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Betting on War

 

Greg Bates: In response to my piece analyzing Dave’s article arguing that progressive voters should vote Kerry, Dave wrote me about Kerry:

“The guy may be a schmuck and a lousy campaigner, but he’s no dummy. I would bet you a decent sum of money that if he pulls off a miracle and manages to win this election, he’ll find an excuse to pull the troops out of Iraq very quickly. He’s already saying the war was a diversion and a waste and a mistake. That lays the groundwork for him to come in in January, say Bush botched it, and that the solution is to get out and pay money to help whatever puppet regime is in there try to pull it together.

“It’s a no-lose situation for him. He gets out of the mess, which he blames on Bush, and then he has four years–an eternity in American political terms–for the public to forget that whole thing and move on to some other important issue like Fox TV’s next season line-up.”

Of course, I couldn’t resist Dave’s bait. In an effort to delineate and wager our differences over Kerry, we’ve agreed to the following:

* If Kerry wins the election and reduces troop strength to a token 5,000 in Iraq by January 1, 2007, Greg loses. More than 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on that date and Dave pays up. Wager: $200.

* If Kerry appoints antiabortion judges during his first term, Dave pays $50. If Kerry appoints none, Greg pays $50.

* Greg bet an additional $50 that Kerry proposes legislation to further curb civil liberties during his first term. If Greg is correct, Dave pays up.

I see this bet as important not because, if I am right, it proves there are no differences between Bush and Kerry. There are lots of differences. But we need to see Kerry accurately nonetheless, a prerequisite to building those effective social movements to constrain him that people are wishing I would concentrate on (instead of my focus on Nader’s campaign).

I base my prediction that Kerry will keep troops in Iraq through that period (and longer if we fail to turn up the heat through protest) on his own pronouncements. He says he will reduce troop strength, and he may do so moderately. But his entire framework for “winning the peace,” as he likes to call it, is in the context of an American victory on his terms. His mentor, Kennedy, wanted out of Vietnam (a point incorrectly used by conspiracy theorists to explain his assassination: he was killed by those opposed to his plans to withdraw, so the fantasy goes). Kennedy, like Johnson and Nixon after him, wanted withdrawal based on victory. Today, both Kerry and Bush might relish withdrawal-after victory.

I think Dave’s argument about the political expedience of a withdrawal by Kerry based on blaming Bush or the mess is wishful thinking. Kerry will face pressures to show he is not soft on terrorism, pressures far greater than Bush faced. Therefore, I am guessing, Kerry will have little room to pull out, even if he wanted to. But there’s no sign that he wants to cut and run in any case. As the Wall Street Journal put it succinctly, the major difference between Bush and Kerry on Iraq is restricted to an assessment of conditions there.

The threat Kerry faces that he is soft on terrorism is the basis for my further bet that he will propose legislation to curtail civil liberties in the interest of heightening security. I could be wrong, but when he is already claiming to have written sections of the Patriot Act, I see no reason to hope for anything else from him.

Concerning anti-abortion judges, I base my bet on Kerry’s pronouncement that he is open to appointing them, as long as they don’t jeopardize Roe v. Wade. (That’s an absurd caveat: any appointment strengthens those opposed to choice and at least indirectly threatens a decision already under siege.)

In short, all my bets take Kerry at his word: when he says, in effect, “I am moving right,” you can count on him.

Dave Lindorff: I appreciate my editor Greg’s bold challenge to put our money where our mouths are.

For my part, I have no illusions about Kerry’s political stance. The claim being made by Bush that he is the “most liberal Senator” in the Senate comes from the National Review, a magazine so far to the right that it needs a telescope to see the Democratic Party, and thus has no depth perception. In fact, Kerry is more of a Clinton without the charisma, or perhaps a Lieberman with a pulse.

I base my assumption that he will get the U.S. out of Iraq, and in relatively short order, on the fact that he has had the experience of Vietnam, a war that he saw destroy the prospects of two presidents-Johnson and Nixon. I cannot believe that, whatever his political worldview, he would want to see a similar war drag down his own presidency-particularly when his generals already are telling him that the war is unwinnable.

I also think that much of Kerry’s insupportable campaign blather is aimed at trying to attract that little wedge of voters who are still undecided in this race, and that, on bad advice, he is perceiving this group as being kind of disaffected Republicans-thus his outrageous comments like the one that he might appoint an anti-abortion supreme court justice. That was absurd. Won’t happen. When it comes time to pick one, two or three justices, Kerry would pick moderate, pro-choice jurists, probably with as little of a track record as possible so as to get past a hostile Congress. There’d be no percentage in his picking an anti-abortion judge. Clinton didn’t do it, and neither would Kerry. Pro-choice is one of the foundations of what base the Democratic Party has and can’t be sacrificed, even by the DLC.

I’m less confident about civil liberties under a Kerry presidency. Kerry voted for the outrageous Patriot Act, and still hasn’t condemned it, and he allowed the DNC to have a razorwire cage for protesters, aping the Bush strategy of fencing in protest.

On balance though, I expect to net at least $200 on this gambling venture.

We’ll see.

Both:

Despite our differences, our similarities are striking. Dave thinks Greg’s hope for building a third party that could one day seriously challenge the Democrats is wishful thinking. Greg thinks Dave’s hopes for Kerry are wishful thinking. Let’s hope our judgments about each other’s hopes are wrong-that Dave wins the bet and that Greg’s faith (and Dave’s fondest wish) for a real Third Party alternative developing all happen.

We’ve agreed that, whoever wins, the money will be donated to Partners In Health, a superb organization based in Boston and around the world battling the AIDS and tuberculosis now engulfing places like Haiti, Peru, and sub-Saharan Africa. We hope others might join in forming their own bets, and donate the winnings similarly.

If Bush wins the election-all bets are off.

Greg Bates is the founding publisher at Common Courage Press and author of Ralph’s Revolt: The Case For Joining Nader’s Rebellion. He can be reached at gbates@commoncouragepress.com.

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com

 

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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