Open Letter to Howard Dean
by Katrina vanden Heuvel
Letter by Tom Hayden
"Now that we're there, we're there and we can't get out," Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean told an audience of nearly 1,000 at the Minneapolis Convention Center on April 20th. "The president has created an enormous security problem for the US where none existed before. But I hope the president is incredibly successful with his policy now that he's there."
I agree with Dean - a political figure I admire - that the war in Iraq has put the US in greater danger. But the question facing us today is who will speak for the millions of Americans who believe that continued occupation increases the danger? Who will speak for the millions who believe that the US has gotten bogged down in Iraq? Who will speak out against the (majority of the) Democratic Party's silent consent to the Bush Administration's Iraq war policies? Who will speak out about the wrenching human and economic costs of occupation? Who will speak out in support of a clear and honorable exit strategy? Who will make a clear, unequivocal declaration that the US will not maintain permanent military bases in Iraq?
For those who believe that America needs to change course, Tom Hayden's open letter to Howard Dean appealing to him not to take the antiwar majority of the Democratic Party for granted is an eloquent and important document. Read it, share it.
-- Katrina vanden Heuvel
Dear Chairman Dean,
Thank you kindly for your call and your expressed willingness to discuss the Democratic Party's position on the Iraq War. There is growing frustration at the grass roots towards the party leadership's silent collaboration with the Bush Administration's policies. Personally, I cannot remember a time in thirty years when I have been more despairing over the party's moral default. Let me take this opportunity to explain.
The party's alliance with the progressive left, so carefully repaired after the catastrophic split of 2000, is again beginning to unravel over Iraq. Thousands of anti-war activists and millions of anti-war voters gave their time, their loyalty and their dollars to the 2004 presidential campaign despite profound misgivings about our candidate's position on the Iraq War. Of the millions spent by "527" committees on voter awareness, none was spent on criticizing the Bush policies in Iraq.
The Democratic candidate, and other party leaders, even endorsed the US invasion of Falluja, giving President Bush a green-light to destroy that city with immunity from domestic criticism. As a result, a majority of Falluja's residents were displaced violently, guaranteeing a Sunni abstention from the subsequent Iraqi elections.
Then in January, a brave minority of Democrats, led by Senator Ted Kennedy and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, advocated a timetable for withdrawal. Their concerns were quickly deflated by the party leadership.
Next came the Iraqi elections, in which a majority of Iraqis supported a platform calling for a timetable for US withdrawal. ("US Intelligence Says Iraqis Will Press for Withdrawal." New York Times, Jan. 18, 2005) A January 2005 poll showed that 82 percent of Sunnis and 69 percent of Shiites favored a "near-term US withdrawal" (New York Times, Feb. 21, 2005). The Democrats failed to capitalize on this peace sentiment, as if it were a threat rather than an opportunity.
Three weeks ago, tens of thousands of Shiites demonstrated in Baghdad calling again for US withdrawal, chanting "No America, No Saddam." (New York Times, April 10, 2005) The Democrats ignored this massive nonviolent protest.
There is evidence that the Bush Administration, along with its clients in Baghdad, is ignoring or suppressing forces within the Iraqi coalition calling for peace talks with the resistance. The Democrats are silent towards this meddling.
On April 12, Donald Rumsfeld declared "we don't really have an exit strategy. We have a victory strategy." (New York Times, April 13, 2005). There was no Democratic response.
The new Iraqi regime, lacking any inclusion of Sunnis or critics of our occupation, is being pressured to invite the US troops to stay. The new government has been floundering for three months, hopelessly unable to provide security or services to the Iraqi people. Its security forces are under constant siege by the resistance. The Democrats do nothing.
A unanimous Senate, including all Democrats, supports another $80-plus billion for this interminable conflict. This is a retreat even from the 2004 presidential campaign when candidate John Kerry at least voted against the supplemental funding to attract Democratic voters.
The Democratic Party's present collaboration with the Bush Iraq policies is not only immoral but threatens to tear apart the alliance built with antiwar Democrats, Greens, and independents in 2004. The vast majority of these voters returned to the Democratic Party after their disastrous decision to vote for Ralph Nader four years before. But the Democrats' pro-war policies threaten to deeply splinter the party once again.
We all supported and celebrated your election as Party chairman, hoping that winds of change would blow away what former president Bill Clinton once called "brain-dead thinking."
But it seems to me that your recent comments about Iraq require further reflection and reconsideration if we are to keep the loyalty of progressives and promote a meaningful alternative that resonates with mainstream American voters.
Let me tell you where I stand personally. I do not believe the Iraq War is worth another drop of blood, another dollar of taxpayer subsidy, another stain on our honor. Our occupation is the chief cause of the nationalist resistance in that country. We should end the war and foreign economic occupation. Period.
To those Democrats in search of a muscular, manly foreign policy, let me say that real men (and real patriots) do not sacrifice young lives for their own mistakes, throw good money after bad, or protect the political reputations of high officials at the expense of their nation's moral reputation.
At the same time, I understand that there are limitations on what a divided political party can propose, and that there are internal pressures from hawkish Democratic interest groups. I am not suggesting that the Democratic Party has to support language favoring "out now" or "isolation." What I am arguing is that the Democratic Party must end its silent consent to the Bush Administration's Iraq War policies and stand for a negotiated end to the occupation and our military presence. The Party should seize on Secretary Rumsfeld's recent comments to argue that the Republicans have never had an "exit strategy" because they have always wanted a permanent military outpost in the Middle East, whatever the cost.
The Bush Administration deliberately conceals the numbers of American dead in the Iraq War. Rather than the 1,500 publicly acknowledged, the real number is closer to 2,000 when private contractors are counted.
The Iraq War costs one billion dollars in taxpayer funds every week. In "red" states like Missouri, the taxpayer subsidy for the Iraq War could support nearly 200,000 four-year university scholarships.
Military morale is declining swiftly. Prevented by antiwar opinion from re-instituting the military draft, the Bush Administration is forced to intensify the pressures on our existing forces. Already forty percent of those troops are drawn from the National Guard or reservists. Recruitment has fallen below its quotas, and 37 military recruiters are among the 6,000 soldiers who are AWOL.
President Bush's "coalition of the willing" is steadily weakening, down from 34 countries to approximately twenty. Our international reputation has become that of a torturer, a bully.
The anti-war movement must lead and hopefully, the Democratic Party will follow. But there is much the Democratic Party can do:
First, stop marginalizing those Democrats who are calling for immediate withdrawal or a one-year timetable. Encourage pubic hearings in Congressional districts on the ongoing costs of war and occupation, with comparisons to alternative spending priorities for the one billion dollars per week.
Second, call for peace talks between Iraqi political parties and the Iraqi resistance. Hold hearings demand to know why the Bush Administration is trying to squash any such Iraqi peace initiatives. (Bush Administration officials are hoping the new Iraqi government will "settle for a schedule based on the military situation, not the calendar." New York Times, Jan. 19, 2005).
Third, as an incentive to those Iraqi peace initiatives, the US needs to offer to end the occupation and withdraw our troops by a near-term date. The Bush policy, supported by the Democrats, is to train and arm Iraqis to fight Iraqis - a civil war with fewer American casualties.
Fourth, to further promote peace initiatives, the US needs to specify that a multi-billion dollar peace dividend will be earmarked for Iraqi-led reconstruction, not for the Halliburtons and Bechtels, without discrimination as to Iraqi political allegiances.
Fifth, Democrats could unite behind Senator Rockefellers's persistent calls for public hearings on responsibility for the torture scandals. If Republicans refuse to permit such hearings, Democrats should hold them independently. "No taxes for torture" is a demand most Democrats should be able to support. The Democratic Senate unity against the Bolton appointment is a bright but isolated example of how public hearings can keep media and public attention focused on the fabricated reasons for going to war.
Instead of such initiatives, the national Democratic Party is either committed to the Iraq War, or to avoiding blame for losing the Iraq War, at the expense of the social programs for which it historically stands. The Democrats' stance on the war cannot be separated from the Democrats' stance on health care, social security, inner city investment, and education, all programs gradually being defunded by a war which costs $100 billion yearly, billed to future generations.
This is a familiar pattern for those of us who suffered through the Vietnam War. Today it is conventional wisdom among Washington insiders, including even the liberal media, that the Democratic Party must distance itself from its antiwar past, and must embrace a position of military toughness.
The truth is quite the opposite. What the Democratic Party should distance itself from is its immoral and self-destructive pro-war positions in the 1960s which led to unprecedented polarization, the collapse of funds for the War on Poverty, a schism in the presidential primaries, and the destruction of the Lyndon Johnson presidency. Thirty years after our forced withdrawal from Vietnam, the US government has stable diplomatic and commercial relations with its former Communist enemy. The same future is possible in Iraq.
I appeal to you, Mr. Chairman, not to take the anti-war majority of this Party for granted. May I suggest that you initiate a serious reappraisal of how the Democratic Party has become trapped in the illusions which you yourself questioned so cogently when you ran for president. I believe that an immediate commencement of dialogue is necessary to fix the credibility gap in the Party's position on the Iraq War. Surely if the war was a mistake based on a fabrication, there is a better approach than simply becoming accessories to the perpetrators of the deceit. And surely there is a greater role for Party leadership than permanently squandering the immense good will, grass roots funding, and new volunteer energy that was generated by your visionary campaign.