Anti-War? Unenthusiastic About Kerry? The Recipe for a Bush Victory





Mr. Mueller is professor of political science at Ohio State University. Among his books are WAR, PRESIDENTS AND PUBLIC OPINION, POLICY AND OPINION IN THE GULF WAR, and the forthcoming THE REMNANTS OF WAR.

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The chief political achievement of the Vietnam antiwar movement was to help get Richard Nixon elected in 1968. There is some possibility its successors will perform the same service for George W. Bush in 2004.

The choices in 1968 were distinctly unattractive for those opposed to the Vietnam War. Nixon was a congenital anti-Communist hawk while his opponent, Hubert Humphrey, was vice president to Lyndon Johnson and had accordingly been deeply associated with the escalation and prosecution of the war in Southeast Asia they so detested.

But to anyone with the least sophistication about politics, Humphrey's dilemma was obvious. The prominent liberal's instincts were clearly on the dovish side--he had been just about the only politician to take a really genuine interest in arms control when in the Senate, for example. However, to win the election he could not afford directly to renounce Johnson's war since he desperately needed the president's support particularly with such large, key states as Texas.

In their rage over the war, many of those opposed to it refused to acknowledge this political reality. Some of these sat on their hands during the election. Others (Norman Mailer, for example) managed to convince themselves on the basis of purely atmospheric evidence that Nixon had reformed himself--that there was a "new Nixon"--and many of these people probably voted for him. And, most notably, some of the most vocal war opponents actively expressed their rage by trashing Humphrey's campaign (but not Nixon's) by shouting him down and displaying antagonistic banners sporting such vivid and memorable slogans as "Dump the Hump."

Due in part to this politically self-destructive reaction, Humphrey narrowly lost the election. Released thereafter from the Johnson albatross, he actively opposed the war--as, it was learned later, he had behind the scenes when vice president. Meanwhile, however, a man even more hawkish on the war than Johnson had been elected President.

To the degree that the Iraq War remains on the election agenda, John Kerry's dilemma in 2004 echoes that of Humphrey. His dovish credentials are, to say the least, well established. However, he can't win the election simply with the votes of the antiwar crowd, and he clearly has decided he must pedal to the center to appeal to independents and Republicans. Accordingly, while criticizing Bush's instigation and prosecution of the war in Iraq, he has not directly renounced it in the manner yearned for by those deeply angered by the war. His hope, presumably, is that they will understand the problem and vote and work for him.

It seems unlikely that any of those outraged by the war in Iraq will vote for George Bush. To them his apparent zeal to apply military force to rid the world of evil must make Richard Nixon look like Mahatma Gandhi.

However, probably mostly because of his stance on the war, Kerry has been unable to energize the Democratic base nearly as much as Howard Dean had in the primaries. This suggests that Kerry may not be able to generate the kind of enthusiastic, doorbell-ringing support that is needed to populate an effective campaign.

And most ominous for Kerry in this regard is the presence of war-renouncer Ralph Nader on the ballot. Many of those in a deep fury over the war may, like their predecessors in 1968, decide, however self-destructively, that they can only adequately express their passions by voting for Nader. This reaction is most likely if Kerry seems apt to lose the election. Accordingly, thanks to those most deeply opposed to the war, poor poll ratings for Kerry could become self-perpetuating.

Another similarity with 1968, and another potential danger for Kerry, could arise from antiwar antics at the political conventions. The Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968 became a shambles when what might be considered to be complementary riots by demonstrators and by the local police broke out. Overwhelmingly, the public blamed the antiwar demonstrators for the chaos, and Vietnam War protesters attained unprecedentedly dismal popularity ratings on polls; asked to place them on a hundred point scale, fully a third of the public gave them a zero and only 16 percent put them anywhere in the top half. This reflected unfavorably on their cause and discouraged prominent politicians from joining it.

The comparison this year would be with the Republican convention, set to take place in that most theatrical of cities, New York. Unrestrained antiwar demonstrations there could be as counter-productive politically as they were in 1968.

 


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John Stephen Kipper - 5/11/2004

Resent all you like, why should I have ask you about Lincoln, when you were so dogmatic in your flawed post. And why I am the childish one, when you are so obviously guilty of either overstating your case or of misrepresenting facts. I find your peevishness actually quite amusing.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/10/2004

John,
I resent the disrespect and rather childishness of your post. Had you actually asked me about Lincoln, I would have been glad to argue that the Republican party was only a third party for a very short period of time, absorbing the Whigs by the 1860 election.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/10/2004

Very well put Mr. Ramburg, I agree 100%


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/10/2004

John,
1) "when did we suddenly leave Afganistan"

I was speaking about the end of the Cold War, when the Russians left the country, so did we, leaving it in chaos. I was not referring to now, altghough since you bring it up, I would make that claim, noting that much of the country exists in total anarchy due, in my opinion, to attention and resources being moved to Iraq.

2) "And I have to submit...our "imperial ambitions" are either incredibly short-sighted (forget oil) or non-existent."

I do not disagree.

3) "Imperialism implies continuous control and/or long-term hegemony. Surely, we have the power to enforce an imperialist system, if we desire."

I argue that this description matches us perfectly. Imperalism need not be the brutal occupation of the Nazis, the perminant stations of the British, or the satalites of the USSR. Nor, by the way, need it be a negative thing.

4) "Just maybe, it was not the sudden departure of the Europeans from sub-Sahara Africa that caused the tyranny and exploitation of the masses. Perhaps it was the relatively short period of European rule that stopped the tyranny in Africa for a short time."

You might be correct. We will never know. In any event, I argue that had the British done to Africa as they did to, say India for example, Africa would not have been left in the situation it was left in after their departure. Of course, as I have said, we will never know.

5) "After they left, the old African (and all other races, in their pre-civilized ignorance) order of slave-trading, female mutilation, aggressive war and slaughter merely reverted to to the status quo ante, that is their immemorial heritage."

You are quite right, but the fact is that this was not the case in other former colonies since the Europeans established the rule of law, and civil bureaucracy in some places but not others. This makes for some good case studied of what could have been.


John Stephen Kipper - 5/9/2004

"There is a third party candidate is almost every election in American history, and only one even came close to winning (and he was a former president). A history of the United States makes it hard to believe that the system will change from without."
I guess then, that Lincoln did not exist. It is this kind of the lack of precision and ignorance of commonally known fact that invalidates your entire argument.


John Stephen Kipper - 5/9/2004

" But then I look at what happened to Afghanistan when we suddenly left; or to much of sub-Sahara Africa when the Europeans suddenly left. The vacuum of power in all of those cases led to tyranny at best; genocide at worst. I simply feel that too often in American history, we have allowed our imperial ambitions to destroy a country, and then leave it to wallow in misery."

I have to ask, when did we suddenly leave Afganistan? It must have been just today, after I turned off the news. There was no report of our sudden leaving. I must have misinterpreted the events, more fool me.

And I have to submit, that for a country with the enormous material, technical and economic power that America possesses in relation to all of the other countries of the world, our "imperial ambitions" are either incredibly short-sighted (forget oil) or non-existent. Imperialism implies continuous control and/or long-term hegemony. Surely, we have the power to enforce an imperialist system, if we desire. No one can stop us. So, how can we be imperialist and then abandon the fruits of our efforts in such a short time, in order to allow a country to wallow in its own misery, without exploiting its resources. Our imperialism, like Caesar's ambition, should be made of much sterner stuff.

Just maybe, it was not the sudden departure of the Europeans from sub-Sahara Africa that caused the tyranny and exploitation of the masses. Perhaps it was the relatively short period of European rule that stopped the tyranny in Africa for a short time. After they left, the old African (and all other races, in their pre-civilized ignorance) order of slave-trading, female mutilation, aggressive war and slaughter merely reverted to to the status quo ante, that is their immemorial heritage. And this is not to excuse the atrocities committed by the King Leopold in the Congo. Personnaly, I believe that the case of Albert Schwietzer should be emphasized.

In short, this arguement stands logic on its head. The traditional tyranny was, and is, endemic, it is only intervention that assuages it. If you have any doubts of this, please consider the still existing slave trade in the Sahel and the religious wars of extermination in Sudan.


John Stephen Kipper - 5/9/2004

Re: The Cold War against Communism and the War on Terror:
Hopefully, the war on terror will end as successfully.


John Stephen Kipper - 5/9/2004

"I reject the idea that the advocacy of immediate withdrawal wins the support of such a small segment of the population. A majority now believes that the war was not worth fighting; it probably follows that a large section believes that continuing to fight a worthless war is a bad policy. Withdrawal would also have considerably more support if a major party candidate were to advocate it. If it became a genuine policy alternative, instead of the sort of thing that cranks such as myself talk about on Internet forums, then you would see a lot anxious Americans rushing to support that position.

A significant section of the country believes that the war was based on fraud and lies, and that the government had very different reasons and goals than those it stated in public, whether or not they believe the 'real' reason was oil. Those people would turn out for Kerry at a much higher rate if he would take up that position. Nader cannot tap into all of this resentment, because of his limited organisation and publicity, but Kerry could. It would require him to have a more distinctive platform and a more inspiring stump speech than, "Bush got you into this mess, but I am going to keep you in this mess no matter what."

Why do I think that this will be major deciding factor in the election? If Kerry adopts this policy, he will lose even bigger than McGovern.


John Stephen Kipper - 5/9/2004

It is my position that those elegible to vote and decline to perform that civic service are actually voicing their opinion. They choose to opt out of the system by their non-participation. Therefore, their vote is, in parliamentary terms, absent. And absent they should be, if they are so dense as to wallow in their own apathy and still think that their (unexpressed) opinion matters to anyone else. What a passive, and deservedly ignored response.


Daniel B. Larison - 5/8/2004

You're probably right that there is no constitutional means to ban political parties. I'm actually a very strict constitutionalist, so I doubt I could convince myself of such an option, much less anyone else. The only significant party changes have occurred in rapid, sudden shifts from one party organisation to another, and each time it involved the constituency of manufactures and consolidation. There has never been, and probably never will be, a grass-roots, bottom-up revision of the political system, because it is impractical and because Americans are accustomed to joining their two armed camps and having their convictions sold for scrap.

I don't much care for the option of regional control by mini-states or warlords, but in Afghanistan this has been the norm and not the exception. Taliban rule was vicious and tyrannical, and it was also one of those rare occasions when that territory was bound together under fairly centralised rule. Most other significant Afghan political powers have also been conquerors of neighbouring states, and it is their conquest gains that helped maintain some unity for a time. I submit that in Afghanistan, much more than in Iraq, central rule cannot be friendly, tolerant and liberal rule, at least not in the foreseeable future. I read some local in Afghanistan saying how decent and honest Hamid Karzai was--what made anyone think that such a man could run Afghanistan? It's dark humour, but there is an element of truth in it. Decentralisation will equal warlordism, I know, but it seems to fit much better with their established patterns, and these patterns do not necessarily have to lead to ongoing internecine strife. To that extent, I think we may even need to begin considering some sort of truce with the Taliban, which controls some three provinces in effect. This movement seems to be as much a reflection of Pathan political aspirations and sentiments as it is a fundamentalist religious movement, and we continue to fight them only to drive the south further from where we would like to see it go, namely turning it into a neutral zone that does not actively harbour any of our enemies.

Forcing centralism on them will mean a new civil war, which is precisely the last thing that Afghanistan needs. It is admittedly unimpressive that the writ of Kabul does not run throughout the country, but it usually doesn't, so why do we not settle for the achievable goal of a relatively peaceful and neutral Afghanistan that will not willingly harbour terrorists? So long as Afghans get the sense that we are not abandoning them to the fates, if we continue to provide some more significant aid and assistance, then this may not be so far-fetched. This is a big comedown from the 'Marshall Plan' rhetoric of two years ago, but as we can all see this was always meaningless. Without the country much of an existing industrial or communications infrastructure, our throwing massive amounts of money (which, if we followed the Marshall model, would be loans, also hugely indebting Afghanistan) at Afghanistan will create more local corruption than economic stimulus. I very much doubt that the public would accept the kind of duration and cost required to bring Afghanistan even up to the speed of its central Asian neighbours.

In Iraq, there was usually only centralised rule over the entirety of Mesopotamia when an outside invader imposed it or set up the capital of a larger state there. When not dominated by a purely external power with its real power base somewhere else, division was the natural state of Mesopotamia with the exception of the brief flourishing of the Abbasids. I suppose at some point a conquest dynasty becomes native, as the Kassites may have in their several centuries of rule, so my argument may not be that good. But, as far as I am aware, a unified Mesopotamia does not often happen when people from that territory are the ones running the government.

As for Kurdistan, I am not personally opposed to the idea of its independence. If our reduced forces were withdrawn to the north, the Kurds could proclaim Kurdistan while still under our protection. The Turks would dare not attack, and neither would anyone else. The deal that we make with the neighbours to ensure that there is a free Kurdistan, and one which is not in danger of attack, is that Kurdistan will renounce all territorial claims inside the other three countries, and its government will commit to halting any terrorist attacks originating from its territory into the other countries. That should give the other countries an incentive to stay out of Kurdistan for the time being. I agree that the Kurds are one of the most long-suffering peoples in the world, and if anyone has a claim to self-determination it is they. So we could modify my proposal that way, which would at least remove one problem.

Admittedly, my proposal is trying to maximise the extent of our withdrawal and limit our objectives to things that even this limited administration might be able to achieve. Therefore I may be accused of being too concerned with getting us out, but I am still convinced that our getting out as much as possible is the only way for these poor people to make their way forward, however difficult the initial stages will be. I would like to think that the American government could somehow turn Iraq into the flourishing oasis of liberty and so on, but I know full well from most of its past programs and interventions that this government, regardless of administration, is fantastically incompetent. It is therefore best not to give such a government Herculean tasks, both for our sake and for the sake of our 'beneficiaries'. Americans are can-do people, but their government does not seem to translate this ingenuity into many practical results. This is not an inspiring rallying cry, but frankly I think we've had enough of those to last us the next decade.


Johnny Ramburg - 5/7/2004

Pity John Kerry. These are strange times. I would refer anyone interested to Teddy Roosevelt's speech entitled "The New Nationalism." This speech is a coherent statement of a new type of nationalism that has the best interests of the American people as its central theme. The speech targets a lot of powerful groups who had often acted against the best interests of the country. I cannot provide a link to the speech and it has been a few years since I read it, but it is worth checking out if you can find it.

My point is that the political climate of this country has degenerated to the point that politicians are understandably reluctant to speak frankly about our country and its problems. George Bush says that T.R. was his favorite president. This is ironic and silly, of course- the president who most unwaveringly serves the interests of the moneyed classes claiming to admire the president who presided over trust-busting. Maybe Bush saw a picture of T.R. from his Rough Rider days and said to himself "That there was a tough old straight shooter just like me. Makes me want to put on a flight suit and prance around." It is doubtful that Bush’s professed admiration for T.R. would have come from his having done anything as drastic as, say, reading a biography about the man.

The contrast between the language used by the two presidents should make readers shake their heads in sadness. Whereas T.R. made brave principled arguments about the restraining the power of privilege, Bush dispenses the empty rhetoric, dissembling, and scary Manichean visions that we have been treated to for the past three years.

My point here is that Kerry entered the presidential race at a time when there was great confusion about what our leaders should be telling us. That is true now, and seemed truer at the time of the vote authorizing the war. The media let the president lie about the WMD, the connections to al queda, etc. The jingoistic fever that gripped the country in those dark days was a difficult thing for any politician to adjust to.

I agree that Kerry may not be as exciting as we would want him to be, but I believe him to be essentially on the right side of the issues in comparison to his opponent, a man who should go down in history as one of our worst presidents. I don't even want to think about how Bush could build on this resume with a second term.

The only hope is the Senator from Massachusetts. His perceived shortcomings are understandable giving the limitations placed upon him by our structurally corrupt political system.


Daniel B. Larison - 5/7/2004

Chris, you bring up some good points. It has always been, how shall we say, ironic that U.S. policy has been to strengthen Turkish control over Kurdish territories in the east, no matter the atrocities and deaths resulting from the policy, while complaining about the oppression of Kurds in Iraq, Iran and Syria. The goal of U.S. policy, if there is a 'rational' goal, seems to be to undermine states with a history of hostility or rivalry with Turkey and Israel, while bolstering the Turkish position by tolerating whatever repression is required to maintain NATO's current eastern boundary. So, to answer your question, the policy is worked out in a nation-state model, but some nation-states are preferred over others as usual, and the goal is to maintain the U.S. capacity to project power into the Caucasus and Middle East.

A brief aside: Current policy also aims at eventually incorporating Caucasian states as members of NATO to complete the encirclement of Russia and control the oil pipelines from the Caspian. Shevardnadze was apparently not enough of a lackey, so he was replaced by a more amenable, genuinely Stalin-loving lackey, who has just managed to suppress Ajaria in a very effective anti-Russian move (the Russians supported Abishidze in Ajaria). But, remember, everyone, there is no such thing as American imperialism!

The official Ankara position is that the military and the civilian government both oppose an independent Kurdistan, and I believe this reflects the general mood of the rest of Turkey outside of Kurdish areas as well. So does Washington. The current government has stated that it could not remain indifferent to such a development, and the military would very likely use force to prevent Kurdish separatism. The Turkish authorities believe, not unreasonably, that an independent Kurdistan in what is now Iraq could be a magnet and a rallying symbol for Kurdish separatism everywhere else. Perhaps Turkish leaders think, "It happened with Greece, so it could happen again." I don't know that their anxieties are entirely irrational--the fear of separatism is a useful club for suppressing dissent about Kurdish rights on language, education, etc., but their concern has some basis in reality. Regardless of whether an independent Kurdistan actually will cause Kurdish separatism to increase, the Turkish government (and more importantly, its military authorities) believes that it will, and they will act accordingly.

For their part, even though PKK-KADEK has renamed itself and theoretically renounced violence, Turkish Kurds retain their desire at least for autonomy and probably ultimately for independence. Iraqi Kurds are also largely in favour of independence in the future.

Officially, Barzani and Talabani, the two Kurdish faction/party leaders, do not publicly support PKK goals in Turkey at this time, but they are also opposed to Turkish-backed U.S. action against PKK elements in Iraq (they do this by claiming that there are no such elements in Iraq). In truth, both Kurdish parties theoretically want Kurdistan to incorporate historic Kurdish lands and any land where Kurds live today, and I believe that when this generation of Kurdish leaders dies off a new impetus for separatism will develop. Given the hypocritical blather from the White House about democratisation, such separatism in future will be hard to discourage. Fortunately for the current Turkish government position, it is just so much blather and has no real consequences outside of justifying bad wars.

For now, it appears that Kurdish leaders are prudent enough to wait and let things in the rest of Iraq develop to a point where they can more easily break away, if that proves to be the popular mandate and in the interests of the party leaders. Recent evidence suggests that the desire is there, and it is only the leadership that does not yet want to risk a confrontation.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/7/2004

Chris,
You and I do not see eye to eye about the Palestinians and the Israelis, but I believe we can agree on the Kurds: They have been sold out by the international community, and the United States. Like the Southern Sudanese and the Chechyans, the Kurds have linguistic, cultural, and historical justifications for full independence and it has been denied to them for far too long. They have been persecuted severely in Iraq (which is well known) as well as brutally in Turkey (which is less well known) and Syria. They have played by the rules for their independence, being persecuted at every turn. Now is the time for the United States to rectify this historic injustice. I only hope that they put justice ahead of politics (although I doubt it).

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3404963.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3370079.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3607059.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3517848.stm


Ben H. Severance - 5/7/2004

If anything good has come out of the invasion of Iraq it is that the Kurds are finally getting a real shot at freedom. And polls among Iraqi Kurds indicate that they are quite happy with what the U.S. has done and want us to stay, admittedly in the Sunni/Shiitte portion of the country.

As for the double-standard between U.S. policy regarding Iraqi Kurds and Turkish Kurds, I think we all have to remind ourselves that governments and people are idealistic and self-interested simultaneously. Ideally, all Kurds would be allowed self-determination in their own homeland. Realistically, the time is not ripe for that fruit. Turkish treatment of Kurds is deplorable, but Turkey is a valuable American ally and it is one of the few genuine secular republics in the Islamic world. While in the Army, I was stationed in Istanbul for one year and came to love Turkey and its culture even as I winced at its Kurdish policy (its the same view I have of America regarding its history of racism).

Anyway, I think a partition scheme for Iraq is a logical course, whereby Kurds enjoy autonomy in the north even as they are subject to the overall sovereignty coming out of Baghdad (a kind of state within a state). Such an arrangement honors America's belated promise to promote Kurdish freedom, yet placates Turkey's irrational fears about an independent Kurdistan.

Chris, I know all this runs against your anti-nation-state views, but most people are still in the realistic nation-state mode and are not mature enough to move into your idealistic global community framework.

Anyway, Go Kurds!


chris l pettit - 5/7/2004

Are they not the hard luck losers in a way in all of this?

This is not to say that they do not have their own problematic features, but it seems that when everything was chopped up, the Kurds got stuck in three different nations. What is even more curious to me is that the US allows the Turkish government to kill the Kurds...but protects Kurds in Iraq...and provide Kurds in Syria with clandestine support to try and subvert the Syrian regime. I don't get it. Are we so self interested that we just deal with things on a nation-state basis or a solely US based nature? This is not to claim that the different groups of Kurds are in any way autonomous...but they can generally be identified as a group with common interests. Evidence of this can be traced back to the US not allowing Turkish troops to enter Iraq as part of the attack in fear of problems.

Another thing...how much noise would Turkey make if an independent Kurdistan was set up? Would we see Turkish forces try and assimilate them into Turkey? Would the Kurds in former Iraq attempt to encourage Kurds in Turkey to revolt or separate from the Turkish government? What would be the extent of refugee or immigration flow from Turkey and Syria to Kurdistan? It feels as though there are some big time questions that are going to have to be worked out very delicately because of our ill advised adventure.

CP


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/6/2004

Kerry is an extremely poor candidate, no question. There are thus 2 question that every voter should ask themselves:
1) Is there any difference either between Bush and Kerry?
(of this, there can be no debate and anyone who suggests otherwise is obviously a one-issue person- on education, heathcare, taxes, and just about every other domestic issue, they are extremely different)
2) Which would I RATHER have?

Kerry is a poor candidate, but if the above questions are answered, I think he definitely deseves the job.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/6/2004

1) “If enough people believed this, then party organisations could be restricted from campaigning as a faction or corporate entity”

I must add that those people who believe this must also vote for politicians who believe this. If they simply wait to express this feeling every four years and then for for a presidential candidate who agrees, they will get nowhere. We have had 2 major parties since Jefferson (those parties have changed, but there have always been two major ones).

2) “I think there must be some way to find constitutional justification for getting rid of political parties as such.

Not to my knowledge although again it is an issue of getting people in Congress who agree with you. Be careful though… Parliamentary governments (which come the closest to what you suggest) have problems all their own from the nature of THEIR system.

3) “If the Iraqis are capable people, and I have no strong reasons to doubt this, then I don't see why they will not be capable of coping with the situation after withdrawal.”

Even the most able people cannot form a coherent government under conditions in which the largest militia rules.

4) “But if withdrawal is indeed what a vast majority of Arabs in the country want, then it seems that we could at least leave those areas of the country first, keeping some forces in reserve in northern Iraq for a time, where the Kurds are more open to and at ease with an American presence”

An interesting suggestion but there are some problems with that: (a) Iraqis see Kurdistan as a part of Iraq, thus controlling it would still be considered occupying part of their land, and (b) you would not have solved the problem of what to do when warlords and militias take over the country, to the detriment of the Iraqi people. In any event, the Kurds would certainly demand their eventual independence, leaving us in the uncomfortable position of either (a) denying those people (who, in my opinion, deserve it more than any other occupied national minority on earth), or (b) pledge to fight for it in the event of an invasion with Turkey (or Iran or Syria).

5) “Local tribal and religious authorities, in cooperation with the militias and those members of the police still available could then collaborate in establishing civil order, though this will also inevitably give such people a leg-up in the political future of the country.”

This is exactly my fear, that such tribal and/or religious authorities will end up taking over the country. Your plan sounds very much lie what we are currently doing in Afghanistan. The new government, with our help, has control over the capitol… and that is about it. Our partial occupation of Kabul still leaves the rest of the country to suffer under warlords and the resurging Taliban.

Your proposal is interesting, but I must come to the conclusion that military occupation is either total control to reinstate order, or total withdraw. We learned that the hard way in Vietnam, as Johnson was neither willing to pull out our troops, nor supply enough to do the job. An occupation of Kurdistan (the most stable part of the country) would undoubtedly ensure independence, since no stable Kurdish government would want to unite with a chaotic Iraq.


Daniel B. Larison - 5/6/2004

It may be that Kerry can't denounce the war, because it would make him look like an opportunist or a fool. But, based on what antiwar advocates already could demonstrate beforehand about erroneous administration claims, and what we know now, doesn't the charge of opportunist or fool seem more than a bit justified?

As far as being a proven leader, I very much hope whatever leadership he did show in Vietnam can translate to government. It is my impression that he has never shown much initiative or leadership in the Senate, but perhaps that is my bias against him talking. He stakes a lot of his campaign on being a more effective leader, and he claims to be someone who can create coalitions of supporters at home and abroad for his plans, but when has he done this in the past? Maybe he will be able to, but even on this issue, where he should have credibility, he does not seem convincing to me.


Daniel B. Larison - 5/6/2004

Your observations are all very reasonable, Adam. Here are some of my thoughts in response. Some of them stray a bit from the immediate topic, but I hope they are of some interest.

Perhaps someday enough people will see that political parties are instruments of control, rather than expressions of constituencies, and that these parties serve to deny people republican government, that is government for the benefit of the commonwealth or the whole of the country. If enough people believed this, then party organisations could be restricted from campaigning as a faction or corporate entity, and for the same reasons that some politicians themselves advance concerning donations from corporations and unions--such corporate bodies do not have the right to contribute if corporate bodies cannot vote, as they assuredly cannot. Factions in general are antithetical to republicanism, as the Founders knew, and organised factions are antithetical to representative government. I think there must be some way to find constitutional justification for getting rid of political parties as such. Legislative fractions would then be organised strictly on the basis of constituent interests, and the fractions would continuously shift depending on varying interests. Of course, no politician will ever support it, as a fine episode of Yes, Prime Minister demonstrated, because it means that there are no naturally prominent positions in such a system and there is no longer any such thing as party discipline.

I think that it is centralisation and the federalisation of so many issues that make the party system so intractable, because the various regional and state interests will always submit themselves to some national campaign to thwart an equally unrepresentative national campaign on the other side as long as all relevant powers are concentrated in DC. In all likelihood, extensive decentralisation would assist in weakening the power of national parties, or at least force local chapters to address local matters above all. These regional and state differences would eventually break up the national parties. Of course, how to get to the point of extensive decentralisation eludes me, so it is all just wishful thinking.

I would not argue that Americans want withdrawal out of selfish reasons, namely that they don't want more Americans to die, but in this case I'll take what I can get. I don't need everyone to declare that the war and occupation are moral abominations that betray the very soul of our country, which is how I see it, though it would be great if everyone did so.

If the Iraqis are capable people, and I have no strong reasons to doubt this, then I don't see why they will not be capable of coping with the situation after withdrawal. Let them find their own way. I know that you are not at all opposed to this aspect of the proposal. But if withdrawal is indeed what a vast majority of Arabs in the country want, then it seems that we could at least leave those areas of the country first, keeping some forces in reserve in northern Iraq for a time, where the Kurds are more open to and at ease with an American presence (we can only hope that an intensified American presence does not convince the Kurds that we are interested in controlling them, thus precipitating another war). The American presence in that zone would calm Turkish fears about separatism and Kurdish terrorism against Turkey, it would guarantee the Kurds some protection against any Arab revanchism, and it would take our forces and Arab militias out of close proximity to one another. Best of all, it removes our forces from the vicinity of Arab civilian populations, whose injuries at American hands have been the most damaging to the political track. Obviously, such a strategy assumes that there can be no military solution to the problem that does not destroy the entire purpose of the political track.

Occupation authority bureaucrats would remove themselves to Mosul, or some suitable city in the north (or perhaps they can just be brought home--what will they have to do?), and both they and the American forces could be resupplied via Turkey so that reliance on the insecure highways in the rest of the country would cease. The dozens of logistically awkward bases throughout the country would be torn down and abandoned. This will alleviate the atrocious supply situation for the ordinary soldier as well, since the remaining soldiers will be nearer permanent bases that are reachable by secure roads. The presence in the north would probably be enough to prevent any large-scale intervention by neighboring countries, if such a thing were really a risk.

Local tribal and religious authorities, in cooperation with the militias and those members of the police still available could then collaborate in establishing civil order, though this will also inevitably give such people a leg-up in the political future of the country. I don't see how that can be stopped, short of the aimless 'submit or die' logic.
The security of the highways to Jordan, Syria and Kuwait remains very difficult, but I am of the opinion that the highways will become less dangerous if the entire area is not a running battle between insurgents and occupation forces. There may still be bandits and suchlike, but they might be more manageable for the combined militia and police. Perhaps they will be co-opted by these forces--that will be for the Iraqi Arabs to sort out.

There is my compromise solution for a semi-withdrawal. It might alleviate some of the worst problems with the situation, while avoiding some of the worst consequences of total withdrawal. Then, in a year or so, once we see that the country is stable and on its way, we can withdraw entirely in perfectly good conscience. The continued presence in the north for a short time might also provide the possibility, loth as I am to include it, that if order in Iraq does vanish entirely or collapse into internecine conflict (which I still think is less likely than many assume) then there will be a 'rapid reaction force' in northern Iraq that can help to quell such violence. Of course, that option has always remained so long as our bases in Kuwait remain in operation.

Alternately, if the semi-withdrawal seems to bring about a slowdown in the violence and anti-foreign attacks, this will not only encourage reconstruction efforts, but it may finally make the situation calm enough that the so-called 'internationalisation' option might become a realistic possibility. If the reconstruction efforts are no longer so closely linked to the occupation, there may be an opening for employing Iraqis in this work for a change and somewhat alleviating the crushing unemployment problem. But, as in all wars, the first rule of establishing some permanent stability is a separation of the forces, which we can never have so long as American forces remain in and around Arab settlements.

So, what do you think of my proposal? I think it might satisfy enough of the people worried about Iraq collapsing entirely, as well as some of those clamouring for withdrawal. It would not satisfy the jingoes, which is particularly satisfying for me, and it might just be politically viable as a proposal that even John Kerry could make without appearing to have 'flip-flopped' on his earlier commitment. He could call it 'a smart stabilisation and exit strategy'. Maybe it's not a great plan, but it can't be much worse than the folly now in action.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/5/2004

I must disagree with the following claim:
"If Kerry would say that he regrets his pro-war vote, because he didn't think Bush would take the country to war, at least not without the UN, and because Bush lied to us about its causes (which remain mysterious), and because his go-it-alone strategy continues to louse up the situation, even people who favor the war might "forgive him." When he is unwilling to say he regrets his vote, people just don't trust him."

By doing so, Kerry would be saying the following:
- I have no conviction and simply decided to do what was popular, hoping things would work out, and
- I am easliy manipulated and am not able to analyze the data but instead believe what Bush said instead

I do not believe this would be the case because I think what you have said is true. Nevertheless, Bush's stubberness and refusal to admit mistakes seems to be the only think keeping his polls numbers so high (accordfing to most poll, Bush wins the character war by war).

The problem with Kerry is not that he lacks conviction (although he does). It is that he constantly SOUNDS like he lacks conviction. I would LOVE to have a candidate who had conviction (Dean, perhaps) but I do not have that pleasure right now. Instead my choices are a poor president whose policies both foreign and domestic are nothing short of dreadful, or a proven leader who makes a very poor candidate. A sad choice, but I have made mine.


Daniel B. Larison - 5/5/2004

You have hit the nail on the head, Mr. Loewen. Credibility is Sen. Kerry's biggest problem. Making qualifications about complex issues is all well and good, but why can't the man just make a simple, declarative statement up or down on the question? Perhaps he doesn't want to offend some group, or more likely he does not have enough of a firm position that he can sell to an antiwar crowd.

He is trying (very badly) to incorporate the official pro-war New Democrat mentality of the party leadership and the antiwar convictions of his constituents, but he is making the crucial mistake in trusting to fundraising and party support in the hopes that these will automatically deliver the goods. All the institutional support from the party won't make a bit of difference when the voters stay away or refuse to vote for him.

The Danish referendum on the euro is very similar to Kerry's predicament: the entire Danish establishment supported entering the eurozone, but the people defeated the measure, as all the polls said they would. The Democrats are at their strongest when they listen to their constituents and channel their energy into a campaign that has a moderate face (Clinton, as much as I dislike him, achieved this masterfully). Sen. Kerry's record gives the Democrats an ostensibly more liberal face and weak, centrist policies. He may prove to be, I'm sorry to say, the Bob Dole of the 21st century: good war record, terrible campaigner.


James W Loewen - 5/5/2004

John Mueller's essay, while interesting, in the end won't work. The problem with Kerry is precisely that he is "pedaling to the middle." American voters don't like pedaling to the middle, because they sense (it's easy, as Mueller implies in his analysis of Kerry) that the candidate doesn't mean it.
When I worked at the U of VT, I interviewed Burlington residents who in one election voted for Bernie Sanders (Socialist for mayor), the next for Ronald Reagan (Republican for President), and the next for Bernie Sanders (for Congress). Why? Well, both of these folks were believable! Neither pedaled to the middle. Reagan said he would appoint conservative judges and did. Etc. Thus each trusted the electorate enough not to lie to them.
If Kerry would say that he regrets his pro-war vote, because he didn't think Bush would take the country to war, at least not without the UN, and because Bush lied to us about its causes (which remain mysterious), and because his go-it-alone strategy continues to louse up the situation, even people who favor the war might "forgive him." When he is unwilling to say he regrets his vote, people just don't trust him.


James W Loewen - 5/5/2004

John Mueller's essay, while interesting, in the end won't work. The problem with Kerry is precisely that he is "pedaling to the middle." American voters don't like pedaling to the middle, because they sense (it's easy, as Mueller implies in his analysis of Kerry) that the candidate doesn't mean it.
When I worked at the U of VT, I interviewed Burlington residents who in one election voted for Bernie Sanders (Socialist for mayor), the next for Ronald Reagan (Republican for President), and the next for Bernie Sanders (for Congress). Why? Well, both of these folks were believable! Neither pedaled to the middle. Reagan said he would appoint conservative judges and did. Etc. Thus each trusted the electorate enough not to lie to them.
If Kerry would say that he regrets his pro-war vote, because he didn't think Bush would take the country to war, at least not without the UN, and because Bush lied to us about its causes (which remain mysterious), and because his go-it-alone strategy continues to louse up the situation, even people who favor the war might "forgive him." When he is unwilling to say he regrets his vote, people just don't trust him.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/5/2004

Daniel, you make many excellent points and I have read them thoughtfully. I hope my responses demonstrate the consideration and seriousness with which I read the questions.

1) “But conservatives and Republicans do have an alternative. The only question is whether they value their convictions or a meaningless hold on power (meaningless because it advances none of their principles) more.”

An excellent point. However, it is hard to blame individual conservatives (or liberals for that matter) when the electoral system is designed to facilitate only two parties (the fact that the framers opposed parties changes nothing).

2) “I would add, on the question of support for withdrawal, that Harold Meyerson wrote this for today's Washington Post: "Nader now calls for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq within six months --a position that recent polling shows is shared by more than 40 percent of the electorate, including, surely, tens of millions of Democrats and left-leaning independents."

I do not question your numbers, but I do not believe that the American people will support withdrawing troops even if there is no stable government to take over. In any event, I find it unlikely that this position alone will get Nader any more votes. It is a cynical, but valid, speculation that Americans favor withdrawing troops because it is in our best interest to do so, not because it is morally wrong to keep them there.

3) “In terms of civil order, Iraq already suffers from anarchy.”

You are quite right about that, thanks to inept planning for a war that should never have happened, defended with lies and maintained through erroneous assumptions (did someone say Vietnam? Not me). I would not that unlike Vietnam, and many other Muslim countries, Iraq has a lot of smart people in it. Even after the sanctions, Iraqis had one of the highest literacy rates, and college graduation rates in the Arab world, matched only by its inclusion of women. The problem is not the Iraqis, it is America’s.

The first thing we did when we got in was disband the Iraqi army in probably the stupidest move we took. This, of course, was after we refused to allow the UN to help, thus depriving ourselves of much needed legitimacy from much of Iraq (Sistani said early on that he would have supported a UN occupation). We then refused to allow Iraqis to rebuild their own country, instead handing out contracts to American companies who change more than the competent Iraqi companies. We treated the Iraqis like children who have no clue how to run their own country rather than as a liberated people, finally given the opportunity to demonstrate their potential. These actions, if not the war itself, was nothing short of traditional ethnocentrism. I don’t know if these mistakes are reversible but I would be willing to try.

4) “There are certainly a lot of risks with withdrawal, but if the public does not start demanding withdrawal soon we are not going to see any more 'retreats' from Fallujah, but the razing of entire cities for the sake of "peace". That seems to be the logic of where this conflict is headed. I hope that is not so, but pessimists about this war have been right often enough that it wouldn't surprise me if this came true as well.”

You may very well be right about this, and truthfully, I do not see any easy way out of this mess. Nevertheless, I do believe that we owe the Iraqi people some protection from chaos and while that is not realty happening right now, I can only imagine what the complete withdraw of forces will do. Going to war with Iraq was like driving your car though a neighbors house… it was a stupid thing to do but, once done, must be taken care of.

5) “You seem to be very fair-minded and interested in the policy that does right by the Iraqis. Does withdrawal sound like a reasonable proposal when put in these terms?”

I thank you for that and everything you have said sounds logical and morally justified to me. In my heart, I want to agree with it, rather than wait a decade like Vietnam to finally see that this was not working. But then I look at what happened to Afghanistan when we suddenly left… or to much of sub-Sahara Africa when the Europeans suddenly left. The vacuum of power in all of those cases led to tyranny at best… genocide at worst. I simply feel that too often in American history, we have allowed our imperial ambitions to destroy a country, and then leave it to wallow in misery. I would not see Iraq become another country in the long list of American mistakes that we broke, and refused to repaid. Reconstructing Iraq will take American lives, and a lot more money and resources that Bush’s tax-cut-for-the-rich policies can afford. But to the innocent Iraqis who now find themselves caught, we owe nothing less. I agree with Powell… we broke it, we bought it, and we lost the right to argue over whether it is in Americas best interest to do so as soon as the first shots were fired.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/5/2004

I could not agree more: the system is broken. The quesion then, is a classic one: how best to change it... from the outside (like William Lloyd Garrison, who called the Constitution a "covenant with death" and refused to try and change it) or from the inside (like William Jennings Bryan, TR, FDR, and Lincoln).

1) “How do we fix the system if we are forced to choose between a far right idealogue and a centrist party that swings further right all the time?”

One of the problems I see (especially with those like Nader) is that they are trying to start at the top. So few people actually vote in local and midterm elections, Nader would have a much better chance at getting into government that way… and then he will actually have some real power. While trying to build a house, you do not start with the roof… the system of elites are too entrenched. We cannot change this but at least we can vote for the elite that is corrupt to more lobbies that actually help people.

2) “I need to say that I am led to believe that a vote for a third part candidate is not a vote for either of the two biggies.”

I do not disagree with you at all about Clinton, but again, the problem is that candidates go to where the votes are, they do not go to where no one votes hoping to get them out. This may be good or bad but the fact of the matter is that Republicans vote in greater proportions than Democrats, which slowly pushes both parties to the right. That 50% that don’t vote… they could elect Nader to the presidency as well as push all candidates further left. This is why I cannot blame Kerry or Clinton, as they have to work within the system in order to win the election (at least). Past Democratic candidates that were anti-war and pro-poor simply could not get their supporters out to the polls.

3) “change will only be affected from outside the system.”

There is a third party candidate is almost every election in American history, and only one even came close to winning (and he was a former president). A history of the United States makes it hard to believe that the system will change from without. You will sooner build a house without any tools at all than you will change the institutionalized structure of American politics from without. As I said before, if people would start from the ground up, instead of shooting for the stars every 4 years, only then might the system be changed… from within.

4) “I guess one last question...how do you feel about a system in which...if a certain percentage of the population does not turn out to vote, the election results are invalidated and another election is required?”

A very compelling idea (impossible if third parties win the presidency, but very possible if they can gain control of Congress). It sounds similar to certain European countries which require voting (such as Australia). However, there is no evidence that this makes for better government. It is treating a symptom, not the cause. So long as candidates are selected based on money, and power, and third parties are effectively excluded by the electoral college, I do not see this having much of an effect. In fact, I see this as a means of further limiting third parties by effectively weeding them out after the first round. All it will means is that the national vote will closer reflect national polls. Remember also, that while more of your side will be voting, so will more skinheads, racists, and overall fools.


Daniel B. Larison - 5/5/2004

My thanks to you for your kind comments. Over the last several years, I have found that many of my friends turn out to be on the far left or green side of the spectrum, but we are often expressing the same concerns about the problems of state and corporate interests. Most of my conservative friends and I have gotten into very heated and harsh disputes, mainly because I believe they define themselves by party allegiance and find my ridicule of the GOP to be intolerable.

So I hate to disappoint you, but I would not consider myself a libertarian. Very often, I find myself agreeing with many libertarian arguments concerning state power, and I am a great fan of antiwar.com, but I can't quite go along with their neutrality or agnosticism on cultural questions. I suppose I am what some these days call a paleoconservative, and whatever decent and humane positions I have taken I owe a lot of them to the inspiration of Mr. Buchanan's writings on foreign policy and the very thoughtful work of the gentlemen at Chronicles magazine.

On economics, I am probably personally more of a libertarian than many of these gentlemen, but that will have to wait for another conversation. I would be glad to discuss that with you at some time in the future.


chris l pettit - 5/5/2004

Daniel...

I think you have shown in your post that the "right" and "left" labels have become rather muddied for many in the country. I must say I respect the libertarian viewpoint even though I absolutely disagree with the economics espoused by most members. The human rights aspect of the stance is admirable, and I find it interesting that if you head what should be as far left as you can get (my stance) and what is traditionally far right (where you are) you end up trying to get to the same place through distinctively different methods.

For me moving farther right in the US has come to mean becoming more fundamentalist (Christian especially) and more pro-business...meaning corporate welfare in the form of tariffs, tax breaks, the allowing of offshore tax shelters, whatnot. The libertarian viewpoint has almost been moved off the traditional left/right scale as I look at things. It is hard for me to see it as "traditionally" conservative since no President or right leadership has truly adopted it...kind of like the social democratic position could claim to be the "traditional" liberal position I suppose.

I guess the point of this is to express respect for your views and well articulated positions. I would greatly welcome a conversation at some point about your economic positions as it seems we are very similar in our rights based positions and I would be curious to discover whether we are shooting towards the same point from totally opposite ideologies. After all...once you get far enough in one direction or the other...it does end up being a circle doesn't it?

CP


Daniel B. Larison - 5/5/2004

You make many fair points. Here are a few of my thoughts in response, though not necessarily in any particular order.

I frankly don't see how a first-strike war against any country can be considered to be in the last resort, but I won't harp on it.

Dr. Keyes' support of "Massa Bush," as he once called him in a memorable debate in 2000, is particularly disheartening, and it is even harder to believe now in the wake of Bush's unconstitutional war (which may not trouble some, but it used to trouble Dr. Keyes a great deal). It especially disheartening because there is a more conservative alternative and one that Dr. Keyes could unreservedly support in the Constitution Party. Whether on domestic or foreign policy, the CP has been saying the same things that Dr. Keyes has been saying for years.

It was Dr. Keyes who famously said (it is known to me, anyway), on behalf of his own candidacy in 2000, that people who don't vote for the politicians and policies they want will never get what they want. It's a very simple lesson, but it seems to be one that he has forgotten. I cannot believe that Dr. Keyes actually wants what Mr. Bush offers, so it has come down to party loyalty and (pointless, in my view) fear of the worse alternative. But conservatives and Republicans do have an alternative. The only question is whether they value their convictions or a meaningless hold on power (meaningless because it advances none of their principles) more.

It is irrelevant, constitutionally speaking, that Congress has not declared war since 1941. It is still a failure of the Congress to abdicate its responsibilities. Sen. Kerry was not alone in submitting to the president, but that is not much of an excuse. I agree that there is a broader institutional problem at work, but I do not accept that politicians should therefore accept that problem as a normal thing.

I would add, on the question of support for withdrawal, that Harold Meyerson wrote this for today's Washington Post: "Nader now calls for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq within six months --a position that recent polling shows is shared by more than 40 percent of the electorate, including, surely, tens of millions of Democrats and left-leaning independents."

Read all of Meyerson's remarks here:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A2329-2004May4.html

So we must be consulting different sets of polls. The 30% or so who want a troop increase are die-hard Bush loyalists, who must save their rotten mission and "national prestige," or some such thing. They will gnash their teeth about a withdrawal, but so long as they remain this embittered minority they cannot stop the change of policy. In the end, some of them will gradually come to see that such a policy serves the strategic interests of the U.S. as much as it is the right thing to do. Changing circumstances in Iraq and a realistic assessment from a major candidate that remaining in Iraq will not help us or the Iraqis will turn those still undecided voters against remaining.

Maybe Meyerson is incorrect about the poll data, but it's worth considering. When I read his column, I had a sense of deja vu, as he was advancing many of the same arguments I had made earlier.

In terms of civil order, Iraq already suffers from anarchy. American departure or persistence will not change that, even with an infusion of more troops. At present, our forces are not doing much to preserve order in the cities, because the dictates of force protection have removed our forces from many cities and the Shi'a militias have removed many cities from the control of the occupation. The party and factional militias provide a modicum of order in some districts, even if it isn't particularly attractive. One of the major failures of the Iraqi trainees has only been that they will not fight other armed Iraqi forces. If the militias and police become a sort of joint force for preserving order in the cities, the manpower should already be available. There might also be the chance that insurgents will stop targeting police as collaborators, since there will no longer be anyone to collaborate with when the occupation is finished.

There are certainly a lot of risks with withdrawal, but if the public does not start demanding withdrawal soon we are not going to see any more 'retreats' from Fallujah, but the razing of entire cities for the sake of "peace". That seems to be the logic of where this conflict is headed. I hope that is not so, but pessimists about this war have been right often enough that it wouldn't surprise me if this came true as well.

It seems to me that persisting in the Iraq mission will only see more Americans die and a lot more Iraqis get killed by Americans. This conflict will only radicalise Iraqi politics further and strengthen the radical elements by giving them the panache of leading a supposedly national resistance, or it will spread their radical politics in the event that the armed forces kill off the original radicals.

At this point, the most fair of all the bad options (there are definitely no simple, good options) out there is to let the Iraqis find their own way. That is what the liars in the White House prattle on about now, so I suggest we hold them to it on an expedited basis. As long as there is an occupation, reconstruction and aid workers will be targeted as part of that occupation; without the occupation, this may not necessarily be the case. Without the occupation, Muslim countries may be more willing to assist and cooperate with a local Iraqi authority of the Iraqis' making, rather than worry about collaborating with American stooges. Also, without that occupation, we can get out of these nonsensical timetables of restoring "limited sovereignty" and let the Iraqis run their own country as they see fit. I do see the possibility of fragmentation and despotism, but that is a process that only the Iraqis can work out; the more one political form becomes associated with us, I think the less likely it will succeed. Unless that reconstruction and aid work can take place soon and quickly, Iraq is ruined for the next decade. You seem to be very fair-minded and interested in the policy that does right by the Iraqis. Does withdrawal sound like a reasonable proposal when put in these terms?

A new column in Intervention Magazine by Stewart Nussbaumer offers up what I consider a fresh take on this question of Iraqi chaos in the wake of a withdrawal. It is not very complimentary towards the Iraqis, I suppose, but it is a way of seeing the futility of the 'stabilisation' mission in a somewhat different way from the "there will be chaos" vs. "maybe it won't be so bad" vs. "who cares?" argument. Maybe you'll hate it, but here it is.

http://www.interventionmag.com/cms/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=727&POSTNUKESID=a1026a27982ca42b305f8031a3b7c641


chris l pettit - 5/5/2004

I think we can agree that the system is broken...and that there needs to be substantial change in order for it to work again.

How do we fix the system if we are forced to choose between a far right idealogue and a centrist party that swings further right all the time? I guess this is to ask how...when almost all members of Congress and Executive are from the top 10% of the earners...and that both parties protect the corporate system...effectively giving us the same choice in two different packages...do we ever make progress for the 50+% that do not vote? And why don't they vote? Voter apathy is due to the fact that many believe nothing changes and that their votes dont matter. Whether they do or not is an interesting debate that I believe we would be on opposite sides of. When only a small percentage of the nation is actually represented by the government...it is hard to expect the majority to gain any benefit.

I realize you are trying to change things from the inside...which I tried to do for a while until I realized that, at least in my eyes...that is impossible without major structural changes that simply will not be achieved from the inside. I nevertheless greatly respect your position and admire it.

I need to say that I am led to believe that a vote for a third part candidate is not a vote for either of the two biggies. I find that argument to be rather silly...especially when there is not much difference between the two. When I spoke with Chomsky about why he made the statement he did, I respected the fact that he thought that Bush was a much more destructive force, but was hesitant about the fact that Kerry would be any better than say...Clinton...because CLinton's human rights record was almost as bad as Bush's...the economy was not all that successful...especially since it was built almost solely on the stock market bubble...and the fact is that the bottom 60% of citizens went backwards...as they have been since at least the end of the 70's. I say this proportionally...standard of living in the US has declined. When we look at discrepencies globally...which is what we should be dong instead of narrow sighted nationalistic policies...the discrepancies are even worse.

Sorry to get off on the tangent...but I guess I just side with Daniel in thinking that change will only be affected from outside the system. We need a judiciary that is not politically appointed and is actually objective and upholds the law without partisan bias. We need a system in which anyone can run for office and private donations are forbidden by law so that all sectors of society can be represented. And so on and so forth...

I guess one last question...how do you feel about a system in which...if a certain percentage of the population does not turn out to vote, the election results are invalidated and another election is required? That would force change upon the system. I am ambivalent about the topic and am currently researching it, but it seems at least feasible although again it would not be something that happens from within.

CP


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/5/2004

A thought provoking post. Allow me to respond to some of your point in order:

1) “his views on foreign policy tell me that he is not opposed in principle to invading countries that pose no meaningful threat to the United States.”

I disagree. You are right, he did oppose the method of going to war over the principle, but why not? Iraq was indeed violating UN resolutions and running a totalitarian Stalinist regime. If Kerry could have toppled Saddam AS A LAST RESORT, and with more international support, thus lowering the cost in terms of money, American lives, and international credibility, I support that effort 100%. Up until he choose to invade based on lies, I found Bush’s threats and pressure on Iraq to be a good thing, not a bad one, for it forced a return to inspections that proved so vital throughout the 90’s.

2) “Surrendering Congress' constitutional duty and power, which determine when the government goes to war, to a president bent on war is the same as supporting the decision to go to war.”

Not since WWII has Congress declared war. Since then, the president has always had free reign, never having been limited by the War Powers Act of 1973. This is an institutional problem, not Kerry’s. He had to work with the cards he was given, and those cards were given at a time right before an election and with massive public support. This makes Kerry a politician, just as Bush’s flip-flopping on the Department of Homeland Security, the 9/11 Commission, and his decision to testify makes Bush a politician. Not a perfect system by any means, but it is the only one we have. I do not fault Kerry for his vote, as it was the only viable option available to a future candidate.

3) “I reject the idea that the advocacy of immediate withdrawal wins the support of such a small segment of the population. A majority now believes that the war was not worth fighting”

Actually (sadly) more than half still believe the war was worth fighting (for reasons that escape me). Furthermore, only 37% of Americans believe that we should withdraw ANY troops, with a third of the country supporting a troop INCREASE.

http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/04/19/iraq.main/

4) “Withdrawal would also have considerably more support if a major party candidate were to advocate it.”

I see no reason why the candidate would change people’s minds rather than the people simply choosing the candidate they most agree with already. True leaders shape public opinion… not candidates seeking the job (both Wilson and Roosevelt were doves until they were safely re-elected).

Personally, as a person who opposed the war, I could not support a candidate that advocated withdrawing US troops. We decapitated a government and left its people in chaos. It is our obligation to see a stable government before we throw the Iraqi people to the wolfs of anarchy and civil war. We are responsible for letting the Taliban come to power by ignoring Afghanistan after involving ourselves in it. We cannot make the same mistake in Iraq.

5) “A significant section of the country believes that the war was based on fraud and lies… Those people would turn out for Kerry at a much higher rate if he would take up that position.”

I believe he has. Like many people, Kerry believes the war was a mistake (even if he only means the way it happened) but still supports finishing the job. Thus far, Kerry has not been afraid to accuse the administration of lying to the people to get us in (although he, as most, prefer the safer euphemism of “misled”- I know, I don’t like it either).

6) “I can assure you that a lot of the real 'right-wing' conservatives, whom many Democrats seem to think have seized control of the country, are totally disgusted with the administration and what they consider to be its leftist politics.”

I do not despite this. I know that Alan Keys and others have been fierce opponents of Bush’s big government policies. Nevertheless, he intends on voting for Bush based on the lack of any alternatives. This is what separates liberals, who will stay home sooner than support a candidate with whom they disagree, and conservatives, who tend to vote for the most conservative ticket. I agree, however, Bush is NO conservative, although he is no liberal either. He is a pro-business Republican who wears the mask of Christianity and humbleness to hide a brutal policy of appeasement to big business at the cost of virtually everything else. This is not conservatism, I agree.

7) “Bush as 'far-right' bogeyman/'most conservative' president is a clever device used by both parties to excite their bases, but it bears no relation to the reality of the man's convictions or his policies.”

I would agree with your analysis. Nevertheless, Bush has managed to hold on to core conservative issues (tax cuts, anti-abortion, etc.) while ruling with impunity and most Republicans have remained loyal, even while seething behind closed doors.

8) “For those liberals in the Democratic Party want to be the ones to guide their party's direction, I can tell you the surest way to fail in this quest and be taken for granted within the party. This is to meekly and mutely back the 'electable' candidate in spite of his failure to do much of anything on your behalf.”

This may very well be true in the long run, but in the short run, most liberal constituents (blacks, the young) simply do not vote, which forces the candidate to the center as much as possible. Until this changes, candidates will go where the votes are, rather than gamble on their base carrying them through, as McGovern, Mondale, and Dukakis tried.


9) “If, as you say, a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush, then I will 'effectively' vote for Kerry when I vote for Michael Peroutka (not that there was any danger of my voting for Bush).”

A vote for any third party is effectively a vote for the candidate you support the least. This is untrue only with those voters who would otherwise stay home, of which there are few that I have personally encountered. Nevertheless, I respect your decision.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/5/2004

Daniel,
My point is that even not voting constitutes participation, since you are, in effect, hurting the candidate that comes closest to your beliefs. Think of it as being an observer of a crime that you can stop... but choose not to. Thus, you are a participant, since your presence could have an effect. For the record however, I do not think people who do not vote are bad people. However, it does allow fewer people to choose national leaders, which is unfortunite.


Daniel B. Larison - 5/5/2004

I see your point here, which is that voters have a sort of obligation to participate, but you put it in a fairly strange way. "No eligible voter can refuse to participate." Why not? It may make him a bad citizen or a bad person, if you like, but an eligible voter most certainly refuse. Half of the eligible voters do refuse every election.

There is also a view, perhaps a bit radical and unrealistic, that to vote at all is to consent to the current regime and the domination of the parties, which serves not to shape policy but simply to re-legitimise a system that has lost its constitutional and moral legitimacy. In this view, a system dominated by the party organisations cannot be democratic or representative anyway, so why bother? It's a tempting view at times, but in the end I always wind up voting. It's an entertaining pastime, if nothing else.


Daniel B. Larison - 5/5/2004

You have a point that Sen. Kerry would probably not have ordered an invasion of Iraq had he been president in 2002-03, but his views on foreign policy tell me that he is not opposed in principle to invading countries that pose no meaningful threat to the United States. His chief complaint about Mr. Bush's decision is not that the war was wrong, but that it was waged in the wrong way without enough foreign support--he sees no problem with aggression, so long as it is U.N.-approved aggression with allied help (for Kosovo, he didn't even need that approval). Like Gov. Dean, he is more hostile to Iran and Saudi Arabia than a lot of Republicans, which means that he will not depart from a policy of bellicosity towards those states but instead intensify that bellicosity. In general, his critique of the rest of Bush's so-called 'war on terrorism' has been to say that it has been too weak and passive; a Kerry administration would probably be unnecessarily exciting in its provocations.

As for his vote for the resolution, what can I say? At best, he choked when he could have spoken out, and at worst he signed away his rights as a senator to make the proper deliberation about war, knowing full well that the administration had no interest in a peaceful resolution. He had his chance to state his opposition, and he failed the test--why should anyone opposed to the war take him seriously now? Surrendering Congress' constitutional duty and power, which determine when the government goes to war, to a president bent on war is the same as supporting the decision to go to war. If Sen. Kerry really thought that there would not be war after the vote in 2002, then his judgement is even poorer than I suspected.

I reject the idea that the advocacy of immediate withdrawal wins the support of such a small segment of the population. A majority now believes that the war was not worth fighting; it probably follows that a large section believes that continuing to fight a worthless war is a bad policy. Withdrawal would also have considerably more support if a major party candidate were to advocate it. If it became a genuine policy alternative, instead of the sort of thing that cranks such as myself talk about on Internet forums, then you would see a lot anxious Americans rushing to support that position.

A significant section of the country believes that the war was based on fraud and lies, and that the government had very different reasons and goals than those it stated in public, whether or not they believe the 'real' reason was oil. Those people would turn out for Kerry at a much higher rate if he would take up that position. Nader cannot tap into all of this resentment, because of his limited organisation and publicity, but Kerry could. It would require him to have a more distinctive platform and a more inspiring stump speech than, "Bush got you into this mess, but I am going to keep you in this mess no matter what."

It is a convenient myth that Republicans have moved to the right as their internal dissent has gone down. Quite the opposite has been the case. You may take it from me, as someone very far to the right, that my interest in the Republicans has precipitously declined in direction proportion to their level of internal unity and lack of principle. Perhaps my approach is not the most practical, but I can assure you that a lot of the real 'right-wing' conservatives, whom many Democrats seem to think have seized control of the country, are totally disgusted with the administration and what they consider to be its leftist politics. Internal unity has allowed the GOP establishment to follow its natural instincts to accommodate and move left, and without a serious conservative resistance to this trend the GOP has wholly embraced everything its conservative members set out to destroy in the early 1990s.

The Republican victory, such as it was, in 1994 was the apogee of real conservative policies within the GOP, and that followed upon the civil war in the party in 1992 in which conservatives rebelled against the party leadership. Since party discipline has ruled the day in the GOP, largely because of the idiotic belief that getting rid of Clinton was absolutely more important than remaining true to convictions, the Republicans have become demonstrably more liberal in their spending, their attitudes towards government and the prevailing assumptions about contemporary culture within the leadership. Bush as 'far-right' bogeyman/'most conservative' president is a clever device used by both parties to excite their bases, but it bears no relation to the reality of the man's convictions or his policies.

For those liberals in the Democratic Party want to be the ones to guide their party's direction, I can tell you the surest way to fail in this quest and be taken for granted within the party. This is to meekly and mutely back the 'electable' candidate in spite of his failure to do much of anything on your behalf.

This is what conservatives believed for decades: just keep quiet, play along and you'll get the kind of government you've always wanted. When the GOP finally controlled all the branches of government, they got some monstrosity that they never intended and one which real conservatives despise. This Bush has managed to destroy the content of conservatism in the GOP thanks to the slavish admiration of the man by the party conservatives; all he needs to do is say something nice about Jesus and look presidential and these people will sell out every belief they ever had to serve him. Is that the sort of party Democrats want to have? If so, you're welcome to it.

But I don't want to be entirely unfair to Sen. Kerry. If, as you say, a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush, then I will 'effectively' vote for Kerry when I vote for Michael Peroutka (not that there was any danger of my voting for Bush).


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/4/2004

I agree 100% Mr. Severance, nor do I wish to present Kerry as a "dove." I merely wish to demonstrate the dinstinction (which you correctly highlighted) from the ideologically driven Bush.

In an election, no eligeable voter can refuse to participate. Not voting at all is a form of participation by witholding one candidate a potential vote. In 2000, a vote for Nader was a vote for Bush. In 2004, the only thing that will be different is the full knowledge of this reality.


Ben H. Severance - 5/4/2004

I see your points Mr. Moshe, but steadfastly believe that Kerry has become a proponent of pacification and nation-building in Iraq (whether he likes it or not). Technically, no one voted for war with Iraq, Congress having abnegated its responsibility on this matter, but in approving the resolution, Kerry essentially gave the ideologically driven Bush administration a blank check. Moreover, Kerry approved the $87 Billion package and has stated his desire to increase the regular standing army by two divisions (a good idea). As for the larger war on terror, Kerry is fully committed to it, just as his likely running-mate Wesley Clark. When he ran for the Democratic nomination, Clark presented a very aggressive foreign policy, one that minimized Iraq but envisioned more intense police actions against terrorism. Kerry (and Clark) are vigorous advocates of national security.

None of this is meant to belittle Kerry, for I happen to support him (generally speaking), but to emphasize that the Democrats are not really anti-war. The big difference between Kerry and Bush, to me, is that Kerry promises to restore the international reputation of the U.S. and subdue the imperial militarism of the Bush crowd. But the war on terror will continue, probably for about as long as the 20th Century's war on communism.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/4/2004

1) “If he holds to his current position, his defeat should not trouble principled antiwar people at all, except in the sense that the two parties have chosen to perpetuate a senseless policy against the wishes of more than half the population.”

I could not disagree more strongly. Kerry, contrary to what the media say, did not vote for the war. He voted to give the president the discretion to make that decision, and the resolution itself requires Bush to declare to Congress either before or within 48 hours after beginning military action that diplomatic efforts to enforce the U.N. resolutions have failed. Can anyone really think that Kerry, had he been president, would have gone to war in Iraq, having opposed the original Gulf War in 1991? A Kerry defeat, like the Humphrey defeat, will mean that on the issue of the Iraq war, which has already been decided, anti-war people might feel some apathy, but what of the next four years? What of other countries and other wars? This, of course, is to say nothing of domestic policy, such as healthcare, education, and tax reform. Are liberals really willing to throw yet another election just for spite?

2) “If Sen. Kerry wants to have a chance at winning, he would do well to adopt a more Naderite or antiwar position, or else he will be, once again, the echo and not the voice, to quote the Deaniacs.”

In 2000, Nader got 3% of the vote and polls indicate that few Americans share his beliefs on the war (that it was all for oil and we should pull troops out immediately). No candidate can attempt to woo such a constituency by alienating the other 97% of the public. Should he adopt such a policy, he would no doubt win some hearts, and unquestionably loose the presidency. Even Dean dared not embrace such a message.

I have a request to all those liberals and/or Democrats… take a lesson from the Republicans. Party loyalty has allowed them to move farther and farther to the right with each new candidate (H.W. Bush being the sole exception). With the exception of the religious right, they will vote for the lesser of 2 evils over the greater of them.

Meanwhile, we Democrats face an impossible situation: every individual requires total loyalty! This attitude (among other things, without question) cost Gore, the most liberal and environmentally-friendly candidate that I can remember, the election and gave it to Bush. In 2000, Nader said there was no difference between Bush and Gore. Today, we know now what most people knew then. Now, Nader says there is no difference between Kerry and Bush! I can only hope that between now and November, when the reality of four more years of Bush sets in, at least some on the left will wake up and realize that Kerry is not running for president of the anti-war movement… he is running for president of the United States.


Daniel B. Larison - 5/4/2004

Prof. Mueller offers us the usual false choice that adherents of third parties and other populist movements have been offered for decades. We opponents of the war are supposed to believe, against all recent evidence, that Sen. Kerry is somehow a 'dove' on Iraq deep down, and that this would reveal itself once Kerry was freed of the pressures of electoral politics. Prof. Mueller suggests that antiwar voters would be hurting their own cause if they failed to support him, because he somehow represents an alternative to Mr. Bush's lunatic policy. Voting for Nader (or, for that matter, anti-Iraq war candidates on the right, such as Michael Peroutka of the Constitution Party) is self-destructive, according to Prof. Mueller.

Since when has Sen. Kerry been a dove on Iraq? Not in 1998, when he voted for the "Iraq Liberation Act," and not when he lamely supported President Clinton's illegal bombings of Iraq in the same year. Ever since 1991, Sen. Kerry has been perfectly willing to endorse the murderous sanctions regime, and he had no compunctions in selling out the Constitution and handing over Congress' rightful war powers to the executive in 2002. In general, he has not shown himself to be in favour of peace; he did not display his dovish tendencies in his rally-round-Clinton support for the Bosnian and Kosovo interventions. If anything, Sen. Kerry has promised an even more activist and interventionist foreign policy than Mr. Bush outside of Iraq, which is precisely what America does not need and what the antiwar crowd does not want. If Mr. Bush at least fraudulently dresses up his bad ideas in the guise of national interest, Sen. Kerry happily throws out even the appearance of pursuing national interest, which kills whatever limited crossover appeal he might have made to deeply disenchanted conservatives.

Sen. Kerry did not oppose the war, and has never changed his position. He remains as blindly committed to the interventionist project as any politician. It is not just election-year rhetoric that makes him say, "We cannot fail." He seems to genuinely believe that this war is now necessary to the security of the United States. Obviously, antiwar voters can never accept such an absurd position as their own. If he holds to his current position, his defeat should not trouble principled antiwar people at all, except in the sense that the two parties have chosen to perpetuate a senseless policy against the wishes of more than half the population. Those who erroneously identify the cause of the Democratic Party with peace, in spite of the historical record, are the only ones who will be really disappointed by a Kerry defeat.

Indeed, our situation in Iraq is bad enough that the cautious, self-interested, realist and isolationist elements in the Republican Party might revive in a second Bush term enough that the president will be forced to change course. This is a vain hope, of course, but there is no practical alternative in the current Democratic leadership to the current policy. Even foreign policy critics, such as Sen. Biden, are pro-war. They can offer nothing worthwhile. There is no representation of the antiwar movement in leading Democratic circles, Sen. Byrd respectfully excepted (even though he is not really a leading member of the party these days). At least there are skeptical Republicans who have become concerned about the waste of the war.

If Sen. Kerry wants to have a chance at winning, he would do well to adopt a more Naderite or antiwar position, or else he will be, once again, the echo and not the voice, to quote the Deaniacs.

In the 1968 analogy, Kerry is the one playing Nixon, taking a position on how he can 'win' the war that Bush is losing. Mr. Bush is playing the role LBJ would have played if he had run for re-election. The only reason to hope more for a Kerry victory than being resigned to a Bush re-election is that a Kerry victory will punish those administration officials who started this war and hold them accountable to some extent. Getting them out of power might be a goal worth hoping for, but it is hardly enough to motivate an antiwar person to support the pro-war Kerry.

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