By Chris Hedges
Those of us who oppose the war, who believe that all U.S. troops should be withdrawn and the network of permanent bases in Iraq dismantled, have only two options in the coming presidential elections—Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney. A vote for any of the Republican and Democratic candidates is a vote to perpetuate the occupation of Iraq and a lengthy and futile war of attrition with the Iraqi insurgency. You can sign on for the suicidal hundred-year war with John McCain or for the nebulous open-ended war-lite with Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, or back those who reject the war. If you vote Democrat or Republican in the coming election be honest with yourself—you have voted to allow the U.S. government to continue, in some form, the campaign that needlessly kills ever more Americans and Iraqis in a conflict that has become the worst foreign policy disaster in U.S. history and a crime under international law.
“When will the American people actually vote to give to the world more than bombs and missiles, sweatshops, dubious science, frankenfood, poverty and misery?” Cynthia McKinney, the presidential candidate in the Green Party primaries, told me. “Not only do we need an immediate, orderly withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, we need an end to the militarism that has placed U.S. troops on the soil of over 100 countries. A true peace agenda means a complete redefinition of security. I remain convinced that if people in Haiti, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua can vote a peace and justice agenda into power, then so too can we.”
Examine the proposals on Iraq offered by Clinton and Obama. They talk about withdrawing some troops, but they also talk about leaving behind forces to protect U.S. bases in Iraq, assigning troops to train the Iraqi army and continuing the fight against “terrorism.” Clinton and Obama do not throw out numbers, but a rough estimate would be 40,000 or 50,000 troops permanently stationed in Iraq. Obama, his advisers say, will also not rule out continuing to use private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq. The war would not end under a Democratic administration. It would drag on until the mission collapsed and the U.S. retreated in humiliation. And when pressed, the Democratic candidates have admitted as much. Tim Russert in the New Hampshire debate asked the Democratic candidates to guarantee that all U.S. troops in Iraq would be home by 2013. No one, including John Edwards, was prepared to make such a commitment. Dennis Kucinich, the only Democratic candidate who opposed a continuation of the war, had been excluded from the debate. When the question was asked he was standing outside the hall in the snow with supporters to protest his exclusion.
But the lust for militarism by Clinton and Obama does not end with Iraq. The two remaining Democratic candidates back the occupation of Afghanistan. They defend Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Lebanon, which killed hundreds of Lebanese, destroyed huge parts of Lebanon’s infrastructure and left U.S.-manufactured cluster bombs littered over southern Lebanon. Clinton and Obama praise the right-wing government in Jerusalem and callously blame the Palestinian victims for the suffering inflicted on them by Israel. They support, in open defiance of international law, the 40-year Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the draconian siege of Gaza, dismissing the grim humanitarian crisis it has unleashed on the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in the world’s largest open-air prison.
The Democrats, who took control of the Congress in midterm elections largely because of public dissatisfaction with the Iraq war, have continued to fund the war, ignoring anti-war voters. The party, as a result, has sunk even lower in public opinion polls than the president, to a 19 percent approval rating, according to a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Clinton and Obama dutifully lined up with most other Democratic legislators to cast ballots in favor of squandering more than $300 billion in taxpayer money on a war that should never have been fought. And, if either is elected, he or she will spend billions more on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I will skip the rest of the mediocre voting records of Obama and Clinton, which include pandering to corporate interests, failing to back a universal single-payer health care system, refusing to call for the slashing of the bloated military budget, not urging repeal of NAFTA and the Taft-Hartley Act, which cripples the ability of unions to organize, and not seeking an end to nuclear power as an energy resource. Let’s stick with the war. It is depressing enough.
The anti-war movement bears much of the blame. It sold us out to the Democratic Party. The decision by anti-war activists to accept a moratorium on demonstrations in 2004 in order to support John Kerry ended our chance to build a widespread, grass-roots movement against the war. Kerry, in return for this support, ridiculed and humiliated those of us who opposed the war. He called for more troops in Iraq. He mouthed thought-terminating patriotic slogans to out-Bush Bush. He promised victory in Iraq. He assured voters that he, unlike George W. Bush, would never have pulled out of Fallujah. Anti-war voters stood passively behind him as they were humiliated and abused. And the anti-war movement has never recovered. The groundswell of popular revulsion that led hundreds of thousands to take to the streets before 2006 collapsed. The five-year anniversary of the war was marked with tepid protests that were sparsely attended. Why not? If the anti-war movement gutlessly backs pro-war candidates, what credibility does it have? If it fails to support those candidates on the margins of the political spectrum who stand with it against the war, what is the movement worth? Why not be cynical and go home?
“It is a virus,” Nader said in a phone interview. “It is self-defeating. What are they doing this for if they can’t push it into the political arena? Is it all theater?”
“The strategy of the Democratic Party is to beat the Republicans by becoming more like them,” Nader said. “How can they get away with that? If they become more like the Republic Party they start eating into the Republican vote. This usually would inflict a price on them. They would lose the left’s vote, but since the left signaled to the Democrats that their vote can be taken for granted because the Republicans are too horrible to contemplate, they get both. As a result, when you put this cocktail together, becoming more Republican to get Republican votes and hanging on to the left because they have nowhere to go, you set up a tug in the direction of the corporations. There is no discernable end to this strategy by the left. When you ask the left they say not this year, sometime later. But when? If it is not now, if it is sometime in the future, when? What is their breaking point? If you do not have a breaking point you are a slave.”
The energy and idealism are out there. Nader, in a March 13-14 Zogby poll, took 5 to 6 percent in a race between McCain and either Clinton or Obama. Nader, among voters under 30 and among independents, polled 12 to 15 percent. If the anti-war movement gets behind him and McKinney, if it stands behind its principles, it could begin to shake the foundations of the Democratic Party. It could re-energize itself. It might even force Democrats to offer voters a concrete plan to withdraw from Iraq.
War is not an abstraction to me. I know its evil. It is time, if we care about the state of the nation, to take an unequivocal stand against the war. If Clinton and Obama do not want to join us, so be it. I support those candidates and organizations that fight back. We should, in solidarity, strike with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on May 1 against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should support Code Pink’s refusal to pay the portion of our taxes that go to funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But most of all, we should refuse to be suckered by Democratic candidates who use fuzzy language and will not commit to a total withdrawal from Iraq. We owe it to the hundreds of thousands of dead and injured. We owe to those Iraqis and Americans who will die in the coming days, weeks and months. We owe it to ourselves so, at the very least, we can salvage our integrity.
Cynthia McKinney waves off reporters as she casts her vote in the 2004 election.