Democrats Follow Bush on the Road to War

by Joe Auciello


When the president insisted that Congress declare war, a liberal Republican rose up in the Senate to voice his opposition. The senator condemned “the Wall Street view.” Instead, he asked, “To whom does the war bring prosperity? Not to the soldier…” the man ready “to shed his blood and to die if necessary; not to the broken-hearted widow who waits for the return of the mangled body of her husband; not to the mother who weeps at the death of her brave boy; not to the little children who shiver with cold; not to the babe who suffers from hunger; nor to the millions of mothers and daughters who carry broken hearts to their graves. War brings no prosperity to the great mass of common and patriotic citizens. It increases the cost of living of those who toil and those who already must strain every effort to keep soul and body together. War brings prosperity to the stock gambler on Wall Street—to those already in possession of more wealth than can be realized or enjoyed.”

The senator was George W. Norris of Nebraska; the president was Woodrow Wilson; the war was later called The Great War, the first international imperialist slaughter.

Unlike his contemporary, Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene Debs, Senator Norris never denounced the capitalist system which led to war. Also, unlike Debs, Norris would never declare his solidarity equally with German and American workers and aim his criticism directly against the ruling powers of both countries. Senator Norris, nonetheless, did have the conscience to recoil from and the courage to oppose the war which capitalism created.

In the political landscape today, there is no Senator George Norris.

No prominent Democrat—including Al Gore, Tom Daschle, and Ted Kennedy—has squarely opposed George Bush on Iraq. No principled opposition to Bush’s war drive can be found in the Democratic Party. Quite the contrary.

The disagreement that does exist between Democrats and Republicans is muted, inconsequential, or hopelessly compromised. It is a disagreement about when to begin the war and whether the U.S. should attack with or without the United Nations.

Both Republicans and Democrats agree on the use of U.S. military might to remove the government of Saddam Hussein and to hurl Iraq into the holocaust of war. Opposing this war will mean opposing both Democrats and Republicans—building a mass movement in the streets independent of and opposed to the “Establishment” parties (as in London on September 28, 2002).

The news media highlights every shade of difference between the two parties, emphasizing and exaggerating them because conflict makes good copy, and dramatic stories sell newspapers. (And also because they don’t want readers to question the underlying assumptions of the system.)

In a front page story titled, “Kennedy criticizes Bush on Iraq policy,” The Boston Globe (Sept. 28, 2002) reported on what they termed “the most sweeping criticism yet from any Democratic congressional leader of President Bush’s request for approval to take military action against Iraq...”

The mild substance of Kennedy’s speech, delivered the day before at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, hardly warranted the bold headline. According to the Boston Globe account, “The Massachusetts Democrat summed up concerns shared by some colleagues in his party when he said that the president had not made the case that Iraq represents an imminent threat to the United States and that he had not ‘laid out the cost in blood and treasure’ of going to war.”

The Globe further reported, “Kennedy said the first aim should be to get UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq. The UN should pass a resolution that would trigger an attack if Hussein refused to comply or cooperate with inspectors, Kennedy said.”

“No delaying tactics should be tolerated,” Senator Kennedy stated, “ and if they occur, Saddam should know that he will lose his last chance to avoid conflict...We may reach the point where our only choice is conflict, but we are not there yet.”

Kennedy’s position neatly parallels the majority sentiment in America as revealed by the latest public opinion polls, which show no love of Saddam Hussein but  also show no love of war.

Kennedy, like the Democratic Party leadership, is also looking ahead to the fall elections and to the presidential election in two years. By claiming that Bush has not yet made his case, Kennedy and the Democrats will be able to adopt or adapt to any position in the future. Should a war be popular, the Democrats can cite their statements of support. If the war fares badly, they can refer to their statements of caution. In short, the Democrats have agreed with the president’s motives and goal but have tried to keep their options open about his policy.

Within the ruling class there is a real discussion about how best to promote U.S. imperial interests in the world. What is the least costly way to bully Iraq and keep other countries in line? Should the U.S., and perhaps a few allies, launch a first strike? Or should the U.S. begin the war under the banner of the United Nations (as it did in Korea in 1950 and Kosovo more recently)?

When President Bush stated that the Democratic-controlled Senate was “not interested in the security of the American people,” Senate majority leader Tom Daschle angrily replied, “We ought not to politicize this war. We ought not politicize the rhetoric about war and life and death.”

Senator Daschle was speaking truthfully, in his own way. The Democrats no less than the Republicans faithfully serve the interests of the American ruling class. Both parties are pursuing a path to war.

For Democrats and Republicans war with Iraq is a political game, and part of the prize may be a few Congressional seats going one way or another. (The bigger prize is corporate control of Mideast oil, and intimidation of the rest of the world to ensure profits for U.S. banks, corporations, and the family fortunes of the super-rich—goals both major parties serve without question.) For partisan (and class) advantage both parties will gladly kill thousands of people who live far away and whose lives do not count because they do not vote in U.S. elections and don’t have the military and economic power that the American Empire boasts.

The average person in the United States has no interest in following either party to war. National security and public safety do not require the deaths of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, civilians, and children.

Although the Democrats are ostensibly the opposition party, in reality they are incapable of providing an alternative to President Bush’s war drive because the Democrats hold the same political values as the Republicans and both parties read the same public opinion polls.

By the time this article appears in print, Congress will have voted on a resolution authorizing war with Iraq. The president will obtain the approval he wants, although it is likely he will have to work through the United Nations.

The Democrats will have already jumped on war’s bandwagon. As Senator George Norris predicted decades ago, both parties “are about to do the bidding of wealth’s terrible mandate.”

The only thing that could stop them is the kind of mass protests built by the broadest possible coalition of forces, including trade unions, such as we saw in London on September 28.

[Note: The quotations from Senator George Norris are taken from Richard Hofstadter, ed., Great Issues in American History: From Reconstruction to the Present Day, 1864 – 1969, pages 219 – 220.]