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Quick on the Trigger
Published in the November 2000 issue of The Progressive
Quick on the Trigger
On Foreign Policy, It's No Easy Matter To Make A "Lesser Of Two Evils" Argument For The Gore-Lieberman Ticket
by William D. Hartung
 
Liberal columnists such as Anthony Lewis of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, and Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker have done contortions to demonstrate that yes, Virginia, there are significant differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties. They then argue that Ralph Nader, honorable man though he may be, should put aside his quixotic quest for the Presidency before he risks throwing the election to George W. Bush.

But in the field that I know best--U.S. foreign and military policy--it's no easy matter to make a "lesser of two evils" argument for the Gore-Lieberman ticket.

On many of the issues that progressives care about most--curbing pro-corporate trade agreements, stopping the flow of U.S. arms and training to corrupt and abusive regimes in Colombia and Indonesia, ending the deadly civilian sanctions against Iraq, reducing the nation's grotesque $311 billion military budget--the differences between the standard-bearers of the two major parties range from subtle to nonexistent.

Peace Action, the nation's largest grassroots peace group, highlights six issues in its latest Presidential voter guide. On five of these, Gore and Bush agree: "Increase Pentagon spending" (Yes), "Spend $60 billion or more on 'Star Wars' anti-missile system" (Yes), "Give aid to Colombian army guilty of human rights violations" (Yes), "End sanctions on food and medicine to civilians in Iraq" (No), and "Require labor rights and environmental protections in all trade agreements" (No). Gore's stances are decidedly against the positions of most progressive organizations and activists. On only one issue, "Support treaty to ban nuclear testing," is Gore in favor and Bush opposed. By contrast, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader supports the progressive position on all six of the issues identified by Peace Action.

On missile defense, there may be another important difference emerging. The Clinton-Gore Administration's recent decision to put its provocative National Missile Defense program on hold--enunciated by the President in a September 1 address to incoming students at Georgetown University and heartily seconded by Vice President Gore--opens at least the possibility that a Gore-Lieberman Administration could get back on track toward implementing additional post-Cold War nuclear arms reductions. Compared with George W. Bush's pledge to move full speed ahead with a multitiered, open-ended missile defense plan that could be even more costly and provocative than Ronald Reagan's original Star Wars vision, Gore's position looks pretty damned good.

For some, this may be enough to cast their lot with the Democratic ticket. But the rest of us may want to take a closer look at the records of Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman before we make up our minds.

The Presidential ticket of Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman represents the ascendancy of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a conservative current within the Democratic Party that helped catapult Bill Clinton and Al Gore onto the national scene with a corporate-friendly, pro-military, fiscally conservative agenda that was designed to put the party's allegedly ultra-liberal, "McGovernite" past behind it (see John Nichols's story, "Behind the DLC Takeover," in the October issue of The Progressive). While the DLC virtually gave birth to Al Gore as a Presidential candidate, it has also been central to the rise of Lieberman, who has served as the organization's chairman for the past five years.

It was Al Gore who first tested the DLC's pro-military themes in his hapless Presidential campaign of 1988, when he was one of a cast of relatively unknown and inexperienced Democratic Presidential contenders referred to derisively by some commentators as the "seven dwarfs." I remember scratching my head when I attended the Presidential debate held at Manhattan's Javits Convention Center in the spring of that year and learned that one of Gore's distinguishing characteristics was that he was the only Democratic candidate who had endorsed Ronald Reagan's 1983 invasion of Grenada--that great and glorious victory in which it was decisively proven that U.S. Marines in helicopter gunships are mightier than Cuban construction workers armed with shovels.

While the Grenada case was an extreme example of Gore's eagerness to endorse the use of military force as a way of demonstrating that he was a "different kind of Democrat," it is consistent with many of the positions he has taken since that time. In an April 1988 speech to the New York Democratic Committee, Gore suggested that "because of their dovish foreign policy views, the nomination of Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis or the Reverend Jesse Jackson would gravely jeopardize Democratic chances of regaining the White House," according to Robert Shogan of the Los Angeles Times. Among the issues Gore chastised his Democratic rivals for were their failure to endorse Jimmy Carter's decision to put nuclear-armed Pershing missiles in Germany to reduce our mythical "window of vulnerability" to nuclear attack by Moscow and their unwillingness to support Ronald Reagan's decision to provide U.S. military escorts to Kuwaiti tankers moving through the Persian Gulf.

Gore was an early and consistent supporter of using force in the Persian Gulf. In 1991, he and Lieberman were two of only ten Democrats in the Senate to vote for the resolution authorizing the air war against Iraq. Lieberman also called for the use of U.S. ground troops to drive Saddam Hussein from power, despite the fact that such a move would have violated the U.N. resolution that had authorized U.S. intervention in the conflict.

Lest we think his views have mellowed with age and experience, Gore has a section on his campaign web site entitled "Gore Backed Use of Military Force When Necessary to Protect U.S. Interests and Values," in which he proudly proclaims that he "argued strongly for punitive air strikes against the Serbs," "supported air strikes and continuous patrolling of the no-fly zone to contain Saddam Hussein," and "supported military retaliation against Osama Bin Laden for terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies in East Africa." (This retaliation included the bombing of a building in the Sudan that was later determined to be a pharmaceutical factory with no documented connection to Bin Laden.)

Look for a Gore and Lieberman Administration to be quick on the trigger when it comes to launching air strikes on Washington's designated enemies of the moment. In this, they would continue the tradition of William Jefferson Clinton, who has used force overseas more often than any U.S. President of the past two decades, including Ronald Reagan.

And if you are hoping that Gore and Lieberman might deliver a peace dividend, think again. During the Presidential debate in Boston on October 3, Gore proudly proclaimed that his ten-year Pentagon budget has "set aside more than twice as much" as George W.'s for upgrading the military. Sadly for progressives, Gore's boast is true: He proposes to add $10 billion per year to the Pentagon budget over the next decade, while Bush plans an increase of "only" $4.5 billion per year. Gore also went out of his way to criticize Bush for "skipping the next generation of weapons," he said. "I think that's a big mistake because I think we have to stay at the cutting edge." That means Gore is in favor of funding costly, multibillion dollar weapons systems (for example, the F-22 or the Joint Strike Fighter) to replace current systems that are already perfectly capable of defending the United States under all imaginable circumstances. It looks like the Pentagon and the weapons makers can break out the champagne regardless of who wins in November.

The people of Iraq, however, would have nothing to celebrate. Gore and Lieberman are not likely to have much sympathy for calls to end civilian sanctions on Iraq, despite strong evidence that ten years of sanctions have contributed to the unnecessary deaths of one million Iraqi civilians, including the deaths of 4,500 children per month. Apparently, Gore and Lieberman's concern about the negative impact of the violent words and images visited upon American children by the entertainment industry does not translate into sympathy for the deadly impact U.S.-led sanctions have had on Iraqi children. In Al and Joe's moral universe, all children are decidedly not created equal.

The Clinton-Gore policy "does not aim to find an alternative to Hussein or to arouse a democratic fervor in the people, but rather to continue the status quo, and in the process, test a few weapons to see how well they work, so they can be marketed to other countries," says Representative Cynthia McKinney, Democrat of Georgia. "Unfortunately, innocent women and children are being killed along the way."

On the issue of U.S.-Israeli relations, Al Gore is likely to be extremely reluctant to press Tel Aviv to rein in its military and police forces or to compromise on sensitive issues such as the status of Jerusalem. Gore's longtime foreign policy adviser, Leon Fuerth, is the ultimate hardliner on Mideast affairs. When Gore ran for President in 1988, it was Fuerth who convinced him to criticize Ronald Reagan from the right, slamming the Republican Administration for pressing then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to trade land for peace. To make matters worse, one of Gore's current confidants on Mideast policy is New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz. As Edward W. Said has aptly noted of Peretz, "No one in American journalism is a more unabashed hater and despiser of Arabs and Muslims, none more insulting, none more disparaging, none more reckless and ignorant."

Gore and Lieberman can also be expected to block efforts at lifting the forty-year-old economic embargo against Cuba. As Vice President, Al Gore has carefully distanced himself from the Clinton Administration's modest steps toward relaxing economic and travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba. On October 4, The New York Times asked Gore, "Would you press for the lifting of sanctions?" Gore answered: "No, no, I'm a hardliner on Castro." He made that clear when he contradicted the U.S. Justice Department's position that Elian Gonzalez's father--not the rightwing Cuban American National Foundation and not the child's Miami-based cousins--should decide where the boy would live. There is no rational explanation for Gore's embarrassing views on Cuba other than his desire to pander to conservative Cuban exiles in Miami in the hopes of stealing a few critical votes from the Republicans in Florida come November.

Meanwhile, Gore's running mate has an unblemished record of support for sustaining a tough embargo on Cuba. Lieberman's conservative stance on this issue dates back to his decision to embrace the Cuban American National Foundation and its late founder, Jorge Mas Canosa, during his first run for the Senate against Republican moderate Lowell Weicker in 1988. In fact, Republican Vice Presidential candidate Dick Cheney has a far more progressive stance on the Cuba embargo than Lieberman does. During an appearance on Meet the Press earlier this year, Cheney criticized the Helms-Burton Act. "Unilateral sanctions almost never work," Cheney said. "They are usually politically motivated, responding to a domestic constituency."

Both Gore and Lieberman are major league practitioners of the art of pork barrel politics, which they have pursued with special zeal in order to protect the interests of major weapons contractors.

Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. companies have seized a dominant position in the global arms market, controlling anywhere from one-third to one-half of all international arms sales in any given year. In 1999, the last year for which full statistics are available, the Congressional Research Service estimates that the United States accounted for 54 percent of global weapons deliveries, more than all the other suppliers in the world combined. Clinton and Gore have helped promote the U.S. weapons industry at every turn, following the credo enunciated by the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown at the 1993 Paris Air Show that "not only will we help you promote your products in the world market, but we will help you close the deal."

Gore has actively involved himself in jawboning Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to buy American weaponry. He has paid special attention to helping Lockheed Martin "close the deal" on multibillion dollar sales of eighty top-of-the-line F-16 fighter planes to the United Arab Emirates that will contain more advanced radar systems than those utilized on the U.S. Air Force's own versions of the aircraft. Clinton and Gore's service to the arms industry has not gone unrewarded: Bernard Schwartz, a former Lockheed Martin board member and the head of Loral Space and Communications, gave $601,000 in soft money to Democratic committees in the run-up to the 1996 Presidential election, and he has nearly doubled that sum this time around, with $1.1 million in contributions to Democratic committees in the 1997-2000 time frame.

As for Lieberman, he has done what every Connecticut Senator worth his salt has done for at least two generations: gone to bat for the state's arms manufacturers at every opportunity. He has resisted efforts by his Democratic colleagues to cut funds for Lockheed Martin's F-22 combat aircraft, which at $200 million per copy is the most expensive fighter plane ever built. The engines for the aircraft are made in Hartford by the Pratt & Whitney division of United Technologies. And he joined his home state colleague Christopher Dodd in a shameless effort to get more Blackhawk helicopters--built in Connecticut by United Technologies' Sikorsky unit--included in the Clinton Administration's $1.3 billion aid package for Colombia instead of the cheaper Huey II, built in Texas by Textron Bell. In a June 21 speech on the floor of the Senate, Lieberman openly shilled for Sikorsky, arguing that "the Blackhawks are fast, they have tremendous capacity, and they are well suited for long-range operations. . . . While the Huey II is an improvement over the 1960s, it does not have the same performance capabilities, including range, speed, lift, or survivability, at any altitude as does the Blackhawk."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Lieberman received $33,000 in campaign contributions from United Technologies and its employees in the most recent election cycle.

The one area where the subtle rhetorical differences between Gore and Bush could develop into strong, clear policy differences is in nuclear arms control. In a statement supporting Clinton's decision to put missile defense on hold, Gore asserted: "As President, I would oppose the kinds of missile defenses that would unnecessarily upset strategic stability and threaten to open the gates for a renewed arms race with Russia and a new arms race with China, including both offensive and defensive weapons." But in typical Clinton fashion, Gore left open the prospect for deploying some kind of system.

Still, Gore's recognition that pushing full speed ahead on National Missile Defense could spark a new nuclear arms race indicates that his thinking is light years ahead of Bush's on this issue (although it must be noted that Lieberman was one of a handful of early Democratic supporters of Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran's "Defend America Act," a jingoistic, pro-National Missile Defense proposal). To their credit, both Gore and Lieberman support the Comprehensive Test Ban, an important next step in the global nuclear arms control regime, while Bush is adamantly opposed to any such agreement.

The Clinton-Gore Administration is the only Administration since the Eisenhower era that has not negotiated a single significant nuclear arms control agreement. Indeed, virtually all of the progress in nuclear arms reductions achieved during the 1990s was pursuant to agreements reached under the Administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Gore deserves some credit for working closely with Russia to implement the reductions in nuclear arsenals that were agreed to under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and more importantly, for persuading Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to abandon their holdings of nuclear weapons after the break-up of the Soviet Union. And the Clinton-Gore Administration's on-again, off-again negotiations with North Korea over capping its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs are starting to bear fruit.

But before we get too carried away with the superiority of the probable Gore-Lieberman positions on nuclear weapons issues, it should be noted that the Clinton-Gore vision of a "limited" National Missile Defense system is inherently flawed in its own right. Thanks to intrepid investigative research by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, we now know that Clinton's foreign policymakers tried to reassure their Russian counterparts that a limited missile defense system wouldn't threaten Moscow's nuclear deterrent by telling the Russians simply to keep 1,000 or 2,000 nuclear warheads operative and on high-alert status at all times. That shows how far Clinton and Gore are from taking a step toward getting rid of nuclear weapons once and for all. Their missile defense plan--which is still a very real possibility, pending Russian approval--would simply reinforce the notion that the two erstwhile Cold War adversaries should maintain large arsenals of nuclear overkill indefinitely. And by retaining hair-trigger alert status, Clinton and Gore increase the risk of a rash decision that leads to nuclear war or an accidental launch based on a computer foul-up or human error.

Whether Gore builds on the positive elements of his record on arms control or falls back into playing politics with nuclear issues in an effort to show he's "tougher" than Republicans will depend on how much pressure a Gore-Lieberman Administration receives from the public and arms control advocates in Congress.

At least as important as what happens in the voting booth in November will be what progressives and liberals do in the event that Gore and Lieberman get elected. Will the Democratic base give them the benefit of the doubt, as happened for much of the Clinton-Gore term, or will progressives join with sympathetic members of Congress to vigorously and publicly oppose the most noxious elements of the Gore-Lieberman foreign policy agenda?

Most important of all will be the question of whether independent movements for peace and social justice, such as the growing coalition against pro-corporate globalization schemes, can alter the political climate of the country to the point where the two major parties will have no choice but to address the deeper issues that are largely being ignored in the current Presidential campaign.

As you may recall, Clinton and Gore's unofficial theme song was Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow." This time around, a far better theme song for progressives would be The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."

William D. Hartung is the President's Fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School of Social Research and the military affairs adviser to Foreign Policy in Focus, a joint project of the Interhemispheric Resource Center and the Institute for Policy Studies.

2000 by The Progressive, Madison, WI

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