Democrats Can Be Neocons Too
The great hope among Americans seriously opposed to the war in Iraq is that the Democratic majority in both houses of Congress will now bring the troops home. But everyone paying attention realizes that the Democratic leadership, however much it’s recently rejected, and even ridiculed, the Bush “stay the course” mantra, is as committed as its Republican rivals to somehow “winning” in Iraq. So the best hope of those committed to electoral politics as the only option to effect social change is that the Congress will now conduct honest investigations into what many Americans already realize were the administration’s dishonest, even fascist-like, efforts to justify the war through the dissemination of disinformation. Once the scope of the lie campaign becomes regular screeching headline news, that mercilessly revealed history will impact the present, making the war even more unpopular, the administration even more exposed and despised. Then Pelosi, Reid & Co. -- however naturally inclined they might be to occupy a reconciliatory “center” that combines criticism for the war with support for its basic objective (U.S. imperialist hegemony in Southwest Asia) -- might be pushed despite themselves towards supporting unconditional withdrawal. That’s the hope.
I share that hope, of course (if not the commitment to electoral politics as the means to produce social change). In October 2003, while the Iraq War was still fairly popular, I criticized “anti-war” Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean for declaring:
Failure in Iraq is not an option. The President needs to get personally involved to build a broad, international coalition. He should immediately direct his Secretary of State to get on a plane to drum up the troops and the money -- and make the deals that are necessary to get our allies and friends to join us in the effort to make Iraq a better place.
I compared the U.S. invasion to a rape, and Dean’s suggestion that the crime of the invader/rapist could somehow be made good by the latter’s continued presence to a “rape-marriage” such as occurs and is validated in some societies. “Nowadays,” I wrote, “what decent people with common sense want to do is to separate that victim from the rapist, by as vast a distance as possible (and ideally by a row of bars). The criminal can do no good for her, other than pay reparations -- and even those payments can of course never undo the crime. His obnoxious presence will hurt her rather than help her.” Three years later, as reports proliferate indicating that things are much worse in Iraq today than under Saddam -- for women, Christians, gays, professors, secular minded people, indeed every community -- and as evidence pours in that the Iraqi people want to U.S. out, now, I think the validity of the analogy is apparent.
Maybe the hope so widespread among war opponents is well founded. The neocon-led administration has indeed been dealt a body blow. But it could recover and lash out wildly, with little to lose, before it goes down. It will surely announce some changes in Iraq policy in the near future, designed to mollify critics. It may trade some concessions on policy for political opponents’ assurances that they won’t aggressively pursue investigations into the pre-war campaign of lies to justify criminal aggression (or what the mainstream media politely calls “possible manipulation of intelligence” before the war). So far Pelosi has been at pains to say that “impeachment is off the table.” Yesterday she denied ever calling Bush a liar, apparently trying to make nice. A mass movement could change her mind of course, and if John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat poised to take over chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee, wants them we could see impeachment hearings. Conyers has in the past broached the possibility of such hearings, in which administration lies would be a central issue. On the other hand in May, Conyers specifically denied that as chair of the committee Judiciary Committee, he “would immediately begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush. I will not do that,” he declared.
I hope he changes his mind, and goes on the attack -- in part to avoid more Iraqs in the near future. One must not underestimate the tenacity of those who feel that the post-9/11 environment still offers opportunities for the reconfiguration of the “Greater Middle East” in ways that could advantage U.S. imperialism in what the neocons boldly call the “New American Century.” One should not underrate their ability to adjust to changing political circumstances. Many of them have been distancing themselves from Bush, including the “Prince of Darkness” Richard Perle, himself a registered Democrat. Key neocons such as the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol have criticized the Bush administration for being too soft in its war to conquer and shape the Muslim world; Kristol has called for Rumsfeld’s resignation (now accomplished) and heaped praise on Joe Lieberman for his many services to the neocon cause. Nesting with the Republicans, the neocon world-changers who imagine that their children will sing songs about them enjoy substantial ties with the victory-flushed Democrats as well.
One Democrat to watch is Congressman Tom Lantos of California. He will probably succeed defeated Congressman James A. Leach of Iowa as chairman of the House International Relations Committee. In this instance, the Democrat is the more dangerous. In a detailed statement in November 2004, Leach opposed the use of military force against Iran. He voted against the “Iran Freedom and Support Act,” which allocates funding for “regime change” in Iran. Liberal Democrat Lantos on the other hand cosponsored the act, and is a leading advocate of sanctions.
Throughout his political career Lantos has enthusiastically supported Israeli and U.S. aggression in the Middle East, circulating disinformation in the process. In October 1990, following the Iraqi invasion of Iraq, he provided invaluable service to the first President Bush’s propaganda campaign preparatory to the first Gulf War. The “Congressional Human Rights Caucus” which Lantos co-founded in 1983 displayed to the world media a “Nurse Nayirah” from Kuwait who spoke movingly about how she had watched Iraqi soldiers dragging 312 Kuwaiti babies from their incubators in a Kuwait City hospital and leaving them to die on the floor. The President made good use of that tale in his speeches, but it was entirely fictitious. The nurse was in fact the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S., who had been carefully coached in her acting job by the PR firm Hill and Knowlton -- the same firm that provided Lantos’ Caucus with its office space. (The disinformation was exposed in March 1991 by ABC News, but by then of course it had served its purpose. Rather like the Niger uranium lie.)
Lantos enthusiastically supported the first Gulf War, and voted to authorize the second one. He was a big supporter of Israel’s latest war on Lebanon, and has vowed to Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to block aid to Lebanon until the latter agrees to international troops on its border with Syria. He wants U.S. intervention in Sudan. The neocons could ask for no more solid ally than Tom Lantos. And he is by no means alone among the Democratic victors in the midterm elections.
At Princeton in January, Hillary Clinton criticized the Bush administration for being too soft on Iran. “I believe we lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations,” she declared. “I don’t believe you face threats like Iran or North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines.” Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana is another leading Democrat who wants a more hawkish stance towards Iran. The execution of the next planned phases in the neocon project (the achievement of regime change in Iran and Syria) isn’t necessarily dependent on the Republican Party and the diminishing number of hard-line Bush loyalists within it. Some Democrats want to pull it off.
The Democrats could be pushed to accept some strategic retreats from the neocon game plan. They would do so thinking that in the process they protect the broader interests of U.S. imperialism, to which they as their Republican colleagues owe allegiance. Certainly corporate America (which nurtures and molds both parties) is divided about how to proceed, with some indeed counseling a “cut and run” strategy simply because it means cutting losses. But the Democrats could also, having inherited a war, decide to keep it and expand it in their own fashion, claiming to do so with greater wisdom and competence than the bungling Bush was ever able to do. It could go either way. Those both antiwar and jubilant in the wake of the Democrats’ glorious victory should resolve to keep the victors’ feet to the fire.
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Gary Leupp
* GIs Grow
Frustrated With the Iraqi People
* From Cana to
Qana: From the Wedding Then, To a Slaughter of Innocents Now
of the Holocaust”: More Disinformation on Iran
* “Ideologies of
Hatred”? What Does Condi Mean?