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Can They Sink Any Lower?

The Democrats and Iran

by LEE SUSTAR

Voting to declare one of Iran’s security forces a "terrorist organization." Authorizing yet more funding for Bush’s war on Iraq. Declaring that U.S. troops might occupy Iraq until at least January 2013.

Sounds like the posturing of one of the whatshisnames running for the Republican presidential nomination. But these are the policies and political positions of the Democratic Congress and its leading presidential contenders.

At a debate on September 25, the top three Democratic presidential candidates–Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards–all refused to declare that they’d have pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of their first term, if elected.

"I think it would be irresponsible" to promise a pullout by January 2013, Obama said. "I cannot make that commitment," said Edwards. For her part, Clinton, typically, dodged a direct answer: "It is very difficult to know what we’re going to be inheriting."

Earlier that day, a majority of Senate Democrats supported a measure sponsored by Sens. John Kyl and Joe Lieberman declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization–and calling on the U.S. government to "combat, contain and roll back the violent activities" of Iran.

Thanks to the Democrats, the referendum–which at least some observers likened to an authorization for war–won by an overwhelming 76-22 margin. Clinton voted yes; Obama, in what is becoming a habit, skipped the roll call.

To top it off, tacked onto the measure at the last minute was a resolution expressing support for the partition of U.S.-occupied Iraq into ethnic and sectarian cantons–a ratification of the process of ethnic cleansing that has driven millions of Iraqis from their homes and claimed the lives of untold numbers.

Not quite one year after they took control of Congress, thanks to a huge antiwar vote in the 2006 congressional elections, the Democrats have not only failed utterly to stop the war on Iraq–they’ve caved in one confrontation after another with the White House. Party leaders who once claimed they would force the Bush White House to "change course" have come to resemble their loser of a presidential candidate in 2004, John Kerry.

When criticized by opponents of the war, the Democrats respond in almost a single voice that they don’t have the votes to override a Bush veto–or even win a procedural voice to end debate in the Senate and come to an up-and-down vote on controversial legislation.

That’s blatantly dishonest–as insider journalists Jim VandeHei and John Harris pointed out in the online Beltway gossip publication The Politico.

"There is a lot more Democrats could do to change, or at least challenge, the politics of the war in Washington, even if they do not have the numbers to impose new policies on President Bush," VandeHei and Harris wrote.

"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) could force a vote a day over Iraq. She could keep the House in session all night, over weekends and through planned vacations. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could let filibusters run from now till Christmas rather than yield to pro-war Republicans…[A]ntiwar lawmakers can hardly say they have done everything possible to challenge the war and bring attention to their cause."

The Democratic contenders to replace Bush in 2009 aren’t doing anything more. With the exception of Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson, the candidates all propose not to end the occupation of Iraq, but to downsize and repackage it to make it more militarily and politically sustainable for the long term.

As Financial Times commentator Gideon Rachman–in an article titled "Many contenders but just one voice"–wrote: "On a whole range of issues that remain very controversial even among close American allies in Europe and Asia, there is a broad American consensus [spanning] Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards on the Democratic side to Rudolph Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Fred Thompson among the Republicans.

"All of the main candidates want to build up the American military rather than shrink it (Senator Clinton wants to add 80,000 troops to the Army). They all agree that the U.S. has the right to take pre-emptive military action in the ‘war on terror.’…They are all strong supporters of Israel. And they are all talking tough on Iran.

"Even on Iraq–despite the bitter rhetoric–the mainstream Democratic and Republican positions are closer than either side would care to acknowledge. President George W. Bush announced last week that troops will start withdrawing later this year. The ‘surge’ is over. But none of the main Democratic candidates endorses the antiwar left’s call for an immediate and complete pullout. So the debate comes down to an argument about the scale and pace of troop withdrawals."

The leaders of the Democrats are more and more openly converging with an imperialist consensus for U.S. policy in Iraq and beyond that the bipartisan Washington establishment can live with.

The Democrats’ base, on the other hand, is as bitterly opposed to the war as ever. The frustration and disillusion with the party that claimed to be against the war has been expressed in small protests by figures like Cindy Sheehan, who have called the Democrats out. But the more general response has been demoralization.

* * *

THAT KIND of attitude among the party’s most dedicated supporters could even put the party’s 2008 prospects at risk–an election that has looked like a slam dunk for the Democrats, no matter who is nominated for president.

"So nothing can go wrong for the Democrats?" wrote New York Times columnist Frank Rich. "Of course it can." Rich points out that the Washington insiders who have already anointed Hillary Clinton as the next president "are the same political pros who predicted that scandal would force an early end to the Clinton presidency and that ‘Mission Accomplished’ augured victory in Iraq and long-lasting Republican rule."

In both 2000 and 2004, the Democrats had every opportunity to give voters a reason to be for their presidential candidate–and they failed miserably. The electoral strategy of positioning its candidates just barely to the left of the Republicans convinced at least some voters of what didn’t seem possible–that George Bush was not only worth having a beer with, but he was more honest than John Kerry.

Now, after a brief period earlier this year in which the Democrats appeared willing to challenge the Bush White House, the old strategies of retreat, concession and surrender have returned.

This isn’t merely because the Democrats are following a bad electoral strategy. The Democratic Party is the second party of American capitalism and is fundamentally committed to the interests and priorities of the U.S. ruling establishment.

When it comes to foreign policy, while there may be disagreements about tactics, the Republicans and Democrats agree on the aim of protecting U.S. power around the globe–as is increasingly clear from the debate in Washington these days.

But the anger among ordinary people that made itself felt in the 2006 elections–over the war specifically, and falling standards of livings for worker more generally–hasn’t gone away.

Pressure from its base–as well as another disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan–may yet prod the Democrats back to the left. In any case, the hatred of Bush and the Republicans runs so deep that even the Democrats’ prowar policies may not overly harm their election chances, even if the voters are well to the left of the candidates on Iraq and other issues.

What’s certain right now, however, is that opponents of the war can’t wait on a Democratic president taking office in 2009 to try to revive antiwar organizing. Those opposed to the war will have to rely on their own activism to force a change in U.S. policy–and the time to begin is now.

LEE SUSTAR writes for the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at: lsustar@ameritech.net