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In recent weeks, Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy appears increasingly centered on proving she has the cojones to ruthlessly pursue U.S. imperial interests the world over. With Barack Obama nipping at her polling numbers by invoking his opposition to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Clinton steadfastly refuses to pander to the antiwar movement by admitting she made a mistake in voting to authorize the war in 2002.
These days, Clinton misses no opportunity to demonstrate her own combative stance on foreign affairs, whatever the subject under discussion. After pledging to work toward energy independence at a March 18 mid-Manhattan fundraiser, Clinton told an audience laden with Wall St. financiers that each time she switches off a light bulb in her own home, she mutters, "’Take that, Iran,’ and ‘Take that, Venezuela.’ We should not be sending our money to people who are not going to support our values."
And Clinton has made clear she has no intention of ending the occupation of Iraq if elected president. In an interview published by the New York Times on March 15, she was explicit on this issue-sounding remarkably like, well, George Bush. A complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq could turn it into "a petri dish for insurgents and Al Qaeda," she said, adding, "It is right in the heart of the oil region. It is directly in opposition to our interests, to the interests of regimes, to Israel’s interests."
Clinton would downsize the U.S. troop presence, pulling them out of urban combat to minimize U.S. casualties while preserving enough troops "for our antiterrorism mission, for our northern support mission, for our ability to respond to the Iranians, and to continue to provide support, if called for, for the Iraqis."
As the Times reported, "Mrs. Clinton said the scaled-down American military force that she would maintain would stay off the streets in Baghdad and would no longer try to protect Iraqis from sectarian violence – even if it descended into ethnic cleansing." Indeed, Clinton responded coldly to the prospect of such a mass sectarian bloodletting: "This is an Iraqi problem; we cannot save the Iraqis from themselves."
Clinton’s candid Times interview seems to place her well to the right of other Congressional Democrats, currently absorbed in an apparently principled fight to pass antiwar legislation through the House and Senate. On March 13, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remarked, "The administration’s answer to continuing violence in Iraq is more troops and more treasure from the American people." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated defiantly that Bush "must change course, and it’s time for the Senate to demand he do it."
But behind the scenes, Democratic Party Congressional leaders were maneuvering frantically to avoid conflict with the Bush administration’s war aims. On March 13, Democrats announced plans to remove a requirement that Bush gain Congressional approval before taking military action against Iran in its military spending bill. Democrats, not Republicans, stymied the Iran proposal during a meeting held behind closed doors, objecting to possible opposition from Israel. As Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley explained, "It would take away perhaps the most important negotiating tool that the U.S. has when it comes to Iran."
The spending bill to be debated in the House this week includes nearly $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan-more than Bush requested. Its antiwar provisions require most U.S. combat troops to be withdrawn by August 31, 2008. But the President "may waive" these requirements for reasons of "national security," according to the now toothless legislation.
In concrete terms, three months after establishing a majority in Congress, the Democrats have little to show for themselves. The House managed to pass a single non-binding resolution against Bush’s troop surge on February 16, while the Senate failed even to accomplish that much. This is hardly what the antiwar majority has in mind.
Rhetoric aside, how much political distance separates Hillary Clinton from her more impassioned Congressional counterparts? Less than it might appear.
The notion of withdrawing most combat troops is less dramatic than it seems. Although the House resolution currently up for debate calls for removing most combat troops from Iraq by September 2008 (presidential waivers aside), it also acknowledges the need to maintain the presence of a "limited" number of U.S. soldiers for purposes including "targeted counterterrorism operations." Obama has admitted that he, too, might decide to retain some U.S. troops in Iraq as president.
No major Democratic Party presidential candidate has so far called for a complete U.S. troop withdrawal, and with good reason: the party’s powerbrokers aim to salvage, not renounce, U.S. war aims in Iraq. As the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) notes on its website, "A rapid and complete withdrawal from Iraq isn’t really a Plan B: it’s a ‘Plan Zero’ for liquidating the whole Iraq engagement as hopeless."
The Times noted that Clinton’s plan is not a new one-and has already been advocated by Dov S. Zakheim, the Pentagon’s comptroller under Rumsfeld, who estimated that roughly 75,000 "non-combat" troops would be required to fulfill this limited set of strategic U.S. aims in Iraq.
The Democrats, like the Republicans, are biding time in Iraq, in the hopes of consolidating a long-term U.S. military presence there-while leaving open the option of attacking Iran as a bargaining chip. Clinton stated recently, "No option can be taken off the table" against Iran’s alleged nuclear threat, while presidential rivals John Edwards and Obama echoed, "All options on the table."
The aim of a continued military presence in Iraq is a given for both Democrats and Republicans. Rarely has the U.S. fought a major war without leaving permanent military bases behind.
No longer referred to as "permanent bases" in Iraq, the Pentagon has successively described U.S. military bases as "Enduring Bases" and then as "Contingency Operating Bases" since February 2005. The purpose remains the same. As a former Pentagon official told the New York Times, Clinton’s Iraq plan, by minimizing U.S. troop casualties, would make it politically possible to sustain a long-term military presence in the Middle East Region.
Only a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq can end the occupation–and prevent a region-wide Middle East war. Don’t count on the Democrats to make it happen, rhetoric aside.
SHARON SMITH is the author of Women and Socialism and Subterranean Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org