This War Can’t Be Stopped by a Loyal Opposition
By Jeremy Scahill
“It’s easy to be a vegetarian between meals.”
The refrain of the Democrats about being misled into supporting the invasion of Iraq has become really tired. And someone other than the White House smearmongers needs to say it: The Democrats cannot be allowed to use faulty intelligence as a crutch to hold up their unforgivable support for the Iraq invasion. What is DNC Chair Howard Dean’s excuse? He wasn’t in Congress and didn’t have any access to Senate intelligence. Still, on March 9, 2003, just days before the invasion began, Dean told Tim Russert, on NBC’s Meet The Press, “I don’t want Saddam staying in power with control over those weapons of mass destruction. I want him to be disarmed.”
During the New Hampshire primary in January 2004, which I covered for Democracy Now!, I confronted Dean about that statement. I asked him on what intelligence he based that allegation. “Talks with people who were knowledgeable,” Dean told me. “Including a series of folks that work in the Clinton administration.”
How does that jive with the official Democratic line that they were misled by the Bush administration? Sounds like Howard Dean, head of the Democratic Party, was misled by the Democrats. Dean’s candor offers us a rare glimpse into the painful truth of the matter. As unpopular as this is to say, when President Bush accuses the Democrats of “rewriting history” on Iraq, he is right.
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And no matter how hard some party leaders try to deny it, this is their war too and will remain so until every troop is withdrawn. There is no question that the Bush administration is one of the most corrupt, violent and brutal in the history of this country but that doesn’t erase the serious responsibility the Democrats bear for the bloodletting in Iraq. As disingenuous as the Administration’s claims that Iraq had WMDs, is the flimsy claim by Democratic lawmakers that they were somehow duped into voting for the war.
The fact is that Iraq posed no threat to the United States in 2003 any more than it did in 1998 when President Clinton bombed Baghdad. John Kerry and his colleagues knew that. The Democrats didn’t need false intelligence to push them into overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime. It was their policy; a policy made the law of the land not under George W. Bush, but under President Bill Clinton when he signed the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, formally initiating the process of regime change in Iraq.
Manipulated intelligence is but a small part of a bigger, bipartisan 15-year assault on Iraq’s people. If the Democrats really want to look at how America was led into this war, they need to go back further than the current president’s inauguration.
As bloody and deadly as the occupation has been, it was Bill Clinton who refined the art of killing innocent Iraqis following the Gulf War. One of his first acts as president was to bomb Iraq, following the alleged assassination plot against George H. W. Bush. Clinton’s missiles killed the famed Iraqi painter Leila al Attar as they smashed into her home.
Clinton presided enthusiastically over the most deadly and repressive regime of economic sanctions in history—his UN ambassador Madeline Albright calling the reported deaths of half a million children “worth the price.”
Clinton initiated the longest sustained bombing campaign since Vietnam with his illegal no-fly zone bombings, attacking Iraq once every three days for the final years of his presidency. It was under Clinton that Ahmed Chalabi was given tens of millions of dollars and made a key player in shaping Washington’s Iraq policy.
It was Clinton that mercilessly attacked Iraq in December of 1998, destroying dozens of Baghdad buildings and killing scores of civilians.
It was Clinton that codified regime change in Iraq as U.S. policy. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq but he could not have done it without the years of groundwork laid by Clinton and the Democrats. How ironic it was recently to hear Clinton call the war “a big mistake.”
It’s easy to resist war with a president like Bush in the White House. Where were these Democrats when it was Clinton’s bombs raining down on Iraq, when it was Clinton’s economic sanctions targeting the most vulnerable? Many of them were right behind him and his deadly policies the same way they were behind Bush when he asked their consent to use force against Iraq. As the veteran Iraq activist and Nobel Prize nominee, Kathy Kelly, said often during the Clinton years, “It’s easy to be a vegetarian between meals.” The fact is that one of the great crimes of our times was committed by the Clinton administration with the support of many of the politicians now attacking Bush.
Herein lies the real political crisis in this country: the Democrats are not an opposition party, nor are they an antiwar party—never were. At best, they are a loyal opposition. The Democrats ran a pro-war campaign in 2004 with Kerry struggling to convince people that Dems do occupation and war better. The current head of the DNC, Howard Dean, never met a war he didn’t adore until he realized he could exploit the energy and sincere hopes of millions of peace-loving Americans. Dean wasn’t ever antiwar. In fact, during the 2004 campaign he attacked Kerry for opposing the Gulf War while laying out his own pro-war record.
“In 1991, I supported Gulf War. I supported the first President Bush,” declared Dean. “Senator Kerry who criticizes my foreign policy, he voted against that war. I supported the Afghanistan war, because I felt it was about our national defense—3,000 of our people were killed. I supported President Clinton going into Bosnia and Kosovo.”
How can Howard Dean look people in the eye today and pretend to speak with any credibility as an antiwar voice?
When the hawkish Democrat Rep. John Murtha bravely stepped forward to call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq this week, he was quickly blasted by the White House and simultaneously disowned by powerful Democrats like John Kerry. Occupation lovers together again.
The bloody scandal of the Iraq occupation has opened a rare and clear window into the truth about this country: there is one party represented in Washington—one that supports preemptive war and regime change. The reality is that the Democrats could stop this war if the will was there. They could shut down the Senate every day, not just for a few hours one afternoon. They could disrupt business as usual and act as though the truth were true: this war should never have happened and it must end now. The country would be behind them if they did it. But they won’t. They will hem and haw and call for more troops and throw out epic lies about the U.S. becoming a stabilizing force in Iraq and blame the Republicans for their own complicity and enthusiasm in the 15 years of bipartisan crimes against Iraq. Why? Because they support war against Iraq.
All of this begs for a multiparty system in this country and the emergence of a true opposition. The epic scale of the disaster in Iraq calls for epic lessons to be learned at home. Like the Bush White House, the Democrats have lost their credibility. They are undeserving of the blank check of “Anybody But Bush” and should never be allowed to cash it again. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who heads up the House Democrats election campaign, criticized Murtha’s call for immediate withdrawal, saying, “At the right time, we will have a position.” It is statements like that that should result in Emanuel and his colleagues losing theirs.
Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalist who reports frequently for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now! has spent extensive time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—CounterPunch, November 19-20, 2005