By Kevin Zeese
Divisions among peace voters about the presidential election are becoming evident in columns by peace advocates and on discussion lists. The goal of ending the Iraq occupation and ending militarism is bigger than this election, so we should not let partisanship divide the peace movement. The key to unity is advocating for a real end to the Iraq occupation, pressuring all candidates in that direction, as well as pushing for an end to the militarist foreign policy of the U.S.
Elections are never easy for advocates of real change on major issues. The two parties tend to cloud their differences on the most difficult issues. Even though bringing the troops home is supported by super majorities of U.S. voters according to recent polls as well as by U.S. troops and Iraqis – none of the candidates from the two established parties are calling for a complete withdrawal, but they are all trying to play to the peace voter.
Even the most hawkish candidate, John McCain, gave a speech defining his foreign policy saying “I detest war” and called for working with other countries not dominating them and not solving every problem with the military. Sounds good. But, rather than withdrawal from Iraq he says peace will be achieved only through victory. He seems more likely to get the U.S. into a war with Iran then get us out of Iraq – while detesting war.
While McCain was trying to sound like a peace candidate, Obama was sounding like a Republican. On March 28th Obama told an audience that his foreign policy would be like Reagan’s and George H.W. Bush. He praised George H.W. Bush and said: “The truth is that my foreign policy is actually a return to the traditional bipartisan realistic policy of George Bush's father, of John F. Kennedy, of, in some ways, Ronald Reagan.”
The two Democrats have put forward incomplete withdrawal plans promising to remove combat troops but leaving tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq. Combat troops would remain in the region to conduct strikes in Iraq. Obama has a 16 month timetable to withdraw combat troops. Clinton has no deadline but a similar pace of removal. Obama would leave tens of thousands, perhaps more than one hundred thousand, civilian security contractors in Iraq. Clinton has very recently spoken in opposition to private security contractors, seemingly to out-peace Obama on an issue she had been silent on. Both keep the military option on the table in Iran and seek to expand the U.S. military by nearly 100,000 troops.
At the same time, the independent political movement may have three of its strongest candidates in years -- all opposed to Iraq and critical of militarism. Two former Democrats and one former Republican have joined third parties and are either running or considering a run for president. This includes Cynthia McKinney, the former Democratic congresswoman as the likely Green Party nominee; Mike Gravel the former Democratic senator and presidential candidate now seeking the Libertarian nomination; and Bob Barr a former Republican congressman considering a Libertarian run. And, the Nader-Gonzalez team is seeking the presidency through an independent run. All of these candidates are solidly opposed to the war, oppose war in Iran and seek a less militarist foreign policy.
Some in the peace movement, like Tom Hayden, Danny Glover, Bill Fletcher and Barbara Ehrenreich, have urged support for Senator Obama by the peace movement. They see him as the most peace-oriented candidate who has a chance of getting elected and urge the peace movement to accept his withdrawal plan, recognizing that his plan is inadequate and not a complete end to the occupation. Others, like Chris Hedges the noted author on war and military issues and former N.Y. Times writer, say that the only choice for peace voters is Nader or McKinney (he wrote before Gravel and Barr announced their intentions) because the Democrats will continue the occupation. And Naomi Klien and Jeremy Scahill urge peace advocates take a new approach -- push the peace agenda and do not accept the deficient withdrawal plans of Clinton and Obama.
What is a peace voter to do?
How someone casts their vote is a very personal decision. I’m not going to tell anyone how to vote. But things to consider:
First, do not forget -- you don’t vote the Electoral College votes. Only 10 to 15 states are expected to be ‘in play’ in 2008. In the vast majority of states it is possible to predict right now where those Electoral College votes are going. The democracy manipulation actually frees you to vote your hopes and dreams. In ‘safe’ states your vote will show the two parties that they need to represent the vast majority of voters who oppose the war. A peace supporter wastes their vote in these states by voting for a militarist candidate. Voters in these states can act without concern for fear of the ‘greater evil’ candidate.
Second, there is no need to decide now how you are going to vote or to announce how you are going to vote. If you remain undecided you can use the remainder of the primary as well as the General Election to tell the candidate: “want my vote you -- support the majority of voters and really end the Iraq occupation.” This demand will make the candidates stronger as you will pull them toward the majority anti-war viewpoint in the U.S.
Third, recognize your power is not only in your vote but what you do during the election. Peace voters can work together to push candidates to accept their position – no matter who they are going to vote for. Those who support peace can be pushed to make it a higher priority. Concerted effort by the peace voting bloc will push the agenda in our direction. Take action today and tell the candidates to make ending the occupation a top issue in the campaign. See Peace Voter Power at http://votersforpeace.us/peacevoterpower.html.
Fourth, don’t be fooled by political rhetoric. A common reaction by people who think of themselves as peace voters when hearing Obama’s withdrawal plan is only a partial withdrawal is disbelief. People want to believe he stands for truly ending the occupation even though Obama has been clear that he does not plan to withdraw all troops even by the end of his first term.
And, Senator McCain, saying he detests war will not end the Iraq occupation. His record speaks more loudly than his rhetoric. Similarly, Senator Clinton’s effort to re-make herself as an opponent of the war is held down by the anchor of her voting record. With all candidates how they vote, who funds them and who their closest advisers are tell us more than their rhetoric and advertising campaigns.
To help figure out what they will do if elected Voters for Peace maintains a collection of key speeches, news reports, columns and other materials on all of the candidates. This will be a continually expanding collection throughout the campaign. See http://votersforpeace.us/pvpcandidate.php.