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Wesley Clark & Howard Dean
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 the U.S.
Decades of unremitting right- wing assaults on every sphere of U.S. 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 is anybody but Bush. Have our standards so declined that we get weak in the knees when business-as-usual candidates like Clark and Dean somersault over a low hurdle?
Four-star general Wesley Clark first came to public attention as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO during the U.S. war on Serbia in 1999, and was, until recently, a CNN military analyst. Early this year, a grassroots campaign to draft Clark 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.
Its often said that Clark is our best hope to beat Bush because hes 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 hes an unpatriotic, anti-American loon (as Dean is sometimes categorized). Its a rather strange assertion considering there have only been six generals elected as president in U.S. history, Eisenhower being the most recent, Andrew Jackson being the last Democrat. Generals whove been elected were major war heroes like George Washington and Ike. Nobody thinks Clark inhabits that pantheon.
Clarks decision to run as a Democrat is a recent development and his allegiance to the Party is questionable at best. Clarks first presidential vote was for Richard Nixon. He subsequently voted twice for Ronald Reagan and then for George Bush the Elder. Until two years ago, Clark was delivering speeches at GOP fundraisers in his home state of Arkansas, fueling speculation he was considering a run for the Oval Office as a Republican. In his speech at a fundraiser for the Pulaski County Republican Party on May 11, 2001, Clark praised Ronald Reagans Cold War actions and Bush Sr.s foreign policy. He also singled out the current Administrations hyper-unilater- alist national security team: Were going to be active, were going to be forward engaged. But if you look around the world, theres a lot of work to be done. And Im very glad weve got the great team in office: men like Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condo- leezza Rice, Paul ONeillpeople I know very wellour president, George W. Bush. We need them there, because weve got some tough challenges ahead in Europe.
only declared as 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,
hed 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 presidents
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 raceas a Democrat. Clark
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 wasnt joking.
We were really shocked (Newsweek, September 29, 2003).
So why are liberals and progressives so star struck over Clark? One reason 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 the term has been gutted of any meaning.
- In an article published in the London Times, April 10, Clark savors the U.S.s great victory over Iraq: Liberation is at hand. Liberationthe 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 U.S. 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. Dont look for stability as a Western goal. Governments in Syria and Iran will be put on noticeindeed, may have been alreadythat they are next if they fail to comply with Washingtons concerns.
The above 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 thats too simple a question. After pausing to consider his statement, Clark repeated: I dont know if I would have or not. Ive said it both ways because when you get into this, what happens is you have to put yourself in a positionon balance, I probably would have voted for it.
In response to the shocked reaction among supporters to the antiwar candidates statement, Clark backpedaled the next day: Lets make one thing real clear, I would never have voted for this war. Ive 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.
Clarks claim to having a consistent record is simply false. In October 2002, Clark traveled to New Hampshire to endorse Katrina Swetts run for Congress. The Union Leader newspaper reported, 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).
Clarks oft-repeated claim that the U.S. 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 wouldnt have made the moves that got us to this point. But just assuming that were here at this point, then I think that the president is going to have to move ahead.... (January 21, 2003).
- The credibility of the United States is on the line, and Saddam Hussein has these weapons and so, you know, were going to go ahead and do this and the rest of the worlds 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 (February 5, 2003).
Lets 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 began in March 1999, Clark repeatedly called for U.S. air strikes against Serbia.
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. Were going to systematically and progressively attack, disrupt, degrade, devastate and ultimately, unless President Milosevic complies with the demands of the international community, were going to destroy his forces and their facilities and support.
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 shells, of the sort
used to ravage Iraq. The Washington Post reports Clark would
rise out of his seat and slap the table. Ive got to
get the maximum violence out of this campaign now!
Independent estimates of the civilian death toll in the Kosovo War range from 500-2,000, yet Clark, in testimony to Congress, said there were between 20 and 30 instances of collateral damage.
Clarks attempts to cover up instances of intentional NATO bombings of civilian targets have been exposed, though not properly publicized. In one case, 14 people were killed in Grdenicka, Serbia on April 12, 1999 when a U.S. 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?
The former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, has rallied progressives with his populist rhetoric and media hounds have praised him from coast to coast. Howard Dean catapulted onto the national stage when he announced his position opposing Bushs 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 Bushs dubious war. However, he was never wholeheartedly opposed to dethroning Saddam. Like Wesley Clark, hes swapped positions more than once.
Dean announced in September 2002 that if Saddam didnt comply with UN demands, the U.S. reserved the right to go into Iraq. Dean claimed he would have gladly endorsed a multilateral effort aimed at destroying Saddams regime. On CBSs Meet the Press last July, he said that the United States must increase 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.
As the quagmire in Iraq thickens, Dean boasted to the Washington Post that he had no intentions of bringing U.S. troops home. Later Dean flip-flopped, stating in a New York primary debate, We need more troops. Theyre 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.
When drilled during that same debate about Bushs $87 billion dollar Iraq package, Dean said that he would support it and 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 hasnt 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, Israel has every right to shoot them before they can shoot Israelis.
Deans 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 Statesranked number 4 on Forbes top 25 most giving organizations in Washington. AIPACs unwavering ideology includes defending Ariel Sharon at every mishap. Grossman spent many nights in the Clinton White House and its certain he would be doing the same during a Dean tenure.
In an interview with the Forward, Dean admitted that his position on Israel was closer to AIPACs 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, its 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 Israels loan guarantees from the United States. Even though hes claimed hell take an even-handed approach to the bloody conflict, Dean has made it clear hell support the billion dollar U.S. loan guarantees to Israel. His 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.
So how did Dean get labeled a progressive antiwar candidate? Dean wonders, (Im) out here talking about a balanced budget and a healthcare system run by the private sector, Dean said in a New York Times article, Its pathetic Im considered the most progressive candidate. Hes even remarked that he doesnt think the Democrats are going to be able to beat the president with the equivalent of Bush-Lite. So why isnt he offering us a clear alternative?
Dean is unlikely hell be hailing the progressives in the Democratic PrimariesDennis Kucinich and Al Sharptonanytime soon. Why would he point his supporters to their camps? Deans generous patrons have anteed up over $10.5 million in small donations since his campaigns inception.
Looking at Deans hawkish foreign policy positions, its difficult to see what all the hype is about. The right wing has so controlled the political landscape, that Dean and Clark look decent to some progressives. Even if one of them manages to unseat Bush, the left still won't be victorious.
Its hard to imagine that either Dean or Clark would be monumentally different than George W. Bush. Our struggles must continue well beyond the 2004 elections. The Democrats may save us from Bush, but, with the likes of Dean and Clark leading the opposition, its apparent the Democrats wont be able to save us from themselves.
Sunil K. Sharma is the editor of Dissident Voice, a radical on-line newsletter (www.dissidentvoice. org). Josh Frank is a writer/activist living in New York City.
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