the entry of Nader, I imagined, we will hear once again the
question posed by Senator Robert LaFollette, that icon of
progressivism, on the eve of World War I:
we hind up our future with foreign powers and hazard the peace
of this nation for all time by linking the destiny of American
democracy with the ever-menacing antagonisms of foreign monarchies?
[Europe is] cursed with a contagious, deadly plague, whose
spread threatens to devastate the civilized world."
of apologias for "humanitarian" imperialism, a la Todd Gitlin,
and the embarrassed silence of our congressional left-liberals,
most of whom supported Clinton's conquest of Kosovo, I felt
certain that the voice of the Green Party would be raised
against our bipartisan foreign policy of global hegemony.
With Patrick J. Buchanan attacking the globalists from the
right, and Nader assaulting their left flank, I was hoping
that foreign policy would be an important issue in
this presidential election: contrary to the predictions of
the pundits, who claim that Americans could care less about
the crimes of the US in Kosovo and Iraq and would much
rather keep it that way. Go Ralph go! The voice of
a new LaFollette I thought is about to be raised,
and the prospect was heartening. But, alas, it was not to
be . . .
a linguistic display of almost Clintonian evasiveness, the
supposedly principled "progressive" cops out bigtime.
In a February 23 interview with something called "Alternative
Radio," Nader serves notice that he has decided not to take
any specific foreign policy positions aside from general
blathering about "democratic processes," and I quote:
"People will want to know your views on sanctions on Iraq,
the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Chechnya and Kosovo. You've
got to be prepared to answer those questions."
"They'll be answered in terms of frameworks. Once you get
into more and more detail, the focus is completely defused.
The press will focus on the questions that are in the news.
If Chechnya is in the news, they'll want to focus on that.
We should ask ourselves, What kind of popular participation
is there in foreign and military policy in this country? Very
little indeed. We want to develop the frameworks. For example,
do we want to pursue a vigorous policy of waging peace and
put the resources into it from our national budget as we pursue
the policy of building up ever-new weapons systems?"
TERMS OF WHAT?
what? Everybody knows Nader's a policy wonk, but isn't
this taking it a bit too far? If US troops get into a firefight
with Serbs on the Yugoslav-Kosovo border, does he really plan
on answering the question of where he stands "in terms of
frameworks"? And this business of how getting into detail
"defuses" the focus is nothing but a crock and shows
a contempt for the language, as well as elementary logic,
that one would expect of Bush or Gore: being in focus means
getting down to the details. And what, exactly, is a mere
"detail" in Nader's considered opinion the decimation
of Yugoslavia, the murder of an entire generation of Iraqis,
the prospect of a war for Caspian oil?
are not "details," but major issues that cannot be evaded
by appeals to "popular participation" and exhortations to
"wage peace." By reducing a moral question that transcends
politics what constitutes a just war? to a question
of pure process, democratic or otherwise, Nader thinks he
can get away with in effect taking no position at all. This
has certain political advantages, in solidifying his base
of support in the Green Party and in the (generally pro-war)
media. While the Green Party platform clearly states its opposition
to all overseas interventions, the Kosovo war (and before
that, the Bosnian intervention) was not a clear-cut issue
with the dreadlocks-and-nosering crowd that makes up the party's
constituency and much of its activist base. Anything he says
on the Kosovo issue is bound to get him into trouble, and
so like any politician of a more traditional stripe
it is best to say nothing.
the whole question of Nader's stance on the Green Party platform
has come up before in the context of foreign policy and defense-related
issues: In a May 7  interview on "Meet the Press," Tim
"The Green Party platform says about defense spending:
"We strive to cut the defense budget by 50% by the year 2000,
from approximately $300 billion aggregate spending
in 1996." Is this your position?"
"Not that much. But [even former Reagan officials say the]
defense budget can be cut by $100 billion. Look, our traditional
adversaries are no more. Soviet Union is gone. Historically,
we demobilized after our enemies have disappeared or have
been conquered. We're not doing that now. We have F-22s, tens
of billions of dollars. Analysts in the Pentagon are opposed
to it. B-2 bombers forced down the Pentagon's throat while
the global infectious disease efforts of the Pentagon, a great
story, is starved for its budget."
that much? Well then how seriously should we take the Green
on the question of foreign intervention? The platform calls
for a "pro-Democracy foreign policy," and offers up a laundry
list of Green policy prescriptions in slogan form::
International, Multilateral Peacekeeping to Stop Aggression
and Genocide ."
Unilateral US Intervention in the Internal Affairs of Other
All Overseas US Military Bases."
NATO and All Aggressive Military Alliances."
US Arms Exports."
the CIA, NSA, and All US Agencies of Covert Warfare."
the Economic Blockades of Cuba, Iraq, and Yugoslavia."
Off US Military Aid to Counter-Insurgency Wars in Columbia
a National Referendum of the Whole People to Declare War."
if any, of these positions does Nader agree with? We've already
noted his dissent from the Green platform on cutting the military
budget Nader would cut it only by a third or so
but what else doesn't he agree with? You'll notice,
by the way, that the Greens say they oppose only unilateral
US military intervention, and more ominously
start their list of demands by declaring their support for
multilateral "peacekeeping to stop aggression and genocide"
precisely the language used by the Clintonistas to
justify the subjugation of Kosovo. The Green Party leadership,
for all its emphasis on grassroots organizing, stayed away
completely from the antiwar protests during the Kosovo conflict,
no doubt because a good portion of the Greenies were for
what was, after all, an allegedly "humanitarian" war. The
strain of international do-gooderism is very strong among
the Greens, as can be seen in the following astonishing passage
from their platform, which promises a "global Green Deal,"
the first step of which is that
US should finance universal access to primary education, adequate
food, clean water and sanitation, preventive health care,
and family planning services for every human being on Earth."
AND THE THERAPEUTIC STATE
won't go into the economics of that particular plank, except
to ask: shall we send the Green Party the bill? The real point
I want to make is that when the War Party makes its argument
in "humanitarian" terms, as they did not only in Kosovo but
in Indonesia, the Greens are peculiarly susceptible to this
kind of doubletalk: there is a hint of what the problem is
in Nader's remark about the need to increase the role of the
Pentagon in fighting "infectious diseases" worldwide. But
here, again, we hear an echo of the same line being put out
by the War Party in South America, where an accused war criminal,
retired general Barry McCaffrey is routing billions in military
aid to Colombia's notoriously corrupt central government in
his capacity as Clinton's "drug czar." Utilizing the language
of the Therapeutic State, McCaffrey and the Clintonistas have
been able to sell a deepening US involvement in Colombia's
hundred-year civil war to an increasingly skeptical Congress.
Oh, it's all part of the "war on drugs" now there's
your "preventive health program" for the Third World! Why
wouldn't the Green Party, or Ralph Nader, endorse US
aid to the Colombian government in the name of "humanitarianism,"
of course. If the drug scourge can be likened to an epidemic,
and considered as just another infectious disease, then why
shouldn't Nader endorse it, both at home and abroad? After
all, we're doing it for the children. . . .
look, to be fair, Nader has taken a good position on nuclear
arms, but then again so has George W. Bush, of all people:
it was Ronald Reagan, you'll remember, who initiated the most
radical rollback of nuclear arms, the INF treaty, and Dubya
clearly wants to be seen as the heir to that tradition. Besides,
without another superpower face-off on the horizon, the whole
issue of nuclear disarmament however important it may
be is not in the least bit controversial, as the Republican
effort to outflank the Democrats on this question makes clear
enough. Nader seems to have some idea that his critique of
corporate power can and should be applied to foreign affairs,
but only in the very vaguest sense:. As he put it in his interview
with David Barsamian on "Alternative Radio":
kind of popular participation is there in foreign and military
policy in this country? Very little indeed. Corporations are
very much involved in a lot of these foreign policy and military
policy issues. In fact, one might say they are most involved
compared to anyone else in military policy budget through
the Pentagon, with huge amounts of money going to unnecessary
weapons systems, even by conventional military analysts' opinions."
OF A CRITIQUE
vaguely utopian calls for "popular participation" in the formulation
of American foreign policy how, exactly, would that
work? do not add up to a critique. He echoes the Eisenhowerian
phrase about the "military-industrial complex," but is strangely
silent on the role of this very same complex in dragging us
into war overseas. In a remarkable
[August 31] 1996 interview with Scott Simon
on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition," Nader stubbornly
resisted his otherwise sympathetic interviewer's attempts
to pin him down on the foreign policy question:
SIMON: "Aside from the issue of trade, North American Free
Trade Agreement, of course, you've been outspoken in your
opposition to that, what do you see as- as the principal foreign
policy issues that confront the United States?"
NADER: "Well, I'm not taking positions on specific issues
'cause I don't want to lose the focus of this campaign on
strengthening democracy and curbing the abuses of corporate
power, so I'm not speaking out on the immigration referendum,
Haiti, Middle East, Bosnia. You know, if you take too many
positions, especially positions on things that you have not
worked on, you lose entirely the focus."
"But but that's not a small issue, the Middle East.
I mean, it's not like. . . ."
"Nor is Bosnia . . ."
". . . nor is the Russia, nor is hundreds of issues,
but I'm not that type of candidate. Unlike politicians, I
don't know enough about every subject under the sun to make
a public statement on it."
SIMON: "I don't think anyone would dispute the ferocity
of your intelligence and your dedication, but- but should
you have a position on the Middle East and Bosnia before you
put your name on the ballot for president?"
NADER: "No, it's not that kind of campaign. Basically it's
a campaign to help build the Green Party for the future beyond
November. Obviously it's not a campaign about winning in November,
it's a campaign about building and about pushing the two-party,
or three-party, candidates to take positions on structural
issues relating to the dismantling of our democracy and the
supremacy of global corporate power over our institutions."
NEUTERING OF THE LEFT
a somewhat ambiguous position on Iraqi sanctions he
appears to be against them no one knows what
Nader's foreign policy views are, since he has consciously
avoided making any public comment. This year in particular
in the wake of a disastrous war in Kosovo, and another
one looming on the horizon his silence is a kind of
complicity especially in the context of his stated
intention of building the Green Party as a "progressive" alternative.
What kind of a progressive movement is silent on the subject
of war and peace? Only one that has been completely neutered
and Soccer-Mommed to death.
MANTLE OF POPULISM
is one and only one antiwar candidate in this race, and that
is Pat Buchanan, the Reform Party nominee. While the Green
Party is a motley coalition of neo-hippies, animal rights
activists, and tattooed Soccer Moms, the Reformers represent
an authentic Middle American populism that has not forgotten
its antiwar antecedents. Buchanan, like Perot whatever
their other disagreements reflects the Middle American
suspicion of foreign intervention: both men opposed the Gulf
War. Buchanan has become the national spokesman for the so-called
"isolationist" Right; i.e. the increasing numbers of conservatives
who learned the lesson of Somalia, the occupation of Haiti,
and the bombing of the Sudanese aspirin factory: for them,
Kosovo was the last straw.
FISCHER-IZATION OF THE GREENS
was a turning point not only for the Right, but also for the
formerly antiwar Left which for the most part jumped
on the bandwagon of Clinton's "humanitarian" war, and, if
anything, criticized him for his tardiness. The transformation
of the Green Party of Germany which entered the Social
Democratic government of Herr Schroeder and captured the Foreign
Ministry from a party of peaceniks to the vanguard
of the War Party (European branch) was dramatized at their
national convention held during the Kosovo war. The so-called
"radicals" who insisted on adhering to the original
antiwar principles of the Greens succeeded in splattering
Joschka Fischer, the Green Foreign Minister, with red paint
during the debate on Kosovo but the "realos," the pro-war
"realist" wing of the party, carried the day and voted to
support the government. Will the American Greens go the same
route? Time will tell. . .
abstention on the foreign policy question is an indication
that they might. Silence, in this case, is complicity. Nader's
silence keeps the whole question of our bipartisan foreign
policy off the election-year agenda, and furthermore symbolizes
the complete absence of the Left from any organized opposition
to America's foreign wars. Not since Vietnam have we heard
from the Left on the question of whether we are a republic
or an empire. While Pat Buchanan, the candidate of the populist
Right, has written an entire book on the subject, Ralph Nader
has nothing to say on an issue that is literally a
matter of life and death.
SPIRIT OF DEBS
I support Buchanan, this stunning silence on the Left is disturbing,
even deeply troubling. What has happened to the American
Left? Are they led by eunuchs? Where is their sense of their
responsibility to their leftist heritage? Certainly the spirit
of Eugene Debs, the American Socialist Party leader who ran
for President from a jail cell due to his opposition to World
War I, is no doubt looking down on this spectacle and snorting
IS THE ANTIWAR CAUCUS?
note, as indicative of the problem with the Greens, that the
party has a number of caucuses: the Woman's Caucus, the People
of Color Caucus, the Youth Caucus, and the Lesbian, Bisexual,
Gay and Transgender Caucus. Identity politics reigns supreme
here, as it has taken over virtually every leftist organization
of any consequence. But the new form of political correctness
does not seem to include opposition to war: in abandoning
Marxism, the new identity politics of the Left seems to have
also ditched the old anti-imperialism. While the Green Party
platform pays lip service to noninterventionism, their candidate
has taken a vow of silence on the issue and there is
no Antiwar Caucus of the Green Party to make sure that Nader
sticks to the platform.
in all fairness, Nader's 1996 "no foreign policy, please"
position may change, this time around we'll just have
to wait and see. In any case, a stubborn refusal to comment
on a sudden foreign policy crisis say, if Kosovo blows
before Election Day 2000 could cost him his credibility.
It could also get people (including his supporters) to ask
a very pertinent question: Instead of running for President,
why doesn't Nader lower his sights and run for something like
California insurance commissioner? Now there is a job made
for Nader, our number one Public Citizen and, what's
more, he would probably win. The incumbent, Republican Chuck
Quackenbush, is in deep trouble because of alleged financial
collusion with the very industry he was charged with regulating.
It would be a feather in the cap of the California Greens,
who have put most of their emphasis on local organizing and
campaigns for city and county office and there's still
time for Nader to drop out.
RALPH . . .
think, Ralph, of all the advantages. You wouldn't have to
be bothered with unimportant "details" like Kosovo and Middle
East politics, and this would give you a platform to take
on the broad, overarching questions like how high to
set insurance caps.