Will your vote end the war?

February 8, 2008

Millions of people voted in the Super Tuesday primaries for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in the hopes that a Democratic president will end the U.S. war on Iraq. But as Alan Maass shows, the record of the Democratic Party when it comes to war and peace is reason to think again.

THE RACE for the Democratic presidential nomination is going into overtime.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had victories to celebrate in the February 22 primary contests. Obama won the most states, but Clinton got the biggest ones. And with delegates to the August convention awarded according to a complicated formula based on percentages statewide and in each congressional district, it was unclear as Socialist Worker went to press whether one or the other would gain an edge in the ongoing tally.

Clinton survived a surge of support for Obama in the lead-up to Super Tuesday to win most of the states she was expected to. Her biggest prize appeared to be California, where she benefited from a record turnout of Latinos, who supported her by a 2-to-1 margin, according to exit polls.

Obama, on the other hand, won handily in his home state of Illinois, several states in the South and in caucuses and primaries in the Midwest and Mountain states. He won narrow upsets in Connecticut and Missouri, where Clinton was favored to win.

What else to read

Sherry Wolf's article "The Democrats and war: Not a real lesser evil," in the International Socialist Review, recounts the history of a party that claims to be more for peace, but has been every bit as committed to U.S. imperial power.

For a book that documents the history of U.S. military adventures over the past century, read Sidney Lens' Forging of the American Empire. Another useful source is Noam Chomsky's World Orders, Old and New.

To read a more general socialist analysis of the Democrats, you can download an ISO Web book by Lance Selfa, The Democratic Party and the Politics of Lesser Evilism.

Obama continued to dominate among African Americans and inspire big turnouts among youth and first-time voters. But he also showed strength among white voters generally, where the media have questioned his support. For example, in Georgia, a bastion of segregationist rule only two generations ago, Obama not only got more than 80 percent of the Black vote, but he split the white vote almost equally with Clinton.

Only a few weeks ago, national opinion polls showed Obama trailing Clinton by double-digit margins overall and in most Super Tuesday states. But his campaign was lifted by a groundswell of support that erased Clinton's big leads in almost every case across the country.

Super Tuesday was expected to put an end to the battle for the Democratic nomination, if it wasn't over already--contests in 22 states, with roughly half the elected delegates to the August convention at stake. But the split decision on February 5 means that the race is certain to continue deep into the primary calendar--at least March, and as late as the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania.

Obama figures to run strong in the biggest contests during the rest of this month--Washington state's caucuses on February 9; the so-called Chesapeake primary in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., on the 12th; and Wisconsin a week later. Plus, his campaign has to be emboldened by the momentum it has gained throughout January, even after setbacks in New Hampshire and Nevada.

But the Clinton campaign has experience on its side, and the support of a majority of party leaders and insiders, notwithstanding the high-powered endorsements of Obama by Sens. Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and others before February 5. The Clinton faction of the Democratic establishment has run the party for two decades, and will pull out all the stops to win.

NO ONE can now doubt the intensity of interest and feelings stirred up by Election 2008. Turnout for the Democratic primaries shattered previous records in just about every state.

This is a clear sign of the mass popular rejection of George W. Bush and the right-wing agenda he represents. Like the 2006 congressional elections that overturned the Republican majority in Congress, Election 2008 is shaping up as a repudiation of the Bush record in the White House--and at the center of that record is the war on Iraq and threats of war throughout the Middle East.

Within the Democratic race, there is a related dynamic. The Obama campaign is tapping into a deep-seated discontent with the status quo, which is associated with the former frontrunner and one-time "inevitable" nominee, Hillary Clinton. Obama's call for "change" became the dominant one-word slogan of the election season, leading Clinton to reinvent her campaign.

The effect on both candidates has only become more pronounced. Even late last year, Clinton, Obama and John Edwards refused point-blank in one debate to promise to have U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq by 2013, the end of the next president's first term. Now, Clinton and Obama stress how quickly they'll start a pullout.

But the qualifications remain. Obama and Clinton both maintain that a significant number of U.S. troops will have to stay in Iraq to protect the U.S. embassy, train Iraqi forces and carry out operations against vaguely defined "terrorist threats."

In debates and during his speeches, Obama focuses on Clinton's vote in favor of the 2002 congressional resolution that gave Bush authorization for the Iraq invasion. Clinton's claim that she thought she was voting to keep weapons inspectors in Iraq rings hollow--especially for anyone who remembers her husband's cynical manipulation of the inspection teams when he was trying to start his own war in 1998.

Nevertheless, the Clinton campaign is correct that Obama's opposition to the invasion changed when he became a senator--and was in a position to do something about it. Like Clinton, Obama voted until last year for each and every bill to fund the Iraq occupation and the Pentagon war machine.

Likewise, Obama points to Clinton's vote last year in favor of a Senate resolution that ramped up war threats against Iran. But this begs the question: Why didn't Obama vote against the resolution himself, even though he was in Washington when it was taken up? His rhetoric about Iran has been every bit as confrontational as Clinton's.

These examples show how narrow the differences are between Obama and Clinton when it comes to actual policies. When they can even be distinguished from each other, their disagreements about Iraq are about details, not anything of substance.

And in fact, when you look beyond the rhetoric, at what the candidates actually propose to do about Iraq and the "war on terror," Obama and Clinton are actually closer to the Bush White House than they are to the masses of people who want to vote for them as an alternative to Bush's wars.

This underlines a fundamental fact that goes unstated, by the candidates and their staff, as well as the mainstream media--that the Democrats and Republicans, for all their rhetorical differences, share a fundamental agreement on the aims and methods of the U.S. imperial project around the world.

Obama and Clinton may say one thing to win votes. But as leaders of one of the two mainstream parties that control U.S. politics, their loyalties lie not with the antiwar sentiments of the majority of the population, but with the interests of the U.S. government in projecting its power around the globe.

THE HISTORY of the last century is filled with Democratic presidential nominees who promised to be peace candidates, but didn't hesitate to launch the U.S. into war.

At the beginning of the century, Democrats agitated for the U.S. to become an imperial power.

"Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down," wrote Woodrow Wilson, when he was still a college professor. "Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process."

In 1912, Wilson won the presidency, and he was narrowly re-elected four years later while vowing to keep the U.S. out of the First World War. This promise didn't stop Wilson from using "gunboat diplomacy" in America's "backyard" in the Western Hemisphere--he sent U.S. forces into Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Honduras and Guatemala, not to mention China, as well as Russia under the workers' state established by the 1917 revolution.

And by 1917, under pressure from Wall Street, Wilson threw the U.S. into the slaughter in Europe.

Likewise, Franklin Roosevelt promised to stay out of the Second World War, but his vice president, Harry Truman, summed up the cynical attitude of the leaders of both parties: "If we see that Germany is winning the war, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and in that way, let them kill as many as possible."

When the U.S. did enter the war--after allowing Russia to absorb the full ferocity of the Nazis' invasion--American forces inflicted maximum destruction against both Germany and Japan. An Allied bombing campaigned in 1945 incinerated the German city of Dresden, at a cost of between 25,000 and 100,000 lives--and the fire-bombings of Japanese cities were even more deadly.

Democrat Harry Truman remains the only leader of any country to order the use of nuclear weapons. The two atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki--killing at least 250,000 people that day and in the months and years to come--after the U.S. knew that Japan was defeated and ready to surrender. The real purpose was nuclear terrorism--a warning to the U.S.'s superpower-rival-to-be, the USSR.

John F. Kennedy remains an icon to Democratic Party liberals--something Obama has used to great advantage--but his zeal for American power is conveniently forgotten.

Kennedy okayed the Bay of Pigs invasion against Cuba to overthrow Fidel Castro and the leaders of Cuban Revolution, for their crime of toppling a favorite U.S.-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Kennedy ordered the U.S. intervention in Vietnam--and his vice president, Lyndon Johnson, escalated it into all-out war.

In 1964, Johnson ran as a "peace" candidate against right-winger Barry Goldwater--an infamous Johnson campaign commercial that ended with a mushroom cloud painted Goldwater as a fanatic who would start a nuclear war at the first opportunity. After Johnson's landslide re-election, the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam climbed to some 550,000 by early 1968.

Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, but his time in the White House in the late 1970s was anything but peaceful.

During his last two years as president, the Pentagon budget rose by 10 percent, the start of an arms buildup that Ronald Reagan would continue to unprecedented heights. To enforce the "Carter Doctrine" of protecting American access to Middle East oil "by any means necessary," Carter ordered the creation of the Rapid Deployment Force, the forerunner of the very U.S. Central Command that carried out George Bush Sr.'s first Gulf War in 1991, and ran Bush Jr.'s invasion of Iraq five years ago.

The 1991 Gulf War was actually the first U.S. war of the 20th century to be started by a Republican. Even so, many Democratic leaders were enthusiastic supporters--among them, Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

Under Clinton, the U.S. and UN maintained the strictest economic blockade in history against Iraq--at a cost of the death of half a million Iraqi children under the age of five, by the UN's own figures. In 1998, Clinton supported passage of the Iraq Liberation Act that made "regime change" the policy of the U.S. government, setting the stage for the Bush administration's invasion.

This record shows the truth about the Democrats--they are a loyal party of the U.S. imperial project of dominating the globe, militarily, economically and politically.

Millions of people are planning to vote for Clinton or Obama out of the hope that their talk about wanting peace is genuine. But Clinton and Obama belong to a party that has always waged war as enthusiastically and ruthlessly as the Republicans--and will continue to do so unless it faces the mobilized resistance of a mass antiwar movement.

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