Can the Democrats Spank Bush?

--from Solidarity’s Anti-War Working Group

With the recent leak of the National Intelligence Estimate, the Bush administration’s own intelligence agencies have confirmed what the anti-war movement has been saying since 2003—the US invasion and occupation of Iraq have not promoted peace and democracy either in Iraq or around the world. Even on its own terms, the US war has been a failure-- providing a fertile environment for the growth of terrorism around the world. (Mark Mazzetti, Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat, New York Times, September 24, 2006)

As US and allied forces find themselves in quicksand in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration talks only of expanding the war—supporting Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, encouraging the Israelis to bomb Syria, and arguing for pre-emptive military action against a mythical nuclear threat in Iran. Bush’s solution to terrorism consists only of torture and open-ended detentions of supposed terrorists at home and abroad.

American soldiers need to be removed from harm’s way now. Only the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the dismantling of US bases in the region, and the return of both political sovereignty and economic resources to the peoples of the region will create the possibility of lasting peace in the Middle East. This is also the only way to put a brake on the growth of terrorist forces that do not distinguish between the US government and the American people, and the only way to redirect billions of dollars to what working people need here at home, such as rebuilding the Gulf Coast and providing universal health care.

Are the Democrats an Alternative?

For many in the anti-war movement, the 2006 elections seem like an opportunity to inflict a defeat on the Bush administration. Many hailed the victory of Ned Lamont, the “peace Democrat,” over pro-war Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary. Others are encouraged by what appears to be growing Democratic opposition to the war, manifested in support for Representative Murtha’s (D-PA) call for the redeployment of US troops.

The problem is that the Democrats—including the “peace Democrats” like Lamont—have only tactical differences with the Republicans.

Most Democrats running for Congress in 2006—whether incumbents or challengers—support the continued US occupation of Iraq. Most take the same stand as Hillary Clinton (D-NY) or Maria Cantwell (D-WA): hey acknowledge that Bush’s justifications for the war were lies. They say that if they had known then what they know now they would have voted against the war. But they believe the US must stay the course. Either redeployment or phased withdrawal would, according to most Democrats, encourage the “enemies of freedom.”

Neither redeployment nor phased withdrawal will get US forces out of Iraq. Murtha’s plan calls for the troops to pull out of Baghdad and other hot spots and reposition themselves in safer regions of Iraq and in Kuwait. The US would continue to train and supply Iraqi troops, while launching an intensified bombing campaign against the cities. US forces would be over the horizon, ready to redeploy at a moment’s notice.

Phased withdrawal of US forces—again to Kuwait and US bases near Iraq—has more support among the Democrats. The “Korb-Katulis” plan (Korb is a former Reagan Defense Department official), developed by the Center for American Progress, a Democratic policy group, calls for a gradual reduction in US forces over 18 to 24 months. The troops withdrawn from Iraq would be redeployed to Afghanistan—doubling US troop presence there—and to the US carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf.

Neither the Murtha nor Korb-Katulis plan will end the war. Both involve a de facto escalation—increased bombing in Iraq, more US troops in Afghanistan, and no guarantees that the US military presence in Iraq will not increase “if needed.”

The Democrats are also united in their support of Israeli’s occupation of Palestine and invasion of Lebanon. Very few politicians of either party criticized the assault on Lebanon (the US supplied the cluster bombs), or questioned US aid to Israel. When the Palestinians elected a government the US and Israel do not approve of, the overwhelming majority of both parties voted for legislation to starve the West Bank and Gaza by cutting off economic assistance and financial access.

Neither are the Democrats protectors of human and democratic rights in the “war on terrorism.” Although they are a minority in both houses of Congress, the Democrats could have blocked passage of what could be called the “Indefinite Detention and Torture Enabling Act” of 2006. They did not. In fact, a substantial number of Democrats voted for it.

Why do most Democrats support US policies in the Middle East? The same corporations and wealthy individuals finance both the Democrats and the Republicans, and both parties are committed to US corporate interests—especially oil--in the Middle East and the rest of the world. They may differ in tactics—whether or not to redeploy from Iraq—but their strategy is the same. When one party is discredited, as the Republicans are now, the corporations have a second party to promote their interests. We can see this process at work now, as wealthy individuals and corporations are shifting their campaign donations from vulnerable Republicans to their Democratic challengers. (Zachary A. Goldfarb, “GOP’s Financial Edge Shrinks: Challengers Gain on Incumbents, Washington Post, August 20, 2006, A 01)

The Lesser Evil

Many anti-war activists acknowledge that the Democrats do not support bringing all US troops home from the Middle East now. They believe, however, that we will come closer to our goals if we elect the “lesser evil.” In order not to alienate or embarrass Democrats, many in the anti-war movement—both in 2004 and 2006—have downplayed our demand for immediate withdrawal of US forces and have been hesitant to call mass demonstrations. This makes our movement weaker--without massive pressure we cannot force the government to end the occupation.

In the name of “political realism,” many anti-war activists end up supporting pro-war Democrats in order to defeat Republicans whose politics are not much worse. In Washington, the anti-war Democrat Hong Tran and her supporters are toning down their criticism of pro-war Maria Cantwell even before the primary election and have pledged to support Cantwell in the general election. (William Yardley, Critics of War Spare Senator in Close Race, New York Times, September 19, 2006, A 01)

We need to build our movement around anti-war politics—not the politics of the Democratic Party. We need to continue to educate, organize, and agitate for the immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. While there are no national demonstrations planned for this fall, anti-war activists have the opportunity to build a diverse movement—organizing local demonstrations and teach-ins with anti-war forces in the labor movement, with counter-recruitment activists on campuses and in communities, and with military families, veterans, and active-duty military personnel.

Solidarity members are joining other anti-war activists in supporting independent anti-war candidates. The Green Party is the only party financially and politically independent of the corporations and running candidates committed to bringing the troops home from Iraq now, ending US aid to Israel, and ending the attacks on working people, immigrants, and people of color at home. The 2006 Senate campaigns of Aaron Dixon, a former Black Panther, in Washington, Todd Chretien in California, Rae Vogeler in Wisconsin, Michael Berg in Delaware, Howie Hawkins in New York, and Aimee Allison in Oakland, California are an opportunity to agitate against the war in the upcoming elections.