Against the backdrop of ongoing death and destruction
in Iraq as a result of the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation, the Democratic
Party formally adopted their 2004 platform on July 28 at their convention in
Boston. The platform focused more on foreign policy than it had in recent years.
It represented an opportunity to challenge the Republican administration’s unprecedented
and dangerous departure from the post-World War II international legal consensus
forbidding aggressive wars as well as a means with which to offer a clear alternative
to the Bush Doctrine.
Even the Republican Party under Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in
1980 and 1984 did not openly challenge such basic international principles as
the illegitimacy of invading a sovereign nation because of unsubstantiated claims
they might some day be a potential security threat.
Yet not only have Senators John Kerry and John Edwards continued to defend
their support of the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, the 2004 Democratic
platform complains that the administration “did not send sufficient forces to
accomplish the mission.” The most direct challenge to Bush administration policies
in Iraq contained in the platform is its alleged failures to adequately equip
The only thing the 2004 Democratic Party platform could offer opponents of
the war is a sentence which acknowledges “People of good will disagree about
whether America should have gone to war in Iraq.” As the Los Angeles Times
editorialized, “Indeed they do. That is why we have elections, and it would
have been nice if the opposition party had the guts to actually oppose it.”
A Platform in Defense of Unilateralism
While the foreign policy segments of this year’s
Democratic Party platform had some positive elements, there are serious problems
not only in what it did not say, but also in much of what it did say.
For example, the platform justifies the ongoing U.S. military occupation of
Iraq by claiming “having gone to war, we cannot afford to fail at peace. We
cannot allow a failed state in Iraq that inevitably would become a haven for
terrorists and a destabilizing force in the Middle East.” This ignores the fact
that Iraq’s instability and the influx of foreign terrorists is a direct consequence
of the U.S. invasion and occupation authorized and supported by the Democratic
Party’s presidential and vice presidential nominees.
To those who are disturbed at Senator Kerry’s support for invading foreign
countries in defiance of the United Nations Charter, the platform asserts “With
John Kerry as commander-in-chief, we will never wait for a green light from
abroad when our safety is at stake.” However, there is nothing in the UN Charter
which limits the right of the United States or any government to genuine self-defense.
Such language may be preparing the way for a President Kerry, like President
Bush, to launch invasions or other military actions against foreign countries
in defiance of international law by simply claiming that “our safety is at stake,”
just as Kerry did from the Senate floor in justifying his support for the U.S.
invasion of Iraq.
One possible target for American forces under a Kerry administration is Iran.
The platform implies an American right to such military intervention by stating
that “a nuclear-armed Iran is an unacceptable risk to us and our allies.” No
concern is expressed, however, about the already-existing nuclear arsenals of
Iran’s neighbor Pakistan or of nearby Israel. Iran has called for a nuclear-free
zone in the region, which the Democrats appear to reject, apparently because
it would require America’s regional allies to get rid of their nuclear arsenals
as well. The Democrats, like the Republicans, believe that instead of pushing
for multilateral and verifiable arms control treaties, the United States can
effectively impose a kind of nuclear apartheid, unilaterally determining which
countries can have nuclear weapons and which countries cannot.
Furthermore, like the neo-cons in the Bush administration, the Democrats appear
to have rejected the longstanding doctrine of nuclear deterrence in favor of
policy based upon risky, destabilizing, and illegal unilateral pre-emptive military
Democracy and Double Standards
The Democrats appear to be similarly selective
regarding democracy. For example, the platform calls for strategies to “end
the Castro regime as soon as possible and enable the Cuban people to take their
rightful place in the democratic community of the Americas.” Significantly,
there are no similar calls anywhere in the platform to end any of the scores
of non-socialist dictatorships currently in power throughout the world or of
enabling the people oppressed by these regimes – many of which receive
significant U.S. military and economic support – to join the democratic
community of nations. Similarly, the platform promises to “work with the international
community to increase political and economic pressure on the Castro regime to
release all political prisoners, support civil society, promote the important
work of Cuban dissidents, and begin a process of genuine political reform,”
yet there are no calls for such pressure on any right-wing dictatorships.
The Israel Exception
Strategic parity has long been considered the
most stabilizing relationship between traditional antagonists if the goal is
peace and security. When it comes to American allies like Israel, however, the
Democrats instead appear to be committed to maintaining that country’s military
dominance of the region, with the platform pledging “we will insure that, under
all circumstances, Israel retains its qualitative edge.”
Regarding the city of Jerusalem, the Arab-populated eastern half of which was
seized by Israeli forces in 1967 and subsequently annexed, the platform insists
that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and should remain undivided.” This
has been widely acknowledged as yet another Democratic attack on the UN Charter,
which forbids any nation from expanding its boundaries through military force,
as well as a rejoinder to a series of UN Security Council resolutions calling
on nations to not recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem. It
can also be reasonably viewed as an effort to undermine last year’s Geneva Initiative
and other Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts which call for Israeli control of
Jewish neighborhoods and Palestinian control of Arab neighborhoods in a city
which would serve as the co-capital of Israel and Palestine with full access
to holy places by people of all faiths.
In yet another attack on international legal principles, the platform also
dismisses as “unrealistic” any obligation for Israel to completely withdraw
from lands seized in its 1967 conquests and denies Palestinian refugees’ right
to return, insisting that they instead only be permitted to relocate to a truncated
Palestinian state which Israel might allow to be created some time in the future.
Despite pressing domestic needs, the Pentagon
budget now constitutes over half of all federal discretionary spending. The
United States spends almost as much on its military as the rest of the world
combined. Never in history has one power been so dominant on a global scale.
Yet this is not enough for the Democrats. The Democratic Platform insists that
the U.S. military “must be stronger, faster, and better armed.”
Ironically, the first reason mentioned in the platform as to why, despite pressing
needs at home, “we must strengthen our military” is the “asymmetrical threats
we now face in Iraq” – threats that were non-existent until the U.S invaded that
country, a decision authorized and supported by Kerry, Edwards and the Democratic
leadership of both houses in Congress.
Opposition from the Rank-and-File
This does not mean that a majority of Democrats
support such right-wing foreign policies. For example, a poll just prior to
the convention showed that 95% of the delegates oppose the decision to invade
Iraq, something that both their presidential and their vice presidential nominees
have steadfastly refused to do.
That the delegates were prevented from even challenging the platform or voting
to include an anti-war plank is a demonstration of how undemocratic the “Democratic”
Party has become. Even in the 1968 Democratic convention, when the target of
anti-war activists was the incumbent Democratic administration and when most
state delegations were dominated by the party establishment, the delegates were
allowed to propose, debate and vote upon an anti-war plank, which – despite its
defeat on the convention floor – did give opponents of the Vietnam War an opportunity
to express their views before the convention and the national media.
It is also a sign as to just how far to the right the Democratic Party leadership
has become as compared to the rank-and-file, which could severely weaken the
enthusiasm of the party base the Kerry campaign needs to counter the Republicans’
advantage in funding during the fall campaign.
Finally, it is a reminder that should Kerry and Edwards be elected, those who
support international law, human rights, and adequate funding for domestic needs
will have to continue their struggle as much as ever.