U.S. Senator John Kerry's decision to select a
vice-presidential running mate who shares his militaristic foreign-policy agenda
has once again demonstrated the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee's
willingness to take the party's activist core, which overwhelmingly supports
human rights and international law, for granted.
While bringing Senator John Edwards – a bright and charismatic Southern
populist – on to the Democratic ticket might attract some voters, it will likely
serve to alienate further the majority of Democrats already disappointed in
Kerry's strident support for President George W. Bush's illegal and disastrous
decision to invade Iraq as well as a number of other questionable foreign and
military policies of the current administration.
In September 2002, in the face of growing public skepticism of the Bush
administration's calls for an invasion of Iraq, Edwards rushed to their defense
in an op-ed article published in the Washington Post. In his commentary,
Edwards claimed that Iraq, which had been successfully disarmed several years
earlier, was actually "a grave and growing threat," and Congress should
therefore "endorse the use of all necessary means to eliminate the threat posed
by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction." Claiming that U.S. national
security "requires" that Congress grant President Bush unprecedented war powers,
he further insisted, "We must not tie our own hands by requiring Security
Council action ..."
The Bush administration was so impressed with Edwards' arguments that they
posted the article on the State Department website.
Two weeks later, Edwards joined Kerry in authorizing Bush to attack Iraq
whenever and under whatever circumstances he chose. When the invasion went
forward – despite Iraq's belated cooperation with United Nations inspectors and
the absence of any signs of recent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) activity –
Edwards joined Kerry in supporting a Republican-sponsored resolution that
"commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the president ... in the
conflict against Iraq." In the same resolution – despite the consensus of the
international legal community that such an offensive war is illegal – Edwards
joined Kerry in insisting that the war was "lawful." Subsequently, despite
growing public disenchantment with the Bush administration's Iraq policy,
Edwards has also joined Kerry in supporting the ongoing U.S. occupation.
No WMD, No Problem
In an interview on Meet the Press this
past November, interviewer Tim Russert asked the North Carolina senator whether
he regretted giving Bush "in effect a blank check for the war in Iraq." Edwards
replied by saying, "I still believe it was right."
When Russert noted the absence of any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or
any ongoing WMD programs, Edwards insisted that Iraq still posed a threat
regardless of whether Saddam Hussein actually "had them at the time the war
began or not" because "he had been trying to acquire that capability" previously
and therefore posed "an obvious and serious threat to the stability of that
region of the world." In short, the Democrats are nominating a vice president
who believes the United States has the right to invade any country that at some
point in the past had tried to develop biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons
Given that that would total more than 50 countries, the prospects of Edwards
as commander-in-chief is rather unsettling.
The invasion of Iraq is widely seen as the incumbent administration's biggest
blunder and is therefore the place where Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are
most vulnerable politically. Nominating a ticket consisting of two senators who
also supported the invasion of Iraq therefore robs the Democrats of what could
have been their most powerful issue of the campaign. Indeed, in his
Washington Post article, Edwards called for his Democratic colleagues to
ensure "that politics plays no part in the debate about Iraq."
Unfortunately, Edwards' militarism is not restricted
to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
He has joined Kerry in supporting dramatic increases in military spending,
most of which have nothing to do with the "war on terrorism."
He has also joined Kerry in his strident support for the occupation policies
of the rightist Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This has
included supporting Sharon's plans for the unilateral Israeli annexation of
large swaths of the occupied West Bank in order to incorporate illegal Jewish
settlements from which the UN Security Council has called for an Israeli
withdrawal. Edwards also joined Kerry in criticizing UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan for raising questions regarding the legality of Israel's separation wall
in the occupied West Bank, recently declared illegal by the International Court
of Justice in a 14-1 decision.
The incipient Democratic nominees also appear to have little concern
regarding human rights: for example, in the face of widespread criticism by
reputable human-rights organizations over Israel's systematic assaults against
civilian targets in its April 2002 offensive in the West Bank, Edwards joined
Kerry in 1) defending the Israeli actions, claiming that they were "necessary
steps to provide security to its people by dismantling the terrorist
infrastructure in the Palestinian areas"; 2) opposing United Nations efforts to
investigate alleged war crimes by Israeli occupation forces; and 3) criticizing
Bush for calling on Israel to pull back from its violent incursions into
Palestinian cities in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
Kerry and Edwards, like Bush and Cheney, lied about Iraq having weapons of
mass destruction in order to persuade the U.S. public to support the takeover of
that oil-rich country.
Kerry and Edwards, like Bush and Cheney, insist on maintaining the U.S.
occupation in the face of a growing and increasingly radical armed
Kerry and Edwards, like Bush and Cheney, believe that while the use of
sanctions and military force are appropriate means of enforcing UN Security
Council resolutions against governments they don't like, it's acceptable for
allied governments that violate UN Security Council resolutions to be rewarded
with billions of dollars' worth of unconditional military and economic aid.
Kerry and Edwards, like Bush and Cheney, reject the efforts of Israeli and
Palestinian moderates to end the repression and violence in favor of Sharon's
policy of occupation, colonization and repression.
Kerry and Edwards, like Bush and Cheney, have wasted tens of billions of
taxpayers' dollars to fill the coffers of military contractors in the face of
severe cutbacks in education, health care, housing, public transportation and
other important programs.
Kerry and Edwards, like Bush and Cheney, are willing to ignore the concerns
of the human-rights community in order to support repressive governments they
deem to be strategic allies of the United States.
Kerry's choice for his running mate contrasts dramatically with that of
independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who chose Peter Camejo, a
forceful and articulate advocate of human rights and international law widely
respected among peace and justice activists. In the months leading up to the
U.S. war against Iraq, during the invasion and subsequently, Camejo found
himself in the forefront of the antiwar movement, speaking at rallies and
appearing in the media to denounce what virtually the entire international
community saw as an act of aggression. Camejo has been a long-standing advocate
of redirecting federal budget priorities away from excessive military spending
toward human needs and has been an outspoken opponent of U.S. support for the
Israeli occupation and other human-rights violations.
Given the nature of the presidential election process and the Democrats'
superior record to that of the Republicans on the environment, civil liberties
and a number of other issues, most supporters of peace and international law
will probably vote for the Kerry/Edwards ticket anyway. It would be naive,
however, to take such voters for granted.
It did not have to be this way. There are quite a few Democratic leaders who,
unlike Kerry, do support more ethical and rational foreign policies. If the
Democrats were smart, they would have tried to balance the ticket by bringing in
someone who identifies with the party's liberal majority instead of yet another
Senate hawk trying to be some kind of "Bush Lite."
If the Democrats want Americans' votes in November, they need to convince them
that, in this time of unprecedented international threats and pressing domestic
needs, they will pursue a more responsible foreign and military policy than
that of the Republican incumbents. Choosing John Edwards as the party's vice-presidential
nominee has only made that job more difficult.