Democratic Iraq Betrayal: Treachery on the Campaign Trail

Following in the footsteps of similarly pseudo-progressive and  corporate-imperial Democratic politicians like Bill Clinton, the current crop of leading Democratic presidential candidates can be counted on to make what Edward S. Herman calls “populist and peace-stressing promises and gestures that are betrayed instantly on the assumption of power” (Edward S. Herman, “Democratic Betrayal,” Z Magazine, January 2007).

Sometimes, however, the skids of betrayal are greased in advance of the attainment of the presidency, with no small assistance from a weak and myopic Left and power-worshipping “liberal” media.


Look, for example, at an interesting article that appeared on the first page of the most recent Sunday New York Times.  “Even as they call for an end to the war and pledge to bring the troops home,” Times reporters Jeff Zeleny and Marc Santora note, “the Democratic presidential candidates are setting out positions that could leave the United States engaged in Iraq for years” (Jeff Zeleny and Marc Santora, “Democratic Field Says Leaving Iraq May Take Years,” New York Times, 12 August, 2007. p. A1).


“May take tears?” Interesting…A review of the leading Democratic presidential candidates’ campaign remarks about Iraq over the last six months leaves what Zeleny and Santora call “little ambiguity in their message: If the president refuses to end the war, they will” (Zeleny and Santora).


Lately, however, those “anti-war” candidates are saying something rather different.  John (“Support the Troops, End the War”) Edwards is citing the need to “prevent genocide” as a reason to keep US troops in Iraq. 


Barrack (“It’s Time to Bring the Troops Home”) Obama says that the need to provide “security for American personnel” and to “train Iraqis” will require maintaining a military presence in Iraq. 


Hillary (“I’m Sorry, it’s Over…if this president does not end the war, I will”) points to the need to fight terrorism and stabilize the Kurdish section of Iraq as justifications for keeping the U.S. military in Mesopotamia into the next presidency.    “These positions,” Zeleny and Santora observe, “suggest that the Democratic bumper-sticker message of a quick end to the conflict — however much it appeals to primary voters — oversimplifies the problems likely to be inherited by the next commander in chief.” 


Zeleny and Santora’s Sunday Times article is disturbing in at least four ways.  The first depressing thing is their suggestion that the desire for a rapid U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is limited to the nation’s Democratic primary voters.  In reality, the majority of all Americans support an expeditious U.S. withdrawal.


The second problem is the Times’ unsurprising failure to acknowledge that the leading Democratic presidential candidates’ duplicity on Iraq is thoroughly predictable in light of the richly bipartisan nature of the U.S. Global Dominance Project. As Tuft’s University political scientist Tony Smith noted in the Washington Post last March, there’s little if any real foreign policy difference between the Republicans and the Democrats when it comes to “doctrinal questions.” The leaders of both parties are equally committed to U.S. world supremacy. Both wings of the narrow-spectrum U.S. party system strongly embrace U.S. interventionism, militarism and (when “necessary”) unilateralism in the name of spreading “democracy” and “free markets.”


If anything, the “neoliberal” Democrats’ main foreign policy claim is that they can do a better job of conducting this imperialist foreign policy than the “neoconservative” Republicans. “We are the better, more effective and competent Men and Women of Empire” is the basic claim. Such was the essence of the John F. Kerry “Reporting to Duty” campaign in 2004.


Currently, Smith notes, aggressive militarist neoliberals (Hillary Clinton is an especially dangerous example) are probably more influential within the Democratic Party than aggressive militarist neoconservatives are inside the Republican Party. By Smith’s candid account: 


“Although they now cast themselves as alternatives to President Bush, the fact is that prevailing Democratic doctrine is not that different from the Bush-Cheney doctrine…Many Democrats, including senators who voted to authorize the war in Iraq, embraced the idea of muscular foreign policy based on American global supremacy and the presumed right to intervene to promote democracy or to defend key U.S. interests long before 9/11, and they have not changed course since. Even those who have shifted against the war have avoided doctrinal questions.”


“But without a coherent alternative to the Bush doctrine, with its confidence in America‘s military preeminence and the global appeal of ‘free market democracy,’ the Democrats’ midterm victory may not be repeated in November 2008. Or, if the Democrats do win in 2008, they could remain staked to a vision of a Pax Americana strikingly reminiscent of Bush’s” (Tony Smith, “It’s Uphill for the Democrats: They Need a Global Strategy, Not Just Tactics for Iraq,” Washington Post, 11 March 2007, available online at www.washingtonpost. com/wp-dyn/content/article/ 2007/03/09/AR2007030901884_ pf.html).


The Democrats’ mealy-mouthed waffling on Iraq is predictable in light also of what a still left Christopher Hitchens once (in his 1999 study of Bill and Hillary Clinton) called “the essence of American politics.  This essence, when distilled, consists of the manipulation of populism by elitism. That elite is most successful,” Hitchens explained, “which can claim the heartiest allegiance of the fickle crowd; can present itself as ‘in touch’ with popular concerns; can anticipate the tides and pulses of opinion; can, in short, be the least apparently elitist.” (Christopher Hitchens, No One Left to Lie to: the Values of the Worst Family [(New York: Verso, 2000], pp. 17-18).


The leading Democratic presidential candidates are walking the standard timeworn U.S. tightrope between their captivity and commitment to standard elite agendas (including imperial agendas) and their need to win enough popular support to gain and maintain power. 


The third alarming thing about the Sunday Times article is Zeleny and Santora’s accurate observation that “antiwar advocates have raised little challenge to such positions by Democrats…Four years after the last presidential race featured early signs of war protest, particularly in the candidacy of Howard Dean,” Zeleny and Santora note, “a new phase of the debate seems to be unfolding, with antiwar groups giving the Democrats latitude to take positions short of a full and immediate withdrawal.”


The half-dead “antiwar movement’s’” cringing captivity to the imperial Democrats is clear in the following pathetic comment from Moira Mack, a spokesperson for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq: “we are in a good position when leaders are debating the best way to bring our troops home rather than whether or not to bring them home” (Zeleny and Santora, p.A15).


The fourth problem is the absence of any discussion of ways the U.S. might meet what the Times calls “America‘s responsibility to Iraqi civilians” (Zeleny and Santora, A15) other than maintaining a bloody, widely hated colonial invasion.    Given the shockingly narrow moral and ideological parameters of acceptable debate in U.S. political culture, it is unthinkable that “our” “liberal” press and presidential candidates would honestly acknowledge the United States‘ obligation to pay reparations to Iraq as compensation for decades of devastating, mass-murderous U.S. assault.


Those candidates and that press naturally accept as unassailable doctrine the basic precept that the invasion of Iraq was launched for the good of Iraqis and in pursuit of noble and idealistic goals of freedom and democracy.  Never mind that the occupation is widely and accurately understood around the world to be a brazenly imperialist effort to deepen U.S. control of super-strategic Middle Eastern energy resources and to advance the arch-plutocratic Bush agenda at home and abroad. 


It’s all unmentionable.  Such, alas, is the profound moral and ideological poverty of the dominant political culture in the failing imperial-state “homeland” of the “world’s greatest democracy.”



Veteran radical historian, journalist, and activist Paul Street ([email protected]) is a Left commentator in Iowa City, IA. Street’s latest book is Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).  Street is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004), Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005), and the semi-weekly Empire and Inequality Report.




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