Bush’s brutal war in Iraq is shaping up to be the central issue in the 2004 presidential election. With nearly 1,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, and no end in sight, many are advocating a vote for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in hopes of ending Bush’s senseless war.
Unfortunately, though, Kerry and the Democratic Party offer no alternative to Bush on the war. Not only did Kerry vote for the war, but he supports continuing the occupation indefinitely. Kerry is campaigning not against the war, but as a more effective manager of the occupation than Bush.
Kerry told the Wall Street Journal on July 16 that he is afraid Bush might pull U.S. troops out of Iraq sooner than a Democratic administration would. Kerry has promised, if elected, to keep U.S. troops in Iraq through the end of his first term – January 2009!
Kerry is also calling for adding 40,000 more active-duty soldiers to the army, doubling the number of Special Forces soldiers, and increasing the Pentagon budget. Under all the sweet rhetoric, this is a call for more troops to hold the Iraqi people in chains and will lead to more Abu Ghraibs.
Kerry’s policy is also an attempt to paper over the deep crisis in Iraq by asking other imperialist countries to send their young people to die alongside ours to share the burden of maintaining an unjust occupation.
The Democratic National Convention exemplified the Democratic Party’s complete failure to oppose the war. All the major speakers at the convention gave pro-war speeches.
Former presidential candidates Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich, who earned much of their support in the primaries from their criticisms of the war, were silent on the occupation during their speeches. “Not only was criticism of the war discouraged, but peace activists among the delegates were not allowed to bring literature or clothing that expressed an anti-war stance” (CounterPunch.org, 7/30/04).
The Democrats: The Other War Party
Many argue that a Democratic administration wouldn’t have invaded Iraq in the first place. It is true that some Democratic politicians raised doubts about invading Iraq, but a close look at their statements revealed that they were only worried about the interests of U.S. imperialism being undermined by the war; they were not concerned about the lives of ordinary Americans or Iraqis.
We should also remember it was Democratic presidents who got us into World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
In the 1990s, Democratic President Bill Clinton periodically launched bombing raids on Iraq and enforced the murderous economic sanctions that killed over a million Iraqis.
It was the Clinton administration that made “regime change” in Iraq official U.S. policy under the 1998 “Iraq Liberation Act” – voted for by Kerry and even Dennis Kucinich. This act was later used by the Bush administration to help justify the invasion.
Clinton also carried out the brutal war on Yugoslavia and pushed through the $1.3 billion “Plan Colombia” aid package to the Colombian military. He also killed hundreds of innocent people when he bombed Sudan and Afghanistan to divert attention away from his impeachment crisis.
While Bush and his neo-conservative administration engineered the war in Iraq, Democrats like Kerry parroted their lies (and voted for the war on Afghanistan and the Patriot Act as well). As millions around the world marched in anti-war demonstrations to expose the lies of Bush and his cronies, Kerry was on the opposite side of the barricades – in the Senate echoing Bush’s lies.
Kerry told the Senate in October 2002, before voting to authorize Bush to invade Iraq, that “Iraq has some lethal and incapacitating agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery on a range of vehicles such as bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives which could bring them to the United States homeland.”
In the same speech, Kerry even criticized Bush for not invading Iraq earlier, immediately after September 11.
Are we really to believe that Kerry and the Democrats were duped by the Bush Administration’s lies? Kerry answered this question when he declared that he would have voted to authorize Bush’s invasion even if he had known all he does now about Saddam’s lack of WMDs and ties to Al Qaeda (New York Times, 8/09/04).
Building an Independent Anti-War Movement
The anti-war movement should have absolutely no illusions in the Republican or Democratic parties, who both got us into the war and will keep us in Iraq indefinitely if allowed. The anti-war movement should concentrate on building a mass movement in the streets that is politically independent of both corporate parties.
The leaders of anti-war organizations should be preparing their supporters for the reality that a Kerry administration would continue the war, rather than sewing illusions in the Democrats as organizations like MoveOn.org have, which will only disorient and demoralize the movement if Kerry is elected.
The contradictory logic of supporting Kerry will focus the anti-war movement’s efforts on getting the vote out for Kerry and hiding its message. How can we organize anti-war protests while urging people to vote for pro-war Kerry?
Building a powerful, uncompromising anti-war movement that calls for bringing the troops home now, money for jobs and education not war, an end to military recruiting in our schools, and the repeal of the Patriot Act will run into fierce opposition from Kerry’s campaign. The anti-war movement would be raising “embarrassing” issues that Kerry would rather sweep under the rug. So, the logic of helping Kerry get elected would pressure the anti-war movement to keep its mouth shut on these life-and-death issues.
Supporting Ralph Nader’s independent anti-war presidential campaign, however, gives activists the freedom to speak the truth about the war and include an anti-war viewpoint in the presidential election.
Nader is the only major presidential candidate calling for completely withdrawing the U.S. military and corporations from Iraq, repealing the Patriot Act, and slashing the military budget to pay for living-wage jobs, healthcare, and education.
Presidential elections are a rare time when millions of ordinary Americans tune in and discuss politics. Supporting Nader is the best way in this election to reach tens of millions of working-class people with an anti-war message – which would strengthen the anti-war movement after the election, too.