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Hawk-Tied Democrats

Originally from

Hawk-Tied Democrats
Robert Dreyfuss
April 11, 2006

Robert Dreyfuss is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books, 2005). Dreyfuss is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who specializes in politics and national security issues. He is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone.He can be reached through his website:

As the Russian foreign minister correctly reminds us, there is a lot about the manufactured crisis over Iran that is deja vu : the axis of evil again, attempts to tie Iran to Al Qaeda, accusations about WMD, U.S. government efforts to play footsie with Iranian exiles, and bluster about demanding action by the United Nations or else. One other thing looks familiar, too: just as the Democrats meekly got in line to support the invasion of Iraq, many (perhaps most) elected Democrats are demanding a confrontation with Iran, too. Some, such as Hillary Clinton, are even trying to out-Bush the president in demanding a showdown with Iran.

To anyone who has read the latest policy missive from the Democratic Party describing its approach to national security, the Democrats' stance is not suprising.

At least one leading Democratic foreign policy strategist is upset with the party's refusal to contradict the president. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Carter administration uber-hawk who become an Iraq dove, provided the bluntest commentary on why the Democrats shy away from confronting the Bush administration's war-based foreign policy. Brzezinski, appearing on the April 5 "Diane Rehm Show" on NPR, noted the traditional sad critique that Democrats fear being seen as weak or vacillating on issues related to national security. But then he put the real blame squarely where it belongs: on Bill and Hillary Clinton. The former president, he said, wants his wife to be president, and together they have determined that this goal can best be reached by Hillary disguising herself as the reincarnation of Maggie Thatcher. And since Hillary the Iron Lady II is the frontrunner for the 2008 nomination, she sets the tone for the rest of the party, said the former national security adviser.

Unfortunately, Brzezinski is on the mark. Despite the fact that former Vice President Al Gore is speaking out consistently against the war in Iraq, despite the fact that Representative John Murtha has called for an American withdrawal, despite the fact that even John Kerry is now demanding a deadline for a U.S. pullout, the Democratic establishment has avoided a forthright challenge to Bush. That was obvious when, following the State of the Union speech, the Democrats chose Virginia Governor Tim Kaine to give a befuddled, Mr. Nice Guy response, whose refrain was that the Democrats have "a better way."

In the last week of March, with great hullabaloo, the Democrats presented a 123-page document called "Real Security: Protecting America and Restoring Our Leadership in the World ." The party leaders designed the document as an answer to President Bush's wreckage-strewn disaster of a U.S. national security and foreign policy. Instead, the Democrats could only manage a mealy-mouthed mishmash of half-measures, tepid critiques and bravado disguised as toughness. Much of it is said to have been "produced by the House and Senate Democrats." But in fact the main architects of the document appear to have been a host of warmed-over Clintonians and the Hillary-linked Center for American Progress, a centrist thinktank. No surprise, then, that the self-same Center for American Progress, in its March 31 "Progress Report," attacked the media, including The New York Times , CNN, and others, for ignoring the "Real Security" document. In fact, if it was newsworthy at all, it was because it only confirmed that the Democrats are so weighed down by the likes of Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, Jane Harman and Rahm Emanuel that they are utterly incapable of anything like bold new thinking on national security.

Rather than call for an end to the war in Iraq by setting a timetable, starting a drawdown of forces, and allowing the Arab League and the United Nations to play the lead role in stabilizing Iraq, the Democrats call for what can only be called "Bush Lite." Like Bush, they insist that the key to stabilizing Iraq is the endless quest to recruit, train, and equip Iraqi security forces. In the paper, they present no strategy for getting out of Iraq, instead calling on President Bush to come up with "a plan." That said, the Democrats' document goes on and on with things like "better pay for the troops," "more funding for body armor and other equipment," "reimbursing soldiers and families for body armor" and "more funding for up-armored Humvees." Is the biggest problem facing America in Iraq the fact that our troops need more body armor and tougher Humvees? As the Iraqi forces take over, the United States can begin what the Democrats call a "responsible redeployment" of U.S. forces, whatever that means. They certainly do not call for ending the war, and they don't even go as far the Center for American Progress' own, workable plan to get U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of 2007.

Rather than call for an end to the so-called Long War, the war-without-end ?global war on terrorism,? the Democrats call for an escalation, including doubling the size of the U.S. Special Forces and instituting self-defeating sanctions-type measures such as a plan to ?[bar] foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies from doing business with countries considered sponsors of terrorism.? And how do they suggest we deal with the Al Qaeda, the perpetrators of 9/11? They will ?eliminate bin Laden, destroy terrorist networks like Al Qaeda, finish the job in Afghanistan, and end the threat posed by the Taliban.? The document is mum on how this will be accomplished.

Rather than call for downsizing the bloated U.S. military, which under President Bush has enjoyed a breathtaking expansion that rivals Ronald Reagan's early 1980s buildup, the Democrats call for even more military spending, hiring more spies, increasing the deployable army by 30,000 troops, expanding the National Guard, and rebuilding "a state-of-the-art military by making the needed investments in equipment and manpower." They say: "The president's budget fails to include $21 billion in requested military needs ... the largest amount denied since 9/11." So, giving the Pentagon the billions it wants is "a better way"?

Rather than trying to ease the national hysteria over homeland security, the Democrats want to escalate that, too, with vast new spending to make every possible terrorist target safe from attack. They want to spend billions more on intelligence, $8 billion more make ports, airports, mass transportation and other facilities super-secure, $5 billion more to boost police and fire resources, and so on. Nowhere in the document do they suggest dismantling the Homeland Security Department, repealing the USA Patriot Act, barring the U.S. military from involvement in law enforcement and domestic spying, dismantling the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado, and other measures to ensure that America's domestic response to terrorism is appropriate to the scale of the threat.

To their credit, the Democrats do criticize Bush for manipulating the intelligence used as a pretext for the war in Iraq, for invading Iraq without any plan for what would follow, for launching wars that created more terrorists than they killed, for unleashing a foreign policy that isolated the United States and alienated us from our traditional allies, and so on. But by paying exceeding deference to the party's hawks, and being overly careful not to give Republicans a chance to portray Democrats as peaceniks (heaven forbid!), the Democratic establishment has once again plopped itself down far behind the advanced ranks of its supporters. Poll after poll shows that American voters are disgusted with Bush?s foreign policy and that they are no longer buying his snake oil. One recent poll "by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee no less" revealed that on issues of national security Americans favor Democrats over Republicans by 41 to 39 per cent, more than erasing the double-digit gaps that have long plagued Democrats on this issue. That, alone, ought to be evidence enough that the Dems can be far bolder than what turns up in the "Real Security" document. Sadly, because it lacks the bold thinking to distinguish them from the Bush worldview, the Democrats' latest paper, like the administration's own "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" (November 2005) will soon be forgotten.


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