Fake Populism and Democratic Complicity in Iraq
by Shelton Hull
The first anniversary of Iraq’s invasion is being marked in a number of ways, not least among them a series of simultaneous marches and rallies for “peace” being organized around the world by a number of different groups. Readers may remember that last year such events set records for their size and scope; readers may also remember that such events had very little effect on the net trajectory of allied policy, except insofar as they gave some nations the excuse they needed not to cooperate with the coalition. The lesson is that no substantive opposition exists now for the Bush administration, and that many sensible observers have come to wonder whether there should be.
The American anti-war movement draws the bulk of their energy from elements that had previously coalesced for the fight against “globalization” as advocated by the IMF, World Bank and related circles. As the NAFTA-era reforms reached a point of saturation in the Western Hemisphere, by the late 1990s (and let’s not forget that the infamous WTO protests in Seattle in 1999 occurred after the protesters’ main objects of scorn had peaked), Americans looked ahead to the next “hot-button” issue around which to develop a resistance to the typical corporate/media/governmental power structure.
The candidacy of Ralph Nader in 2000 presented the next big opportunity for a demonstration of populist power. His role in the election– and, by extension, history– was more nuanced than one is used to hearing today. In essence, Nader spoke to the issues that the Democrats would have spoken to, were they serious about beating George W. Bush that year. Instead, they hewed to a faux-populist “centrism” that was already Republican property after the galvanizing candidacy of John McCain, who ended up endorsing Bush. Not only did Democrats not reach out to the interests represented by Nader late in the year, but they diverted crucial resources to attacking Nader through sympathetic media outlets while barely bothering to confront Bush on any of the various flaws in his candidacy– some of which may have revealed themselves subsequently. In the end, Nader was blamed for a Bush victory that many Democrats insist never really happened, and this line has held right through to 2004. Nader was, however unwittingly, the mirror in which the faces of future Democratic nominees were coiffed and botoxed for electoral cycles to come.
As a resident of Florida, I feel especially intemperate during election years. The state was once almost entirely dominated by Democrats, even as late as 15 years ago, but the party’s record since has been quite awful. After elements of the state and national party machinery effectively conceded the Presidency to Bush in 2000, they continued to lose badly in every round of elections since. Florida now seems to have no immediate political future except as a tool of the many fine Republicans now in the power structure. The only real example of Democratic relevance these days is Senator Bob Graham, whose increased national profile is due largely to the Bush Administration’s choices in handling the post-9/11 period. That’s about par for the course.
The US-led invasion of Iraq was a lot of things, and history will need some time for a full explanation of its nature, but one thing is certain: It was no shock. This war may have been the most densely-advertised adventure in our military’s history. The notion that Saddam Hussein’s destiny was predetermined well before 9/11 is now standard-issue across the political spectrum, as are many of the positives and negatives associated with the decisions that were ultimately made. Of course, the fact that the political spectrum we see depicted on TV is incomplete at best did have some effect on the process.
The protesters out that weekend had all the talking points they needed, printed up on countless flyers and brochures that they will trade with each other in a spirit of what they perceive to be common interests. However, it is doubtful that anyone will show up in front of live microphones or cameras and profess the two most salient points about this war for Americans: 1) It was preventable; 2) Now it’s too late. The difference between the first and second is the behavior of the Democratic Party in the year prior to Iraq’s formal invasion. In the buildup to war, many of the very same arguments now used by Democrats “opposed” the war.
The likelihood of an Iraq war was unavoidable as early as summer 2002, but very few Democrats made an issue of it until the Administration pursued the authorization to use force that fall. Afraid of attacking a President still high in the polls after 9/11, they chose instead to take yet another vicious beating in the Congressional mid-term elections. Their fate was sealed after Senator Paul Wellstone died during a reelection bid made much harder by his voting against the resolution, and Democrats wasted his (now-polarized) populist credentials with buffoonery at his funeral, quietly sweeping Iraq off the table as an issue worth voters’ attention.
In the four-and-a-half months between the mid-term and the war, the anti-war position was harshly repudiated on TV, in the press, in Congress and every other major intellectual sphere in this country. Nevermind that the structural integrity of Bush’s case for war had been already undermined, most notably in the “yellowcake” affair; that such research was done by groups considered “beyond the pale” of acceptable left-liberal rhetoric rendered the data useless– useless, that is, until after the war had been declared over last summer. Only then did any sort of opposition to the war in Iraq become a fixture in the Democratic Party’s strategy.
The prevailing attitude is best expressed by presumptive Presidential nominee John Kerry, who’s been quoted as saying that “I voted for the war before I voted against it.” The subtlety of that remark may be lost to the thousands of Americans who have suffered in this conflict and are now being softly cajoled by the mainstream media (themselves complicit in the very same sins of omission as Democrats) to dump their leadership in mid-stream and vote for people whose worst characteristics are not yet public knowledge.
The elements that coalesce in the modern anti-war movement have as their model the work of those opposed to Vietnam in the 1960s. Whether these people actually helped stop the war, as opposed to merely providing the pretense to modify war policy in ways already decided upon, is a good subject for debate elsewhere. Then, as now, the anti-war movement was hardly clean. The extent to which the current anti-war movement has been influenced by infiltrators has not yet been determined, but a good bit may be revealed this year. “Foundation money” has the potential to be a major buzz-word in political circles, especially if the role of George Soros as a major funder of anti-war, anti-Administration organizations intensifies to the point that Bush goes on the attack.
Say what one wishes about George W. Bush, but it’s clear that he could not have done what he has done without the tacit support of his “opposition.” The fact that the American voter now must choose between two members of Skull and Bones who have benefited from the largesse of a notorious short-seller of American currency is in no way coincidental. It results from a botched opposition to the Iraq war that itself results from a lack of moral or strategic clarity within the Democratic Party.
March 20, 2004