The refrain of the Democrats about being misled
into supporting the invasion of Iraq has become really tired. And someone other
than the White House smearmongers needs to say it: The Democrats cannot be allowed
to use faulty intelligence as a crutch to hold up their unforgivable support
for the Iraq invasion. What is DNC Chair Howard Dean’s excuse? He wasn’t in
Congress and didn’t have any access to Senate intelligence. Still, on March
9, 2003, just days before the invasion began, Dean told Tim Russert, on NBC’s
Meet The Press, "I don’t want Saddam staying in power with control over those
weapons of mass destruction. I want him to be disarmed."
During the New Hampshire primary in January 2004, which I covered for Democracy
Now!, I confronted Dean about that statement. I asked him on what intelligence
he based that allegation. "Talks with people who were knowledgeable," Dean told
me. "Including a series of folks that work in the Clinton administration."
A series of folks that work in the Clinton administration.
How does that jibe with the official Democratic line that they were misled
by the Bush administration? Sounds like Howard Dean, head of the Democratic
Party, was misled by....the Democrats. Dean’s candor offers us a rare glimpse
into the painful truth of the matter. As unpopular as this is to say, when President
Bush accuses the Democrats of "rewriting history" on Iraq, he is right.
None of the horrors playing out in Iraq today would be possible without the
Democratic Party. And no matter how hard some party leaders try to deny it,
this is their war too and will remain so until every troop is withdrawn. There
is no question that the Bush administration is one of the most corrupt, violent
and brutal in the history of this country but that doesn’t erase the serious
responsibility the Democrats bears for the bloodletting in Iraq. As disingenuous
as the Administration’s claims that Iraq had WMDs is the flimsy claim by Democratic
lawmakers that they were somehow duped into voting for the war. The fact is
that Iraq posed no threat to the United States in 2003 any more than it did
in 1998 when President Clinton bombed Baghdad. John Kerry and his colleagues
knew that. The Democrats didn’t need false intelligence to push them into overthrowing
Saddam Hussein’s regime. It was their policy; a policy made the law of the land
not under George W. Bush, but under President Bill Clinton when he signed the
1998 Iraq Liberation Act, formally initiating the process of regime change in
Manipulated intelligence is but a small part of a bigger, bipartisan 15-year
assault on Iraq’s people. If the Democrats really want to look at how America
was led into this war, they need to go back further than the current president’s
As bloody and deadly as the occupation has been, it was Bill Clinton who refined
the art of killing innocent Iraqis following the Gulf War. One of his first
acts as president was to bomb Iraq, following the alleged assassination plot
against George HW Bush. Clinton’s missiles killed the famed Iraqi painter Leila
al Attar as they smashed into her home. Clinton presided enthusiastically over
the most deadly and repressive regime of economic sanctions in history – his
UN ambassador Madeline Albright calling the reported deaths of half a million
children "worth the price." Clinton initiated the longest sustained bombing
campaign since Vietnam with his illegal no-fly zone bombings, attacking Iraq
once every three days for the final years of his presidency. It was under Clinton
that Ahmed Chalabi was given tens of millions of dollars and made a key player
in shaping Washington’s Iraq policy. It was Clinton that mercilessly attacked
Iraq in December of 1998, destroying dozens of Baghdad buildings and killing
scores of civilians. It was Clinton that codified regime change in Iraq as US
policy. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq but he could not have done it without
the years of groundwork laid by Clinton and the Democrats. How ironic it was
recently to hear Clinton call the war "a big mistake."
It’s easy to resist war with a president like Bush in the White House. Where
were these Democrats when it was Clinton’s bombs raining down on Iraq, when
it was Clinton’s economic sanctions targeting the most vulnerable? Many of them
were right behind him and his deadly policies the same way they were behind
Bush when he asked their consent to use force against Iraq. As the veteran Iraq
activist and Nobel Prize nominee Kathy Kelly said often during the Clinton years,
"It’s easy to be a vegetarian between meals." The fact is that one of the great
crimes of our times was committed by the Clinton administration with the support
of many of the politicians now attacking Bush.
Herein lies the real political crisis in this country: the Democrats are not
an opposition party, nor are they an antiwar party – never were.
At best, they are a loyal opposition. The Democrats ran a pro-war campaign
in 2004 with Kerry struggling to convince people that Dems do occupation and
war better. The current head of the DNC, Howard Dean, never met a war he didn’t
adore until he realized he could exploit the energy and sincere hopes of millions
of peace-loving Americans. Dean wasn’t ever antiwar. In fact, during the 2004
campaign he attacked Kerry for opposing the Gulf War while laying out his own
"In 1991, I supported Gulf War. I supported the first President Bush," declared
Dean. "Senator Kerry who criticizes my foreign policy, he voted against that
war. I supported the Afghanistan war, because I felt it was about our national
defense – 3,000 of our people were killed. I supported President Clinton going
into Bosnia and Kosovo."
How can Howard Dean look people in the eye today and pretend to speak with
any credibility as an antiwar voice?
When the hawkish
Democrat Rep. John Murtha bravely stepped forward to call for an immediate
withdrawal of US troops from Iraq this week, he was quickly blasted by the White
House and simultaneously disowned by powerful Democrats like John Kerry. Occupation
lovers together again. The bloody scandal of the Iraq occupation has opened
a rare and clear window into the truth about this country: there is one party
represented in Washington – one that supports preemptive war and regime change.
The reality is that the Democrats could stop this war if the will was there.
They could shut down the Senate every day, not just for a few hours one afternoon.
They could disrupt business as usual and act as though the truth were true:
this war should never have happened and it must end now. The country would be
behind them if they did it. But they won’t. They will hem and haw and call for
more troops and throw out epic lies about the US becoming a stabilizing force
in Iraq and blame the Republicans for their own complicity and enthusiasm in
the 15 years of bipartisan crimes against Iraq.
All of this begs for a multiparty system in this country and the emergence
of a true opposition. The epic scale of the disaster in Iraq calls for epic
lessons to be learned at home. Like the Bush White House, the Democrats have
lost their credibility. They are undeserving of the blank check of "Anybody
But Bush" and should never be allowed to cash it again. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who
heads up the House Democrats election campaign, criticized Murtha’s call for
immediate withdrawal, saying, "At the right time, we will have a position."
It is statements like that that should result in Emanuel and his colleagues