"I will be voting to give the president of the United States the authority
to use force if necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that
a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave
threat to our security."
- Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Oct. 9, 2002
Although it was indeed sad, it was not surprising
that Dennis Kucinich, the feisty liberal representative from Ohio who ran
or hobbled for the Democratic presidential nomination, would roll over and
play dead for Senator John Kerry just days before the 2004 Democratic Convention
in Boston. "Unity is essential to bring change in November," announced Kucinich
on July 22, 2004. "Unity is essential to repair America. Unity is essential
to set America on a new path."
Kucinich's emphasis on the importance of "unity," it wasn't exactly clear what
his "new path" mantra was all about. After all, Kucinich delegates failed (though
they never really had a chance) to make "immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq"
a central plank in Kerry's narrow platform just one week earlier. Kerry, of
course, promised to put more troops in Iraq and call on NATO to intervene in
the occupation and essentially be a more kick-ass administrator of Bush's
egregious foreign policy than the neocons had been.
The second Democratic presidential candidate to abandon his antiwar base, Kucinich
allowed his candidacy to be absorbed back into the dank establishment sponge.
Just months earlier, Howard Dean embarrassingly touted the novel Democratic
line of "unity at all costs," snarling in late March 2004, "In the end, it is
Generation Dean voting for John Kerry for president of the United States that
is going to send George Bush back to Texas, where he belongs."
Like Dean, Kucinich urged his former supporters not to succumb to Ralph Nader's
tempting antiwar allure even though John Kerry did not oppose the war in Iraq
or the ongoing occupation. "I intend [to] reach out on behalf of the Kerry-Edwards
ticket to unite our party with all those who may have felt left out," he contended.
"I will let them know that the time has come to unite in a common effort for
change, which is essential, not only for America but for the world."
Meanwhile, many Kucinich delegates at the convention felt dejected. Initially,
the man for whom they had devoted much time and energy intimated that he would
"release" them, paving the way for their robotic votes for Kerry.
Later, after hearing impassioned (and tearful) testimonies from his delegates,
Kucinich changed his mind and told them to "vote their conscience." Fair enough.
But most ended up voting for Kerry regardless. And what did they receive in
return for their candidate and most of their delegates' support for Kerry? Not
Despite the generally symbolic role of the platform in modern politics (Bush
in 2000 infamously bragged that he had never read the GOP platform), 17 Kucinich
platform demands were axed in exchange for a borderline illogical statement
with no indication of an exit strategy or an impending pullout from Iraq. It
pledged to remove troops "when appropriate so that the military support needed
by a sovereign Iraqi government will no longer be seen as the direct continuation
of an American military presence."
Absent from the platform was support for Palestinian rights, homosexual civil
unions and marriage, as well as repudiation of the preemptive-war doctrine in
principle and as executed in Iraq.
"I ask you, are millions of antiwar/anti-occupation Americans welcome in the
Democratic Party? If such voters are indeed welcome, I urge you to demonstrate
this by permitting debate within the party on the war and occupation issue,
both in Miami and in Boston," wrote Jesse Jackson, prior to campaigning for
John Kerry, who said nary a word about the exponential proliferation of the
racist prison-industrial complex, increasing poverty, or black male unemployment,
now over 50 percent in New York City alone.
The Democratic National Convention itself was a difficult affair for many who
attended. As polls indicated, 80-90 percent of the attending delegates declared
themselves antiwar. Those trying to express such a view quickly received the
Charles Underwood, the only Minnesota Kucinich delegate to vote for Kucinich,
told Amy Goodman's radio program Democracy Now!:
"I am just very disappointed that there is no ability to express any hope
for peace on the floor of this convention. We have had our signs confiscated,
we've had our scarves for peace, you know, 'Delegate For Peace,' confiscated.
We have had people that tell us to sit down and be quiet."
Meanwhile, the antiwar delegates were not lucky enough to hear any speeches
at the DNC that reflected their point of view and were instead presented with
two gung-ho militaristic orations.
Vice presidential candidate John Edwards told the antiwar delegates:
"We will always use our military might to keep the American people safe.
And we, John and I, will have one clear unmistakable message for al-Qaeda and
these terrorists. You cannot run. You cannot hide. And we will destroy you."
Move Over, MoveOn
MoveOn, the liberal online advocacy group that
backed both Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich, had also been asking its members,
who overwhelming opposed the Iraq war, to donate cash and time to the pro-war
Following the release of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, the organization
sent an e-mail plea to its constituents.
"This is the moment for us to send Kerry a powerful message, one he'll want
to hear. The more we show Kerry that real people with strong, progressive values
are key to his success, the more strongly he'll fight for our values as president
it's an especially good time to reinforce that we value this kind of leadership
from John Kerry. Help send this message now by giving to his campaign through
the link below."
MoveOn was at least attempting to put pressure on John Kerry, you say? Unfortunately,
an organization can't donate money to a campaign without articulating certain
demands, and MoveOn's demands were far too meager.
When I e-mailed MoveOn staffer Noah Winer regarding the role he wanted his
organization to play if Kerry prevailed in the election, he responded,
"It's a big question, and I don't think anyone can answer it unless it becomes
a reality. It will take time and member input to find that new role. MoveOn
will certainly continue to work on the issues our members care about, no matter
who is elected."
So I e-mailed Noah back and asked him whether MoveOn would be as hard on a
Kerry administration as it has been on Bush, for Kerry would certainly continue
the illegal Iraq occupation. Winer failed to reply.
Lacking any visible remorse just like Dean and Kucinich, MoveOn alienated its
huge antiwar base, continuing to operate under the illusion that progressively
garnered PAC funds could influence Kerry or any of the other New Democratic
elite. Waging this futile effort, MoveOn should've known better.
History was not on their side. Prior to the Iraq war, for instance, MoveOn,
hoping to stop Bush's imminent assault, organized meetings between its members
and U.S. senators. Few senators attended the gatherings, leaving their underlings
and MoveOn spokespeople to debate this heated subject. Predictably, few listened,
and most ignored the activists' distress.
Despite what the spin doctors say, Democrats are largely to blame not only
for discounting the peace movement but also for laying the groundwork Republican
hawks needed to justify attacking Saddam's regime and waging Bush's greater
"War on Terror."
As Democratic Leadership Council kingpins and
proponents of Bush's war Al From and Bruce Reed wrote in the July 2004 issue
of Blueprint magazine,
"In the 1990s, Bill Clinton showed Americans once and for all that Democrats
could make the economy grow again, make government work again, and make America
safe again. As a tough-minded internationalist and decorated war hero, Kerry
has a chance to make his own mark, and complete the transformation of the Democratic
Party as the one Americans can trust to make the nation stronger both at home
What From and Reed failed to acknowledge was that bin Laden, on Clinton's dutiful
watch, allegedly masterminded the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center (WTC)
in New York City as well as the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania
in 1998. The CIA claimed the strikes on these buildings were carried out by
the same ring of thugs that hit the USS Cole in October 2000, killing
17, and masterminded the horrific terror attacks in September 2001, which intelligence
officials concur were being planned well before Al Gore's 2000 defeat.
In 1993, Clinton himself bombed Iraqi intelligence centers for what he said
was retaliation for the attempted assassination of George Bush Sr. "He said
publicly that the U.S. strike on Iraqi intelligence headquarters was retaliation
for Saddam's attempt to kill [ex-president] George Bush," Laurie Mylroie, who
worked as Clinton's Iraq specialist during his 1992 campaign, told WABC Radio's
Steve Malzberg. "[But] he also meant it for the Trade Center bombing."
"Clinton believed that the attack on Iraqi intelligence headquarters would
deter Saddam from all future strikes against the United States," she claimed.
"It was hopelessly naοve."
It was also off the mark, for it wasn't Saddam that allegedly struck U.S. targets,
Then in 1996, Clinton bombed Iraq yet again. Eat the State! explained
"Kurdistan, home of ethnic Kurds, was divided by colonial powers early this
century into land now belonging to Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and a handful
of former Soviet republics. Power in the portion of Kurdistan within Iraq's
borders is divided primarily among two factions, hostile to each other and both
hostile to Saddam Hussein. One faction got lots of arms from Iran recently and
started to attack and overrun the other. Fearing for their lives, the other
side asked their enemy, Hussein, to intervene and restore the original balance.
Responding to a request from Iraqi citizens, who were under attack from a foreign-supplied
army, Hussein moved some of his troops into the area, re-secured it, and withdrew."
Orchestrated by the Clinton administration in early September 1996, the bombings
walloped several civilian targets and military facilities without the approval
of the UN or any international alliance, for that matter. The Iraqi government
reported dozens of deaths and millions of dollars worth of damages. Sound familiar?
Of course, this wasn't a first for Bill Clinton, who had already been sadistically
cruel to the children of Iraq. As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
reported a year earlier in 1995, as many as 576,000 Iraqi youth died as a result
of United Nations sanctions that the U.S. had imposed and supported since 1991.
This conservative tally did not include the over 90,000 annual hospital deaths
that the World Health Organization estimated would have not happened had Clinton
not compelled the UN to enforce harsh sanctions against the Iraqi people. Sadly,
it seems the litmus test for U.S. presidential aspirants must include the will
to brutalize Iraqi citizens.
In 1998, Clinton retaliated for an East African U.S. embassy bombing by firing
70 cruise missiles at a suspected bin Laden terrorist training camp in Afghanistan
and heaving 17 missiles at a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan. But as author
and activist Howard Zinn explained in Z Magazine following the episode:
"[Clinton] claimed that the Sudanese target was a plant producing nerve gas,
but could not produce convincing evidence for this.
Almost immediately, it
became clear that the plant, contrary to the American claim, had been producing
half the medicines used in Uganda." Needless to say, countless people died.
Later that year when Clinton signed into law the Iraq Liberation Act drafted
by the same hawkish neocons, including Republican staffer Randy Scheunemann,
Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA director R. James Woolsey, and Ahmed Chalabi, who
helped thrust forth Bush's own Iraq policy into law later that year the U.S.
outlined its ultimate objective for its involvement in Iraq. That is, extinguishing
the life of Saddam Hussein and his government.
It was as if D.C. already had the champagne on ice; regime change was so close,
Congress could almost taste the after-party. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly
supported the legislation, and the Senate voted unanimously in favor of the
When Clinton signed the legislation in mid-October 1998, Republican Senator
Trent Lott sang his praises:
administration regularly calls for bipartisanship in foreign policy. I support
them when I can. Today, we see a clear example of a policy that has the broadest
possible bipartisan support. I know the administration understands the depth
of our feeling on this issue. I think they are beginning to understand the strategic
argument in favor of moving beyond containment to a policy of 'rollback.'
Containment is not sustainable. Pressure to lift sanctions on Iraq is increasing
despite Iraq's seven years of refusal to comply with the terms of the Gulf
War cease-fire. Our interests in the Middle East cannot be protected with Saddam
Hussein in power. Our legislation provides a roadmap to achieve our objective."
In what many criticized as an effort to deflect attention from his impeachment
trial, Clinton tried his luck with Saddam one more time two months later on
Dec. 16, 1998. But unlike previous Iraqi bloodbaths, which paled in comparison,
this attack was waged with primitive anger. As President Clinton asserted in
a national televised address on the day of the first U.S. offensive,
"Earlier today, I ordered America's armed forces to strike military and
security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is
to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and its
military capacity to threaten its neighbors.
Their purpose is to protect the
national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout
the Middle East and around the world."
"Six weeks ago," he continued, "Saddam Hussein announced that he would no longer
cooperate with the United Nations weapons inspectors called UNSCOM. They are
highly professional experts from dozens of countries. Their job is to oversee
the elimination of Iraq's capability to retain, create, and use weapons of mass
destruction, and to verify that Iraq does not attempt to rebuild that capability.
The international community had little doubt then, and I have no doubt today,
that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again."
But as M.I.T. linguistics professor Noam Chomsky responded,
"I think the major reasons [for the use of force] are the usual ones. The
U.S. and its increasingly pathetic British lieutenant want the world to understand
and in particular want the people of the Middle East region to understand
that 'What We Say Goes,' as Bush [Sr.] defined his New World Order while the
missiles were raining on Baghdad in February 1991. The message, clear and simple,
is that we are violent and lawless states, and if you don't like it, get out
of our way. It's a message of no small significance. Simply have a look at the
projections of geologists concerning the expanding role of Middle East oil in
global energy production in the coming decades.
The manner and timing of the
attack were also surely intended to be a gesture of supreme contempt for the
United Nations, and a declaration of the irrelevance of international law or
other obligations; that too has been understood. The bombing was initiated as
the Security Council met in emergency session to deal with the crisis in Iraq,
and even its permanent members were not notified."
Surely Iraq had been brutalized for decades under the thumb of Saddam Hussein.
But Clinton only escalated the cruelty. Writing for the Guardian Unlimited
in 2000, journalist John Pilger lamented:
"Six other children died not far away on Jan. 25 last year. An American
missile hit Al Jumohria, a street in a poor residential area. Sixty-three people
were injured, a number of them badly burned. 'Collateral damage,' said the Department
of Defense in Washington. Britain and the United States are still bombing Iraq
almost every day: It is the longest Anglo-American bombing campaign since the
second world war, yet, with honorable exceptions, very little appears about
it in the British media. Conducted under the cover of 'no-fly zones,' which
have no basis in international law, the aircraft, according to Tony Blair, are
'performing vital humanitarian tasks.' The ministry of defense in London has
a line about 'taking robust action to protect pilots' from Iraqi attacks yet
an internal UN Security Sector report says that in one five-month period, 41
percent of the victims were civilians in civilian targets: villages, fishing
jetties, farmland, and vast, treeless valleys where sheep graze. A shepherd,
his father, his four children, and his sheep were killed by a British or American
aircraft, which made two passes at them. I stood in the cemetery where the children
are buried and their mother shouted, 'I want to speak to the pilot who did this.'
"This is a war against the children of Iraq on two fronts: bombing, which
in the last year cost the British taxpayer £60 million. And the most ruthless
embargo in modern history. According to UNICEF, the United Nations Children's
Fund, the death rate of children under five is more than 4,000 a month that
is 4,000 more than would have died before sanctions. That is half a million
children dead in eight years."
This disaster in fact laid the groundwork for George W. Bush's Iraq invasion.
It also took John Kerry down a tough road during the 2004 campaign, as the Democrats
had actually done Bush's job for him in the Saddam country. How could Kerry
oppose what had already been done by his own party regarding Iraq? The Democrats
had been just as much to blame for the mess in Iraq as the Republicans.
Following the decision by Bush and the Democrat-controlled Senate to take out
the Taliban in Afghanistan by attempting to nab suspected 9/11 mastermind Osama
bin Laden, Howard Zinn again reflected:
"We can all feel a terrible anger at whomever, in their insane idea that
this would help their cause, killed thousands of innocent people. But what do
we do with that anger? Do we react with panic, strike out violently and blindly
just to show how tough we are? 'We shall make no distinction,' the president
proclaimed, 'between terrorists and countries that harbor terrorists.' Will
we now bomb Afghanistan, and inevitably kill innocent people, because it is
in the nature of bombing to be indiscriminate, to 'make no distinction?' Will
we then be committing terrorism in order to 'send a message' to terrorists?
We have done that before. It is the old way of thinking, the old way of acting.
It has never worked. Reagan bombed Libya, and Bush [Sr.] made war on Iraq, and
Clinton bombed Afghanistan and also a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, to
'send a message' to terrorists. And then comes this horror in New York and Washington.
Isn't it clear by now that sending a message to terrorists through violence
doesn't work, [that it] only leads to more terrorism?"
In retrospect, it is evident that Clinton and his Democratic cohorts did more
than their fair share of laying the groundwork for Bush's war against and occupation
of Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only did Clinton construct the political leverage
Bush needed by signing the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, but he also provided a
model for Bush's relentless bombing of Iraq as he led several significant strikes
on Afghanistan and the Sudan.
So when Bush began talking about regime change in Iraq, those who looked to
the Democrats to halt the offensive were seeking out the wrong allies.
Bush's Iraq Attack
On Oct. 10, 2002, the House of Representatives
voted 296-133 in favor of giving Bush the green light to punish Saddam. Standing
shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush on the White House lawn, Dick Gephardt,
who helped draft the measure, explained,
"I believe we have an obligation to protect the United States by preventing
[Saddam] from getting these weapons and either using them himself or passing
them or their components on to terrorists who share his destructive intent."
Meanwhile, Bush was amassing support for his war in the Senate. Helping Bush's
cause was Tom Daschle, the Democrat Majority Leader at the time, who surmised
that Saddam's threat "may not be imminent. But it is real. It is growing. And
it cannot be ignored." Hitching a ride on the war-wagon, New York Senator Hillary
"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show
that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons
his missile-delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also
given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaeda members.
It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to
increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep
trying to develop nuclear weapons."
Buying Bush's war propaganda hook-line-and-sinker, the Democrats were all too
eager to support the Iraq war. They believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction
and joined with Republicans in using it as a pretext to support aggression.
They were convinced he was a threat to U.S. sovereignty. They even thought Saddam
had ties to Osama bin Laden. The donkeys were bewildered.
As far back as 1998, President Clinton articulated his concerns about a possible
Iraq threat, announcing after a Pentagon briefing, "If Saddam rejects peace
and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish
the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program." It should come
as no surprise that Senators John Kerry, Tom Daschle, and Carl Levin wrote President
Clinton that same year to illuminate the threat Saddam allegedly represented,
"We urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S.
Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions, including, if appropriate,
air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites, to respond effectively to the
threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs."
The tide, it seemed, had a window of opportunity to turn away from this prelude
to war, but predictably, the Democrats, on their heels and hoping not to lose
control of the Senate in a congressional election year, cowered in 2002. Although
Rep. Kucinich perceptively saw the looming war as a momentous error and organized
opposition in the House some 130 votes his decent effort failed.
With political interests and propaganda in mind, most establishment Democrats
ignored his rationale, leaving the millions of protesters who took to the streets
across America prior to the invasion with few representatives in Washington,
historically or otherwise. And as the story goes, Bush easily got his way, much
to the protesters' chagrin: on March 19, 2003, U.S. forces rattled Baghdad with
a military conquest like no other seen in history. The warmongers proudly dubbed
their lethal deed "Shock and Awe."
By then, the Democrats, who had failed to articulate any basis for citizens
to vote for them as opposed to their Republican rivals regarding the Iraq situation,
had lost control of the Senate as well as many seats in the House. They didn't
challenge Bush on any major issue. They supported his invasion of both Afghanistan
and Iraq. It was a horrific display of political ineptness. The Democrats
unlike the millions of Americans who knew Bush and Co. had ulterior motives
for unilaterally attacking Iraq had been eager to back an illegal war.
By mid-summer 2004, the U.S. death toll in Iraq had reached well over 1,000,
with soldiers dying at a pace that far outnumbered the Vietnam War at its comparable
stage. Tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis had perished; millions more mourned
the loss of loved ones. There were no WMD hiding beneath Iraq's turbulent soil.
Saddam didn't have ties to bin Laden's gang after all. Iraq had posed absolutely
no threat to the United States, let alone its neighboring countries, which did
not support the U.S. invasion.
Bush and the Democrats' war had played right into the terrorists' hands. According
to intelligence reports, and bin Laden himself, recruitment for such groups
escalated almost exponentially. The ensuing level of hatred toward the U.S.
Needless to say, claims that this war has made the United States and we the
people any safer are laughable. Democratic henchmen Al From and Bruce Reed
must have been hallucinating when they proclaimed Kerry would protect America
from all that is evil. Kerry, of course, has proven to be no different from
Bush on foreign policy issues, save for the "D" next to his name on the ballot
An aggressive unilateral policy only breeds terrorism, and Kerry's foreign
policy would have only nurtured future terrorist activity, as Bush's is surely
Unfortunately, the same cretins continue to control the Democratic platform.
They dictate what is or is not acceptable discourse within the party. Being
antiwar, as we know, is most definitely unacceptable, which explains why those
who listened did not hear Kerry breath even the faintest sigh of peace rhetoric
along the campaign trail.
Although 82 percent of registered Democrats believed the war to be a grave
mistake, according to a 2004 USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll conducted on June
21-23, Kerry was steadfast in his support for the Iraq war. His own campaign
platform was a glaring memento of the Democrats' inability to offer significant
alternatives to George W. Bush. They simply believed they could manage the situation
more astutely. "This administration did not build a true international coalition,"
Kerry's campaign platform proclaimed. He simply would have done it better.
In the context of a party hell-bent on war, whose foreign policy is essentially
identical to the Republican policy, it doesn't matter how many MoveOn members
donate money to the Democratic Party. In the end, such reformers are left with
nothing. No party. No money. No hope. And perhaps worst of all no unity.
Joshua Frank's Left
Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush will be released in April,
is available for advance purchase now.