Open Letter to Howard Dean

Open Letter to Howard Dean


“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.

April 26, 2005

Dear Chairman Dean,

Thank you kindly for your call and your expressed willingness todiscuss the Democratic Party’s position on the Iraq War. There is growingfrustration at the grass roots towards the party leadership’s silent collaborationwith the Bush Administration’s policies. Personally, I cannot remember a timein thirty years when I have been more despairing over the party’s moraldefault. Let me take this opportunity to explain.

The party’s alliance with the progressive left, so carefully repairedafter the catastrophic split of 2000, is again beginning to unravel overIraq. Thousands of anti-war activists and millions of antiwar voters gavetheir time, their loyalty and their dollars to the 2004 presidentialcampaign despite profound misgivings about our candidate’s position on theIraq War. Of the millions spent by “527” committees on voter awareness, nonewas spent on criticizing the Bush policies in Iraq.

The Democratic candidate, and other party leaders, even endorsed theUS invasion of Falluja, giving President Bush a green-light to destroythat city with immunity from domestic criticism. As a result, a majority ofFalluja’s residents were displaced violently, guaranteeing a Sunniabstention from the subsequent Iraqi elections.

Then in January, a brave minority of Democrats, led by Senator TedKennedy 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 Iraqissupported a platform calling for a timetable for US withdrawal. (“US IntelligenceSays Iraqis Will Press for Withdrawal.” New York Times, Jan. 18, 2005) AJanuary 2005poll 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 tocapitalize on this peace sentiment, as if it were a threat rather than an opportunity.

Three weeks ago, tens of thousands of Shiites demonstrated in Baghdadcalling 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 itsclients in Baghdad, is ignoring or suppressing forces within the Iraqi coalitioncalling for peace talks with the resistance. The Democrats are silenttowards this meddling.

On April 12, Donald Rumsfeld declared “we don’t really have an exitstrategy. We have a victory strategy.” (New York Times, April 13, 2005). There wasno Democratic response.

The new Iraqi regime, lacking any inclusion of Sunnis or critics ofour occupation, is being pressured to invite the US troops to stay. Thenew government has been floundering for three months, hopelessly unable toprovide security or services to the Iraqi people. Its security forcesare under constant siege by the resistance. The Democrats do nothing.

A unanimous Senate, including all Democrats, supports another $80-plusbillion for this interminable conflict. This is a retreat even fromthe 2004 presidential campaign when candidate John Kerry at least votedagainst the supplemental funding to attract Democratic voters.

The Democratic Party’s present collaboration with the Bush Iraqpolicies is not only immoral but threatens to tear apart the alliance built withantiwar Democrats, Greens, and independents in 2004. The vastmajority of these voters returned to the Democratic Party after their disastrousdecision 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 Clintononce called “brain-dead thinking.”

But it seems to me that your recent comments about Iraq requirefurther reflection and reconsideration if we are to keep the loyalty ofprogressives and promote a meaningful alternative that resonates with mainstreamAmerican voters.

Let me tell you where I stand personally. I do not believe the IraqWar is worth another drop of blood, another dollar of taxpayer subsidy,another stain on our honor. Our occupation is the chief cause of thenationalist resistance in that country. We should end the war and foreign economicoccupation. Period.

To those Democrats in search of a muscular, manly foreign policy, letme say that real men (and real patriots) do not sacrifice young lives fortheir own mistakes, throw good money after bad, or protect the politicalreputations of high officials at the expense of their nation’s moral reputation.

At the same time, I understand that there are limitations on what adivided political party can propose, and that there are internal pressuresfrom 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 theDemocratic Party must end its silent consent to the Bush Administration’s IraqWar policies and stand for a negotiated end to the occupation and ourmilitary presence. The Party should seize on Secretary Rumsfeld’s recentcomments to argue that the Republicans have never had an “exit strategy” becausethey have always wanted a permanent military outpost in the Middle East,whatever the cost.

The Bush Administration deliberately conceals the numbers of Americandead in the Iraq War. Rather than the 1,500 publicly acknowledged, the realnumber 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 Warcould support nearly 200,000 four-year university scholarships.

Military morale is declining swiftly. Prevented by antiwar opinionfrom re-instituting the military draft, the Bush Administration is forced tointensify the pressures on our existing forces. Already forty percentof those troops are drawn from the National Guard or reservists.Recruitment has fallen below its quotas, and 37 military recruiters are among the6,000 soldiers who are AWOL.

President Bush’s “coalition of the willing” is steadily weakening,down from 34 countries to approximately twenty. Our international reputation hasbecome that of a torturer, a bully.

The anti-war movement must lead and hopefully, the Democratic Partywill follow. But there is much the Democratic Party can do:

First, stop marginalizing those Democrats who are calling forimmediate withdrawal or a one-year timetable. Encourage public hearings inCongressional 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 theIraqi resistance. Hold hearings demand to know why the Bush Administrationis 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 needsto offer to end the occupation and withdraw our troops by a near-termdate. The Bush policy, supported by the Democrats, is to train and arm Iraqisto fight Iraqis–a civil war with fewer American casualties.

Fourth, to further promote peace initiatives, the US needs to specifythat a multi-billion dollar peace dividend will be earmarked for Iraqi-ledreconstruction, not for the Halliburtons and Bechtels, withoutdiscrimination as to Iraqi political allegiances.

Fifth, Democrats could unite behind Senator Rockefellers’s persistentcalls for public hearings on responsibility for the torture scandals. IfRepublicans refuse to permit such hearings, Democrats should hold themindependently. “No taxes for torture” is a demand most Democratsshould be able to support. The Democratic Senate unity against the Boltonappointment is a bright but isolated example of how public hearings can keepmedia and public attention focused on the fabricated reasons for going to war.

Instead of such initiatives, the national Democratic Party is eithercommitted to the Iraq War, or to avoiding blame for losing the IraqWar, 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, andeducation, all programs gradually being defunded by a war which costs $100 billionyearly, billed to future generations.

This is a familiar pattern for those of us who suffered through theVietnam War. Today it is conventional wisdom among Washington insiders,including even the liberal media, that the Democratic Party must distanceitself from its antiwar past, and must embrace a position of military toughness.

The truth is quite the opposite. What the Democratic Party should distanceitself from is its immoral and self-destructive pro-war positions inthe 1960s which led to unprecedented polarization, the collapse of fundsfor the War on Poverty, a schism in the presidential primaries, and thedestruction of the Lyndon Johnson presidency. Thirty years after our forcedwithdrawal from Vietnam, the US government has stable diplomatic and commercialrelations 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 ofthis Party for granted. May I suggest that you initiate a seriousreappraisal of how the Democratic Party has become trapped in the illusions which youyourself questioned so cogently when you ran for president. I believethat an immediate commencement of dialogue is necessary to fix thecredibility gap in the Party’s position on the Iraq War. Surely if the war was amistake based on a fabrication, there is a better approach than simplybecoming accessories to the perpetrators of the deceit. And surely there is agreater role for Party leadership than permanently squandering the immensegood will, grass roots funding, and new volunteer energy that wasgenerated by your visionary campaign.


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