Good Fight; Wrong Battlefield

by RON JACOBS

I recently attended a town meeting on the war and upcoming elections. The question of the evening was could one vote to end the war? A number of opinions were expressed, varying from the left position that voting for any of the Democratic challengers would not end the war to those who felt that the danger presented by four more years of Bush demanded that they vote for anybody but Bush. Somewhere between these two positions was that of the Kucinich supporters.

The position of these individuals is that Kucinich does represent a true alternative to the war party and, if he gets enough votes, his delegates can influence the direction of the Democratic Party on issues dear to the left and liberal segment of the US population: the war, civil rights and liberties, jobs, health insurance, women’s rights, and education. The socialists and Greens tended to disagree with this speculation, arguing instead that the role of candidates like Kucinich was to bring the left into the Democratic Party fold-in essence, moving the Left to the right. The Kucinich supporters saw their role in another light, one that is quite similar to the role supporters of Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy saw themselves in 1968. That is, they saw themselves as moving the Democratic Party to the left.

What is Kucinich’s position on the war and occupation of Iraq, then? According to his literature, he has a ten-point plan to end the US occupation. In essence, the plan would turn the entire process over to the United Nations. Here it is:

The United States must ask the United Nations to manage the oil assets of Iraq until the Iraqi people are self-governing.

The United Nations must handle all the contracts: No more Halliburton sweetheart deals, No contracts to Bush Administration insiders, No contracts to campaign contributors. All contracts must be awarded under transparent conditions.

The United States must renounce any plans to privatize Iraq. It is illegal under both the Geneva and the Hague Conventions for any nation to invade another nation, seize its assets, and sell those assets. The Iraqi people, and the Iraqi people alone must have the right to determine the future of their country’s resources.

The United States must ask the United Nations to handle the transition to Iraqi self-governance. The U.N. must be asked to help the Iraqi people develop a Constitution. The U.N. must assist in developing free and fair elections.

The United States must agree to pay for what we blew up.

The United States must pay reparations to the families of innocent Iraqi civilian noncombatants killed and injured in the conflict.

The United States must contribute financially to the U.N. peacekeeping mission.

The United Nations, through its member nations, will commit 130,000 peacekeepers to Iraq on a temporary basis until the Iraqi people can maintain their own security.

U.N. troops will rotate into Iraq, and all U.S. troops will come home.

The United States will abandon policies of "preemption" and unilateralism and commit to strengthening the U.N.

While certain aspects of this plan are certainly forward thinking, especially the points regarding privatization and reparations, the overall plan fails to acknowledge the role that the UN played in the First Gulf War and the sanctions. Because of its support for both of these assaults on the Iraqi people, the UN is almost as hated as the US in Iraq. That is why its headquarters was attacked in Summer 2003 and also why Kofi Annan is hesitant to reinstate the UN presence in the country. Although Mr. Kucinich might differ, the United Nations, as it currently exists, cannot be the vehicle that administers Iraq. It is stained with the blood of too many of that country’s people. In short, the only thing that would change if the Kucinich plan were put into place would be the nationalities of the occupying soldiers.

As mentioned previously, however, there are other parts of Kucinich’s plan that deserve the support of the antiwar movement. Foremost among these are the points calling for reparations and an end to the privatization of Iraq’s assets and social services. Another is the desire to bring the troops home within 90 days of the plan’s implementation and Kucinich’s apparent belief that "It was wrong to go in and it’s wrong to stay." Unfortunately, the plan’s dependence on the UN is a flaw that likely renders it stillborn.

If one recalls US history, s/he will know about the peace plank presented by the antiwar forces in the Democratic Party of 1968. This plank had four main points:

An unconditional end to the bombing of North Vietnam

Negotiations for a mutually phased withdrawal of US and North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam.

Encouraged the South Vietnamese government to negotiate a provisional government with the National Liberation Front of Vietnam (Viet Cong)

Reduction of violence and offensive operations to enable withdrawal of foreign forces.

This peace plank was opposed by the non-electoral left, most of who demanded immediate withdrawal of all US forces. It was also opposed by the right wing of the Democratic Party, who thought that the US should, in essence, finish what it had started. As we know, none of the peace candidates were nominated in 1968 and the Democratic Party candidate, Hubert Humphrey, was defeated in a very close election by Republican Richard Nixon. What many of us probably don’t know or recall is that the peace plank was voted down in committee after a good amount of arm-twisting and backroom dealing by the party’s leadership (who supported the war). The antiwar movement’s representatives in Chicago were not only beat up in the streets by police, they were marginalized inside the convention hall as well. Consequently, most of its members decided to boycott the elections. A small minority argued that Humphrey was better than Nixon and voted for the man. Indeed, some of the latter continue to this day to blame the rest of the left for the ascent of Nixon.

I mention this bit of history because I see a striking familiarity to today’s arguments in the antiwar movement around the 2004 election. If the town meeting I attended is any indication, there are those who will boycott the election, those who will vote for a third party candidate, and those who will vote for the Democrat, even if he supports the war. The Kucinich campaign hopes to make it to the convention where it plans to present its peace plan for Iraq (among it many other progressive positions). Of course, these people will be politely listened to and then, in all likelihood, ignored until their votes are needed in 2008. After the convention, Kucinich supporters will then have to decide which of the choices described above they will make.

After the 1968 convention and election, the Democratic Party underwent some grassroots changes that were designed to put more power into the hands of the delegates and local organizations. This meant that the national leadership would have to give up some of its power. The result of these changes was the campaign and nomination of George McGovern in 1972. McGovern ran on an explicitly antiwar platform that called for immediate withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam. He also supported a guaranteed annual income, legislation guaranteeing workers the right to unionize and the right to strike, and affordable health care. His proposals were the most radical of any serious contender for the US president since Henry Wallace’s run on the Progressive ticket in 1948. Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership let him hang out to dry and Richard Nixon was re-elected to what he hoped would be four more years of war and repression. The American people lucked out when Nixon was forced to resign after articles of impeachment were drawn up against him because of his role in the Watergate break-in and cover-up.

Since the 1972 Democratic campaign, the right wing of the party has regained control-assuming that it ever really lost it. In 2004, we have seen the effects of this. John Kerry and John Edwards were for all essential purposes, washed up in early February, and Howard Dean was the frontrunner. Then, the party leadership got busy. Now Howard Dean is on the sidelines and Kerry and Edwards are sharing the front seat. This didn’t happen because of Dean’s gaffes, it happened because he threatened the party’s right wing-represented today by the so-called Democratic Leadership Council. It’s not that Howard is a radical, it’s that he was too much of a maverick and therefore unpredictable. God knows, he might have done something that his supporters wanted him to do, like institute health insurance for all or end the war. I think that is unlikely, but the possibility was apparently too much for the party leaders.

Mr. Kucinich may be fighting the closest thing to the good fight in electoral politics today, but one has to seriously wonder if he’s waging his battle in the wrong arena.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is being republished by Verso.

He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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