When the Iraq War appeared on the horizon I joined with others in the suburban DC area to form a local coalition opposed to the invasion. Local citizen groups came together raising the issues of the fiscal, security, and moral consequences of the illegal, unilateral pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. We joined with tens of millions around the world who repeatedly protested the march to war.
Congress ignored the people and voted to give President Bush the authority to go to war. Witnessing the Shock and Awe campaign when US troops entered Iraq brought a deep sadness. The propagandistic scenes of Saddam's statute being pulled down by US Marines and exiled Iraqis on the US payroll did not bring us cheer. As the occupation predictably soured, Bush's lies to go to war became evident and Iraq turned into a quagmire. The peace movement did not rejoice in "I told you sos" but seemed demoralized and in disarray. The ugliness of the occupation worsened with photos of prison torture and killings of innocent civilians. Yet both major presidential candidates still continue their "stay the course" chorus, out of tune with reality.
We in the peace movement have been consistently ignored -- despite the massive size of our demonstrations, the clear weight of evidence and international law. What can we do?
Working for independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who advocates a responsible withdrawal from Iraq lessens my frustration.
When Nader met with Senator Kerry recently, he put forth a position on Iraq that a peace activist like myself could support: set a firm date for a real withdrawal from Iraq, including an exit plan for US troops, corporate mercenaries and war profiteers, and allowing a truly independent Iraqi government. (See www.VoteNader.org for details.) This would reverse the spiral of violence by showing mainstream Iraqis that an independent Iraq was in their future. Nader urges internationally supervised elections, rather than the installation of a puppet government controlled by the US military on behalf of US oil and other corporate interests. Nader concluded by looking at Kerry and saying: "John, you need an exit strategy." I was surprised to hear Senator Kerry's response: "I have one, and you'll hear more about it." Prior to that meeting, Kerry's Iraq position had been to "stay the course" and send more US and foreign troops to Iraq.
But my pleasure diminished the next day when Kerry's staff told The Washington Post that Iraq was not discussed at the meeting. My memory and written notes taken during the meeting confirmed Iraq had been discussed. It became evident that the Kerry campaign wants to avoid discussing Iraq -- hoping the peace movement demands nothing of Kerry and that his stay the course pronouncements get him the pro-war vote as well.
I became disgusted when the Kerry campaign remained silent in the face of anti-democratic efforts by various Democratic Party front groups to keep Nader off the ballot. Kerry's silence about these tactics showed that he and his Party should change their name to the Anti-Democratic Party. But, as I considered their efforts I realized they were threatened by Nader and the issue that threatened them most was Nader's call for responsible withdrawal. They do not want anyone in the race calling for the US getting its military, mercenaries and corporations out of Iraq. The Kerry campaign knows that if the peace movement flexes its political muscle Kerry will have to respond so long as Nader is in the race.
Whatever you think of Nader's independent run there can be no dispute that he is the candidate calling for an end to the occupation. His candidacy provides two openings that the peace movement should take advantage of involving Senator Kerry and President Bush.
First, regarding Senator Kerry, Nader helps the peace movement by pressuring Kerry to announce how he would get the US out of Iraq. The peace movement is a significant enough voting force to push Kerry to stand for something more than being "Anybody but Bush." Forcing him to explain his exit strategy now will give Kerry a peace mandate if he is elected, and a campaign promise to which citizens can hold him. If the peace movement fails to exercise this power, and allows him his "stay the course" rhetoric, we can expect nothing from him -- but continued occupation.
Regarding President Bush, Nader's detailed four-page letter to Bush holds him directly accountable for the Iraqi prison scandal by showing he knew, should have known or chose not to know that US was interrogating innocent Iraqi civilians using tactics outside the bounds of US and international law. Nader's letter cited the Red Cross, human rights groups and aid workers who made repeated, detailed reports of abuse to the Bush administration in 2003 and 2004. In fact, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz met with the head of the Red Cross about the abuse in mid-January 2004 after the US repeatedly ignored Red Cross complaints in 2003. The treatment of prisoners was controversial enough to cause disputes between the State Department and DoD.
President Bush -- who prides himself on being a war time commander in chief worthy of re-election, surely had access to information that could have stopped the torture. His failure to do so - whether from poor judgment or poor management - makes it impossible for him to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis. We can never win the peace under his leadership.
Nader’s letter and media interviews convincingly make the case that Bush's greatest perceived election strength is now his greatest weakness. The reckless actions taken under his ‘leadership’ have inflamed the Middle East, produced more recruits for stateless terrorism and seriously undermined efforts to rebuild international support. A major “blowback” is underway against the security interests of the United States. An increasing number of high level retired military and intelligence officials, most recently, General William Odom, former head of the NSA, have called for withdrawal from Iraq within six months.
Nader’s Independent campaign illuminates the fact that voters across the political spectrum support an end to the occupation. His recent endorsement by the Reform Party, in part because they agree with Nader the need to withdraw, also shows that Nader is weakening Bush’s electoral base by attracting voters who voted for Bush in 2000.
The peace movement can now take advantage of these openings. They can push Kerry for his exit strategy to end the occupation and build the case that Bush can no longer be a credible commander in chief.
Perhaps now those who opposed the war but were reluctant to support Nader’s candidacy can see the benefit of his Independent run. If the peace movement wants a debate about the war and occupation, it needs to support the anti-war candidate, needs to oppose the anti-democrat efforts to keep him off the ballot, so that the voice for withdrawal is amplified. Nader, who opposed the war before it started and long before he announced his run for the presidency, will make sure the voice for withdrawal is heard through November. But to be effective the peace movement needs to take advantage of his Independent campaign. If it does so the peace movement will not longer be ignored.
Kevin Zeese serves as Ralph Nader's spokesman. Before joining the Nader Campaign (www.VoteNader.org) Mr. Zeese worked with the Campaign for Fresh Air and Clean Politics of Maryland (www.freshaircleanpolitics.org) which was a founding member of the Montgomery County Coalition for Alternatives to War. He is also noted for challenging paperless electronic voting and the war on drugs. Mr. Zeese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Other Articles by Kevin Zeese