Many Americans complain that there’s too much partisanship in our country, especially considering the crises we face. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Democrats and Republicans both voted overwhelmingly for the Patriot Act and the War on Iraq, and their only differences now break down to superficial arguments over minute details.
The mainstream media portray the nearly identical platforms of Bush and Kerry as polar opposites, and many Americans swallow this misconception. Republican hawks don’t like facing reality any more than Democratic doves, and yet they do so accidentally sometimes. Many pro-war conservatives have resorted to the argument that we should not fault Bush for his false claims about the threat of Saddam’s WMD, because Kerry made such claims himself. Since even Kerry backed the war, how could it be wrong? Strangely enough, though, while Kerry’s similarities to Bush on the war issue supposedly help to vindicate the Republican president, many Republicans still lash out at Kerry for being too soft on terrorists.
Bush defenders also like to point out that Clinton waged wars. They are correct, but they defy reason when they imply that Clinton’s undeclared, illegal wars — which some of today’s conservative hawks rightly opposed in the 1990s — give license to Bush to wage illegal wars on his own.
By accurately pointing out the hypocrisy of their opponents while concealing their own, Republicans and Democrats distract us from the fact that presidents of both parties start wars that wreak havoc and run counter to American interests. Unable to condemn unnecessary wars with a straight face, they have reduced mainstream debate over war to meaningless bickering.
Perhaps the worst distraction has been the excessive discussion of the United Nations. The War on Iraq was unjust and unnecessary, and the Democrats’ common argument that Bush should have gotten UN approval is totally bogus. If a country does have a legitimate need to defend itself, it should not matter what the UN says. Likewise, an aggressive war like the one on Iraq would not have been any more civilized or benevolent if the UN had approved it. Indeed, a UN rubberstamp may have served to widen the war and violence by involving more countries that instead chose to avoid it.
Even those who champion the UN should not favor John Kerry on that basis. The senator supported the use of force against Iraq, even without UN approval, back in 1997, and he certainly did not make UN approval a condition for the blank check he voted to give Bush to go to war.
Although some accuse Kerry of waffling on foreign policy, the candidate has been as consistent a warmonger as Bush. Both men said before the war that Saddam posed a threat, and they both say now that regardless of the veracity of those pre-war claims, the United States needs to finish the job by sending thousands of fresh new troops.
The following vague, and yet clearly ambitious, foreign policy statement from Kerry has nothing in it Bush and the neo-conservatives would find distasteful:
"Americans deserve a principled diplomacy…backed by undoubted military might…based on enlightened self-interest, not the zero-sum logic of power politics…a diplomacy that commits America to lead the world toward liberty and prosperity. A bold progressive internationalism that focuses not just on the immediate and imminent, but insidious dangers that can mount over the next years and decade, dangers that span the spectrum from the denial of democracy, to destructive weapons, endemic poverty and epidemic disease. These are not just issues of international order, but vital issues of our own national security."
"Principled diplomacy"? Sounds like the Coalition of the Willing. "Undoubted military might"? I think our president would concur. Focusing "not just on the immediate and imminent"? Bush would probably agree with that.
"Denial of democracy"? Bush would certainly say "our commitment to democracy is tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come."
How about Kerry’s view that the U.S. government should go around fighting "epidemic disease" in the world because it’s a "vital issue of our own national security"? Bush would surely say "we have an obligation to lead the fight on AIDS, on Africa. And we have an obligation to work toward a more free world. That’s our obligation. That is what we have been called to do."
When everything is seriously considered, Bush and Kerry have only one difference on the issues of war and peace between them: Bush thinks he should stay president, while Kerry disagrees because he wants the job himself.
Republicans and Democrats have long used the war issue to deceive their constituencies into thinking there are differences between them. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson claimed that Barry Goldwater would ignite an all-out war against Vietnam. After Johnson became president and sent tens of thousands of Americans to their deaths in Vietnam, Richard Nixon posed as the peace candidate in 1968.
In the last three administrations, we have seen George Bush I go to war with Iraq and invade Panama. We have seen Bill Clinton bomb Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq. We have seen Bush II, not to be outdone, bomb Afghanistan and Iraq even more. Few politicians from either party provide substantive dissent because they all realize the precedents set empower them to make war in the future. Genuinely antiwar politicians on the national level such as Republican Ron Paul and Democrat Dennis Kucinich have little influence in their respective parties.
Most authentic dissent comes from outside the mainstream press and the two major parties. While FoxNews has glorified the carnage in Iraq, news sources such as Antiwar.com and Counterpunch have pointed out the war’s inherent evils. While Bush and Kerry have advanced the same foreign policy, pretending to disagree, Libertarian candidate Aaron Russo has harshly criticized both alumni of Skull and Bones for their participation in creating the Patriot Act and Iraq War, and has warned that there is bipartisan support for the reintroduction of mandatory service (i.e., a draft). Independent Ralph Nader has followed suit, finally investing as much energy into opposing the mass-killing in Iraq as he does in his whining about ATM fees and the size of SUVs.
Some say a vote for a third party is a vote for Bush, and that Kerry would actually be marginally better than Bush and might not invade other countries — even though the Democrat says he faults Bush only for "not doing enough" in the War on Terrorism. Others say Kerry is worse and doves should vote for Bush, even though the Republican has waged more war than any president since Nixon.
In truth, the two men have the same exact positions. Insofar as the presidential election will be a referendum on the last four years of American foreign policy, a vote for Kerry is a vote for Bush. Whichever of them wins in November, peace-loving Americans will lose as we unwillingly continue down the bloody path of Empire.
Doves should therefore spend their energy moving our culture away from its irrational faith in war, rather than wasting time trying to keep one hawk or the other out of office.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history at UC Berkeley, where he was president of the Cal Libertarians. He is an intern at the Independent Institute and has written for Rational Review, Strike the Root, the Libertarian Enterprise, and Antiwar.com. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.