In the late 1980's, I was a humble canvass director in Washington, DC for Sane, then as now the country's largest peace and
disarmament organization (now called Peace Action). One summer evening, as I walked to meet some friends near the Capitol, I
happened to run into Senator John Kerry as he walked toward what I assumed to be his townhouse.
At the time, Kerry was among the most outspoken Senate critics of Ronald Reagan's policies in Central America. I introduced myself,
shook the senator's hand and thanked him for his leadership in opposing Reagan's support for the Nicaraguan terrorists known as the
contras, but expressed disappointment that he had compromised and voted in favor of "non-lethal" aid. (Everyone working in the
peace and Central America solidarity movements at the time knew "non-lethal" aid was a sham that helped prolong the war in
Kerry's rather nonchalant (but a little defensive) response was that "we (the Democrats) all voted for non-lethal aid." I guess he
thought this "everyone else caved in" defense was good enough. I somehow doubt the victims of the war would have agreed.
Nearly fifteen years later, I happened to be in Boston shortly after Kerry voted to authorize George W. Bush's illegal, imperial
conquest of Iraq. Peace activists in Massachusetts who had generally supported Kerry over the years were uniformly and justifiably
livid with Kerry. So when his presidential campaign stumbled out of the blocks last year, I thought, well of course, he committed
the mortal sin of any politician, he infuriated his base, he's toast.
So I guess I'll never get paid to be a political pundit. I didn't count on the media and the Democratic party establishment ganging
up on Howard Dean, and I underestimated Kerry's "anybody but Bush" electability appeal with Democratic primary voters understandably
desperate to beat Bush.
(I was never all that impressed with Dean, whose campaign was really a triumph of style over substance. To his credit, he
galvanized voters starved for someone to stand up to Bush, in contrast to congressional Democrats like Kerry, who voted for the Iraq
war, the Patriot Act and Bush's budget-busting tax cuts. But Dean actually talked about running to the right of Bush on national
security issues. Some progressive.)
John Kerry's compromise on contra aid many years ago and his more recent vote for the Iraq war should give anyone pause who thinks
that evicting Bush from the White House will fix the country's ills. Kerry's tortured explanation of his vote for the war, that he
was lied to by the Administration (well duh!), ought to make one think twice about jumping on his bandwagon.
Simply put, Senator Kerry can't have it both ways. He can't, on the one hand, tout his foreign policy expertise, political savvy
and experience, and on the other hand be so callow as to claim to have been deceived by the Bush gang into voting for the war. He's
either alarmingly, unforgivably na´ve after so many years in Washington, or, more likely, he voted for the war in a crass political
calculation that it would help him look tough as he prepared his presidential bid. Either answer is extremely troubling for those
looking for a savior from Bush's reign of error.
Beating Bush won't save our hash, and ultimately is not what's really important. Building a lasting, powerful movement for peace
and social justice, firmly rooted in the philosophy and practice of non-violence, that will hold all future occupants of the White
House and members of Congress accountable to the will of the people is what really matters.
Recent history is instructive. After twelve, long dark years of the Reagan and Bush Sr. Administrations (who knew Bush Jr. and his
relentless war-mongering junta would make those guys look almost nice by comparison), many activists wiped their brows after helping
the "liberal" Bill Clinton get elected to the presidency and relaxed their activism. Consequently, the membership, budgets and
political influence of most national and local peace organizations dropped precipitously.
In eight years, the "liberal" Bill Clinton did nothing to dismantle the war machine. Nothing. (Just exactly whose military is it
that Bush Jr. employed with such devastating effect in Afghanistan and Iraq?) More Iraqis died under economic sanctions and regular
"no fly zone" bombings during the eight years of the Clinton presidency than in Bush Sr.'s and Jr.'s bookending Iraq wars combined.
America desperately needs a new foreign policy, and not merely a return to the Clinton policies. We need a foreign policy based on
American ideals of democracy, human rights and international cooperation to make the U.S. and the world safer. Trashing treaties
and international law and continuing to be the arms dealer to the world has made the U.S. a virtual pariah state in the world
community, and enlists new recruits for terrorist organizations every day.
Most urgently, we need to get serious about ridding the planet of the scourge of nuclear weapons.
Instead, the Dr. Strangeloves in the Bush Administration, Pentagon, Energy Department and nuclear weapons laboratories want to build
new, more usable types of low-yield and "bunker busting" nuclear weapons on top of the 10,000 nuclear warheads the U.S. retains.
This is at the same time that the Administration preaches non-proliferation, or else, to (selected) other countries. John Kerry
missed the votes last September on funding for these new nuclear programs, though he opposes them, saying they... "could set off a
dangerous new nuclear arms race, while seriously undermining our ability to work with the international community to address nuclear
proliferation threats in places like North Korea and Iran." (Please go to www.peace-action.org for more on Kerry's stances on peace
and disarmament issues.)
If Kerry is elected, he will constantly be trying to protect his right flank, as he will be faced by congressional Republican pit
bulls that will relentlessly attack him as soft on defense and weak on terrorism. Given his history, and that of other recent
Democratic presidents, expect him to bend their way.
We need more than a new president. We need a new direction, a new, better, humbler role for America in the world community. John
Kerry, if elected president, might change course, but only if we demand it long and loud enough.
Kevin Martin is executive director of Peace Action, the country's largest peace and disarmament organization with over 90,000
members. Its headquarters are in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC.