Reprinted from Consortium News
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at NATO conference in Munich, Germany, Feb. 4
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If the Democratic Party presses ahead and nominates hawkish Hillary Clinton for President, it could recreate the conditions that caused the party to splinter in the late 1960s and early 1970s when anti-war and pro-war Democrats turned on one another and opened a path for decades of Republican dominance of the White House.
This new Democratic crackup could come as early as this fall if anti-war progressives refuse to rally behind Clinton because of her neoconservative foreign policy -- thus infuriating Clinton's backers -- or it could happen in four years if Clinton wins the White House and implements her militaristic agenda, including expanding the U.S. war in Syria while continuing other wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya -- and challenging Russia on its borders.
Clinton's neocon policies in a prospective first term could generate a "peace" challenge similar to the youth-driven uprising against President Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War in 1968.
Indeed, in 2020, anti-war elements of the Democratic Party might see little choice but to seek a candidate willing to challenge an incumbent President Clinton much as Sen. Eugene McCarthy took on President Johnson, leading eventually to the chaotic and bloody Chicago convention, which in turn contributed to Richard Nixon's narrow victory that fall.
A difference between Johnson and Clinton, however, is that in 1964, LBJ ran as the "peace candidate" against the hawkish Republican Barry Goldwater (who incidentally was supported by a young Hillary Clinton), whereas in 2016, Clinton has made clear her warlike plans (albeit framing them in "humanitarian" terms).
After winning a landslide victory against Goldwater, Johnson reversed himself and plunged into the Vietnam War, fearing he otherwise might be blamed for "losing" Indochina. With Clinton, there's no reason to expect a reversal since she's made no secret about her plans for invading Syria under the guise of creating a "safe zone" and for confronting nuclear-armed Russia along its western borders, from Ukraine through the Baltic States. In her belligerent rhetoric, she has compared Russian President Vladimir Putin to Hitler.
Clinton also has vowed to take the U.S.-Israeli relationship to "the next level" by embracing right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who expects to convince President Hillary Clinton to end any detente with Iran and put the prospect of bombing Iran back on the table. Clinton would seem to be an easy sell.
Another feature of the LBJ-Hillary comparison is that the Democratic Party's turn against the Vietnam War in the 1968 and 1972 campaigns prompted a collection of pro-war intellectuals to bolt the Democratic Party and align themselves with the Republicans, especially around Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Those Democratic hawks became known as the neoconservatives and remained attached to the Republican Party for the next 35 years, eventually emerging as Official Washington's foreign policy establishment. However, in some prominent cases (such as Robert Kagan), neocons are now switching over to Clinton because of the rise of Donald Trump, who rejects the neocon passion for interventionism.
In other words, just as Johnson's Vietnam War escalation -- and the resulting fierce opposition from anti-war Democrats -- set in motion the neocons' defection from the Democrats to the Republicans, Clinton's enthusiasm for the Iraq War, her support for escalation of the Afghan War, and her scheming for "regime change" wars in Libya and Syria are bringing some neocon hawks back to their first nesting place in the Democratic Party.
But a President Clinton's transformation of the Democratic Party into "an aggressive war party," whereas under President Barack Obama it has been "a reluctant war party," would force principled anti-war Democrats to stop making excuses and to start trying to expel Clinton's neocon pro-war attitudes from the party.
Such an internecine battle over the party's soul could deeply divide the Democrats between those supporting Clinton -- as "the first woman president" and because of her liberal attitudes on gay rights and other social issues -- and those opposing Clinton because of her desire to continue and expand America's "perpetual wars."
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