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The Courage of Our Convictions: A Manifesto for Democrats

The Courage of Our Convictions: A Manifesto for Democrats

by Gary Hart

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An impassioned call to arms for Democrats to embrace the principles that made the party and the country great—a true moral vision for leadership at home and abroad

In this powerful and provocative manifesto, a cri de coeur for Democrats who have grown increasingly frustrated with their party's leaders, former senator Gary Hart takes the Democrats


An impassioned call to arms for Democrats to embrace the principles that made the party and the country great—a true moral vision for leadership at home and abroad

In this powerful and provocative manifesto, a cri de coeur for Democrats who have grown increasingly frustrated with their party's leaders, former senator Gary Hart takes the Democrats to task for choosing caution and calculation in place of moral principles. That path, Hart says, will lead only to sorrow—for the party and for the country.

The Courage of Our Convictions is Hart's call to action—a clear-eyed and plainspoken manifesto that urges a return to the principles bequeathed to the party by its great twentieth-century presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt's commitment to a single national community, where no American would be left behind; Harry S. Truman's internationalism, which preserved democracy after World War II and led eventually to the defeat of communism; John F. Kennedy's ideal of civic duty and service to the nation; and Lyndon B. Johnson's insistence on equality for all our citizens.

As the midterm elections approach—and with the 2008 presidential election just over the horizon—Hart speaks directly and passionately to the many Democrats who seek a principled change of leadership in Washington. It is the wake-up call that so many Americans have been waiting for.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The former Democratic senator from Colorado (1975-87), Hart (The Shield and the Cloak) captures the frustration of many grassroots Democrats with their party's timid and rudderless response to the Bush administration. Hart pointedly mentions the advice that former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield gave him when he first entered the Senate: "Draw a line. Fix a point beyond which you will not go and stick to it." In Hart's view, far too many Democratic politicians have no such line of principle. He advises them to return to the four guiding ideas that were the foundation of the party's success in the 20th century: FDR's sense that all Americans are one community, Truman's internationalism, JFK's call to service, and LBJ's dedication to social equality. Hart believes that Democrats must counter right-wing social Darwinism, imperial isolation, corruption, and the veneration of the super-rich at the expense of all others. To regain power, he writes, Democrats need to offer policies that will provide healthcare, a cleaner environment, and opportunity for all. This book will find a ready audience of those seeking an alternative to contemporary policies. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-Duncan Stewart, Univ. of Iowa Libs., Iowa City Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A former senator exhorts the Democratic Party to lead the recovery from the catastrophic Bush years by returning to its core principles. United States senator from Colorado (1975-87) and author of 16 books (James Monroe, 2005, etc.), Hart outlines a unified approach to the reconstruction of domestic politics and international relations. He begins with a declaration of defeat in Iraq and the excoriation of the Democratic leadership that supported or condoned the invasion: if only they had listened to the few brave souls, such as himself, who in 2002 were opposing intervention. The Iraq war today is the precise analogue of the final years of the Vietnam War, just as the Bush administration's outrages against civil liberties, the author says, are akin to those of the Nixon Administration. Indeed, Hart never ceases to draw attention to the relevance of the '70s, when he began his senatorial career-he would have it that the Democratic Party has done nothing right since. The four great Democratic presidents of the 20th century epitomized the party's core principles: Franklin Roosevelt, for his defense of community; Harry S. Truman, for his belief in alliance-based internationalism; JFK's call to civic duty; and Lyndon Johnson's push for equal rights. In the 1980s, however, the Democratic Leadership Council induced the party to abandon principle in favor of centrist positions and electoral success. Hart acknowledges that the party has suffered in part because it sought to realize its tenets in outmoded ways. "Security," he suggests, is the umbrella concept that can cover all those principles in the future: security of livelihood, community, the environment, energy supplies and borders. Thesegoals cannot be achieved on just the domestic level, he says-they require the re-integration of the United States into the international community. Some penetrating insights, particularly regarding the tension between libertarianism and civic duty. But this is really a think piece padded with cliche and bombast.

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The Courage of our Convictions

A Manifest For Democrats

By Gary Hart

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2006 Gary Hart
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8027-6



The spring and summer of 2002 will eventually come to be seen as a critical moment in our history. For it was during these months that decisions were made, first in the White House, then ratified in the fall by Congress, to undertake an imperial policy in the Middle East in the name of the "war on terrorism."

It would require the loss of more than twenty-five hundred American military personnel, the wounding of almost twenty thousand others, and the death of fifty thousand Iraqis before the fallacies and misleading assertions underlying the logic of the war finally began to be revealed. By then, the United States found itself in the historically uncharacteristic position of an occupying power in a volatile land, in an even more volatile region, that it had preemptively and unnecessarily invaded. By the spring of 2006, two-thirds of the American people, including millions who had trustingly supported the invasion as an action necessary to protect the United States and their families from terrorists, concluded that the enterprise was questionable at least and badly misconceived at best.

Having now produced more history in the early twenty-first century than it is likely to consume for a very long time, the United States (and the many historians sifting through the convoluted foreign policy of this time) may contemplate at considerable leisure, and possibly come to repent, what it wrought. This broad canvas, and a particularly ugly one at that, must be left for others, in other forums, to fill with color. What concerns us here are the reasons why many in the Democratic Party, including many of its national figures in both houses of Congress, surrendered so supinely to an undertaking deeply questionable in its premises and fatally flawed in its conclusions with so little challenge, with such superficial justification, and so completely contrary to America's history, character, and principles.

How did this happen? Why were more questions not asked and more answers demanded? In addition to figures such as Edward Kennedy, Robert C. Byrd, Russell Feingold, and Bob Graham, why did not more party leaders, potential and actual candidates for the presidency especially, take to the floor of the House and Senate on a daily basis to raise doubts, to surface suspicions, to ask questions? The response from the Democratic leaders was that all the questions were being answered by the president and vice president, by a respected secretary of state (with the director of Central Intelligence peering knowingly over his shoulder at the United Nations), by an experienced secretary of defense who had access to the best intelligence in the world, and by a forceful and articulate national security adviser who possessed unlimited access to the president. "What further questions could possibly have been asked?" defensive prowar Democrats might and did respond.

Let us suggest at least four questions that a Denver lawyer with no access to the (phony) classified briefings did ask repeatedly in speeches around the country from late summer 2002 until the troops crossed the Iraqi border on March 20, 2003, when such questions became academic:

• What other nations are going with us?

• How long will we be there?

• How much will it cost?

• What are the estimated American casualties?

These questions were then, and are still today, dismissed as either unanswerable, irrelevant, or at the very least silly and impertinent. The small handful of citizen Jeremiahs were lectured: "Remember, we are in a war against terrorism." Presumably this also meant, by implication, "And in wartime, keep your mouth shut and support the president."

Let's think about that. Regarding the first question, administration and Pentagon spokespersons continue to refer to "coalition forces" in Iraq. This is a fiction. With the exception of four British battalions — roughly eight thousand troops, many of whom are in combat support roles — this is and always has been an American enterprise. Chanting "coalition forces" over and over again does not make the prolonged Iraqi occupation any kind of genuine coalition undertaking.

The only arena in which our allies participated in meaningful numbers was as targets of retaliation. In the summer of 2005, London's subways and buses were bombed, in a Britain whose public was seriously at odds with its prime minister over Iraq. This followed by a year the bombing of four trains in Madrid; the Spanish government, which had supplied token forces in Iraq, was turned out of office within days. Nevertheless, in the eyes of history and the world this is an American war, and it is America that will suffer overwhelmingly the military, political, and economic consequences. If there is any doubt about this, ask yourself this question: Were there any "coalition" allies on the deck of the aircraft carrier when George W. Bush gave his famous "Mission Accomplished" performance?

The failure of the Bush administration to convince our traditional allies, principally the western European democracies with whom we had won two world wars and the Cold War, was well known in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Many of our allies believed, with some evidence, that our secretary of state's testimony before the United Nations was prepared by the Brothers Grimm. Rather than deal seriously with the objections, questions, and concerns of these traditional allies and the rest of the world community, the American administration and its many media supporters chose rather to mock dissenters as weak, vacillating, and spineless — and to single out the French particularly for being, in the contemptuous phrase popular among supporters of the Bush administration, "cheese-eating surrender monkeys." (Contrary to popular history, ninety thousand French soldiers died in the vain defense of their country against the six weeks' German blitzkrieg in 1940, primarily because their military leaders were still prepared for the previous world war. The easy contempt shown by Bush administration officials toward France verifies that they learned little from that history.)

Had our government been less arrogant and more concerned with maintaining our traditional alliances, it might have listened to the doubts and questions being raised much more seriously and insightfully from foreign democratic capitals than from the cautious "opposition" Democratic Party in the United States. So, to answer the first question — what other nations are going with us? — instead of prattling on about "coalition forces," honest leadership would have replied, "Though the British are playing a relatively small supporting role, this is pretty much an American operation."

How long will we be there? Much of the Democratic leadership blithely accepted the assumption put forward by the Bush administration that the invasion would be a walkover and the occupation a great picnic on the lawns of Baghdad with Iraqi children putting flowers in American rifle barrels. Some did ask, "What if ...?" But these questions were crushed like flies to wanton boys.

Democratic insistence, supported by a less acquiescent press, in asking the "what if" question might possibly have forced an arrogant administration to address the potential of long-term occupation, a possibility assiduously resisted by the Bush neoconservatives. Why think about it at all when our reliable source and highly paid retainer, Ahmed Chalabi, promised it would never happen, that the Iraqi public all the way up to the doors of the Saddam Hussein household would embrace democracy — and us — with the warmth and intensity reserved for the great liberators of history?

For if even a remote possibility of resistance, insurgency, and long-term occupation were to be admitted, that would have changed everything. Attention and resources would have to be redirected away from the genuine war on terrorism in Afghanistan; the cost to the taxpayer would not only soar, it would be virtually limitless; we could well see thousands of Americans dead and tens of thousands wounded; we might embitter the very people we came to democratize; we might further destabilize an already unstable Middle East region and wider Arab world; we might drive an even deeper wedge between ourselves and the international community. Given these disastrous possibilities, better to assume the best, operate from this blissful assumption, and thus not contemplate, let alone discuss with the American people, less-than-rosy scenarios.

Besides, all this occurred in an age when the ultimate default position, "stay the course," could be widely mistaken for genuine policy.

Now that this very nightmare scenario has come to pass, and we now confront all these extremely ugly realities, the American people rightly ask, "Why weren't we told that even a slight possibility existed that we could end up assuming the British imperial role of a half century before?" "Why was this possibility not considered and planned for?" "Why was it not openly and honestly discussed?" "Were our superconfident leaders so swept up in the arrogance of power that they could entertain no doubt of their ability to dictate terms and dominate Iraqi behavior?" Most of all, "Where was the opposition party, where were the Democrats on whom the nation depended to ask the difficult and penetrating questions?" Where, indeed.

How much will it cost? Of course, the costs of the war in terms of lives and treasure are directly connected to the duration of the war and the insurgent resistance it produced. Democratic leaders might have asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld — with an insistence not actually demonstrated — "What if there are no weapons of mass destruction and no ability to employ them, and what if Sunni Arabs and other dissident factions and foreign jihadists resort to insurgent warfare in the cities? How long will we maintain troops in Iraq and what will it cost?" And what if the questioners had not permitted the dismissive secretary to get by with his customary elusions of "We don't fight wars on what ifs," or "We don't know what we don't know but if we knew what we don't know we might not know what we know" gibberish.

An honest and straightforward administration would have responded, "We haven't planned for that contingency because we are totally confident it will not happen. If it does, we will apologize to the American people and expect to suffer the consequences in the next national election." Ah, but that kind of accountability is too much to expect in this age of responsibility avoidance and spin.

And, finally, what about estimated casualties? Those of us raising this question in the summer and fall of 2002 were met with ridicule from the administration and its media supporters and polite disdain from the leaders of our party. "No one can say," was the response. War is war, and war is hell. Though this kind of obfuscation seemed to mollify those Democrats inclined to accept easy assurances, it happens not to be true. War planners routinely make casualty estimates, on the low side and on the high side, according to a variety of scenarios favorable and unfavorable. Good military strategists and planners take into account all options, including worst-case ones. One of those scenarios, locked in a Pentagon safe (if not already shredded), had to do with a long-term, low-intensity urban insurgency.

An amateur strategist, I estimated American casualties — killed and wounded combined — under these conditions at five thousand to ten thousand. A much more serious and seasoned commander, General Barry McCaffrey, forecast as many as fifty thousand American casualties in a prolonged, insurgency-riddled American occupation. I was on the low side. Four years in, we are about halfway toward the McCaffrey estimate, with no end in sight.

Critics will say that to raise questions in a time of war about allied assistance, duration of hostilities and length of deployment, costs in dollars, and estimated casualties is to nitpick, to raise doubt, to undermine national security, to question the judgment of leaders, to erode national resolve, to display weakness and a lack of patriotism. But had the Democrats demonstrated courage, placed conviction over compromise, and been willing to challenge conventional wisdom and established authority — in the best American tradition, I might add — the fallacies in the pro-war argument could have been revealed.

There was little genuine evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Rhetoric aside, there was no evidence of collaboration between Iraq and al Qaeda. There was a real possibility of insidious insurgency. There was an obvious opportunity for foreign jihadists, particularly from Saudi Arabia, to use the American occupation of an Islamic country as a rallying point for recruitment and as a training ground for future jihadists. A few lonely voices repeatedly predicted in 2002 and 2003 that by invading Iraq we were going to "kick open a hornets' nest," and it took no particular genius to say so. Now we are told we cannot leave until we have put all the hornets back into the nest. Think again.

If the opposition party, the Democrats, refused to oppose, what conceivably were their reasons? Several possibilities exist. The first and most obvious reason is that the Democrats were misled along with everyone else, including virtually all the Republicans. Here two more possibilities exist. Either the president was misled by the U.S. intelligence services, in which case those responsible should have been fired (but were not); or the president willingly and knowingly participated in a neoconservative "cabal" (as it was later called by Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff) that systematically misled the American people. If so, the political consequences of this are stunning in their implications of dishonesty, lack of principle, and arrogance toward the sovereignty of the American people.

It took until late December 2005 for President Bush to finally accept responsibility, though not accountability, for the massively wrong intelligence concerning the presence of weapons of mass destruction and the threat posed by Iraq to America, and for the unanticipated consequences of a virulent domestic insurgency. The Democrats who followed George W. Bush down this path, for whatever reasons, without exercising greater skepticism can take little comfort from this reluctant and long-overdue shift by the president. They had a duty of care to ask tough questions and to deny support until those questions were answered. That duty is not one of partisanship. That duty is one of citizenship, leadership, and statesmanship.

Sufficient time has passed since the errors and dishonesty have surfaced for redemption to have occurred. In the face of such evidence of manipulation of intelligence, few Democrats stepped forward to say, at the least, "I was misled," or, at the most, "I was wrong." What has confounded rank-and-file Democrats and many independent voters is the stubborn refusal of many pro-invasion Democrats to say anything at all, whether mea culpa or apology.

Indeed, the only real "opposition" policy offered by Democratic leaders like Senators Hillary Clinton and Joseph Lieberman has been, "Up the ante. Commit more troops. Increase the U.S. military presence and the size of the occupation forces." This at a time when two-thirds of the American people and close to 90 percent of the Democratic Party's supporters have turned against the war and when it is increasingly clear to many that it is the very presence of American troops that provides strong stimulus to the insurgency.

Consider the times in which this catastrophe occurred. The twenty-first century's first sunrise revealed a nation adrift. The Cold War had come abruptly and unexpectedly to an end a decade earlier. Our central organizing principle — the containment of communism — had been rendered irrelevant, and for ten years we had very little comprehensive sense of where we as a nation were going. Democrats seemed no clearer than Republicans as to our purposes, objectives, and mission in the world. Sole superpower status offered virtually endless possibilities, perhaps too many. In 1990, Francis Fukuyama famously declared democracy's triumph as "the end of history," and by 2000 it seemed to many Americans that he was right.

But history has its own way of remaining obscure, opaque, and mysterious. And, missing the Cold War's peculiar clarity and knowing that it is easier to unite Americans against something than it is to unite us for something, the neoconservatives in the new Bush administration swiftly saw the "war on terrorism" as the Next Big Confrontation. It would require the passage of only a few months after the September 11 attacks before George W. Bush would be advocating a Middle East "crusade" against the rising threat of a new Caliphate, the term for an Islamic empire reaching from Gibraltar Eastern Indonesia.


Excerpted from The Courage of our Convictions by Gary Hart. Copyright © 2006 Gary Hart. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Gary Hart represented Colorado in the U.S. Senate from 1975 to 1987. He is the author of fifteen books, including The Shield and The Cloak and Restoration of the Republic. Hart has lectured at Yale, the University of California, and Oxford, where he earned a doctor of philosophy in politics. A lifelong Democratic reformer, he is currently a professor at the University of Colorado, a distinguished fellow at the New America Foundation, and chairman of the American Security Project. He resides with his family in Kittredge, Colorado.

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