Two Measures of American Desperation
by Sunil K. Sharma and Josh Frank
October 15, 2003

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Enthusiastic support for front-running Democratic presidential contenders Wesley Clark and Howard Dean from liberals and some progressives reveals the dismal state of oppositional politics in America.

Decades of unremitting right wing assaults on every sphere of American life has so jerked the political landscape to the right, that instead of clamoring for sweeping or even revolutionary changes as in days long past, the main battle-cry coming from “the left” today is “Anybody But Bush!”


Long before the first primary, genuinely progressive platforms of Democratic candidates such as Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich have been deemed unrealistic and unworthy of consideration not only by the media, as can be expected, but by liberal activists and advocacy groups who often concede privately that they prefer a Kucinich, Sharpton or Ralph Nader.


As the US threatens to expand the Empire, with news of American soldiers killed in our illegal occupation of Iraq a daily occurrence -- a war many Americans are waking up to realize they were deceived into supporting under false pretenses, as the economy continues to go down the toilet (the costs of occupation pushing the decline), and as the wealthiest Americans are lavished with tax breaks while services benefiting the common good are eviscerated, it’s no wonder that Bush’s popularity ratings are at pre 9/11 levels. In this degraded climate, simply to say you’re an anti-war, anti-Bush candidate is to draw cheers from a battered opposition. And while they may be an improvement over Bush, have our standards so declined that we get weak in the knees when business-as-usual candidates like Clark and Dean summersault over a low hurdle?


Another White Knight from Little Rock


Four-star general Wesley Clark first came to public attention as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO during the US war on Serbia in 1999, and was until recently a CNN military analyst. Early this year, a grassroots campaign to draft Clark to run for the presidency formed and, mostly through the internet, garnered many signatures. Their efforts received an unlikely boost in the form of a letter from left-liberal author and filmmaker Michael Moore urging Clark to run. Moore claims that his article/letter helped generate 30,000 letters to the Draft Clark campaign and, sure enough, a few days later Clark declared his candidacy. Yet a look at the real Wesley Clark’s past makes us wonder why so many liberals and erstwhile progressives like Moore are so gaga over Clark.


It’s often said that Clark is “our best hope” to beat Bush because he’s a general, and no one can tarnish his anti-Bush positions on Persian Gulf Slaughter II, the Patriot Act, and other reactionary policies with the charge that he’s an “unpatriotic”, “anti-American” loon (as Dean is sometimes categorized). It’s a rather strange assertion considering there have only been six generals elected as president in American history, Eisenhower being the most recent, Andrew Jackson being the last Democrat. Generals who’ve been elected were major war heroes like George Washington and Ike. Nobody thinks Clark inhabits that pantheon.


Clark’s decision to run as a Democrat is but a recent development, and his allegiance to the Party is questionable at best. Clark’s first presidential vote was for Richard Nixon. He subsequently voted twice for Ronald Reagan and then for George Bush the Elder. Up until just two years ago, Clark was delivering speeches at GOP fundraisers in his home state of Arkansas, fuelling speculation he was considering a run for the Oval Office as a Republican. In a speech he gave at a fundraiser for the Pulaski County Republican Party, May 11, 2001, Clark praised Ronald Reagan’s Cold War actions, Bush Sr.’s foreign policy, and singled out the current administration’s hyper-unilateralist national security team: “We're going to be active, we're going to be forward engaged. But if you look around the world, there's a lot of work to be done. And I'm very glad we've got the great team in office: men like Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Paul O'Neill -- people I know very well -- our president, George W. Bush. We need them there, because we've got some tough challenges ahead in Europe.”


Clark only declared himself a Democrat this past August. Why the decision to run as a Democrat? A hint can be found in a recent Newsweek article. After 9/11, Clark had expected the Bush Administration to enlist him in their “war on terror.”


“After all, he'd been NATO commander … and the investment firm he now worked for had strong Bush ties. But when GOP friends inquired, they were told: forget it. Word was that Karl Rove, the president's political mastermind, had blocked the idea. Clark was furious. [Clark] happened to chat with two prominent Republicans, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Marc Holtzman. . . . "I would have been a Republican," Clark told them, "if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls." Soon thereafter, in fact, Clark quit his day job and began seriously planning to enter the presidential race -- as a Democrat. Clark late last week insisted the remark was a "humorous tweak." The two others said it was anything but. "He went into detail about his grievances," Holtzman said. "Clark wasn't joking. We were really shocked.” (Newsweek, September 29, 2003)


“Anti-War” Ain’t What it Used to Be


So why are liberals and progressives so star struck over Clark? One is the widespread perception that, as Michael Moore writes in his aforementioned letter, Clark “oppose[s] war.” As the media watchdog group FAIR reveals in a review of statements made by Clark before, during and after the Iraq war, if Clark is “anti-war” then clearly the term has been gutted of any meaning.


* In an article published in The Times of London, April 10, Clark savors America’s great “victory” over Iraq: “Liberation is at hand. Liberation — the powerful balm that justifies painful sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions. Already the scent of victory is in the air. Yet a bit more work and some careful reckoning need to be done before we take our triumph. . . . President Bush and Tony Blair should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt.”


* As the US and its client Israel are presently focusing the crosshairs on Syria and Iran, we have Clark writing in the same article: “But the operation in Iraq will also serve as a launching pad for further diplomatic overtures, pressures and even military actions against others in the region who have supported terrorism and garnered weapons of mass destruction. Don’t look for stability as a Western goal. Governments in Syria and Iran will be put on notice — indeed, may have been already — that they are ‘next’ if they fail to comply with Washington’s concerns.”


Sounds straight out of the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century playbook.


Many Clark supporters were stunned when he told the New York Times on September 19 that he would have voted for the congressional resolution authorizing Bush to attack Iraq: "At the time, I probably would have voted for it, but I think that's too simple a question." After pausing to consider his statement, Clark repeated: "I don't know if I would have or not. I've said it both ways because when you get into this, what happens is you have to put yourself in a position — on balance, I probably would have voted for it."


In response to the shocked reaction among supporters to the “antiwar” candidate’s statement, Clark backpedaled the next day: "Let's make one thing real clear, I would never have voted for this war." "I've gotten a very consistent record on this. There was no imminent threat. This was not a case of pre-emptive war. I would have voted for the right kind of leverage to get a diplomatic solution, an international solution to the challenge of Saddam Hussein."


Clark’s claim to having a consistent record is simply false. In October 2002, Clark traveled to New Hampshire to endorse Katrina Swett’s run for Congress. The Union Leader newspaper reported that, "Clark, who supports a congressional resolution that would give President Bush authority to use military force against Iraq, said if Swett were in Congress this week, he would advise her to vote for the resolution, but only after vigorous debate." (October 10, 2002)


You’re Either With Us, Against Us


Clark’s oft-repeated claim that the US should act in concert with the international community to reach a diplomatic solution on Iraq is belied by statements he made on CNN before the war:


* "I probably wouldn't have made the moves that got us to this point. But just assuming that we're here at this point, then I think that the president is going to have to move ahead, despite the fact that the allies have reservations." (1/21/03)


* "The credibility of the United States is on the line, and Saddam Hussein has these weapons and so, you know, we're going to go ahead and do this and the rest of the world's got to get with us.... The U.N. has got to come in and belly up to the bar on this. But the president of the United States has put his credibility on the line, too. And so this is the time that these nations around the world, and the United Nations, are going to have to look at this evidence and decide who they line up with." (2/5/03)


And let’s not forget that as Supreme Commander of NATO, Clark led an undeclared war against Serbia that was never approved by the UN. Before the Kosovo War commenced in March 1999, Clark repeatedly called for US air strikes against Serbia.


Maximum Violence


It’s instructive to look at Clark’s actions during the Kosovo War as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. Clark waged a brutal air war against Serbia that brought death and destruction mostly to civilians and the infrastructure that was their life support but, by most post-war accounts, left the Serbian military relatively unscathed. “We’re going to systematically and progressively attack, disrupt, degrade, devastate and ultimately, unless President Milosevic complies with the demands of the international community, we’re going to destroy his forces and their facilities and support.” It’s clear that Clark included as legitimate targets schools, bridges, hospitals, electrical facilities, market places, trains, refugee convoys, and media outlets. Clark bombed Serbia with “an almost sadistic fanaticism” (William Blum), making profligate use of deadly cluster bombs and depleted uranium shell, of the sort now ravaging Iraq. The Washington Post reports Clark “would rise out of his seat and slap the table. 'I've got to get the maximum violence out of this campaign-now!"


Independent estimates of the civilian death toll in the Kosovo War range from over 500-2000, yet Clark in testimony to Congress said there were between 20 to 30 instances of “collateral damage.” 


Clark’s attempts to cover up instances of intentional NATO bombings of civilian targets have been exposed, though not properly publicized. In one case, fourteen people were killed in Grdenicka, Serbia on April 12, 1999 when a US jet bombed a passenger train crossing a bridge. Clark claimed the atrocity was a tragic mistake, as the pilot was firing on the bridge and the train only came into view after the bombs had been dropped. He showed two video films shot from the nose of the remote control-guided bombs to support his claim, which were later found to have been doctored. In fact, the train could be seen on the bridge when the pilot bombed it, and he turned around to make a second sweep on the burning bridge, dropping a bomb directly on the carriage.


This is the anti-war, anti-unilateralist candidate? Orwell must be rolling over in his grave.


Flunking Howard Dean's Foreign Policy


By now we have all heard of him.  He has rallied progressives with his populist rhetoric, and media hounds have praised him from coast to coast—his name is Howard Dean, and he wants your vote for President of the United States. 


Iraq Debauchery


Ex-Governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, catapulted onto the national stage when he announced his position opposing Bush’s unilateral attack on Iraq.  He was the first Democrat to enter the race for the White House, and therefore the first Presidential candidate to speak out in opposition to Bush’s dubious war.  However, he was never wholeheartedly opposed to dethroning Saddam.  And like Wesley Clark, he’s swapped positions more than once.


Dean announced back in September 2002 that if Saddam didn’t comply with United Nations demands, the US reserved the right to “go into Iraq." Dean claimed he would have gladly endorsed a multilateral effort aimed at destroying Saddam’s regime.  And on CBS’s Meet the Press last July, he said that the United States must up its pressure on Saudi Arabia and Iran.  “We have to be very, very careful of Iran,” he said, Bush “is too beholden to the Saudis and the Iranians." 


And as the quagmire in Iraq thickens, Dean has boasted to the Washington Post that he has no intentions of bringing US troops home. Later Dean decided to flip-flop that stance, and stated in a New York Primary debate, "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.”  So which is it?  It seems according to Howard Dean that the Iraq disorder must go on at all costs.  He is just not quite sure whose soldiers should do the occupying.


When drilled during that same debate about Bush’s $87 billion Iraq package, Dean said that he would support it, and that “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?  He hasn’t clarified.


More recently, in an October issue of the Jewish Week, Dean was quoted as saying that he has been very clear in his support for “targeted assassinations” of Palestinian terror suspects.  He believes these men are, “enemy combatants in a war,” and added that, “Israel has every right to shoot them before they can shoot Israelis.” 


Dean’s Sharon Love Affair


Dean’s not-so-progressive stance on the Israel/Palestine conflict may be for a good (or not so good) reason.  Dean’s campaign fundraiser, Steven Grossman, is the ex-director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most influential Israeli lobbying force in the United States—ranked number four on Forbes top twenty-five most giving organizations in Washington. AIPAC’s unwavering ideology includes defending Ariel Sharon at every mishap.  Grossman himself spent many nights in the Clinton White House—and it’s a certainty he’ll be doing the same during a Dean tenure.


In an interview with The Forward magazine, Dean admitted that his position on Israel was “closer to AIPAC’s” than Palestinian advocates.  He has also announced his support for the wall now separating Palestinians from their homeland, as well as championing Israel for taking their battles over the border into Syria. "If Israel has to defend itself by striking terrorists elsewhere, it's going to have to do that,” Dean said in a CNN interview with Judy Woodruff, “terrorism has no place in bringing peace in the Middle East … nations have the right to defend themselves just as we defended ourselves by going into Afghanistan to get rid of Al Qaeda."


Dean is also opposed to curtailing any of Israel’s loan guarantees from the United States. Even though he’s claimed he’ll take an “even-handed” approach to the bloody conflict, Dean has made it clear he’ll support the billion dollar US loan guarantees to Israel. His own campaign website exclaims that the United States should “maintain its historic special relationship with the state of Israel, providing a guarantee of its long-term defense and security.” 


Why all the Hype?


So how did Dean get labeled a progressive antiwar candidate?  Dean wonders himself, “[I’m] out here talking about a balanced budget and a healthcare system run by the private sector,” Dean said in a New York Times article, “It’s pathetic I’m considered the most progressive candidate.”  He’s even remarked on the campaign trail that he doesn’t “think the Democrats are going to be able to beat the President with the equivalent of Bush-Lite."  So why isn’t he offering us a clear alternative, or at least acknowledging they exist?


Don’t count on Dean for that. It is unlikely he’ll be hailing the true progressives in the Democratic Primaries—Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton—anytime soon.  Why would he point his supporters to their camps?  Dean’s generous patrons have anteed up over ten and a half million dollars in small donations since his campaign’s inception.  Their loyalty has pushed the ex-Governor into top contention for the Democratic nomination for President. 


Looking over some of Dean’s hawkish foreign policy positions, it’s difficult to see what all the hype is about.   The Right has so controlled the political landscape in the US, that Howard Dean and Wesley Clark look decent to some progressives.  Even if either pull it off by winning their party’s nomination, and unseat Bush—the Left will still not be “victorious.” 


Desperate Americans


It’s hard to imagine that either Dean or Clark would be monumentally different than George W. Bush.  Perhaps they would.  However, its clear our struggles must continue well beyond the 2004 elections.  The Democrats may save us from Bush, but with the likes of Governor Dean and General Clark leading the oppositional pack—its apparent the Democrats won’t be able to save us from themselves.


Sunil Sharma is the editor of Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: editor@dissidentvoice.org.   

Josh Frank
is a writer and activist living in New York City. He can be reached at frank_joshua@hotmail.com.

This article will appear in the November-December 2003 edition of Left Turn Magazine (www.leftturn.org/).


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