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Put the War to a Vote

by John Troyer

A letter to the editor in the Daily Minnesotan (“Left lacks leadership”) took issue with my persistent criticism of the loosely defined, endless U.S. war on international terrorism. The letter’s author also suggested the radical left (a category into which I find few people actually fit) had accomplished little beyond criticism by not proposing a counterplan.

While I do not consider myself a radical leftist, I do take seriously the request for a counterplan. In an attempt to demonstrate my concern with the historical moment consuming my energies, I have developed the following plan that would definitively demonstrate what the American citizenry thinks about a protracted war on terrorism currently underway in Afghanistan. The plan is called United We Stand, United We Fall and uses the cornerstone of democratic theory: a popular vote.

The Plan:

I propose the Bush administration take the unprecedented step of ordering a national public vote to decide whether or not the use of military force should continue in Afghanistan. The national vote would work as a binding referendum to demonstrate public support or non-support for U.S. military actions in the Middle East. The Bush administration, working with the House of Representatives and Senate, would produce the two-question ballot.

Benefits of the Plan:

1. The current Bush administration, more than any other U.S. presidential power in the previous century, understands the importance of the popular vote in democratically electing officeholders. The vote would finally be an opportunity for the American citizenry to demonstrate support for a president whose role as commander in chief is haunted by scandals surrounding the 2000 election.

2. Based purely on any number of polls completed by the popular press, the Bush administration risks nothing by ordering the vote. Approval ratings for U.S. military involvement are persistently in the 90 percent and above category, and the formalized vote by secret ballot would produce concrete evidence of those numbers. The winning side of the vote must have a clear 51 percent majority. In many ways, the Bush administration has nothing to lose with the voting process and could in fact gain increased popular legitimacy.

3. The United We Stand, United We Fall vote would send a clear and distinct message to other nations the United States is an open democracy. By using a direct popular vote, the non-democratic countries of the world would witness the benefits of a public body free to vote on pressing international issues. The Bush administration could finally demonstrate to the Taliban in Afghanistan how democratic rule works when fully implemented.

4. As the commander in chief and highest officeholder for the Republican Party, President Bush would present the reasons for continuing military action in Afghanistan, in short the “yes vote” rationale. The presentation would argue for supporting a prolonged war on terrorism. The Bush administration has repeatedly stated proof linking Osama bin Laden to the Sept. 11 attacks. The veil of secrecy surrounding the proof could finally be lifted and the crucial information could be laid on the table for the American citizenry to view. Bush, as commander in chief of the United States, would also have an opportunity to explain to the world how he understands the evidence in question indicting Osama bin Laden.

5. A non-political, office-holding individual would argue the case for the vote to end the military action in Afghanistan. I will suggest former Presidents Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton assume the role of Bush’s interlocutor. While neither one of the former presidents has publicly denounced the military action, either one could present the case.

The information for the presentation would consist of the long-term benefits associated with not continuing to enflame countries in the Middle East via U.S. military action. A major aspect of the case would be an explication of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East since World War II. Special attention to the Persian Gulf War would help illustrate the problems with U.S. military interventions in the Middle East.

The case against the war would also emphasize the use of the United Nations in creating an international dialogue on how to appropriately handle oppressive governmental regimes denying human rights to the citizenry. A special component of the case would stress the need for the American public to finally begin understanding the reasons so many citizens of other countries dislike U.S. foreign policy. Finally, the argument would stress the long-term benefits of financially assisting countries in dire straits.

6. Both presentations for the yes and no vote would occur on national television and radio, with satellite locations established for individuals without access to either medium. Each side would receive one hour to make the case, clearly giving the Bush administration a competitive lead since the definitive proof should take less than 60 minutes to present. The presentations would be translated into local languages for ESL constituencies. The initial airing of the cases would occur at 8 p.m. EST but then continue to replay for a 24-hour period, allowing individuals who work the night shift an opportunity to see presentations. Both sides of the argument would agree upon the specific night for the presentations.

7. Television, radio, newspaper, billboard advertisements by individuals or groups pushing for a yes or no vote would be banned. Both cases should stand firm on the merits of the presentation. Political interest advertising would unfairly manipulate the vote. Exit polling would also be stopped in an effort to keep the voting fair for all people.

8. The United We Stand, United We Fall vote would use local precincts already in place for other national votes. A uniform, national ballot would be used to alleviate any confusion as to what the voter’s intention was when voting.

9. International observers would monitor the voting and vote counting. The international observers would consist of individuals from countries whose citizens died as a result of the Sept. 11 violence.

10. An open call for local volunteers to assist in registering voters and working the polls would occur. I will be the first to volunteer if the plan is followed.

11. The vote would be a national voting day and employers must allow employees to leave work to vote without pay deductions. The long-term importance of the vote would outweigh any short-term employer inconvenience. Any economic costs associated with the vote are well worth the price of knowing where the American citizenry stands on the issue of military force in Afghanistan.

12. Finally, the Bush administration would have a definitive answer to whether or not the current course of action is supported by the American people. American history books would fill page after page with evidence of how democracy in the United States is thriving. Commentators could explain how the first war of the 21st century used a direct popular vote to democratically discuss an unprecedented international situation.

In the final analysis, perhaps the vote would produce a truly de Tocquevillean tyranny of the majority, but at least the history books will reflect a historical moment in United States discourse when a direct popular vote was used to determine an issue of dire importance. The writing of history would leave no gaps for questioning what a majority of the American citizenry mandated, ultimately producing a seamless understanding of what is right and what is wrong.

In the end, United We Stand, United We Fall. CP

John Troyer is a columnist for the Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Minnesota. He can be contacted at

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