Months after he fled the Democratic primaries with his tail between his legs, Howard Dean is again in the spotlight, where is (half-heartedly) seeking the chair of Democratic National Committee. Dean hopes his influence can steer the Democratic Party away from future electoral defeats. But even if Dean is victorious, he will not be guiding the Democrats’ foreign policy agenda in a new direction. The fact is, Dean’s own foreign policy agenda is strikingly similar to that of George W. Bush. Sad, but true.
Nonetheless, during his bid for president Dean was labeled by Republicans — and much of the mainstream media — as the anti-war candidate, representing the left wing of the Democratic Party. But while Dean dodged the draft during the 1960s (he had a bum back) to avoid serving in Vietnam, the conscientious objections of his youth were not representative of his policy stance once he became involved in national politics.
Looking back, Dean had a long pro-war history. He praised the first Gulf War, NATO’s intervention in Bosnia, Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan and Iraq, and both the international and domestic war on drugs. Dean even went so far as to write President Clinton a letter praising his foreign policy in 1995 as the U.S. waged a brutal air attack on Serbia, bringing death and destruction to civilians and the infrastructure that provided their only life support. He confessed to President Clinton: “I think your policy up to this date has been absolutely correct Since it is clearly no longer possible to take action in conjunction with NATO and the United Nations, I have reluctantly concluded that we must take unilateral action.” According to most post-war accounts, U.S. air bombardment left the Serbian military relatively unscathed, while ethnic cleansing increased drastically. Nonetheless, Governor Dean supported Clinton’s deadly policy without a wince of embarrassment.
Candidate Dean was no different. Despite voicing his opposition to Bush’s war when he entered the race for the White House, Dean never wholeheartedly opposed overthrowing Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. In September 2002, Dean had announced that if Saddam failed to comply with the demands of the United Nations, the U.S. reserved the right to “go into Iraq.” Dean claimed he would gladly endorse a multilateral effort to destroy Saddam’s regime. In fact, as we will discuss shortly, Dean wasn’t even opposed to a unilateral effort lacking the support of the U.N., NATO, or the European Union.
On CBS’s Meet the Press in July 2003, Dean told Tim Russert that the United States must increase its pressure on Saudi Arabia and Iran. “We have to be very, very careful of Iran” because President Bush “is too beholden to the Saudis and the Iranians,” he explained. But later in the broadcast, he conceded, “I support the president’s War on Terrorism.” Dean even went so far as to tell Russert: “I believe that we need a very substantial increase in troops. They don’t all have to be American troops. My guess would be that we would need at least 30,000 and 40,000 additional troops.” Sounds like John Kerry at the height of campaign 2004.
In a New York primary debate two months later, Dean elaborated: “We need more troops. They’re going to be foreign troops [in Iraq], not more American troops, as they should have been in the first place. Ours need to come home.” Dean, it seems, would have the disorder in Iraq go on at all costs, though he wasn’t quite sure whose soldiers should do the occupying.
When Dennis Kucinich grilled Dean during that same debate about Bush’s $87 billion Iraq package, Dean claimed that he would support it since “we have no choice … we have to support our troops.” So do we support our troops by bringing them home, or by financing the occupation? The self-proclaimed anti-war candidate never clarified.
Prior to the invasion of Iraq, Dean deemed the Afghanistan war vital to ending terrorism. The governor also failed to critique the misguided foreign policy paradigms of the U.S. leading up to and following the September 11 attacks. He believed that in order to fight terror, America must use an “iron fist” approach. Aggression, according to Dean, was the only way to challenge the cycle of terror plaguing our vulnerable capitalist world.
More fervent observers of Bush’s foreign policy will notice that Dean’s hollow position on the war on terrorism did not differ drastically from Bush’s. In fact, with the exception of the rhetoric used by their proponents, the two strategies seem to be virtually identical.
Pre-Emption and Meager Opposition
On April 9, 2003, Dean all but endorsed Bush’s pre-emptive 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.
By conceding that effective containment of such rogue states may necessitate the use of force, Dean endorsed a pre-emptive dogma that has had catastrophic consequences. 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 (or as some call it: preventive), American progressives 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.
According to the aforementioned reference, 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, “if Bush presents what he considered to be persuasive evidence that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction, he would support military action, even without U.N. authorization.”
Just one month later, Dean alienated his anti-war base, admitting in a February 20 Salon.com interview: “if the U.N. in the end chooses not to enforce its own resolutions, then the U.S. should give Saddam 30 to 60 days to disarm, and if he doesn’t, unilateral action is a regrettable, but unavoidable, choice.”
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.
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 ties to such contracts likely explain his refusal to challenge a longstanding U.S. foreign policy agenda. And based on the statements made by Dean after announcing his campaign in the summer 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. Dean also suggested that he would have jumped on the war train with other Democratic cheerleaders like John Kerry had the international community backed U.S. intervention in Iraq.
JOSHUA FRANK, a contributor to A Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, is putting the finishing touches on Left Out: How Liberals did Bush’s Work for Him, to be published by Common Courage Press in 2005. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.