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WHAT WE THINK
They share the same imperialist goals as the Republicans
Why the Democrats keep ducking

March 24, 2006 | Page 3

INCOMPETENT. IDIOT. LIAR. When people were asked in a Pew Research Center survey what single word described their impression of George Bush, these three showed up more often than almost any other.

The Pew Center poll, released last week, put Bush's approval rating at 33 percent, a new low point for his two terms in office.

Under a different political setup, like Britain or Canada's parliamentary system where lawmakers can force new elections with a "no confidence" vote, Bush might be getting ready to move out of the White House by now.

As it is, Bush has been significantly weakened since starting his second term a year ago with the arrogant declaration that he would spend his "political capital." The administration has faced one crisis after another, increasingly since the end of last summer--led by the deepening catastrophe of the Iraq occupation.

Now, Republicans in Congress admit they fear what was unthinkable a few months ago--that they could lose their majorities in both the House and Senate in next November's mid-term election. "What I've tried to tell people is that a political tsunami is gathering, and if we don't do something to stop it, we'll be in the minority a year from now," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.).

So is the Bush administration finished and the Republican juggernaut halted? You might expect so. But that doesn't take into account the absence of an actual political opposition in mainstream U.S. politics.

If the Bush administration continues to have a realistic hope of regaining support and retaking the political initiative, it's because of the total failure of the Democratic Party.

The latest case in point: The Democrats' bumfuzzled response when Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) introduced a resolution to censure Bush over the National Security Agency's secret wiretaps on U.S. citizens.

From the moment Feingold made his announcement, panicked Democrats were trampling each other, searching for political cover--and not just the Republican Lite darlings of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, like Joe Lieberman, but the liberal wing of party. "This is an understandable emotional response from people who are very angry," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). "But why do we want to energize George Bush's people?"

Naturally, the White House did fire back--because they knew they could count on the Democrats to abandon Feingold and make themselves easy targets.

Actually, opinion polls show increasing questioning of the administration's Big Brother policies. But the Democrats--nearly unanimously, from top to bottom--are certain that their best political strategy is to say nothing and do less, rather than give Republicans an opening to paint them as soft on "national security."

This instinct to retreat and compromise on every argument is why John Kerry was beaten in 2004. "Democrats are so obsessed with not looking 'weak' on defense that they end up making themselves look weak, period, by the way they respond to Republican attacks on their alleged weakness," wrote Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne.

On no issue is the Democrats' crisis more profound than Iraq, with the party unable to articulate any coherent position, much less join the majority of public opinion in opposing the war and calling for the U.S. to get out.

Some in the antiwar camp have endorsed the Democrats' duck-Iraq approach as smart politics. "[A] call for withdrawal would be treated in the conservative punditocracy as the equivalent of a call to 'cut and run,' wrote Nation columnist Eric Alterman, "and hence would open the entire 'weak on defense' Pandora's box that almost always dooms Democrats in national elections."

In other words, the Democrats should be for ending the war later by continuing to support it now--never mind the estimated 100,000-plus Iraqi deaths, more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers killed and new revelations of torture by U.S. troops.

But the Democrats' silence on the war is about more than cowardice and political calculation. It reflects the fact that the Democrats accept the Republicans' political framework--including using the September 11 attacks as an excuse to project U.S. imperialist power.

In fact, the Democrats' most prominent critic of the war, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, supports pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq not to abandon the Middle East, but to better secure Washington's control over the region.

"You redeploy to the periphery so that we, if we have to, can go back in," Murtha said March 19 on the NBC television Meet the Press. "Mr. President, let's go back to fighting the war on terrorism," Murtha continued. "Let's reduce our presence in Iraq, let's start to rebuild the Army, because the Army's broken as far as I'm concerned. And the military commanders know this."

Murtha is no peacenik. He's a Marine veteran and a leading recipient of campaign contributions from defense contractors. He's emerged as the mouthpiece for sections of the Pentagon brass who oppose the Iraq war because it undermines the U.S. ability to fight other wars in the future.

That's why it's completely wrong--and politically damaging--for the antiwar coalition United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) to include Murtha's proposed legislation on Iraq on a list of "antiwar" initiatives in Congress.

Murtha is part of a bigger operation by the Democratic establishment to salvage--not dismantle--U.S. imperial power in the wake of the Iraq disaster. Thus, leading Democrats kept quiet when the White House recently updated the National Security Strategy document spelling out the "Bush doctrine" of pre-emptive warfare and citing Iran as a prime threat.

The document does, however, include bows to multilateral alliances--prompting a told-you-so response from Ivo Daalder, a National Security Council official in the Clinton administration. "In some notable ways, the new strategy document represents a return to the foreign policy of Bill Clinton," wrote Daalder.

It's a shared imperialist political consensus--not just a reluctance to take risks--that keeps the Democrats from clearly opposing Bush on Iraq.

Looking to the election of Democrats as a means to advance the antiwar movement--an approach advocated by leading figures in UFPJ--only undermines the effort to create an independent movement that is clear on what growing numbers say they want: U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

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