Howard Dean Hype

The Pro-War Views of an "Anti-War" Candidate

Revolutionary Worker #1225, January 18, 2004, posted at

Millions of people simply can't stand George W. Bush. The mainstream media has been calling this "the hate factor." Lots of people think this White House is a scary and arrogant place, packed with corporate madmen who are screwing up the world. And they really think such people should be kept far away from power. And of course, they have good reasons for thinking that.

And many of these same folks have been furious at the "me too" Democratic Party establishment--which has done as little as possible to actually oppose the heavy moves of the Bush administration. And they are right here too.

After 9/11, after the White House declared endless war and permanent emergency, the Democratic Party (with very few exceptions) basically saluted and fell in line--sometimes mumbling a few feeble complaints. And this included most of today's Democratic Presidential contenders, including Senators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards and General Wesley Clark.

The Democrats in Congress voted heavily to give George Bush war powers to attack Iraq. They voted heavily for the Patriot Act that has torn huge holes in civil liberties within the U.S. They went along when the White House launched a predatory war based on a cascade of crude and flimsy lies.

Millions of people, including a huge chunk of the Democratic Party base, feel robbed of a way to speak out against everything Bush now represents.

This angry mood has give a huge boost to the campaign of Governor Howard Dean of Vermont, who is emerging as a front-runner on the eve of the coming New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses.

Dean's Record in Vermont

Politically, Dean has always been a conventional and rather conservative Democrat with some liberal stands on important social issues.

Dean comes from a prominent family of Wall Street stockbrokers. His administration in Vermont was known as "pro-business"--Green Party activists there list ways in which Dean supported new suburban and tourist-based "sprawl" in the Green Mountains. As governor, he was known for opposing environmental regulations on issues like mining and poultry mega-farms. He opposed the Kyoto Accords for limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Dean has been a strict "lock 'em up" politician who cut funding for public aid lawyers. He strongly supports the "war on drugs" and continued criminalization of drugs. He even opposes allowing marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

As governor, he supported the state law legalizing gay civil marriages in the face of a rightwing hysteria. Dean is a doctor who supports keeping the current legal status of abortion-with-restrictions. His opponents in both the Democratic and Republican parties are scrambling to uncover whether Dean ever, personally, helped women by performing abortions. (The fact that this is considered an automatic disqualification for office tells a lot about the power of reactionary politics in both of the official political parties.)

Pandering to Racism

On the campaign trail, Dean portrayed himself as a man willing to talk about the tough issues--saying he is the only Democrat who dares to "speak about race to white people." He then went on to say that he wanted the vote of Southern white guys who display the confederate flag on the back of their pickup trucks.

Well, this way of "speaking about race to white people" is not a new one!

Though Dean later said he was misunderstood. His explanation was that he believes the Democratic Party should focus on things that even racist white people could unite with (meaning issues like "jobs").

Running for governor Dean opposed the death penalty, but now, running for president, he is for state executions, saying, "When someone gets put to death for a heinous crime, I don't feel the least bit conflicted about that." This seems to ignore that poor and Black people often get convicted of such crimes by a racist and rigged court system.

Radicals in Vermont remember well how he denounced demonstrators against the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal as "a bunch of hoods running around our streets."

Built into all of this is the current Democratic Party gospel that the issues of equality and anti-racism in modern America should be shoved permanently to the back burner.

Dean's reference to slavery's flag is often described as a "gaffe"--but there is no reason to suspect that it was not a very calculated move. Dean is facing crucial primary races in Southern states like South Carolina (where Bush also made hay by upholding the confederate flag)--and Dean is operating within a political system that demands that its presidential candidates (especially the Democrats) prove publicly that they are not "panderers" to the interests of Black people.

Governor Clinton made a point of publicly slapping down Black rapper Sister Souljah in his 1992 race for president--and Dean has now had his own defining "Souljah Moment."

Dean's remark on the Dixie flag, and his later explanations represent a demand that everyone accept (coexist with and "pander" to) extreme and reactionary politics on the oppression of Black people--all, naturally, in the name of "beating Bush" at the ballot box.

Some Questions: What are the chances of carrying out real change through a political system that is constructed to require such "Souljah Moments" from those seeking top power?

And if progressive people accept Dean's logic (in the name of "beating Bush") what injustices would they be accepting with their silence?

In the name of bourgeois political alliances with corporate business and racist Southern "Bubbas"--what more important alliances and possibilities would all this be betraying?

Dean on How to Win the War He Doesn't Like

On the campaign trail, Howard Dean denounces George W. Bush for the way Bush launched war against Iraq. Dean points out that Bush and his circle lied, crudely, to justify this war. And Dean points out that the war is not going well. And these criticisms have helped Dean leapfrog over the other Democrats.

But a close look shows that Dean denounces the way this war was planned and launched--but not the war itself. Senator John Kerry (a Dean rival) has recently been reminding the world that on October 6, 2002, Dean endorsed the Biden-Lugar Senate proposal granting Bush war powers to attack Iraq. (This is not the proposal that was ultimately passed and which Kerry voted for.)

In a typical speech Dean now says (Dec. 15, 2003),

"The difficulties and tragedies we have faced in Iraq show that the administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at unbelievable cost. An administration prepared to work with others in true partnership might have been able, if it found no alternative to Saddam's ouster, to then rebuild Iraq with far less cost and risk."

Now Dean continually calls for continuing this war to victory over any resistance.

On July 2, National Public Radio's Bob Edwards asked Dean: "What would you be doing differently in postwar Iraq?"

Howard Dean answered:

"Now that we're there we can't leave. We cannot allow chaos or a fundamentalist regime in Iraq because it could be fertile ground for al Qaida. First thing I would do is bring in 40 to 50,000 other troops. I'd look to Arab countries, Islamic countries who are our allies, NATO, the United Nations. General Shinseki, before we went in, said that we did not have enough troops. The administration ignored that advice. It turned out to be true. It was a bad thing the administration ignored their own military expertise. We need those troops. We're not keeping order in Iraq. And it seems to me that what we need is some expertise from people who know how to police countries that are in some chaos and who understand how to administer and build the institutions of democracy. We're going to be there for a long time in Iraq. We can't leave."

Dean repeatedly says "Our troops need to come home" but adds "We can't pull out responsibly."

This means Dean's "exit strategy" is essentially the same as the one advocated by President Bush or General Wesley Clark: replace some of the U.S. troops by Iraqi and allies' troops under U.S. command. And since no else one is expected send troops to fight a losing war--this approach inevitably means using U.S. troops first to crush the Iraqi resistance to occupation.

Dean's plan for Iraq is to dig in for a long time, send in more troops, defeat the Iraqi resistance, strengthen the U.S. occupation, and impose a pro-U.S. government.

This is a stand that says launching the war was a mistake for U.S. imperial interests, but that those same interests now demand staying and winning the war.

This is not an anti-war stand. It is a pro-war stand--even if it comes along with angry and mocking denunciations of Bush.

Dean on How to Best Run an Empire

"I seek to restore America's rightful place in the world and its moral leadership in world affairs. We remain the sole superpower in the world..Our foreign and military policy must be about the notion of America leading the world, not America against the world."

Howard Dean, policy statement on campaign website

"Dean suggested that on some issues, the difference between Bush and himself was more of tone and temperament."

Washington Post , December 14, 2003

On a fundamental and defining level, Dean supports expanding and exercising U.S. domination over other countries in the world--including by force. His critique of the Bush clique is that they have pursued this goal badly, leaving the U.S. more isolated in the world, instead of more dominant.

In his December 15 speech (and in many others) Dean lists how he supported all the recent wars launched by the U.S., including the first Gulf War, the NATO war on Yugoslavia, and Bush's invasion of Afghanistan.

In June 1998, he also defended then-President Clinton's unilateral bombing of Iraq saying, "I don't think we could have built an international coalition to invade or have a substantial bombing of Saddam."

Dean adds that "As president, I will never hesitate to deploy our armed forces to defend our country and its allies, and to protect our national interests."

He supports the concept of "preemptive attack," saying on his campaign website, "There is also no doubt that a sovereign state has a right to fight a preemptive war against an imminent threat to its vital national security interests." His critique of the Bush Doctrine is that it extends this "right" to wage "preemptive war" to include cases of more distant potential threat.

In a major foreign policy statement ( Washington Post , December 21, 2003) Dean said he supported making demands on North Korea in talks "backed by the threat of force." Dean opposes ending the cruel embargo on Cuba.

In the details of his online position papers, Dean opposes cutting the U.S. military budget (which has swollen to truly grotesque and criminal proportions in order to threaten the world with military superiority). And Dean proposed increasing the budget for "Homeland Security," which brings the promise of increased surveillance, border militarization, police activity and "security" hysteria in our lives. At the same time, he calls for reconsideration of some provisions of the Patriot Act that gives sweeping new police powers to federal agents.

In many ways, what stands out is how little his positions differ from the Bush policies:

Dean strongly supports Israel, and says that his views on Palestine are closest to the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (the conservative Zionist lobbying group close to Israel's rightwing expansionist Prime Minister Ariel Sharon).

Dean supports Israel's death squad attacks on Palestinian forces. "I've been very clear: I support the targeted assassinations," he said. "These are enemy combatants in a war; Israel has every right to shoot them before they can shoot Israelis." He denounces countries like Iran for "supporting Palestinian terrorism."

Dean added he supports the Israeli move to fence off Palestinian areas on the West Bank, based on "the original maps of the fence I saw when I was over there a year and a half ago.I think the fence is a security matter."

Dean supports U.S. and Israeli moves to depose Arafat as Palestinian leader and president. "I do not think we will get to peace in the Middle East as long as Arafat is in power," Dean said, "This is an area I agree with the President on." ( Jewish Week , October 2003)

The differences are so small that Dean lavishes praise on Bush's Secretary of State Colin L. Powell (a prominent architect of the war on Iraq). Dean's aides even talk of keeping Powell as Secretary of State in a Dean White House!

Dean does of course have a criticism. He says ( Washington Post , Dec. 21) "I believe the United States must exercise leadership by working with allies and partners to advance common interests, rather than advancing our power unilaterally. My program is clear. First, we must strengthen our military and intelligence, ensure that our troops have the best training and equipment and keep our promises about pay and benefits. Second, we must rebuild our alliances, badly damaged by the current administration."

It is important to understand what this means, and what it doesn't mean.

This does not mean that Dean rejects all unilateral military attacks, or thinks that the U.S. should subordinate itself to international alliances or institutions. It means that he, like many throughout the U.S. ruling class, think that the U.S. has been unnecessarily isolated by its recent moves.

Dean and the rest of the Democratic Party are generally calling for a more "muscular multi- laterialism"--where the U.S. finds the ways to get other powers more actively involved in imposing and maintaining a U.S-dominated world order. Dean (and most other Democrats) argue that the U.S. needs to find more ways of shifting and sharing the burden of war and empire by making some accommodations. Dean's arguments bring to mind the Soviet observation before World War 2 that U.S. and British ruling classes always want someone else to "pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them."

Meanwhile, powerful parts of the Bush team have insisted that the U.S. military superiority is great enough that the U.S. does not need to make any significant accommodation to other world powers.

This is a debate among imperialists over how best to rule their empire.

Possibilities of Resistance and Co-optation

Fred Barnes, one of those cold-blooded Republican attack dogs on TV, recently wrote that 2004 will be a year where "the war on terrorism, and the outcome in Iraq, hang in the balance." The worst thing of all, he writes, would be if this coming year were "brimming with bitter assaults on the very idea of an assertive, morality-based American role in the world." Barnes openly calls on the whole political establishment (including the Clintons, who Barnes hates) to help prevent this from happening.

This gives a sense of the fear, in powerful places, of what could happen in the months ahead.

Official American politics encourages everyone to project their views and hopes on one or another candidate. And some people have come to imagine Dean's campaign as a way to oppose the war in Iraq and stand against the aggressive policies of the U.S. government. Dean has obviously encouraged this, portraying himself as a fighter with angry criticisms of the Bush regime.

But there is an old Maoist saying to be careful you don't climb onboard a pirate ship, just because it is flying a friendly flag.

New Republic columnist Franklin Foer wrote (December 23, 2003): "Talk to sensible Howard Dean supporters these days, and they'll tell you that the former governor's campaign to date has been a grand sleight of hand. Sure, it has harnessed Bush hatred and antiwar fervor. But the real Dean isn't a frothing lefty like his supporters; he's a closet centrist. Once he finishes exploiting the left's anger to seal the nomination, he will reveal his true self, elegantly pivoting to the middle."

If a President Dean replaced a President Bush--the heights of U.S. power would still be dedicated to empire and military domination, and they would even still be committed to some of the specific aggressive and unjust policies involved in conquering Iraq and waging an endless war on the world (in the name of a "war on terrorism").

A question: What would it mean--to the growth of a powerful resistance movement in the months ahead--if the energies and resources of antiwar forces get subordinated to a Democratic electoral program that is so fundamentally pro-war and pro-imperialist?