 December 2007, http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/politics/20071211_POLL.pdf

     [iii] Frank Newport, “Support Exists for Both Troop Withdrawal Proposals,” 3 October 2007, http://www.gallup.com/poll/28876/Americans-Favor-Both-Bushs-Democrats-Troop-Withdrawal-Proposals.aspx

     [iv] Pew Research Center, “More Say Iraq War Hurts Fight Against Terrorism,” 21 July 2005, http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=251

     [v] Joshua Partlow, “Iraqi Lawmakers Back Bill on U.S. Withdrawal,” Washington Post, 11 May 2007, 12(A).; the story was also reprinted in some local/regional papers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and the Seattle Times: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2007/05/11/MNG37PPB881.DTL&type=politics; http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003702542_iraqsadr11.html

     [vi] Raed Jarrar and Joshua Holland, “Iraqi Lawmakers Pass Resolution That May Force End to Occupation,” Alternet, 5 June 2007, http://www.alternet.org/story/53230/

     [vii] Paul Street, “Angry John v. KumbayObama,” Z Magazine, 20 December 2007, http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=90&ItemID=14533

 

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