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Why the Democrats aren't the antiwar alternative in 2004
The other war party

December 5, 2003 | Page 8

MOST ANTIWAR activists view the 2004 presidential election as an opportunity to improve U.S. foreign policy by voting out the warmonger-in-chief, George W. Bush. Even among radicals who usually have sharp criticisms of the Democratic Party, the idea that activists must back a Democrat against Bush in November is widespread.

On the face of it, the argument for "regime change" through the ballot box seems to make sense. After all, the opposition of close U.S. allies, international law and a huge worldwide antiwar movement didn't stop Bush from lying his way into a war on Iraq. And according to the Bush Doctrine, the conquest of Iraq and Afghanistan are the opening shots in an endless campaign for oil and empire--in which unilateralism, pre-emptive wars and tactical nuclear weapons are all fair game.

But for all their extremism, Bush's policies are, in crucial ways, a logical extension of U.S. foreign policy dating back before September 11--when the Democrats controlled the White House. AARON HESS explains why.

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ANTIWAR ACTIVISTS arguing to vote Bush out--and a Democrat in--stress that the war in Iraq and the Bush Doctrine represent a sharp departure from past U.S. foreign policy. For example, Michael Albert of ZNet argues, "However bad his replacement may turn out, replacing Bush will improve the subsequent mood of the world and its prospects of survival. Bush represents not the whole ruling class and political elite, but a pretty small sector of it. That sector, however, is trying to reorder events so that the world is run as a U.S. empire."

Writers like Albert aren't wrong to point out the extremism of the Bush Doctrine. But it is wrong to claim that empire-building is the project of only a small sector of the U.S. elite.

September 11 provided the pretext for the U.S. ruling class to push its imperialist agenda across the globe--as National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice pointed out, the hijackings provided an "enormous opportunity." The Bush gang has pushed this agenda in a more brazen fashion than the Democrats--for instance, by flouting traditional allies and using cowboy "with-us-or-against-us" rhetoric.

But there are no differences of principle between the Republican and Democratic Party when it comes to war and empire. Much of the political groundwork for invading and occupying Iraq was laid by the Clinton administration.

Pro-war hawks Robert Kagan and William Kristol make this point in a recent article in the right-wing Weekly Standard magazine--subtitled "The case for war in Iraq, with testimony from Bill Clinton." Kagan and Kristol cite a speech that Clinton gave at the Pentagon in 1998, which was meant to prepare the American public for a full-scale invasion. In it, Clinton declared that the U.S. was threatened by "an unholy axis‚ of international terrorists and outlaw states"--and singled out Saddam Hussein's regime. Sound familiar?

It was under Clinton's reign that "regime change" became official U.S. policy, with the passing of the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998. Although they didn't follow through on the threat, Clinton and the Democrats kept Iraq firmly in the crosshairs of U.S. imperialism--and spared ordinary Iraqis no suffering.

During the Clinton years, the U.S. regularly bombed Iraq and enforced deadly economic sanctions that took the lives of more than 1 million people. The Clinton administration also paved the way for a number of other policies now enshrined in the Bush Doctrine.

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BESIDES BOMBING and starving Iraqis, Clinton sent the U.S. military to fight wars across the globe. In Serbia, Somalia and Haiti, the Clinton administration cloaked its wars in the rhetoric of humanitarianism.

But these invasions had no more to do with liberation than Bush's rampage in Iraq. Rather, they were aimed at establishing the U.S. as the world cop after the Cold War.

As the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)--the administration's main statement of military policies--put it in 1997, the U.S. must shape "the international security environment in ways that promote and protect U.S. national interests." Further, the QDR asserted that "preventing the emergence of a hostile coalition or hegemon" was a key goal of U.S. foreign policy.

In other words, the U.S. must use every means--including its war machine--to advance its domination of the planet. Another Pentagon document during the Clinton years, Joint Vision 2020, promoted the idea that the U.S. must strive for "full spectrum dominance"--military superiority of land, sea, air and outer space.

The Clinton record shows why it is wrong to see empire-building as merely a policy of isolated sectors of the American elite. Historically, Democrats have been responsible for some of the worst crimes of U.S. imperialism.

Democratic President Harry Truman ordered the atomic obliteration of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as a demonstration of U.S. power at the end of the Second World War. And Lyndon Johnson, who many in the 1960s peace movement supported as a "lesser evil," dramatically escalated the war in Vietnam.

Democrats are just as committed to advancing U.S. military, economic and political power across the globe as the Republicans. The means may differ between them. But the ends have always been the same.

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WHAT INTERNATIONAL institutions to employ or ignore, what rhetoric to mouth, what timing and tactics to use--these issues will always be up for debate within the ruling class. But the content of these debates are restricted to our rulers' common agenda of advancing U.S. power.

This agenda flows from the nature of the capitalist system itself, which is based on the competitive race for profits between corporations and the national states that they're tied to.

The growing resistance in Iraq today has hampered Bush's plans. In turn, Democratic candidates in recent months have voiced disagreements over Bush's war and occupation. For instance, most candidates have urged a wider United Nations (UN) role in Iraq and a decrease of U.S. forces.

But these disagreements do not question the U.S. government's right to intervene anywhere in the world--the basis of Bush's "war on terrorism." In a key policy speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in July, Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean argued "that despite winning a military battle in Iraq, the U.S. may be losing a larger war." Every Democratic presidential candidate supports the U.S.'s "war on terrorism"--even as they argue over different strategies for fighting it.

The antiwar movement can't go forward by backing a party that supports the occupation of Iraq, whether by U.S. or UN forces. History shows that when our side backs a Democratic "peace candidate," it is a recipe for demoralization and confusion.

In 1964, many in the antiwar movement--including its main student organization, Students for a Democratic Society--backed Johnson's presidential run with the slogan "Half the way with LBJ." After winning the election, Johnson massively escalated the Vietnam War.

Rhetoric aside, the Democratic Party is a party of war. The only force that has ever reined in the war makers in Washington has been a mass movement from below. U.S. imperialism was humiliated in Vietnam by the combination of the Vietnamese resistance, protests on the streets at home and revolt within the U.S. armed forces.

Although the seeds of such a revolt today have yet to fully blossom, they are present--in the demonstrations around the world, the anger of American GIs and the growing resistance of ordinary Iraqis to Bush's colonial occupation. Our job in the antiwar movement today is to build that revolt.

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