• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters

Chants of “No More War” from delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention gave voice to sentiments that still resonate through the base of the party and the broad U.S. public, notably in communities with higher rates of military sacrifice.

While Trump’s 2016 victories in swing states may well have been aided by his posing as a foe of protracted war, his administration’s Mideast policies have largely exposed that masquerade. Unfortunately, the weak and confused positions of Democratic leaders on endless war and bloated military spending offer little alternative to war-weary voters.

Polls show the popularity of a progressive domestic agenda on issues from jobs to healthcare to free public college, but few Democrats in Congress are willing to strongly challenge the unaccountable military budget, which soaks up most discretionary spending that could be redirected toward the party’s proclaimed domestic agenda. By Obama’s last year in office, overall “defense” spending was higher (adjusted for inflation) than “at any point since World War II,” according to Peter Beinart (“The Democrats Keep Capitulating on Defense Spending”) – and significantly higher than during the Vietnam War.

Yet during federal budget negotiations early this year – with Trump requesting a staggering 11 percent Pentagon budget increase over two years – Nancy Pelosi boasted in an email to House Democrats: “In our negotiations, Congressional Democrats have been fighting for increases in funding for defense.” The office of Senate Democratic  leader Chuck Schumer declared: “We fully support President Trump’s Defense Department’s request.”  The budget agreement ultimately passed the Senate with more Democrats (36) voting for it than Republicans (34). Among the Democratic senators who voted no were the five most-often touted as potential 2020 presidential candidates – Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley and Elizabeth Warren; independent Bernie Sanders also voted no.

Months later, an overwhelming majority of House and Senate Democrats supported the massive 2019 “National Defense Authorization Act” of $717 billion. The small minority of Democratic “no” votes in the Senate included five of the potential presidential candidates mentioned above; Booker voted “yea.”

In 2018, few Democratic candidates for Congress conveyed to voters how military budget cuts could make an expansive domestic agenda possible. Notable exceptions include Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) and  four newcomers (all women of color) expected to be sworn into Congress in January: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Ilhan Omar (MN), Rashida Tlaib (MI) and Ayanna Pressley (MA).

While Democratic leaders failed to resist Trump over war spending, they did loudly resist the prospect of peace breaking out in Korea. In June, on the eve of nuclear talks between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (a process sparked by South Korea’s progressive-leaning president), Schumer and six other senior Democratic senators sent a rejectionist letter to Trump demanding that any hint of sanctions relief for North Korea be dependent on an agreement with obviously impossible conditions. The letter mirrored GOP objections to Obama’s Iran nuclear deal (such as the agreement needing to be permanent) – and the rejectionism was derided in a New York Times column (“Democrats Childishly Resist Trump’s North Korea Efforts”) by Nicholas Kristof: “Shock! Horror! President Trump is actually doing something right. Sadly, Democrats in Congress are responding in a quite Trumpian way: They seem more concerned with undermining him than supporting a peace process with North Korea.”

Trump has a dangerous admiration for dictators like those in North Korea and Saudi Arabia – and for authoritarians like those in Russia and the Philippines. Democrats need to condemn such admiration without succumbing to reckless bellicosity.

The United States and Russia possess 93 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Amid evidence of a Russian effort to help Trump during our 2016 election (evidently less effective and overt than the U.S. effort 20 years earlier that successfully backed an erratic, anti-democratic candidate in Russia’s presidential election), many Democratic leaders seem oblivious to the ongoing threat of armed conflict with Russia – a peril that was profoundly understood by Democratic presidents  during the height of the Cold War when Russia had a much worse form of government. Reacting to evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, numerous Democrats have engaged in extreme rhetoric , calling it an “act of war” and “equivalent” to Pearl Harbor. Democratic leaders have rarely acknowledged the crucial need for “a shift in approach toward Russia” including “steps to ease tensions between the nuclear superpowers,” in the words of an Open Letter  for “Election Security and True National Security,” released this summer.

With consistently moral foreign policies that reject costly militarism and continuous intervention, Democrats could inspire the party base and gain support among swing voters and independents (especially third-party voters). But advocacy of those policies come mostly from a minority of Democratic “backbenchers,” not leaders.

The party leadership has routinely been absent in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen caused primarily by the U.S.-backed Saudi war (and White House coziness with Saudi Arabia). In March, Bernie Sanders, Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Mike Lee forced a vote on their Senate resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudis in Yemen. In the face of White House opposition and apparent indifference among Democratic leaders, it went down to defeat (55-44) thanks to ten Democratic ‘no’ votes. With the disaster continuing to worsen in Yemen, the House Democratic leadership reportedly dragged its feet while progressive first-term Congressman Ro Khanna persistently led a bipartisan effort to get a vote on a similar measure; finally, in late September, Khanna was able to introduce the resolution with some high-level party support.

On matters of war and peace – for instance, the 17-year occupation of Afghanistan or Team Trump’s extremely one-sided Israel-Palestine policy – top Democrats have offered few coherent alternative policies. In May, for example, Schumer praised Trump for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem days after he criticized Trump for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement – a deal Schumer had originally opposed. And Democratic leaders have made scant objections to Trump administration actions that a director at Amnesty International USA described as “hugely expanding the use of drone and airstrikes, including outside of war zones, and increasing civilian casualties in the process.”

Democrats often denounce the GOP for immoral and extremist domestic policies favoring the powerful. But the party’s failure to challenge such foreign policies is a moral and political tragedy.

More articles by:

Jeff Cohen was director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and cofounder of the online activism group RootsAction.org.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

May 21, 2019
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Locked in a Cold War Time Warp
Roger Harris
Venezuela: Amnesty International in Service of Empire
Patrick Cockburn
Trump is Making the Same Mistakes in the Middle East the US Always Makes
Robert Hunziker
Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming
Lance Olsen
Renewable Energy: the Switch From Drill, Baby, Drill to Mine, Baby, Mine
Dean Baker
Ady Barkan, the Fed and the Liberal Funder Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
Maduro Gives Trump a Lesson in Ethics and Morality
Jan Oberg
Trump’s Iran Trap
David D’Amato
What is Anarchism?
Nicky Reid
Trump’s War In Venezuela Could Be Che’s Revenge
Elliot Sperber
Springtime in New York
May 20, 2019
Richard Greeman
The Yellow Vests of France: Six Months of Struggle
Manuel García, Jr.
Abortion: White Panic Over Demographic Dilution?
Robert Fisk
From the Middle East to Northern Ireland, Western States are All Too Happy to Avoid Culpability for War Crimes
Tom Clifford
From the Gulf of Tonkin to the Persian Gulf
Chandra Muzaffar
Targeting Iran
Valerie Reynoso
The Violent History of the Venezuelan Opposition
Howard Lisnoff
They’re Just About Ready to Destroy Roe v. Wade
Eileen Appelbaum
Private Equity is a Driving Force Behind Devious Surprise Billings
Binoy Kampmark
Bob Hawke: Misunderstood in Memoriam
J.P. Linstroth
End of an era for ETA?: May Basque Peace Continue
Weekend Edition
May 17, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Trump and the Middle East: a Long Record of Personal Failure
Joan Roelofs
“Get Your Endangered Species Off My Bombing Range!”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Slouching Towards Tehran
Paul Street
It’s Even More Terrible Than You Thought
Rob Urie
Grabby Joe and the Problem of Environmental Decline
Ajamu Baraka
2020 Elections: It’s Militarism and the Military Budget Stupid!
Andrew Levine
Springtime for Biden and Democrats
Richard Moser
The Interlocking Crises: War and Climate Chaos
Ron Jacobs
Uncle Sam Needs Our Help Again?
Eric Draitser
Elizabeth Warren Was Smart to Tell FOX to Go to Hell
Peter Bolton
The Washington Post’s “Cartel of the Suns” Theory is the Latest Desperate Excuse for Why the Coup Attempt in Venezuela has Failed
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Analysis of Undecideds Suggests Biden’s Support May be Exaggerated
Peter Lackowski
Eyewitness in Venezuela: a 14-year Perspective
Karl Grossman
Can Jerry Nadler Take Down Trump?
Howie Hawkins
Does the Climate Movement Really Mean What It Says?
Gary Leupp
Bolton and the Road to the War He Wants
Jill Richardson
Climate Change was No Accident
Josh Hoxie
Debunking Myths About Wealth and Race
David Barsamian
Iran Notes
David Mattson
Social Carrying Capacity Politspeak Bamboozle
Christopher Brauchli
The Pompeo Smirk
Louis Proyect
Trotsky, Bukharin and the Eco-Modernists
Martha Burk
Will Burning at the Stake Come Next?
John W. Whitehead
The Deadly Perils of Traffic Stops in America
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail