Sunday, August 28, 2005

Democratic Leadership Vacuum Lives On, with Exceptions

For the most part, I agree with this Common Dreams story (excerpts below). Most Democrats in Washington have been gutless and highly self-interested on the subject of the morally and fiscally bankrupting Iraq War travesty.

There are exceptions, though. General Wesley Clark penned a credible, rational strategy in his Washington Post editorial on August 26, and in his appearance this morning on Meet the Press, he was outspoken, articulate and intelligent.

And as always, Senator Russ Feingold was the first.....and so far, only....US senator to take a firm public stand against the continuing US occupation of Iraq. As is his habit, he takes a stand regardless of political consequences....or perhaps, he successfully blends risk-taking with morality.

Neither Clark nor Feingold are gutless, and Feingold is assuredly one of the least self-interested members of the Senate. Gutless pseudo-leaders will no longer have my vote for the presidency.

On the whole, the Democratic moral leadership vacuum continues.....including Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards and Joe Biden, all pretenders to the 2008 presidential race.....
Democrats Fumble Iraq Policy by Jim Lobe

While Republicans voice growing unease over U.S. President George W. Bush's vow to "stay the course" in Iraq, Democrats remain deeply divided about their position on a conflict that most of them privately describe as a major foreign policy disaster.

Despite the plunging popularity of the war -- and of Bush's approval ratings -- leading Democrats, particularly the party's brahmins in the Senate, have so far refused to countenance talk of withdrawal, preferring instead to attack the president over tactical issues rather than the war itself.

But their reticence -- no doubt inspired by their fear of being depicted as "soft on terrorism" and the memory of their disastrous Vietnam War-era splits between hawks and doves in the late 1960s and early 1970s -- is appearing increasingly untenable as the party's grassroots activists enlist in what is becoming, thanks to the mother of one fallen soldier, a serious, new anti-war movement, and as prominent Republicans themselves demonstrate a growing willingness to question the war....

"We should start figuring out how we get out of there," Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran with presidential ambitions, told a national public-affairs television programme Sunday. "I think our involvement (in Iraq) has destabilised the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilisation will occur," he said, comparing the present conflict's similarity to the Vietnam War....

Hagel's remarks came as a new spate of polls found that public opinion against the war has strengthened over the summer. Bush's approval ratings have fallen to their lowest level ever -- between 36 percent and 40 percent -- amid strong indications that his performance on Iraq is the main culprit. Other recent surveys have found that majorities now see the decision to go to war as a mistake and favour either an immediate or gradual withdrawal.

While one would think that Hagel's public concerns and Bush's sinking poll numbers -- as well as the surprising near-victory by a strongly anti-war Iraq veteran in a recent election in a solidly Republican Congressional district in Ohio -- would give leading Democrats the political confidence to stake out a more aggressive position on the war, that has not turned out to be the case. While about half of the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives -- the chambre considered closest to the grassroots -- voted in May for a resolution requiring the president to formulate an exit strategy for Iraq, the party's Senate leaders have refused even to table such an initiative.

So far, only one likely 2008 presidential candidate, Sen. Russell Feingold, has called for a complete withdrawal -- by Jan. 1, 2007 -- although, in a television interview Sunday, he stressed that the date should considered a "target", rather than a "deadline".

On the other hand, five of the party's most prominent leaders -- 2004 presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. Joseph Biden, Sen. Evan Bayh, and Sen. Hillary Clinton -- have not only opposed setting a date for withdrawal, but have also, at various times, supported substantially increasing the number of troops in Iraq, as well as the size of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The last three are all considered by the party establishment as strong presidential candidates.

"If we were to artificially set a deadline of some sort, that would be like giving a green light to the terrorists, and we can't afford to do that," Clinton, whose ex-president husband has also refused to publicly criticise the war, noted last February.

Biden, who, as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, serves as the Democrat's chief foreign-policy spokesman, warned earlier this summer, "We cannot afford to lose." Even the party's chairman, former anti-war candidate Howard Dean, has been mute on the issue.

Unlike Feingold, all five Democratic leaders also voted in October 2002 to give Bush the authorisation to go to war, a fact that may make it far more difficult for them to call for a pullout, lest they be accused, like Kerry during the 2004 campaign, by Republicans of "flip-flopping" on a vital national-security issue.

They are also clearly haunted by what happened to the party during the Vietnam era when a split between hawks and doves paved the way for Richard Nixon's victory in 1968 and his landslide 1972 defeat of George McGovern, whose straightforwardly anti-war stance has been repeatedly caricatured by Republicans to label the Democrats as "soft" on national security.

Indeed, some top Democratic advisers, including Clinton's savvy former communications chief Michael McCurry, insist that Democrats should indeed be very careful in criticising Bush. "Credit the Democrats for not trying to pour more gasoline on the fire, even if they're not particularly unified in their message," McCurry told the Washington Post this week. "The smartest thing for Democrats to do is be supportive."....

At the same time, however, the refusal of top Democrats to reassess their position is spurring growing frustration and even anger, both among grassroots Democrats who have been emboldened both by the polls and by the way that Cindy Sheehan, the bereaved mother of a dead U.S. Marine who camped out most of this month outside Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch, has put the president on the defensive, and by some prominent unelected leaders and funders. ...

Indeed, former Sen. Gary Hart, a long-time national security honcho whose 1988 front-runner presidential candidacy was derailed by an extra-marital affair, charged in a Washington Post column entitled "Who Will Say 'No More'?" Wednesday that leading Democrats were "cowardly" for remaining silent in what he called "a moral crisis."

"No Democrat, especially one now silent, should expect election by default," he wrote. "The public trust must be earned and speaking clearly, candidly and forcefully now about the mess in Iraq is the place to begin," he argued, challenging Democratic leaders who supported the war to say, "I made a mistake..."

Read the rest here.

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