DEAN and the WORLD
by Michael Hammerschlag
“I will send American troops anywhere in the world .. to defend the United States!” sounded Howard Dean in New Hampshire just before Christmas, in a clear response to his competitors’ attacks on his foreign policy. The attacks are accurate only in that Dean doesn’t have direct foreign policy experience, but this is a guy who traveled around the world (inc. inside the Iron Curtain), when he was only 17, who has visited 50 countries as chief executive of a state or tourist. That alone puts him head and shoulders above Bush, who as the princely son of a Veep and President, was never even curious enough to leave our shores. Most of the FP criticisms of Dean have been manifestly unfair, a knee jerk (and increasingly desperate) reaction to the vast appeal his courageous stance against the Iraq war has engendered. He did, as he points out, support the Gulf War, and military force in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. The “the capture of Saddam has made America no safer” line was preceded by “the capture of Saddam is a good thing which I hope very much will keep our soldiers safer, but” in a detailed 7 page LA speech on foreign policy.
MH © 12/21/2003 Manchester NH
And honestly, who can argue with that, when 2 sworn enemies N. Korea and Iran have or imminently will have nukes, Pakistan is one terrorist attack from having their 30 odd nukes at Al Qaida’s disposal (Pakistan helped create the Taliban, 1/3 of their intelligence service were radical Islamists, Pakistani troops even were fighting on the Taliban side against the Northern Alliance before 9-11), Russia has tons of unsecured fissionable material and bombs for the taking and a Mafiya that could do it, only 10,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan, but Bin Laden still runs free. The day Saddam was captured, Musharraf survived the first of 2 assassination attempts; he is all that holds Pakistan in the alliance with America against Al Qaida, and despite problems, the least corrupt leader Pakistan has had in many years. Meanwhile our youth and treasure is being poured into the sands of Iraq, which has unseeingly absorbed them for 5000 years. Libya’s unilateral surrender of WMD technology was in the works for 10 years, though it was obviously timed to boost Bush for maximum beneficial effect. A brawny belligerent stance towards the world works, Khaddafi’s surrender seems to say to the average American, but we never invaded Libya- this was a victory of 2 decades of sanctions and the exhaustion of pariahhood, though Muammar is still manipulating America by announcing it right after Saddam’s capture.
Dean, unlike past Dems, doesn’t back down or change course when advised by the pundits or weak-kneed advisors. He is confident in the accuracy of his positions and soundness of his morals. Al Gore could have dissected Bush like a biology class frog in the debates if handlers hadn’t tied him in a straight jacket of ‘be nice’ restrictions.
“They all voted for the war, I didn’t, it seems my kind of foreign policy experience is the kind we need in the White House,” said Dean in a Town Meeting in Manchester, to loud applause. Indeed, after Saddam’s capture, the other candidates waffled again, trying to ride the updraft of patriotism and Bush support created by it. Only Lieberman openly supports the war, though perhaps, like many neocons, more because he thinks it’s good for Israel’s security than America’s. (The only terrorism Saddam was committing outside Iraq was paying a $25,000 bounty to families of suicide bombers in Israel.) It’s not - the radicals drawn to Iraq will go to the West Bank when America leaves, and the resistance movement is a breeding ground for terrorists. Attacking the wrong enemy doesn’t boost our security (just as putting the wrong man in prison doesn’t), because the system itself is damaged and discredited, the guilty villains are still out there, and the waste of forces and resolve cripples our ability to react to them.
The Iraq War was a moral, strategic, and tactical idiocy; fought more for Bush’s psychological need to exceed his father than any rational rationale. The 73-27 pro war Oct 2002 vote in the Senate was the most stunning I’ve ever seen, especially when contrasted to the 53-47 squeaker in the totally justified Gulf War. The reasoning, we were told, was that the Dems thought that because they mistakenly voted against the first war and they were wrong, they had better vote for this one. WHAT? This President lost the election by 540,000 votes! Despite the drubbing the Dems took in the 2002 election, they didn’t get the message- that nobody votes for a coward. Courage transcends and crosses barriers of class, party, and race; and Party Democrats better understand that before they carve Dean down with a plethora of lies and half-truths- they might destroy the best thing that’s come along for the Democratic Party in a decade. Dean’s combative honesty is striking a deep chord in voters of all stripes, after being deluged by the blizzard of lies and Orwellian propaganda created by the Bush Admin.. For 3 years, the Dems have been getting steamrolled by Bush and the Repubs, often voluntarily- only Dean addresses this sorry state.
This is the strongest field of Dem candidates in 20 years: Kerry, Clark, or Dean all are qualified and popular enough to be President. War hero Kerry’s weak showing has been a surprise, but voters couldn’t reconcile the eloquent young man who asked Congress ‘how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam’, with the somewhat somnambulant current candidate, dulled by financial and political success. Though finally aroused, Kerry diminishes himself with the latest inevitable fervent attacks on Dean. Stuck on windshields at large Dean speech in Exeter NH by the Kerry campaign, were DEANRON flyers with a Boston Globe article alleging Dean tax breaks for the conglomerate. Boosted by Ted Kennedy, Kerry's explosive rise in Iowa after corrosive press and candidate attacks on Dean is the big news. Clark flaunted his impressive credentials by jetting off to the Hague to testify in Milosovic’s trial, but his commitment to the Democratic Party is thin, and being a military commander is quite different from being a political leader (without the army of Repub dittoheads). Whether or not the Veepship was offered, Clark making it public was very bad form. One report has the Bushmen imposing a total news blackout from the Hague during Clark's testimony, lest the decorated General's chops be compared to Bush's AWOL ones. Dean's only serious misstep is portraying a devout religiousity that may be largely absent- but truly, it is sad that flaunting ones religion has become compulsory for candidates.
Dean’s foreign policy / Nat. security team includes 5
generals, admirals, and colonels, a Nat. Security Advisor, and CIA director. He
is talking of urgent real security issues: tripling the budget to buy
the loose fissionable material in the FSU (something I’ve been harping about
for a decade-pan rt.);
increasing security for the 19 million shipping containers that flood America
every year- a desperately important subject (see Stephen Flynn); funding alternative schools to the hate-mongering
madrassas in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia (or
closing them), rebuilding the alliances damaged
and circumvented by Bush’s arrogant war,
increasing funding and integration of intelligence
agencies rather than co-opting them with
preordained findings; building a world-wide
anti-terror alliance rather than insanely
cranking up the long idled nuke-making machinery.
Bush’s popularity may be 59% (already 50%
Jan18), but that’s a soft number built on
the decaying detritus of his deceptions:
most of them think Saddam and Osama are pals-
a dangerous level of delusion. One huge terrorist
bomb in Iraq could make those numbers plummet,
and the media may stop ignoring the enraged
families of the unfairly dragooned Nat. Guard
At the end of a NH town meeting, a visiting Chinese student came up to Dean, “I'm a little worried that you sound kind of aggressive to China." (about his answer to my question about Chinese purchase of our bonds).
DEAN: “Well, China is going to be one of the greatest security challenges and possible threat over the next 50 years- I don't think there's going to be a war, unless they invade Taiwan... but I don't think that's going to happen. But we have to handle it perfectly, with extreme care and tact… because we are now very much interdependent",
- expertly summarizing the prickly security relationship w China in 15 seconds. The student didn't expect that- he expected some sugar coated diplomatic stroking, but it impressed him enough that he blinked and said, "People who say you don't know foreign policy are wrong." Dean’s startling candor is his greatest asset and greatest vulnerability- his words will be selectively excised by assassins for arrows to sling. Lately his people have been trying to limit that, but that has it's own dangers: sometimes Dean rushes through the boiler plate phrases so fast that he stumbles over the words, and his boredom shows. He comes across as a decisive leader, rather than a politician- and the truth is- all Presidents decide foreign policy after extensive consultation with experts, not by their native hunches. Dean’s youthful travels show a man engaged and exposed to world from the earliest age.
The lurking question is whether the monolithic media may be lining up against Dean like they did against Gore, hunting and pumping simple negative dishonest story lines (that Boy Scout Al Gore is a liar), instead of reporting the facts. The now pro-war Wash. Post ran a low-blow editorial Dec 18 attacking Dean, with some real whoppers- like sending Nat Guard troops on interminable deployments to an optional war was SOP. Newsweek's cover story on Dean uses photo's in which Dean looks ominous, threatening, frowning, or a picture rotated 50º so Dean looks like he falling over to the left (get it?); and they harp over piddling 3 or $4000 Dean contributions from corporations, but when did they report on the tens of billions ripped out of the pockets of Cal. voters and handed over to Enron, Duke and other Bush pals when he cancelled the Clinton price cap on Cal. energy prices his first day in office (which rose up to 90-fold)? Fineman enthused over the Clark surge on LiveTalk while taking questions like, "Why does Dean hate members of the American military?". Time also thrashed Dean. There may be enough honest players in the press to prevent this behavior; but the incipient bat may be his so called gaffes or the rift between Dean and the Democratic Leadership Council .. in the trashy high school rivalry obsession that media types have. And as they knock Dean, they will boost Clark, because a big surge from the second placer is a good story. Likewise, the theme on Kerry was the futility of his noble and earnest effort, though that's been scotched with his explosive rise in Iowa. Comparing Dean with the decent, but stiff, charmless, and uncomfortable George McGovern aren't accurate- he is more like Harry Truman in '48. One of the refreshing things is how Dean immediately slaps back at attackers- he hasn’t mastered the chuckle and subtle reply stab of the knife, as if we’re all best buddies. He needs to, lest the barbs of competition harden into permanent enmity. ADDEN: Sadly the coordinated media campaign and candidate assaults against Dean have sapped significant strength- we can make you, and we can break you! Harping on Dean's so called anger, makes it impossible to respond without "proving" their stupid contentions.
I’ve covered the Dem. Pres. Primary campaigns before- even at this stage, candidates usually look pallid and exhausted at the constant travel, endless recitation, and chronic lack of sleep. Dean looks strong, determined, and vibrantly healthy. He has double the money of anyone else and the capacity to raise much more. New Hampshire looks like a lock (where they’ve watched him for 12 years), with a 20-30 point lead; he is ahead in Iowa, despite Gephardt spending enormously and camping there1; is ahead of Kerry even in Mass.. Dean has an awesome organization, one that’s flawlessly running town meetings only 50 minutes and 30 miles apart, exists in every state, is run by very smart, adaptive people, and is ferociously dedicated. Before other Dems ask ‘if we can stop Dean’, they should ask, ‘Should we even try?’. When Koppel asked “who thought Dean could beat Bush” in the last debate, it was disgraceful that not one said yes- “Anyone of us can beat Bush.” (They reformed in the hand-raising Jan 4th debate.) The contemptible anti-Dean ad with Bin Laden’s face filling the screen was so lacking in sanity and decency that the Atwaterite creators should be permanently banished. Lieberman's dedication to Dean's destruction is distressing, especially when one remembers that his self-serving morality speech almost tipped the balance against Clinton in impeachment. I fear we are seeing high school teams tear themselves up before playing in the Majors. Schoolyard jealousies have no place in the most important election of our lifetime. Dean has provided a focus for energy and hope that has energized Democratic voters, but the Party is acting like an old dowager host contemptuous of his age and pedigree. And no candidate has ever won Iowa and NH and not won the nomination. In person, Dean doesn’t come across as angry or negative, Bush’s reported strategy for running against him. I think Rove + Co. are actually deeply afraid of Dean and the latent rage at Bush that he could bring to the surface (inc. among the military). Dean comes off as calm, but outraged, at the Bush squalor, with an inherent sense of optimism and hope for what can be accomplished. A stunning move that would make the Dean train unstoppable? Gore as Vice President.
Howard Dean isn’t a wimp, or especially liberal, or a babe in the woods on foreign affairs. To constantly attack him as such is dishonest, counterproductive, and only doing the Republicans’ work of slander for them. Likewise, Dean should cool the slams on the Washington Democrats. Dean could bring millions of the 100 million non-voting couch potatoes out to vote- the DLC may have to accept that their hammerlock on the Party is over and a new wind is blowing; or they can keep trying to crush him, splinter the Party, and ensure that their candidate will lose against Bush. Dean impoliticly made this point: that his legions of new fans would be unhappy if he is unfairly ganged up on and beaten. Only Clinton can settle this, if he can recognize how like himself Dean actually is. Against the smooth brutal wall of Republican unity, Dems don’t have the luxury of messy Primary business as usual. More terrible terrorist attacks are assured* and the very Constitution and 225 years of freedom are at stake.
Michael Hammerschlag has written commentaries + articles for Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Honolulu Advertiser, Columbia Journalism Review, Media Channel, & Moscow News, Tribune, and Guardian. He covered the ’84 Democratic Presidential Primary in Iowa, WI., and DC; was a correspondent in Russia from 1991-1994; and has written on foreign policy for 24 years.