War Opposition a Political Move


On April 9, 2003, Howard Dean all but endorsed George W. Bush’s pre-emptive (preventive) doctrine. Though Dean didn’t join in the hawks’ celebration of Bush’s “liberation of Iraq” that day, he stressed the necessity of pressuring Iran and North Korea, saying he would not rule out the use of military force to do so. As Glen Johnson of the Boston Globe quoted Dean as saying on April 10, 2003, “Under no circumstances can we permit North Korea to have a nuclear program … Nor, under any circumstances, can we allow Iran to have nuclear weapons.”

By conceding that effective containment of such rogue states may necessitate the use of force, Dean endorsed a pre-emptive creed that has had the effect of isolating the United States from the international community. It goes without saying that by embracing the doctrine, Dean’s foreign policy vision would not have reversed this trend.

Despite the similarities between Dean and Bush on pre-emption, many antiwar liberals eagerly embraced Dean’s nuanced position against the Iraq war. As he told National Public Radio political correspondent Mara Liasson, “There are two groups of people who support me because of the war One are the people who always oppose every war, and in the end I probably won’t get all of those people.” The other group, Dean said, were constituents who supported his Iraq position because he spoke out early and “represented the facts.”

But this so-called “representation of the facts” demands closer examination, as it contradicts Dean’s “antiwar” label.

According to Dean, had Bush produced accurate data proving that Saddam harbored weapons of mass destruction, Dean would have supported the unilateral invasion of Iraq. As Ron Brownstein reported in The Los Angeles Times on January 31, 2003, Dean said, “[I]f Bush presents what he considered to be persuasive evidence that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction, he would support military action, even without UN authorization.” However, Dean failed to note that the UN Charter forbids member countries from attacking another country except in self-defense.

Just one month later, Dean alienated his anti-war base, admitting in a February 20 Salon.com interview: “[I]f the UN in the end chooses not to enforce its own resolutions, then the US should give Saddam 30 to 60 days to disarm, and if he doesn’t, unilateral action is a regrettable, but unavoidable, choice.” Dean, had he taken a legitimate antiwar position, would have argued that when the US puts itself above international law, as it did by disregarding the UN Charter, it further encourages other nations to do the same.

As Dean initially articulated his muddled position on Iraq, Danny Sebright, one of the premier architects of Bush’s Afghanistan conflict, played puppeteer behind the theatrical curtain. According to Sean Donahue, the Project Director of the Corporations and Militarism Project of the Massachusetts Anti-Corporate Clearinghouse, Sebright constructed and wrote Dean’s early statements on war. At that time, Sebright worked under Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon as the Director of the Executive Secretariat for Enduring Freedom. As Donahue wrote in an October 30, 2003 article on CounterPunch:

“When Sebright left the Pentagon in February of 2002, he went to work for his old boss, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, at the Cohen Group, a Washington-based consulting company. The firm uses its political connections to help companies obtain contracts with the Pentagon and with foreign governments. While it is discreet about its clientele, the Cohen Group does list some of its successes on its website — a list that includes helping to negotiate arms sales to Latin American and Eastern European countries, and Advis[ing] and assist[ing] [a] US company in working with US Government officials and the Coalition Provisional Authority in securing major contracts related to Iraq reconstruction.”

The fact that a close Dean advisor worked for a consulting firm involved in pitching contracts for reconstruction projects in Iraq raises questions about the true motives of Dean’s support for the President’s $87 billion Iraqi reconstruction program.

Dean’s choice of Sebright as an advisor shows how little difference there actually was between Dean and the Bush Administration on the issue of the Iraq war.

Based on the statements made by Dean after announcing his campaign in the summer of 2003, it appears that he only opposed the war in Iraq because he didn’t believe the Bush administration had proven that Iraq posed an “imminent threat” toward the United States.

Certainly there are many reasons he should have raised opposition to the Iraq war. However, by failing to do so, it became quite clear that Dean was not an “antiwar” candidate. The fact is, Dean proved he was just another politician from the Democratic mainstream whose position on Iraq was not grounded on a philosophical aversion to war. On the contrary, Howard Dean’s opposition was political in nature.

JOSHUA FRANK, a native of Montana, is the author of the forthcoming book, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, to be released in early 2005 by Common Courage Press. He can be reached at: frank_joshua@hotmail.com


JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His latest book, edited with Jeffrey St. Clair is  Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at brickburner@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter @brickburner

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