Veil of Peace Rhetoric Shrouds Intent of Leading Candidates
Senators Clinton and Obama are using the rhetoric of peace candidates but when pushed admit they will be leaving tens of thousands of troops in Iraq. They have essentially agreed on the same policy along with Edwards, while Kucinich is being excluded from debates.
The recent Nevada debate, that included Clinton, Obama and Edwards and excluded Kucinich, put the Democratic peace mirage on display. It remains to be seen whether the veil of peace rhetoric will be sufficient to satisfy voters opposed to the occupation in the general election.
In the debate Sen. Clinton brought up the Iraq occupation, trying to frame the debate as anti-Bush. Being anti-Bush is certainly more popular than discussing her vote to authorize the use of military force (a vote Edwards jointed), her and Sen. Obama’s consistent votes for war funding with no strings attached and all three candidate’s agreement to keep the military option on the table for Iran.
Clinton framed the issue as criticizing President Bush for making agreements with Iraq for the continued presence of U.S. troops after his term in office ends. She asked Obama to join her in preventing Bush from “binding the hands of the next president.” Obama of course agreed to support this non-controversial effort and then changed the subject to removal of troops saying “I have put forward a plan that will get our troops out by the end of 2009.”
Moderator Brian Williams then pushed the troop withdrawal issue asking “If I could just interrupt, here . . . would the other two of you join in the 2009 pledge that Senator Obama has made, concerning the withdrawal of American troops?” Both Clinton and Edwards agreed. Clinton and Obama used language of “remove the troops.” Edwards was more precise saying “I will have all combat troops out in the first year.” Limiting withdrawal to “combat” troops is less than half the troops in Iraq. In fact, Obama and Clinton when pushed, acknowledge they would also only remove “combat” troops but their habit is not to include that adjective in their campaign rhetoric.
“Meet the Press” host Tim Russert was understandably perplexed by these statements. He said: “In September, we were in New Hampshire together, and I asked the three of you if you would pledge to have all troops out of Iraq by the end of your first term. All three of you said, you will not take that pledge. I’m hearing something much different tonight.”
The answer given to Russert in September was not very popular with the anti-war base of Democratic Party voters. At the time none of the candidates would pledge to end the war in their first term. So the three front runners have found a way to veil their intentions through campaign rhetoric. In response to Russert they explained the difference. It seems the key word was “all” troops. Removing all troops is something that none of the three will promise.
Obama explained we have to keep troops in Iraq: “. . . we are going to have to protect our embassy. We’re going to have to protect our civilians. We’re engaged in humanitarian activity there. We are going to have to have some presence that allows us to strike if Al Qaeda is creating bases inside of Iraq.” It was not clear whether “humanitarian activity” also included protecting the numerous U.S. corporations that are doing business in Iraq.
Clinton chimed in saying: “obviously, we have to be responsible, we have to protect our embassy, we do need to make sure that, you know, our strategic interests are taken care of.” “Strategic interests” – now there is an interesting term often used but rarely defined by politicians. Does it include keeping access to Iraqi oil and ensuring U.S. oil companies profit from it? Protecting Israel? Regime change in Iran? Fighting terrorists?
And, Edwards dismissed removal of all troops as “great political theater and political rhetoric” and explained he would have “all combat troops out in the first year” and there would be “no further combat missions. . .”
Russert pushing Clinton, Obama and Edwards brought out responses that began to break through the veil of anti-war rhetoric and showed that all three candidates will leave troops in Iraq but claim they will no longer be defined as engaged in combat. They all promise to fight Al Qaeda – how is that done without combat troops? How many combat troops does it take to protect U.S. “strategic interests?” And what if the tens of thousands of non-combat troops are attacked – will they fight back? Will combat troops be brought in to protect them and the strategic interests of the U.S.? How about if there is a sectarian war? And, no mention about the removal of private security forces in Iraq of which there are more of than U.S. soldiers. Are they part of the withdrawal or will those numbers increase as the military is removed?
Dennis Kucinich who was excluded from the debate by MSNBC – which is owned by one of the largest weapons makers in the world, General Electric – was given a chance to respond by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! the next day. He said: “What you’ve heard here is a bunch of nuancing. They’re all saying the same thing, that they will keep troops in Iraq. The troops will be kept there to protect an embassy. The troops will be kept there for counterinsurgency and for training the Iraqi military.”
As to U.S interests in the region Kucinch pointed out: “We also have to make sure that the Iraqi people have full control of their oil. I’m the only one who’s running who understood immediately that the Bush program for reconciliation was in fact a plan to privatize Iraq’s oil in order to gain control over a $30 billion oil wealth.”
Kucinich summarizes the political situation concluding: “I think that it is manifestly clear that the only person running for president who will bring our troops home, who will get out of there within three months from taking office, is myself. And all the others have tried to game this issue. They either voted for the war, in the case of Senator Edwards and Senator Clinton, or they voted to fund the war, in the case of Senator Edwards, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, who, by the way, campaigned in saying, well, he opposed the war from the start, but then when he was elected to the Senate, his voting record is indistinguishable from Senator Clinton’s with respect to funding the war. So you can’t talk out of both sides of your mouth on this thing. You’re either for getting out of Iraq, or you’re not. If you’re for getting out of Iraq, you don’t keep troops there for any purpose whatsoever.”
More piercing the veil of anti-war rhetoric was garnered when the three Democratic front runners (now down to two after Edwards dismal single digit showing in Nevada) came when they were asked by Russert whether they would vigorously enforce the statute requiring colleges to allow ROTC on campus as a condition of receiving federal funds.