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A More Constructive Internationalism
Published on Monday, May 12, 2003 by the Washington Post
A More Constructive Internationalism
by George McGovern

In his May 1 op-ed piece, Will Marshall praised presidential candidates Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry and John Edwards as "Blair Democrats" -- internationalists who are willing "to use force in the national interest." He rejoiced that the Democratic Party "is moving away from McGovernism and back to its international roots."

One wonders why Marshall went to Britain for an example of how American Democrats ought to behave. It is more puzzling why he concluded that I'm opposed to internationalism and the "use of force in the national interest." I first used force in the national interest during World War II, when I flew 35 combat missions in Europe. American involvement in that war was clearly in our national interest, and that is why I volunteered at the age of 19 to be part of it.

It is true that I opposed the American war in Vietnam, but not because I had ceased to be an internationalist. That war was a disastrous folly, as all literate people now acknowledge. We were never more isolated from the international community than when our troops were deepest in the Vietnam jungle. A close second in isolating us from the international community was the invasion of Iraq, a largely defenseless little desert state that posed no threat to us and had taken no action against us.

The best way to support our troops is to keep them out of needless wars such as Iraq and Vietnam. The best way for America to play a constructive role internationally is to support the United Nations and to work toward expanding international trade, aid and investment while protecting our workers and the environment. An internationalist would also support the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, the International Criminal Court, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and an international ban on land mines.

An internationalist also would support the International Food for Peace Program, which I directed during the Kennedy administration, as well as the efforts I carried forward to reduce global hunger during my service as a Clinton administration ambassador to the U.N. Food and Agriculture agencies in Rome. Former senator Bob Dole and I have teamed up to press for an international school lunch program that would reach 300 million elementary school children who are not being fed.

I am opposed to the Bush doctrine of "preemptive war" -- what heretofore has been known as aggression or invasion. I am also opposed to congressional resolutions that give the president a blank check to go to war when he pleases.

I have always thought America to be the greatest country on earth. One of the reasons I think so is because of our great founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, who spoke of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." Is there any doubt that the opinion of mankind was overwhelmingly against our wars in Vietnam and Iraq?

We don't measure a nation's internationalism by the number of troops it sends to other countries. By that test, Adolf Hitler would be the greatest internationalist of the 20th century. I might add for Marshall's edification that I would not have won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 -- winning 11 primaries, including the two largest states, New York and California -- if I had been perceived as an isolationist. I also believe that if the disgraceful conduct of President Richard Nixon during that campaign had been known before the election, I would have been elected. If so, I would have led as an internationalist unafraid to use force in the national interest.

The writer was a Democratic senator from South Dakota from 1963 to 1981 and his party's presidential nominee in 1972.

2003 The Washington Post Company


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