A Lost Cause for Progressives?

Former CIA analysts

With pictures of unspeakable behavior by U.S. prison guards and interrogators in Iraq inflaming the world, and the spectacle of a Likud Party vote in Israel making a mockery of ill-thought policy pronouncements on Palestine by a clueless George W. Bush, is there any hope that John Kerry will offer anything but “me too” before the November 2004 U.S. election? The recent experience of a group of New Mexico citizens suggests not.

A small state electorally, able to contribute only five electoral votes to the 270 needed by either major party to win the presidential election, New Mexico is nonetheless one of the swing states that are priority targets of both parties this year, since the election was so close there in 2000. (In that year, Gore received 286,783 votes in the state, to Bush’s 286,417 — a margin of only 366.) Half a dozen New Mexico voters recently banded together, wrote a letter to Kerry, gathered almost 400 signatures of other voters (most but not all New Mexicans), and sent it to him at his Washington, D.C., campaign headquarters via overnight FedEx on April 19, 2004. On April 30, we sent Kerry the entire package again, this time via fax, because by then we had almost 500 signatures. We now have over 500.

The letter clearly shows some signs of having been written by a committee, and some of the drafters would have made it a little stronger, while others would have weakened it a little. Some people refused to sign because they thought the letter too “nice,” or because they could not stomach the notion of being “truly inspired” by anything about Kerry, or because they disagreed that any of Kerry’s domestic positions were worthy of praise. Some refused to sign because they thought the letter “vitriolic” in its criticism of Israel; others would not sign for the opposite reason — because they could not agree with the affirmation of a need to guarantee Israel’s strength. Some would not sign because they believe that withdrawing from Iraq would constitute “cutting and running,” a recipe for disaster, while some thought the letter was not strong enough in condemnation of Kerry’s stay-the-course stance on Iraq. Two of the original signatories were so tentative about the effort to change Kerry’s positions that they withdrew their signatures, fearing that publicizing the letter and its criticism of Kerry would endanger his election chances. Given the difficulties, we are pleasantly surprised that as many as 500 concerned voters signed on to the letter.

Here is the letter, with a few opening and closing lines of salutation omitted.

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“We are writing to you as concerned voters who are disgusted and appalled by President Bush and his policies but also deeply worried that, particularly in the area of foreign policy, your own positions as stated do not seem to point to a course significantly different from Bush’s. We approach you not with anger or arrogance; you truly inspire us on a number of issues, particularly on the domestic front. But we are deeply concerned about where Bush is leading the country and fearful that you are not offering clear enough alternatives on issues of surpassing importance to U.S. national security. We believe strongly that Bush’s policies are causing new levels of revulsion against the United States throughout the world and consequently have done grave harm to U.S. security.

“Our concern revolves principally around three related issues: 1) Bush’s drive to assert U.S. hegemony around the world; 2) Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq; and 3) Bush’s unquestioning support for every policy of the government of Israel, his consequent endorsement of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, and his failure to engage in any serious effort to forge a just and equitable peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. We would like to hear you speak out on these issues:

“1. The Bush plan for world domination is clearly laid out in the administration’s National Security Strategy document issued in September 2002. This official statement of U.S. policy affirms the United States’ right to be a colossus, accountable to no one, maintaining a military force greater than the combined military strength of every nation in the world. The document asserts a right to employ military force unilaterally and preemptively wherever in the world the Bush administration chooses. It is filled with fatuous nonsense about the U.S. mission to “rid the world of evil.” This kind of policy arrogance arouses deep hatred against the United States throughout the world — and not simply in the Arab and Muslim world — and this in turn gravely endangers U.S. security. We are distressed that you have not denounced this Bush policy explicitly, and we strongly urge you to do so. This will not be easy. Major corporate interests in this country — the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned of so presciently — obviously find this policy prescription very attractive, because more U.S. assertiveness around the world means more military contracts, more oil concessions, more business profits. We nonetheless think it imperative that you honestly and forthrightly separate yourself from such exploitative and extremely dangerous interests.

“2. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq are part of the Bush drive for global hegemony. The war was morally insupportable, and the occupation is morally, economically, and politically insupportable. Too many Americans are dying needlessly; far too many Iraqis — uncounted thousands of innocent civilians — have died and are continuing to die for Bush’s empire-building. This is unacceptable. Almost everywhere outside the United States — and, again, not only in the Arab and Muslim world — the war is viewed as a sign of an overbearing U.S. arrogance, lawlessness, and utter disregard for the principles of international justice. For quite legitimate reasons, the war and occupation of Iraq have substantially increased hatred of the U.S. throughout the world. We appreciate the fact that you have spoken out against the war, but we are distressed that your opposition seems to have diminished after Howard Dean dropped out of the presidential race and Dennis Kucinich ceased to be a factor in the race. Since that time, you have called for 40,000 more American troops in Iraq — at a time when many Americans believe the U.S. should get out of Iraq altogether — and we were disappointed to hear you criticize the new Spanish government’s decision to withdraw Spain’s troops from Iraq. Along with your vote in October 2002 to authorize the war, these statements give us little reason to hope that your policy toward Iraq as president would be substantially different from Bush’s. We urge you, please, to prove us wrong.

“3. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the crucial center of the widespread view in the world that the United States is an unjust, arrogant, domineering power filled with an anti-Arab and anti-Muslim animus and bent on world domination and, through the instrument of Israel, Middle East regional domination. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, its suppression of the Palestinian people’s aspirations for sovereign independence — as well as the inescapable perception that the United States supports this oppression, pays for and enables the occupation, and cares not at all about justice for the Palestinians — together constitute a major reason for the revulsion against the U.S. that has led to terrorism against us and our allies. Unquestioning support, such as the Bush administration has given, for everything the rightwing government of Ariel Sharon does in the occupied territories is not the way to fight terrorism, but rather encourages it. Bush’s absolute refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of any Palestinian grievance, to criticize any Israeli policy, to make any serious effort to pursue a genuine peace accord that is fair and just to both sides is not the way to stand up for American values and human rights. We implore you to speak out on this crucial issue. We support a continued strong U.S. effort to buttress Israel’s security, and we expect you to remain a strong Israel supporter, but we urge you to abandon what appears to be your reflexive, politically expedient support for Israel’s occupation of another people’s land. We urge you to be different from Bush on this matter — to be fair and just and respond to legitimate Palestinian grievances.

“Our distaste for President Bush is no ordinary policy difference. Bush’s imperial thrust is no ordinary divergence from past administrations’ policies, and therefore this is no ordinary election. The scale and scope of his effort to assert U.S. global dominance and hegemony are so seriously threatening to the United States that it is imperative that he and his neoconservative policymakers be stopped. Only you can do that, by winning the election in November, but our fear is that you have not laid out policy positions that set a significantly different course. The well known scholar and author Chalmers Johnson — who has written extensively about the dangers of empire, particularly in the landmark book Blowback — recently wrote that the United States under Bush no longer stands for peace and stability in the face of challenges from revisionist systems such as fascism and communism that have sought a total recasting of the global balance of power, but has instead itself become this very kind of revisionist power, “using our armed missionaries to stuff our version of democracy and free markets down the throats of all other peoples on earth.” Johnson does not overstate the case. Bush and his aggressive, lawless pursuit of empire are an international and a U.S. national security disaster.

“It is urgent that you be more than just an echo of Bush’s foreign policy positions. Good domestic policies are not enough. We feel there is a danger that the progressive base may not mobilize for your campaign if you cannot more clearly set yourself against Bush.”

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What do we have in response to this effort by 500 voters — very few of whom, admittedly, have any possibility of making significant donations to any candidate? Absolutely nothing so far. Neither Kerry nor anyone on his campaign staff has communicated with us in any way as of May 4. (Strangely enough in a swing state — and contrary to Bush — Kerry has no paid staff in New Mexico, hence no office that we signatories can storm to force our views on the campaign.) Meanwhile, the guns kill people at a growing rate in Iraq, and the argument that our departure would create chaos grows more hollow each day, when what is causing the chaos in the first place is clearly our own continuing presence. And meanwhile too, neither major party shows even a hint of movement away from total support for Israel’s plans to continue occupying major portions of the West Bank, leaving only non-viable Bantustans to the Palestinian people.

KATHLEEN and BILL CHRISTISON are both former CIA political analysts. Kathy has been a freelance writer since resigning from the CIA in 1979, dealing primarily with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Her book Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy was published in 2001. A second book, The Wound of Dispossession: Telling the Palestinian Story, was published in 2002. Before retiring in 1979, Bill was director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis. He has written extensively in recent years on the problems of U.S. foreign policy. They can be reached at: christison@counterpunch.org

Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. Kathleen Christison is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession.