WHAT WE THINK
WHEN IT comes to the U.S. war on Iraq, the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has very little disagreement with the Bush administration--except that they messed up. As he told Rolling Stone magazine last year, "When I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country...Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did."
The same goes for Bush's "war on terrorism." "I do not fault George Bush for doing too much in the war on terror," Kerry likes to say. "I believe he's done too little."
Despite all this, many people who oppose the war and occupation of Iraq will vote for Kerry because they believe that, even if he isn't an "antiwar" candidate, at least he's better than Bush. They hope that a Democrat--coming from a party with a supposed tradition of standing for peace--will be better, even if ever so slightly, than a Republican, from a party committed to war.
But this is to misunderstand something crucial about the U.S. political system. Especially during an election campaign, the focus is on the differences, however slight, between the Republicans and the Democrats. But this masks the much larger area of agreement between them. Both parties are ruling-class institutions committed to upholding the interests of Corporate America and U.S. imperial power.
The fact is that the Democratic Party has no fundamental difference with the Republicans on foreign policy. They may squabble about the how or the when or the with whom. But they agree on the what.
This is why Kerry is a champion of "muscular internationalism"--the Democrats' answer to the Bush Doctrine developed by the Republicans' neoconservative Project for a New American Century. "Muscular internationalism" is the creation of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), a think tank of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council which insists that "America is ill-served by an obsolete left-right debate that is out of step with the powerful forces reshaping our society and economy," according to its Web site.
In October 2003, the institute unveiled a 19-page manifesto called "Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy." In it, the PPI endorsed the invasion of Iraq, "because the previous policy of containment was failing," and because the government of Saddam Hussein was "undermining both collective security and international law."
"We are confident," the PPI manifesto concludes, "that a new Democratic strategy, grounded in the party's tradition of muscular internationalism, can keep Americans safer than the Republicans' go-it-alone policy, which has alienated our natural allies and overstretched our resources. We aim to rebuild the moral foundation of U.S. global leadership by harnessing America's awesome power to universal values of liberal democracy. A new progressive internationalism can point the way."
For models of "muscular internationalism," these Democrats look to previous presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman and John Kennedy. Wilson was the "peace candidate" that got the U.S. into the First World War. Truman dropped the atomic bomb on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as a demonstration of U.S. power at the end of the Second World War. And Kennedy brought the world as close as it has ever come to nuclear annihilation with the Cuban missile crisis.
So when today's Democratic hawks talk about "muscle," they're not just trying to score points on the campaign trail. They mean to show that they are every bit as committed to using U.S. imperialism's military might around the globe in the pursuit of "American interests."
So when Kerry talks about being "tough on terrorism" and making the U.S. military the strongest in the world, he isn't simply trying to win support from conservatives. The Democrats, as one wing of the Washington political establishment, have just as much at stake in the imperialist project as the Republicans.
They may offer a slightly different strategy to "save" the bungled occupation of Iraq, but they are just as committed to the occupation itself. In the interest of oil and empire, the Democrats will "act multilaterally if we can, unilaterally if we must," in the words of Clinton's former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Translation: the "party of peace" will be ruthless war makers if that's what's required. That's the real Democratic Party tradition--and it's why opponents of the U.S. war machine shouldn't throw their support to John Kerry in Election 2004.