What Happened to Howard Dean, Anti-War Champion?

After making a name for himself by speaking out against the invasion of Iraq, the former DNC chair is praising Obama's mission in Libya -- an unconstitutional mission that transgresses against values he once touted

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Although he spent 12 years as governor of Vermont, Howard Dean gained national attention during George W. Bush's first term as a leading voice in the anti-war movement. An early frontrunner in the campaign for the Democratic Party's nomination, he remarked frequently on foreign policy. "Empowered by the American people," he said in one major address, "I will work to restore the legitimacy that comes from the rule of law; the credibility that comes from telling the truth." He added that he'd put troops in harm's way "only when the stakes warrant, when we plan to cope with possible dangers, and when we level with the American people about the relevant facts."

Dean lost in the primaries, so we never got to see whether he'd really embrace the rule of law, truth-telling, and transparency about facts as president. But he is still speaking out about foreign wars. On Wednesday morning, for example, he went on MSNBC, where he praised President Obama for the war in Libya. "It's very smart. You don't put boots on the ground. You don't commit trillions of dollars to a war in Iraq," he said. "You do it with the other tools that we have that frankly work much better over the long term because you don't get a lot of public resistance -- drones, special operations forces, use of intelligence agencies. That's exactly what he did."

Isn't that something?

He's praising drone strikes and special ops because they're less likely to attract the scrutiny and criticism from American citizens. It's a position one doesn't expect a prominent Iraq war dissenter to take -- you'd think he of all people would understand that it's vital for the American public to scrutinize the foreign policy decisions of its leaders regardless of the political party in power.

Nor does one expect a man who says legitimacy comes from the rule of law, and that credibility comes from truth-telling, to advocate on behalf of a war waged in violation of the War Powers Act and the United States Constitution; one that featured a president insisting that, despite the bombing sorties and drone strikes, we weren't actually at war or even engaged in hostilities.

What happened to the importance of leveling with Americans?

And what became of the American anti-war movement? I'll tell you. It was housed in the Democratic Party, and then a Democrat got elected to the presidency. Obama violates core principles articulated by former anti-war voices, and he isn't just permitted to do so without resistance, he is actively praised for his savvy! Meanwhile, Obama is actively trying to strike a deal that keeps U.S. troops in Iraq beyond 2011, and no one seems to care about that reversal either.


What is it good for?

Partisan politicians, who exploit it regardless.

Image credit: Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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