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‘Coffins off the plane’ — Dems split on Forever Wars

Media Analysis
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The October 15 Democratic presidential debate had more foreign policy than any debate before it, and the exchanges continue to make news. We are actually having a debate about anti-war policy in the Democratic Party.

The hottest story is clearly the smearing of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard as a Russian agent because she is such a forceful antiwar voice. Hillary Clinton and the New York Times and CNN have called her a Russian asset and Bernie Sanders has defended her. But let’s look first at the leading candidates’ positioning.

In the debate, Gabbard, who served in a combat zone in Iraq in 2004-2005, said that Turkey’s “slaughter of the Kurds” was yet another negative consequence of US intervention in Syria and then challenged frontrunner Elizabeth Warren to “join me in calling for an end to this regime change war in Syria, finally.”

Warren responded:

So, look, I think that we ought to get out of the Middle East. I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East. But we have to do it the right way, the smart way…. We need to get out, but we need to do this through a negotiated solution. There is no military solution in this region.

This was braver than Warren has been on the issue before. Evidently, she got in front of herself.  Her campaign considered it enough of a gaffe, they actually tried to correct it in the middle of the debate itself by clarifying that she did not mean withdrawing from the Middle East, where we have an extensive series of bases, but simply meant that she wanted to end combat troops, and combat missions in the Middle East,” Susan Glasser of the New Yorker said on NPR.

Glasser is an embodiment of liberal-interventionist establishment thinking on these questions. She went on to say that even that adjustment was “kind of a questionable strategy, in the sense that, What are the troops going to be at the bases for if not to fly for example counter terror missions and the like.”

The star of the debate for liberal interventionists was Pete Buttigieg. The South Bend Mayor served as a Navy intelligence lieutenant in Afghanistan and used Gabbard’s stance to endorse armed American engagement.

Respectfully, Congresswoman, I think that is dead wrong. The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence. It’s a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values…. When we abandon the international stage, when we think our only choices are between endless war or total isolation, the consequence is the disappearance of U.S. leadership… from the world stage, and that makes this entire world a more dangerous place.

Buttigieg raised a lot of money after the debate and the haul is being attributed in part to that militant stance. So did Senator Amy Klobuchar– and it would not be cynical to say that had something to do with her outspoken support for Israel at that debate, the first time Israel has been mentioned in four debates.

Joe Biden also addressed the abandonment of the Kurds, calling it “the most shameful thing that any president has done in modern history — excuse me, in terms of foreign policy.” (You’d think there’s some competition on that one.)

Bernie Sanders echoed both Biden and Buttigieg in saying that the U.S. had betrayed the Kurds in a capricious manner.

Now, you tell me what country in the world will trust the word of the president of the United States. In other words, what he has done is wreck our ability to do foreign policy, to do military policy, because nobody in the world will believe this pathological liar.

Susan Glasser embraced Buttigieg for his interventionism, and characterized Warren and Sanders as isolationist:

[Buttigieg] seemed quite confident in saying that it’s  a false choice between endless wars, fighting forever, or complete isolationism. He said that was going to be the death of American leadership….

Both Sanders and Warren essentially are adopting some of the language that President Trump is using now. He’s ending the endless wars, he’s ending forever wars. It’s not entirely sure what kind of American leadership in the world they want to substitute for that.

Trump is clearly putting down markers here, making political headway lately with strong antiwar rhetoric. He says his biggest applause line comes when he says he is bringing troops home. His speech on October 12 to the Family Research Council included a long emotional description of seeing “those coffins off those planes” at Dover air force base and of relatives throwing themselves on the coffins even as the soldiers carry them out stoically. He continually assailed the decision to go into Iraq — which Joe Biden supported — and even attacked the “military industrial complex.” The speech echoed his speeches of three years ago blaming Hillary Clinton for fostering war and chaos across the Middle East. That stance arguably won him the more war-affected states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and with them the election.

But the Democratic interventionists are all in. Glasser again: “It’s also not entirely clear that the American presence in Syria that President Trump has now upended would actually qualify as one of those forever wars.”

Warren is plainly torn between the establishment and the left, which is why she accepted Tulsi Gabbard’s challenge on the one hand and kisses up to a pro-Israel group on the other. Back in June, Warren opposed “endless wars” in fairly vague language.

We need to stop the endless wars. No great nation fights endless wars. We bring our people home, that is billions of dollars that we have to spend here at home on our people…

For me, this is not about how to help a giant industry. This is not about how to make a department bigger and bigger and bigger. This is not about how to support endless wars.

Warren is uncomfortable with the subject, even though she is not a novice in foreign policy, Glasser rightly observes. “She served in the Senate Armed Services Comittee and to me at least she seemed not really very fluent in the subject and quite uncomfortable, a stark contrast to her very strong views and very clearly articulated plans for everything. She didn’t really seem to have a plan that was well thought through on the foreign policy side.”

Sanders has been very clear on withdrawing from the Middle East. In the spring he published an article in Foreign Affairs on “ending America’s endless war.” The war on terrorism and the militaristic approach have been a “disaster” that has “corroded our own democracy.”

In the nearly two decades since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States has made a series of costly blunders that have not only weakened our democracy but also undermined our leadership.

Finally, there is the Tulsi Gabbard controversy. Hillary Clinton said last week that the Russians seem to be grooming Gabbard to be a third party candidate. From Daily Beast:

During a podcast interview last week, Clinton said Gabbard was a “favorite of the Russians” and was being groomed “to be the third-party candidate,” offering no evidence to support her assertion. Gabbard, who is running a long-shot Democratic presidential campaign, quickly fired back, calling Clinton the “queen of warmongers” while claiming the “corporate media and war machine” were trying to destroy her reputation.

Clinton echoed a New York Times attack on Gabbard that called her an “isolationist,” guilty of “unpredictable attacks” (i.e. telling truth about Kamala Harris and the prison-industrial complex), a creature of the alt right and some say a Russian agent. An all-time low, even for the Times.

Gabbard called the charge “despicable” and challenged Clinton to get back in the race, so she could run against “the warmongering and corrupt powerful establishment.” They’re after her for a reason, Gabbard said: “If anyone stands up to speak out to end the regime change wars… We will be labeled as foreign agents, we will be labeled as traitors to our country… [for challenging this] longheld foreign policy of the United States of which Hillary Clinton was the champion…going around the world, acting as the world’s police.” That’s why Clinton and “her minions” are smearing Gabbard as a traitor, she said. (She also cited “the mainstream media, who have been championing and cheerleading this regime change war.”)

On NPR, Susan Glasser dismisses Gabbard as having no base inside the Democratic Party.

Look, she’s a distraction. She doesn’t have any real support in the Democratic primary field. But she represents on foreign policy in particular a completely outlier perspective on the debate stage. She was essentially agreeing not only with Donald Trump but with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Last night Bernie Sanders stood up for Gabbard:

Tulsi Gabbard has put her life on the line to defend this country. People can disagree on issues, but it is outrageous for anyone to suggest that Tulsi is a foreign asset.

Gabbard is enjoying her moment. She tweeted a video challenge to Hillary Clinton to acknowledge the humanitarian and geopolitical disaster her policies have caused, so that the party can escape her influence.

It’s time for you to acknowledge the damage you have caused and apologize for it. It is long past time for you to step down from your throne so the Democratic Party can lead with a new foreign policy which will actually be in the interests of and benefit the American people and the world.

So the debate is on in the Democratic field about forever wars. Sen. Chris Murphy is not in the race but he is emerging as a leading Democratic foreign policy voice. He spoke at the neoconservative Hudson Institute yesterday, pushing “democracy promotion”. And last week he gave a speech on the Senate floor characterizing the United States as the indispensable nation for world peace.


Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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11 Responses

  1. David Green on October 22, 2019, 7:05 pm

    “Warren is plainly torn between the establishment and the left…”

    Warren is plainly torn between her inveterate loyalty to the capitalist establishment and the political imperative to pretend that she is to the left of Buttigeg, Harris, etc.; in order to challenge Sanders and ascend to the position of Biden’s main rival.

    Unfortunately, she is even less leftist than the .001% that she is Indian.

    • genesto on October 23, 2019, 12:46 pm

      Warren is torn between her progressive base and her Zionist supporters back in Massachusetts. She had better get smart real quick on Palestine/Israel and endless wars of regime change in the ME or she will lose the trust and energy of the progressive base on which she so desperately depends for success in her campaign.

      • Rob Roy on October 24, 2019, 1:48 am

        I agree in that Trump hasn’t bombed Iran or any new places, but I was startled by how far off I was in crediting his statement that he would end these endless wars as being sincere. I was enlightened today by an article in CounterPunch.

        “Trump’s Fake Withdrawal From Endless War.” by Media Benjamin and Nicholas Davies

        Please read it. Trump has bombed more than Bush or Obama (that was a shock) and sent out more troops to various places than Bush or Obama. He’s phony even in a place I gave him credit. You are right: Hillary would have bombed Iran by now and started a crazy regime change in Russia. But I gave more credit to Trump than I realize he deserved.

  2. JWalters on October 22, 2019, 9:01 pm

    I suspect Hillary was called to duty by her banker and Israeli war profiteering paymasters. They are freaking out at the traction being gained in the public discourse by those opposing the “regime change” wars, from Tulsi to Trump. Recall, according to General Wesley Clark the neocons (Israeli agents) in the Bush-Cheney adminstration developed a plan for regime change in seven countries, starting with Iraq, and including Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off with Iran. This plan was in support of Israel’s Oded Yinon plan for a “Greater Israel”. Naturally the Israelis don’t want Americans to see their hidden hand behind all the wasted American lives and money. So they are calling out their entire chorus of hired (and blackmailed) parrots, across the media and political spectrum, to squawk their shameful lies. Look over there! Don’t look at Israel!

    But Russia is no longer a communist country, pushing for world communist domination. That fear is so yesteryear. So look for a serious false flag attack.

    • Rob Roy on October 22, 2019, 11:06 pm

      Thank you, JWalters, for your insightful comment.
      If one is looking to Susan Glasser for intelligent opinion on foreign policy, s/he wont find it; it doesn’t exist. She and her pal Masha Gessen are part of the ruination of the New Yorker which, before Hillary created Russiagate, was famous for fact-checking. It’s now joined the MSM in lying about Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba. I just don’t get it. The advent of Trump has caused even one of the best publications to lose its moral footing.
      America’s false flags, usually mentioning “humanitarianism” and “fighting terrorism” drag in all the mainstream media. My question is how can this happen to the majority of people? If Buttigieg got a “bump” for his little input, we will again sink into the slime of being “exceptional.”

  3. James Canning on October 23, 2019, 8:08 am

    In 2000, the Neocon program for protecting Israel called for the overthrow of the governments of Syria, Iraq and Iran. Stunning arrogance and idiocy. Catastrophic civil war in Syria in part is a result of idiot neocon endless war program. Trillions of dollars squandered, in effort to “protect” Israel (and facilitate illegal settlement game-plan in the occupied West Bank).

    • Citizen on October 30, 2019, 8:56 am

      As stated by JWalters, above in this thread: :”…according to General Wesley Clark the neocons (Israeli agents) in the Bush-Cheney adminstration developed a plan for regime change in seven countries, starting with Iraq, and including Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off with Iran. This plan was in support of Israel’s Oded Yinon plan for a “Greater Israel”.

      Actually, Clark awoke to PNAC agenda very belatedly. Better late than never…

  4. genesto on October 23, 2019, 12:56 pm

    Say what you want about Trump, and I want him out of office as much as anybody, but you do have to give him at least some credit for trying to extricate us from the horrible mess we were instrumental in creating in that part of the world. Of course, he’s an isolationist, an ‘America Firster’ that recognizes the $8 trillion spent this far is a glorious waste of money, but couldn’t care less about the lives lost and untold destruction caused. His foreign policy, if there really is a coherent one, is an abysmal failure, saber rattling with no teeth and no serious attempts at negotiating settlements to the various conflicts (The Iran deal WAS working, but he chose to abandon it. Idiot!!). But let’s give credit where credit is due. If Clinton had won the election and was president now, we would be more heavily embroiled in Syria, and she may have even relented to the Israel lobby’s incessant pressure to attack Iran.

    Ponder that for a moment.

    • punterweger on October 23, 2019, 8:28 pm

      Agreed, but let’s not forget that it’s not just Israel that’s pressing for war with Iran. Hillary would almost certainly have escalated the conflict after Iran shot down a US drone or at the latest when Saudi oil fields were atttacked.

      • just on October 27, 2019, 7:38 pm

        Where is the proof that Iran did the deed?

  5. just on October 27, 2019, 7:06 pm

    PNAC never went away. It’s alive and well.

    “Statement of Principles
    PNAC’s first public act was to release a “Statement of Principles” on June 3, 1997. The statement had 25 signers, including project members and outside supporters (see Signatories to Statement of Principles). It described the United States as the “world’s pre-eminent power,” and said that the nation faced a challenge to “shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests.” In order to achieve this goal, the statement’s signers called for significant increases in defense spending, and for the promotion of “political and economic freedom abroad.” It said the United States should strengthen ties with its democratic allies, “challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values,” and preserve and extend “an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.” Calling for a “Reaganite” policy of “military strength and moral clarity,” it concluded that PNAC’s principles were necessary “if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next.”[5] …

    End of the organization
    By the end of 2006, PNAC was “reduced to a voice-mail box and a ghostly website [with a] single employee … left to wrap things up”, according to a correspondent at the BBC News.[59] In 2006 former executive director of the PNAC Gary Schmitt said PNAC had never been intended to “go on forever,” and had “already done its job,” suggesting that “our view has been adopted.”[59] In 2009 Robert Kagan and William Kristol created a new think tank, the Foreign Policy Initiative, which scholars Stephen M. Walt and Don Abelson have characterized as a successor to PNAC.[2][60] From September 5, 2018, till January 13, 2019, the PNAC homepage went back online without any further explanation.[61] ”


    Remember this from Wesley Clark?

    “… I knew why, because I had been through the Pentagon right after 9/11. About 10 days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon, and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in. He said, “Sir, you’ve got to come in and talk to me a second.” I said, “Well, you’re too busy.” He said, “No, no.” He says, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.” So I said, “Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?” He said, “No, no.” He says, “There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military, and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

    So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the secretary of defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.” And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, “You remember that?” He said, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”

    AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry. What did you say his name was?

    GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I’m not going to give you his name. …”

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