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READING BETWEEN THE LINES
They're poised for victory in November, but...
Will a Democratic win help the antiwar struggle?

By Lance Selfa | September 1, 2006 | Page 11

TRADITIONALLY, LABOR Day is supposed to mark the start of national campaigns in election years. And this Labor Day finds the Democrats poised to win back a majority of seats in one or both houses of Congress.

Already, some of the major Washington pundits and congressional prognosticators are predicting a Democratic sweep.

Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution estimates that the Democrats will win as many as 25 to 35 Republican-held seats in the House, regaining the majority they lost in 1994 in the so-called Republican Revolution. Mann considers the prospect of a Democratic-controlled Senate to be a 50/50 toss-up.

Writing in the Washington Post in July, Mann pointed out: "If history is any guide, we're heading into a major political storm. And that means we could see a national tide in November that will sweep the Democrats back into the majority."

What else to read

For an analysis of current national politics, see "The Crisis of the GOP" in a recent issue of the International Socialist Review. Excellent articles can be found in the ISR's archives.

One of the best recent books on the Democrats is Joshua Frank's Left Out: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush. You can also download an ISO Web book by Lance Selfa, The Democratic Party and the Politics of Lesser Evilism, which is based on articles that appeared in the ISR, Socialist Worker and elsewhere.

 

A lot can happen between Labor Day and Election Day to change the terrain. But barring a sharp change of events, it makes sense to ask what a Democratic win will mean.

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EVERY ANALYST with an ounce of sense realizes that the main factor accounting for the revival of Democratic fortunes is the disaster in Iraq. "The war has colored the whole election cycle," Stu Rothenberg, editor of an insider political newsletter called the Rothenberg Report, told the Los Angeles Times. "Voters are unhappy with the performance of their political leaders, and they want change."

Bush thought his 2003 invasion would cement him and the Republicans in power for a generation. Instead, the war has become his biggest albatross, leading politicians across the Washington political spectrum to distance themselves from him.

When such cheerleaders for the Iraq adventure as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) start criticizing Bush's performance, you know that Washington types are already repositioning themselves for Plan B (or C or D) in Iraq.

The Democrats, who have done little to speak out in opposition to the war, now find themselves, by virtue of the Tweedledee-Tweedledum two-party system, representing the de facto alternative to Bush's "stay the course" madness in Iraq.

In last month's Connecticut Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, millionaire executive Ned Lamont successfully campaigned against the Democrats' main "stay the courser" Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Many interpreted Lamont's victory as a triumph of angry antiwar liberals against Bush's biggest enabler in the Democratic Party. But those hoping that a Senator Lamont will be a champion of antiwar politics in the Senate--assuming he beats Lieberman, the de facto Republican in the November election--will be disappointed.

For one thing, with the exception of his mantra that "staying the course isn't a plan," Lamont didn't offer much else to antiwar forces--despite their efforts on his behalf. For instance, Lamont made clear his down-the-line support for the Israeli war in Lebanon.

Secondly, now that Lamont is the official Democrat in the race, the party--such as it is--will move in with money, support and, no doubt, advice about "moving to the center." The fact that another of Bush's main Democratic enablers on Iraq--Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)--has publicly supported Lamont and lent him the services of Howard Wolfson, her main adviser, is another indication that Lamont's candidacy is hardly the "antiwar insurgency" the media made it out to be.

That's true even if the majority of Lamont voters supported him because of his criticisms of Lieberman's support for the Iraq war.

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THIS GAP between what the Democratic "base" wants and what the party hierarchy is prepared to give in exchange for its vote is increasingly hard to conceal.

The average Democratic voter has been opposed to the war for more than two years, if not longer. Even in the Democratic presidential primaries in 2004, which ended up picking the pro-war John Kerry and John Edwards as the party's standard bearers, it was clear that the majority of Democratic voters opposed the war.

Two years later, this has become a majority sentiment in the country at large, with more than 60 percent opposing the war. Among self-identified Democrats, the figure is more than 80 percent.

The same can't be said for Democratic candidates. "Most Democratic candidates in competitive congressional races are opposed to setting a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, rejecting pressure from liberal activists to demand a quick end to the three-year-old military conflict," Jim VandeHei and Zachary Goldfarb wrote in the Washington Post.

"Of the 59 Democrats in hotly contested House and Senate races, a majority agree with the Bush administration that it would be unwise to set a specific schedule for troop withdrawal, and only a few are calling for substantial troop reductions to begin this year, according to a Washington Post survey of the campaigns."

Keep in mind that the best a Democratic sweep would accomplish is a Democratic-controlled Congress. No doubt many antiwar activists are buoyed by the prospects of congressional investigations into the Bush administration's malfeasance. But outside of this, the Democrats can't really change the course of events in Iraq except by de-funding the Iraq adventure.

And don't expect that to happen. Michael Arcuri, the Democratic candidate for a New York House seat, told the Washington Post, "I don't think we could ever, at any point, cut funding" to pressure the administration to get out of Iraq.

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SO BESIDES criticizing Bush's "mishandling" of the war, what are the Democrats calling for?

Appearing on Chris Matthew's MSNBC Hardball program on August 23, Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean refused to be pinned down. "We need to withdraw carefully and thoughtfully," Dean said. "As you know, we're talking about redeploying our troops. We're talking about keeping a force in some country in the Middle East to deal with the terrorism problem that the president's problems have created."

Later, Dean said that he supported the "Korb-Katulis" plan for withdrawal from Iraq.

What is the Korb-Katulis plan? It is a plan for "strategic redeployment" developed by the Center for American Progress, a Democratic Party think tank. The "Korb" part of Korb-Katulis is Lawrence Korb, a former Reagan Defense Department official who readers of Socialist Worker might remember for having explained the 1991 Gulf War under George Bush Sr. by remarking, "If Kuwait grew carrots, we wouldn't give a damn."

The Korb-Katulis plan--a more worked out version of the "strategic redeployment" that Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) called for last year--gives some insight about just what the Democrats have in store should they get into a position to influence U.S. policy.

The plan's headline is a call to reduce U.S. troops in Iraq at a rate of 9,000 a month until all troops are out by 2007. But less well-known is its call for doubling the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan; stationing an Army division in Kuwait and an "over-the-horizon" carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf, and expanding special forces operations against "terrorists" in Africa and Asia. The plan also calls for a "Geneva peace conference" modeled on the 1995 conference that produced the Dayton Accords in former Yugoslavia.

In other words, the "liberal" Democratic plan for Iraq envisions an armed truce and partition of the country. It also calls for a "regional security framework," which, the authors say, "will be helpful not only in dealing with the aftermath of the U.S. redeployment from Iraq, but also with the growing nuclear capabilities of Iran."

Through the fog of diplomatese, this plank seems to want to give new life to a pro-U.S./anti-Iran alliance of the type the Bush administration hoped Israel's war in Lebanon would create.

Perhaps it's too obvious to state, but this plan and others like it finding their way out of Democratic Party policy shops have nothing in common with an antiwar position.

What's more, it should make clear that Democratic rhetoric about avoiding the "cut-and-run" label isn't just--or maybe even at all--about "refusing to be manipulated by Karl Rove," as one Democratic candidate for Congress told the Washington Post. On the contrary, the Democratic Party's foreign policy mandarins envision a years' long (if not decades' long) U.S. presence in the Middle East, stepped-up war in Afghanistan, a future showdown with Iran and intervention against "terror" around the world.

Antiwar activists who set their hopes on the Democrats winning back Congress in November should consider themselves warned.

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