Trapped by Their Own Militarism? Democrats Bare Their Back for the American Right

“No Matter How Justified”


I recently received an interesting mailing from my “progressive” Congressman David Loebsack (D, IA).  Loebsack is a “liberal” Democrat who rode antiwar sentiment into the United States House of Representatives last year.


The mailing starts as follows: "Dear Neighbor, we owe a debt of gratitude to the soldiers who have paid the ultimate price as well as those who thankfully returned home to their families and friends."


This is Loebsack’s flag-waving set-up for advancing some basic things most decent “progressives” support: improved funding and provisions for veterans’ health, education, and welfare. 


The mailing includes a photograph of Loebsack offering “good wishes for a safe return home” to an Iowa National Guard company being sent off to Iraq.


On the cover of this mailing, Loebsack pastes in the following quotation from George Washington: "the willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."


Loebsack does not elaborate on exactly why his constituents owe a special debt of gratitude to those who have followed the orders to invade and occupy Iraq. Is it that the troops have protected us from an imaginary Iraqi attack with non-existent Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD)? That they guarded us from terrorism, to which we are made more vulnerable by the super-provocative and arch-criminal U.S. oil occupation of Mesopotamia? Is it that the troops "served" (assaulted) in our place…that they invaded Iraq on Cheney and Bush’s command so that we didn’t have to?


Loebsack does not clarify why his constituents would want “our young people" to be "willing…to serve in war, no matter how justified.”  He does not explain why we should trust our policymakers (Republican or Democratic) to choose and wage “just wars” after more than four and a half years of “America’s” illegal and richly Democrat-enabled invasion of Iraq. 


And Loebsack offers no praise for those soldiers who deserve the most applause and gratitude from U.S. and world citizens: the ones who have courageously refused to participate in the illegal, petro-imperialist occupation. 




Prior to sending out this mailing, Loebsack reported seeing “some progress” in the U.S. occupation of Iraq during a recent fact-finding mission to that illegally invaded nation (Jane Norman, “Congressman Sees Some Progress in Iraq,” Des Moines Register Star, 23 October 2007). I provoked outrage from mainstream Democrats on a local (Johnson County, Iowa) “progressive” listserv when I contributed the following in a discussion of Loebsack’s report: “the occupation of Iraq (‘largely about oil,’ as even Alan Greenspan recently noted) is naked imperial aggression pure and simple and any notion of welcome ‘progress’ could be made in its execution is perverse…Loebsack no doubt thinks the ‘war’ (where is it? not over here…if it’s a ‘war’ it’s a one-sided and brazenly imperial war of colonial aggression) was a mistake, a great blunder…a ‘dumb war’ and the like, but he can’t or won’t publicly admit (and neither can the rest of the Dems with outlandish exceptions like Kucinich and Gravel) the truth: ‘Operation Iraq Freedom’ (O.I.F.) is a great and ongoing crime that has predictably imposed a Holocaust on the people of Iraq (one million dead and millions more forced to leave their homeland).  I’m sure Hitler read reports of ‘progress’ in the occupations of Poland and France, etc.”  


This modest commentary of mine provoked one subordinate operative in the local liberal-academic-industrial-complex (a 40-something doctoral student and adjunct professor in “culture studies”) to announce that he would soon attack me on a high-powered University (of Iowa) radio station.





This little story is part of a larger drama with antecedents that include the politics that led to the rise of Hitler.


As has been obvious for some time now, the messianic- militarist American Right is gearing up to blame the “liberal” Democratic Party and media for the arch-criminal fiasco that is O.I.F.


The sadistic, blood-soaked Occupier-in-Chief George W. Bush plans to pass his disastrous colonial “war” (an ongoing policy of one-sided imperial aggression) on to the next presidential administration, which is likely (thanks in no small part to the Iraq situation) to be inhabited by a Democrat.


Operating in accord with standard (Karl) Rove-ian designs, the military-nationalist Republicans will claim that the real cause of the nightmare in Iraq is the failure of the Democrats, the media, and indeed the American people to “support the troops.”  The “liberal” and (even) “left” media, Democrats, and populace will be charged with “losing” the “war” by sticking a dagger in the exposed back of the virtuous military.  “Liberals,” Democrats, antiwar activists and other “weak” Americans will be darkly accused of treasonous “negativity” and “pessimism.” They will be blamed for undermining a great nation in “a time of war.” They will be gored for advancing a “loser’s mentality” when a manly spirit of 21st century Manifest Destiny could have produced a victorious Iraq ending for Uncle Sam.  


It’s the old “stab in the back” charge, used to such lovely effect by the German Right against German Social Democrats, radicals, and liberals after World War One.  We know a bit about the aftermath.


The prescription for the restoration of national pride and prominence? Bring back the real War Party – the one that is most fearless and confident in its determination to rule the world through the sheer preponderance of force and the iron spirit of national will.




Smelling great opportunity and risk in the quadrennial election waters, the Democratic Party is stuck between (a) its perceived need to “look tough” on “national security”, (b) its strong imperial commitments, (c) the disastrous situation on the ground in Iraq (where U.S. “victory” is unimaginable),  (d) pressure to appease a U.S. majority and progressive electoral base that hates the “war” and whose antiwar sentiment enabled the Democrats to become the majority Congress party in the fall of 2006. 


The party is trying to walk this four-strand tightrope by continuing to fund the occupation of Mesopotamia while making “progressive” noises about giving “our” righteous warriors adequate body armor, funding veterans’ care, and ending Haliburton-style corruption in the awarding of “defense” contracts. It praises “the troops” for their noble “sacrifices” to “protect” ordinary Americans’ “freedom” and “security.”  It applauds the soldiers for, to quote Council of Foreign Relations spokesman Barack Obama, “doing everything we could ever ask…without question.” It makes carefully calibrated statements about "timetables" to “bring the troops home”… someday soon. It criticizes the “incompetence” with which the occupation has been conducted and even (especially in the presidential primaries) the (strategic) wisdom of launching the invasion in the first place. It sometimes criticizes the use of excessively vicious and authoritarian techniques – i.e. water-boarding and wiretaps – in the execution of Bush’s policies at home and abroad.   


But it does not question the core imperial doctrines behind Operation Iraqi Liberation (O.I.L.)[1] – doctrines it has long helped develop. It does not admit that the “war” is both monumentally illegal and “largely [mostly, P.S.] about oil.”  It does not acknowledge that the “war” is vengeful and racist. And it does not like to talk about the numerous atrocities our supposedly inherently virtuous military has committed against civilians in the execution of the broader atrocity that is the invasion.


The Democrats have been “opposing the war” not because the invasion of Iraq is illegal and immoral but because it isn’t working.  They sometimes admit that the occupation (“war”) was a strategic mistake – a “dumb war”(Obama)- but will not confess that it is a criminal and depraved policy driven by the United States’ world-supremacist compulsion to deepen its control of super-strategic Middle Eastern oil. 


Some leading Democrats – e.g. Edwards but not Hillary Clinton (who follows Bush II in never admitting errors or crimes) – and some sections of the “liberal” media (The New York Times and the Washington Post) have apologized for playing along with the original WMD deceptions that Cheney-Bush advanced to sell O.I.L. (2). But no apologies have been forthcoming about continuing to play along with the equally childish democracy-promotion claims that were pushed front and center when it became obvious to the American majority that Saddam’s WMD had gone AWOL(3).


The problem here is not only that this party line is deeply immoral and expressive of the richly bipartisan nature of the American Empire and even the Bush Doctrine (4). The other difficulty is that it may well be politically dysfunctional.  As Jeremy Brecher and  Brendan Smith noted last spring, “as long the American people hear [from the Democrats, P.S.] that the only thing wrong with the war is that we’re losing it,” the Democrats will remain vulnerable to the charge that their “defeatism” cost the U.S. “victory” in Iraq (5). The way out of this dilemma, Brecher and Smith observe, is to acknowledge, expose, and denounce the occupation as wrong and to drop the imperial assumption that Iraq was “ours” to “lose.”


As long as the Democrats believe or claim to believe that the criminal oil invasion was initiated with “the best of intentions” (Obama) and worth winning (even if its initial launching was a “strategic blunder”), they will be somewhat deserving targets for military-nationalist charges of undue “negativity,” “spinelessness,” “pessimism” and “defeatism.”


The indictment may be sadly ironic and largely absurd given the Democrats’ continuing willingness to fund the war and to support the preposterous claim that the war was launched to “export democracy” (6).  But it could well stick, fed by their awkward balancing between the antiwar majority and their imperial identity, faith, and captivity. 


For this and other reasons, rumors of the death of the vicious reign of the extremist and dangerous Republicans may well be exaggerated. 



Veteran radical historian, journalist, and speaker Paul Street (paulstreet99@ yahoo.com) is an anti-centrist political commentator located in Iowa City. 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 Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, and Policy in Chicago (Chicago, 2005) and The Empire and Inequality Report. Street’s next book is Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman and Littlefied, 2007).







1. It is not urban myth that Dick Cheney and George W. Bush’s petro-imperialist “Operation Iraqi Freedom” was initially titled “Operation Iraqi Liberation” and thus would have born the overly reality-suggestive acronym “O.I.L”.  See Greg Palast, Armed Madhouse (New York: Plume, 2007) p.65.


2.  As Laura Flanders points out, “when the US-led invasion of Iraq lay in the balance, pending a vote in Congress, Hillary rose in the Democratic-controlled Senate and voted to give the president the authority he sought to decide to attack.  But Clinton not only gave Bush and Cheney her vote, she embraced their argument, saying the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had ‘worked to rebuild his chemicial and biological weapons stocks…and his nuclear program.’ Alone among Democratic Senators, she accused Iraq’s leader of giving ‘aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members.’  That link, so shamelessly pushed by the Bush administration, was always doubted by most in so-called ‘intelligence’ – and most Democrats, not to mention war critics.  It was later publicly debunked as false.” See Laura Flanders, “Clinton: Class of ’68,” p. 19 in Flanders et al., The Contenders (New York: Seven Stories, 2008).


3. The WMD deception is only one of many lies that have sold the invasion.  See Paul Street, “Bedtime Stories for the Bewildered Herd: Iraq War Fairy Tales in the Age of Never Mind Media,” Z Magazine (January 2007): 33-37. 


4. As Tuft’s University political scientist Tony Smith noted in an important Washington Post commentary last spring, “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.” The leading faction in the formulation of Democratic Party foreign policy helped, Smith notes, provide “the intellectual substance of much of the Bush doctrine.” If the Democrats win the White House in 2008, Smith thinks “they could remain staked to a vision of a Pax Americana strikingly reminiscent of Bush’s” Tony Smith (2007). “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). On Democrats and the Bush Doctrine, see also Flanders, “Clinton: Class of ’68,” pp. 18-19. On the richly bipartisan nature of U.S. imperial foreign policy and doctrine, see also Jeff Faux, The Global Class War: How America’s Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future and What It Will Take to Win It Back (New York: Wiley, 2006), chapter five, titled “A Bipartisan Empire.” On the likelihood of future Democratic support for “increase[ed] use of military force” to protect global oil supplies abroad, see Michael Klare, “Beyond the Age of Petroleum,” The Nation (November 12, 2007). 


5. Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith, “The Stab in the Back Trap,” Common Dreams (April 26, 2007.


6. See Paul Street, “‘We’ve Done Our Part’: the Democratic Party Line on the U.S. Commitment to Peace and Democracy Within and Beyond Iraq,” The Empire and Inequality Report No. 14 (March 27, 2007), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12432.

Leave a comment