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Why are the Democrats giving cover to Bush?

August 17, 2007 | Page 2

GEORGE W. Bush's strategy in Iraq is to keep the U.S. occupation going indefinitely--these days, we're told, to prevent Iraq from becoming a base for al-Qaeda in the "war on terror."

So it's little wonder that so many people have looked to the field of Democratic presidential candidates to provide a plan to bring the troops home. But these Democrats are promoting plans that would keep the U.S. military on the ground in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

"Even as they call for an end to the war and pledge to bring the troops home, the Democratic presidential candidates are setting out positions that could leave the United States engaged in Iraq for years," the New York Times observed.

Take, for example, John Edwards, who claims to be one of the most antiwar of the Democratic contenders. "We've got to be prepared to control a civil war if it starts to spill outside the borders of Iraq," Edwards declared in a recent candidates' debate.

Then there's Barack Obama, who argues that it's necessary to "leave a military presence of as-yet unspecified size in Iraq to provide security for American personnel, fight terrorism and train Iraqis," as the Times put it.

In other words, the major Democratic presidential contenders are struggling to redefine "withdrawal" to mean downsizing--but not ending--the occupation.

In fact, during the seven months they've held Congress, the Democrats not only failed to stand up to the Bush administration on Iraq, but they voted to give Bush even more war funding for the war than he requested.

At the very moment that the Democrats could drive a nail into the coffin of the Bush regime by appealing to the antiwar majority, the party's presidential candidates are instead extending a helping hand to Bush by buttressing his central claims about the war.

Thus, Hillary Clinton argued in the recent debate that if there's any "possibility that al-Qaeda would stay in Iraq, I think we need to stay focused on trying to keep them on the run, as we currently are doing in Al Anbar province." George W. Bush couldn't have said it better.

The party's leadership is now attempting the ultimate high-wire act on Iraq--playing to antiwar sentiment among its base, while lowering expectations and keeping all options on the table in the event that a Democrat lands in the White House.

In early August, Obama said that he ruled out the use of nuclear weapons against "terrorist targets" in Pakistan and Afghanistan--hardly a controversial point of view.

Immediately, however, candidate Clinton went on the offensive, calling Obama "unpresidential" and irresponsible for foreswearing the use of nuclear weapons. "I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or nonuse of nuclear weapons," said Clinton.

For his part, Obama threatened to pursue Osama bin Laden into Pakistan, with or without the permission of Pakistan's government. "Let me make this clear: There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans," warned Obama. "They are plotting to strike again...If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."

Democrats--especially those in Congress--are paying the price for promising to end the war while allowing its escalation. According to a Gallup poll, just 14 percent of Americans express confidence in Congress--the lowest number since the organization began tracking government institutions 34 years ago.

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WHAT'S BEHIND the Democrats' failure to stand up to Bush? The fundamental issue is the Democrats' historic role as a party of U.S. imperialism--one just as committed as the Republicans to maintaining Washington's world dominance.

It's true that Democrats have occasionally swung to the left to capture antiwar sentiment--as, for example, in the 1972 presidential campaign of George McGovern, which tapped into the movement against the Vietnam War.

But it was Democratic President Lyndon Johnson who dramatically escalated that war. More recently, Bill Clinton presided over the expansion of NATO and a series of "humanitarian" military interventions, including the invasion of Haiti and the war over Kosovo in the Balkans.

Today, Democrats are as committed to the project of dominating the Middle East and the world's oil supply as the Republicans--and they are promoting policies with these priorities, even as they mouth antiwar rhetoric to appeal for votes.

As the 2008 campaign wears on and the Iraq occupation lurches into new crises, the Democrats may again tack left. But it's clear that any real shift in U.S. politics around the war will come from pressure of grassroots antiwar activists.

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