Party of peace or party of war?


IN HIS new book, State of Denial, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward diverges from his ordinarily Bush-friendly narrative to criticize the administration’s failures in Iraq and in the “war on terror.”

In addition to the disconcerting news that Richard Nixon’s Vietnam War-era adviser Henry Kissinger is a regular at the Bush White House, Woodward reports that then-CIA director George Tenet tried to warn then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice about a threat from al-Qaeda two months before the September 11 attacks, but was ignored.

Rice failed to act after a July 2001 meeting with Tenet and CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black, who outlined intelligence warning of a potential terrorist attack in the U.S., Rice failed to act–and she failed to mention the meeting in testimony to the 9/11 Commission.

Woodward’s book also chronicles Bush’s relentless drive to invade Iraq, whether or not the Saddam Hussein government possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Before the book had even been delivered to bookstores, Democrats were jumping to take a shot at Bush and the Republicans. “Bob Woodward says the administration is in a state of denial,” commented Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). ”It’s worse than that…The administration has a stand-still-and-lose policy in Iraq, which isn’t the center of the war on terror, and a cut-and-run policy in Afghanistan, which is the center of the war on terror.”

All this comes just in time for November congressional elections, with Democrats trying to outdo the Republicans on national security. But the their fiery rhetoric about winning the “war on terror” can’t be written off as mere electioneering–because at its core, the Democratic Party is just as committed to the U.S. foreign policy aims as the Republicans.

The Democrats, like the Republicans, are devoted to maintaining and expanding U.S. power around the world. Rather than posing an alternative to a U.S. foreign policy of war and imperialist expansion, the Democratic Party is simply another vehicle for achieving the same goals.

That’s why Kerry’s criticism of Bush has nothing to do with ending the occupation in Iraq–but with making a case for how to better administer that occupation. While there may be disagreements over some of the details, the Democrats, like the Republicans, see the so-called “war on terrorism” that followed September 11 as a unique opportunity to expand U.S. influence around the globe.

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IN THE 1980s, conservative leaders of the Democratic Party created the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and its think-tank, the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), with the goal of remaking the image of the Democrats into a party unafraid to go to war.
Echoing the role that the neoconservative Project for a New American Century played for the Republicans, PPI devotees include Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman and several potential 2008 presidential candidates, including former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, currently the chair of the DLC.

Today, the PPI, as its Web site explains, “argues that progressives should seize the moment by proposing a comprehensive agenda for winning the war against jihadist terrorism–an agenda rooted in the tough-minded, internationalist tradition of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy.”

For PPI President Will Marshall–who edited a new book With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty–and others, September 11 provided an opportunity for the U.S. to further its interests abroad, and for Democrats to take the lead in carrying this out.

Another Democratic Party think tank, the Truman National Security Project (TNSP)–whose advisory board includes Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state under Bill Clinton–explains the New Democrat agenda. “Since the Vietnam era, Democrats have been painted as a party that can’t be trusted to defend this country,” the group says on its Web site. “The country has forgotten our rich history of leading America with strength and values.”

The TNSP proposes that Democrats “take back the mantle of national security leadership for progressives…A vision that agrees that ending threats sometimes requires American willingness to use military action.” The project’s Web site features articles by fellows that favor a partition of Iraq and encourage young progressives to join the Army as part of fostering “civic progressivisim.”

Like the Democrats from history who they hope to emulate, these New Democrat hawks aren’t afraid to throw around Cold War rhetoric.

“How can America prevail in this new war of ideas?” writes Marshall in a May 2004 article, titled “Jihadist Virus,” for the DLC’s Blueprint magazine. “In the same way we overcame fascism and outlasted Communism: by containing the advance of Islamic extremism, by refusing to be intimidated by threats and violence, and above all by administering the antidote of liberal ideas.” In addition to military might, this “liberal antidote” includes such “democratic” reforms as opening up markets to U.S. investment and expanding trade.

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DURING THE 1990s, New Democrat ideas guided policy for the Clinton-Gore administration.
While some Democrats today argue that the war in Iraq is a diversion from the “real” war on terror, they should recall that Iraq was a favorite target throughout the Clinton years. Clinton maintained the deadly United Nations (UN) sanctions imposed on Iraq before the first Gulf War in 1991. The sanctions killed some half a million Iraqi children, according to the UN itself, but Albright said this death toll was “worth the price.” The U.S. bombed Iraq repeatedly during Clinton’s eight years in the White House.

In 1998, when Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, he started the ball rolling on the process of “regime change” that would be completed by the Bush administration.

In a speech before the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Pentagon staff that same year, Clinton outlined not only the rationale for U.S. military action against Iraq but the “war on terror” to come. “In the next century, the community of nations may see more and more the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction ready to use them or provide them to terrorists, drug traffickers or organized criminals who travel the world among us unnoticed,” Clinton said.

As journalist Jeremy Scahill pointed out last year, “None of the horrors playing out in Iraq today would be possible without the Democratic Party. And no matter how hard some party leaders try to deny it, this is their war, too, and will remain so until every troop is withdrawn.”

After all, Clinton’s “war on terror” helped pave the way for the Bush’s. In 1998, Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan in response to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. The target in Sudan was a supposed chemical weapons plant run by terrorists–which turned out to be a pharmaceutical factory.

With this, Clinton introduced a new name on the world stage–Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.

As Noam Chomsky points out in a 2004 interview with David Barsamian in the International Socialist Review, “Al-Qaeda, if you look back, was barely mentioned in U.S. intelligence reports until 1998. Clinton put it on the map. Clinton’s bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998 effectively created al-Qaeda, both as a known entity in the intelligence world and also in the Muslim world…

“Before that, [bin Laden] was regarded as a kind of minor financier of some kind. But that created him as a major symbol, it led to an increase in recruitment, financing and general support for al-Qaeda-style networks, and it also tightened relations between bin Laden and the Taliban, which had been quite hostile before, but they became close after the bombing.”

Last week, Clinton turned on Fox News’ Chris Wallace after Wallace suggested his administration had done too little to stop Osama bin Laden. “I worked hard to kill him,” said an agitated Clinton. “We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anyone has gotten since. And if I was still president, we’d have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him.”

The shredding of civil liberties in the name of the “war on terror” isn’t restricted to Republicans, either.

In 1996, the Clinton administration used the fear of terrorism to push through the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The act limited appeals in death penalty cases and expanded the number of death penalty-eligible crimes.

It made it possible for the government to prosecute anyone for raising money for organizations that the U.S. government decides are “terrorist.” Rules against the deportation of legal immigrants were also relaxed.

The legislation had been talked about for a decade or more, but the Clinton administration used the hysteria over a bombing at the World Trade Center in 1993 and the destruction of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995 to push through these draconian laws. Where previous Republican administrations had failed, Clinton succeeded.

His administration not only expanded U.S. military spending and intervention in the name of stopping “rogue states” but it also succeeded in reversing social gains ranging from New Deal poverty programs to policies achieved by the civil rights movement.

Today, the Democrats are waiting in the wings to take over the job again. If they do take the reins, the players may be the different, but their aims won’t be

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