Friend or Foe? Why Won’t the Democrats Stop Bush’s War?

Many Americans, appalled by Bush’s brazen drive to war, understandably felt compelled to applaud the few liberal Democrats in Congress, like Paul Wellstone from Minnesota and Jim McDermott from Seattle, who took a critical stance. A closer look at the Democrats “opposition” reveals they are not as opposed to an Iraq war as it might appear.

Bush’s resolution authorizing war passed in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives with a 68% majority. In the Democrat-controlled senate, not only did a greater overall majority support the bill (77%), but the majority of Democrats supported it.

Of those Democrats who did vote against Bush’s resolution, their stated reason for doing so was not disagreement about whether, but about details of how, to go to war. Almost every amendment they put forward still authorized war. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle summed up many Democrats hesitations: “The Presidents desire to wage war alone, without the support of our allies and without authorization from Congress, was wrong.”

Many Democrats insisted that Bush go through the UN and not destroy Iraq all by himself. But going through the UN only gives Bush’s war more legitimacy – it will not stop it. Democrats don’t have a principled opposition to slaughtering innocent Iraqis, sacrificing American troops or helping authorize $200 billion for war that would be better spent on jobs and education. Daschle expressed fear that “…extremists who would like nothing more than to transform a confrontation with Iraq into a wider war between the Arab world and Israel or … the West,” but still voted for war.

Jesse Jackson Jr., Democratic Representative from Chicago, explains the position of many liberal Democrats: “Before there is any authorization for the use of armed force against Iraq, we must make sure that all peaceful means containing and eliminating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have been exhausted,” referring to UN weapons inspections. But in fact inspections are designed by the US to trap Iraq into war. In other words, Jesse Jackson Jr. is hiding behind the UN to try to dupe his constituents that he is against this war.

Some “left-wing” Democrats have spoken at anti-war rallies. However, their entire focus is to direct the movement away from the streets and into the controllable channels of “representative democracy.” Liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich’s conclusion to his congressional address was: “If you do not want war with Iraq, then the people have the right to contact their Members of Congress and tell them so. That is the essence of representative government…” But if Congress voted for war despite a 100-1 ratio of calls against, what then?

Principled anti-war politicians would use their authority, prestige, and access to the media to help build a mass anti-war movement throughout the country. They would boldly campaign from coast to coast exposing Bush’s utter hypocrisy, how the US sold Iraq biological and chemical weapons, how the US put Saddam and so many other dictators into power, etc.

The reality is that the Democrats led the country into World War I, World War II, Vietnam, and Kosovo/a. They almost unanimously supported Bush’s war resolution on Afghanistan. They are a party of big business committed to defending its interests here and overseas.

It was the anti-war movement, involving millions of youth, workers, and the mutiny of US soldiers, that ended the Vietnam War – not the Democratic Party. It was only when the movement started to dissolve into the Democratic Party, relying on elected officials rather than the working class, that it lost steam.

Workers and youth have to wage an independent struggle against war and the Bush agenda. We cannot rely on the Democrats. In order to make sure that our movement is powerful enough to achieve its goals, we need to build an alternative party that accepts no money from big business and relies instead on the capacity of working class Americans to struggle, organize strikes, and defeat corporate America.

Justice #32, November-December 2002