Published on Monday, April 14, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
As Baghdad Falls Howard Dean Folds Back into the National Security Establishment
by Charles Knight
On April 9, 2003, the day that most American newspapers headlined the "liberation of Baghdad", Howard Dean, a Democratic presidential candidate notable for his opposition to Bush's war against Iraq, gave a speech in Washington which went a long way toward endorsing the Bush doctrine of preventive war.
Dean has been a favorite candidate among anti-war Democrats because he believes an imminent threat from Iraq was never proven and therefore the situation did not justify the invasion. In his remarks to the Alliance for American Leadership, an invitation-only organization of foreign policy specialists most of whom were associated with the Clinton administration, Dean addressed the problems of possible nuclear proliferation to North Korea and Iran. As reported in the Boston Globe he made a point of saying that he would not rule out using military force to disarm either North Korea or Iran.
In effect this supposedly 'anti-war' Democrat has announced his support for a policy in which Washington will decide which countries are allowed to have nuclear weapons and will reserve for itself the right to forcefully disarm those who do not voluntarily disarm by U.S. dictate. In this crucial regard Dean's position is in close accordance with the Bush doctrine of coercive disarmament and preventive war.
Dean did seek to draw a distinction between his policy and that of the Bush administration by advocating a return to the Clinton policy of "constructive engagement." However, in the context of a world with preventive counter-proliferation warfare this is a distinction not of principle, but only of pragmatic considerations.
The basic argument between Democrats such as Dean and Republicans becomes whether their respective approaches to forced disarmament are more or less costly or risky, in what time period. For instance, Dean argues for reopening negotiations with the North Koreans over their nuclear program, while privately making it clear that the U.S. will go to war to stop their nuclear program if they don't settle in the end. In a preferred outcome of this diplomacy the U.S. might end up paying the North Koreans ten or twenty billion to abandon their nuclear and long range missile program. Dean would argue that despite the distaste of having to pay for disarmament, the financial costs would be about one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of a war, and successful diplomacy would also avoid the human costs of the likely hundreds of thousands of Koreans, Americans, and possibly Japanese who would die in new Korean war. In the longer run it is likely that the communist regime in North Korea will collapse in its own decrepitude and a more cooperative government will take its place and seek to reunite peacefully with South Korea.
The neo-conservative Republicans argue that once we get into a 'pay for disarmament' relationship the North Koreans have an incentive to maintain the threat of their nuclear program in order to pressure us to meet their ever-growing financial demands. In the mean time making payments to them just ends up supporting their regime and increases the likelihood that they will become a bigger threat to American interests later on. Much better to do what the U.S. did with Iraq: keep North Korea poor, let their obsolescent Soviet-era Army deteriorate, and when the time is right overthrow their regime and take direct control of their security policy. The war of regime change will be costly, but manageable, and if we wait until later the costs will be much higher.
With Dean's statement of April 9th we see a narrowing of the range of strategic options represented by the 'major' or 'leading' candidates for President in the Republican and Democratic parties. Republicans will use the preventive war option early and often. Democrats will hold the preventive war option in reserve (and as threats expressed in private) while investing more in 'dollar persuasion' and other forms of 'soft power'. But, since 911 both parties have been learning to love the power of preventive war, something they both would have felt compelled by history and culture to renounce only a few years ago.
Left unacknowledged and unexplored in Dean's remarks is the issue of where preventive war policies leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Depending the how credulous you are, the answer would have to be either a) a minor supporting role to U.S. unilateral coercive counter-proliferation or b) so much waste paper. Also un-addressed is the contradiction of 'militarized counter-proliferation policy' that makes the acquisition and deployment of nuclear weapons seem like the most effective way for hard-nosed realists in North Korea and Iran to deter the aggressive preventive warriors in Washington. Indeed on April 10th , the day North Korea's withdrawal from the NPT came into effect, their news agency stated ". the security of the country and the nation can be assured only when one has physical deterrent force." (AP) We should expect Iranian security thinkers to reach a similar conclusion.
It is perhaps instructive to note that Dean's remarks were informed by talking points provided by Danny Sebright. Sebright is Associate Vice President of former Secretary of Defense William Cohen's consulting group and until January of 2002 oversaw the war in Afghanistan from his position Director of the Policy Executive Secretariat in the DoD. He began his career in the Defense Intelligence Agency and his bio at the Cohen Group boasts that "Mr. Sebright cultivated extensive contacts with U.S. and foreign defense industry officials to coordinate and implement DoD weapons sales to Israel and many countries in the Middle East." What the Sebright connection suggests is how closely held even an 'anti-war' candidate like Howard Dean is by the conservative-leaning national security establishment of both parties. And that national security establishment has been marching steadily to the right ever since the Republicans took control of the Congress in 1994.
Charles Knight is co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives at the Commonwealth Institute in Cambridge, MA.