this website and elsewhere, I have written nearly a dozen articles in recent months
criticizing the policies advocated by Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.
However, given that the only other realistic choice is George W. Bush, I am desperately
hoping that Kerry will win next week’s election.
I will not personally be
voting for Kerry, since I am a resident of California, which is expected to go
solidly for the Democratic ticket. I intend to vote for the Green Party presidential
nominee David Cobb, who is campaigning only in states where either Kerry or Bush
are expected to win handily and is consciously avoiding swing states out of the
risk of tilting the balance to the Republicans.
However, if I lived in a swing
state, I would be casting my vote for Kerry and I am encouraging those who live
in swing states to do the same.
This comes despite the very poor choice the
Democratic Party made in selecting Kerry as their nominee.
In selecting Kerry over a half dozen imperfect but nevertheless
anti-war challengers, the Democratic Party gave millions of Americans – who knew
from the start that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, that it was illegal, that
it was based upon lies, and that it would end up being just the kind of disaster
that it has become – no one to vote for.
Even though Kerry was briefed in 2002
by Scott Ritter, the former head weapons inspector for UNSCOM, that Iraq had already
been disarmed, he stood up on the Senate floor and claimed that Iraq’s chemical
and biological weapons arsenal was more dangerous than in 1991. He even insisted
that Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons program right after the International
Atomic Energy Agency reported that it had been completely dismantled. He voted
against a resolution authorizing the president to use force against Iraq if the
United Nations Security Council permitted such force under the UN Charter and
instead voted for a resolution authorizing the President Bush to invade that oil-rich
country unilaterally in violation of the UN Charter. He continues to support the
U.S. occupation of that country, despite the large scale killings of civilians
and abuse of prisoners by American forces.
Furthermore, through his vigorous
defense of Israel’s occupation policies in the occupied territories – including
the separation wall, the expansion of illegal settlements, the extrajudicial killings
of suspected Palestinian militants, and rampant human rights violations – and
ruling out substantive negotiations with Palestinian leaders, Kerry has demonstrated
his belief that the way to peace and security is not through negotiations and
compromise, but through conquest, occupation, colonization and repression. Even
though most Americans – including most Jewish Americans – believe that the United
States should not give such unconditional support of the policies of Israel’s
right-wing government, Kerry’s backing for the Israeli occupation has been on
even stronger terms than that of President Bush, thereby making himself the most
right-wing presidential candidate either major party has ever nominated on this
key foreign policy issue.
Kerry’s calls for strict sanctions and possible military
force against Iran and Syria over their alleged weapons programs that pale in
comparison to the longstanding nuclear, chemical and biological arsenals of U.S.
allies in the same region demonstrates his contempt for multilateral law-based
approaches to arms control and his belief that the United States unilaterally
has the right to impose its double-standards on weapons procurement by force.
Kerry’s outspoken criticism of the International Court of Justice for its nearly-unanimous
ruling that the Fourth Geneva Convention must be applied to countries engaged
in belligerent occupation has shown his contempt for international law.
John Kerry for president was nothing less than an assault against core Democratic
constituencies: liberals of my father’s generation who lived through and fought
in World War II and saw the creation of the United Nations, which explicitly forbids
such wars of aggression as the invasion of Iraq; progressives of my own generation
who volunteered in the McCarthy and McGovern campaigns, and whose political consciousness
was shaped by opposition to a previous immoral U.S. counter-insurgency war; grassroots
Democratic Party organizers of all generations, an overwhelming majority of whom
oppose the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq; and, working class and minority
voters, who will disproportionately pay the price for the Iraq war in terms of
lives lost and programs cut.
Despite claims to the contrary, Kerry was hardly
the most “electable” candidate the Democrats could have nominated. If, for example,
Howard Dean was the nominee, the debate during the fall campaign would have been
centered around Bush’s disastrous policy on Iraq, not the Democratic nominee’s
real and alleged “flip-flopping.” Regarding Israel and Palestine, Dean would have
attracted the support of the majority of Americans – including most Jewish Americans
– who are pro-Israel but believe that the United States should play a more even-handed
role in the peace process. With foreign policy, for the first time in many years,
being the primary concern of voters, a moderately liberal nominee like Dean would
have forced real policy issues to the forefront, giving the Democrats the advantage.
Instead, by nominating Kerry – who shares Bush’s belief in American unilateralism
and the right of the United States and its allies to invade and occupy other nations
– the primary focus of the campaign has been on personality, “character,” and
“leadership,” which have played to the advantage of the Republicans.
Ralph Nader will get far less votes than he did in the 2000 election, his principled
stands against Bush and Kerry’s militarism will still attract thousands of anti-war
voters on the left which could make the difference in Wisconsin and other swing
states, many of whom would have been willing to vote for the Democratic nominee
if he had been anti-war. The growing number of conservative anti-war voters, many
of whom would have been willing to vote Democratic if the nominee had been anti-war,
will now vote Republican anyway.
Unfortunately, it was Kerry and the similarly
hawkish John Edwards who ended up getting on the Democratic ticket. And, unfortunately,
in order to defeat Bush and Cheney, we must make sure that these Democratic Party
nominees are elected.
The Choice on Foreign Policy
to myself that I would never support someone who helped lead American into this
imbroglio in Iraq or who defends war criminals like Ariel Sharon, a recent conversation
with a colleague at the University of San Francisco helped me change my mind.
In response to my ranting about Kerry’s attacks on the World Court, his support
for spending even more tax dollars on the already-bloated Pentagon budget, and
his defense of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the U.S. occupation
of Iraq, my colleague shared his agreement with all my concerns, but noted, “At
least he believes in evolution!”
This underscores a crucial point: although
Kerry certainly shares Bush’s militarist and imperialist mindset, he is a reasonably
intelligent and knowledgeable man, who is less prone to act on impulse or blind
ideological faith. He is more likely to listen to the concerns of the international
community. He is more likely to understand the complexities of a given situation
rather than simply see it in quasi-religious terms of “good” versus “evil.”
example, though Kerry currently says he will not withdraw American troops from
Iraq for at least another four years, he is more likely than Bush to recognize
the need to pull out if it is clear that there is no better alternative. Though
Iraq is such a mess now that it is unlikely that Kerry will be any more successful
than Bush in getting other countries to contribute troops, he would almost certainly
be more willing to allow the United Nations to take more leadership than Bush
has allowed in attempting to resolve the conflict and build a more stable and
Despite Kerry’s strident opposition to the peace efforts of
Israeli centrists and progressives, he does not share the millennialist theology
so influential in Republican circles that sees an expansionist Israel as necessary
for the Second Coming of Christ. As a result, despite Kerry’s seemingly pathological
hatred of Palestinian Arabs, he is more likely to challenge Israeli expansionists
like Sharon and to eventually recognize that Israeli security can never be assured
as long as the Palestinians are denied their right to truly viable state of their
Finally, Kerry – despite his over-emphasis on military solutions to the
threat of terrorism – would be far more likely than Bush to appreciate what concerns
motivate the rise of the dangerous reactionary brand of Islamism that has spawned
the threat posed by Al-Qaeda and like-minded groups. He is less likely to give
blind support for Arab dictatorships like Saudi Arabia and more likely to encourage
sustainable development programs and grassroots democratic initiatives that give
people in Islamic societies hope for creating a more just society through nonviolent
The Choice on Domestic Policy
Another incident which clarified
the need to elect Kerry came a few weeks ago while talking with a neighbor of
mine, a physician at Planned Parenthood. She was describing her concern that –
should Bush be reelected and thereby tip the balance in an aging Supreme Court
– many of her coworkers around the country would have to go underground in order
to perform abortions. Despite my strong personal opposition to abortion in most
cases and some philosophical and political disagreements with much of the “pro-choice”
movement, I do recognize what a disaster it would be if Roe v. Wade was overturned.
The look of genuine fear and worry on her face said more to me of why John Kerry
must win next Tuesday than the millions of dollars of slick ads the Democrats
have put on television.
(It is interesting to note that, after years of steady
decline, abortion rates in the United States have actually gone up under the Bush
administration, likely a result of growing poverty and unemployment – which makes
the prospects of unplanned parenthood more daunting – and regulations regarding
“sex education” in the schools that stress unrealistic demands of chastity rather
than knowledge about contraception.)
Indeed, unlike foreign policy – where
I focus most of my research, teaching and punditry – there really are some crucial
differences between Bush and Kerry.
Foremost is environmental policy: Despite
that the three debates were virtually devoid of any questions about the environment,
this is probably the single most important issue facing this country and the world
today. Few members of Congress have a stronger environmental record than John
Kerry. By contrast, no administration – even that of Reagan and the infamous Interior
Secretary James Watt – has had a record on the environment as deleterious as that
of the current Bush Administration, one that has largely escaped the attention
it has deserved these past four years through the distraction of war and terrorism.
Also of critical importance is the issue of civil liberties: as disappointing
as Kerry’s record has been (particularly in recent years), it is far superior
to that of the Bush Administration. The more civil liberties are restricted, the
more difficult it will be to change government policies on anything.
in the record budget deficits that will otherwise cripple the U.S. government
and the economy as a whole for decades to dome and place an enormous burden on
future generations, Kerry has promised to rescind tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans,
demonstrating his awareness of the need for fiscal responsibility.
the rights of consumers, in slowing the monopolization of the mass media, in supporting
funding for education, mass transit, public housing, and health care, there is
no question that – while hardly adequate – a Kerry administration would be far
superior to that of the Bush administration.
The Office of the President
There are other important reasons that John Kerry must win next Tuesday:
Outside of Iraq, most Americans visiting abroad note that people tend to distinguish
between the American people and the American government. This is made easier by
the fact that President Bush was not the top vote-getter in the 2000 election;
he became president only because of the combination of an archaic eighteenth century
electoral system and vote fraud in a decisive state. If Bush does honestly win
the popular vote, however, the American people as a whole will have to deal with
a much greater sense of responsibility for what the Bush administration does over
the next four years.
Another reason Bush must be defeated is that the attacks
his campaign has waged against Kerry have been so outrageous they must not be
allowed to succeed. This has been the dirtiest presidential election in modern
times. While historically most attacks have come from the challenger, this year
includes the unprecedented phenomenon of the vast majority of attacks coming from
the incumbent’s campaign. Though there are many valid criticisms of Kerry, much
of what is heard from the Bush campaign has been misleading and deceptive, ranging
from deliberately taking quotes out of context to challenging the credibility
of his exemplary military record.
Finally, given the power of the United States
government, the U.S. president is capable of doing both an enormous amount of
good as well as an enormous amount of harm. Even small differences between the
two major party candidates can mean very big differences to millions of people,
including life and death.
Whether one supports or opposes Kerry’s political
views, the fact is that he is one of the most knowledgeable, experienced, intelligent,
and competent major political figures in the country. It has been decades since
someone with a better aptitude for president of the United States has been nominated
by either party. Bush – even putting aside his right-wing ideology – is easily
the least qualified person to ever hold the office in modern times. Even if one
were to take the cynical view that there is essentially no difference between
the two in terms of foreign and domestic policy, Kerry should be elected simply
because he is far more qualified for the job.
We must insure that John Kerry
win this election. We then must insure that he actually does pursue policies that
really are better than those of President Bush.
Stephen Zunes is a professor
of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University
of San Francisco. He is Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project
and the author of Tinderbox:
U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press,