No Longer a Democrat 

For more than 65 years I was a loyal Democrat.  Despite my opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, I never abandoned the Party during the war years of JFK and LBJ.  I opposed Bill Clinton’s bombings in the Balkans and Albania but stayed a Democrat.  Nor did Jimmy Carter’s failed rescue mission into Iran dent my faith in the Party. Following George W. Bush’s rash engagements with Iraq and Afghanistan,  Obama’s double-down expansion of the latter war caused me consternation. Yet I continued to vote as a Democrat because I believed in the Party’s commitment to social justice at home.

Now Democrat Joe Biden holds the presidency,  I was encouraged by his early legislative successes that promise to create American jobs and reduce wealth disparity.  When Russian tanks rumbled toward Kiev in February 2022, I applauded the President’s leadership in mobilizing NATO allies and in providing weapons for Ukraine’s defense.  Those efforts helped save Ukraine from a Russian takeover. It was, in my view, a “just war.”

Then the battlefield shifted to the East and South, where the stakes were disputed land, not national existence.  In this “second Ukraine war,” the U.S. pledged continued arms aid “as long as it takes.” I soon realized that Biden was letting Ukrainian soldiers fight his proxy war against Russia. U.S. weapons were stoking the violence. As the battles morphed into the current stalemate, I opposed the continuing supply of sophisticated weapons, which daily test Putin’s forbearance to deploy his nuclear missiles. I saw fantasy in Zelensky’s top war aims. Can he really oust all Russian troops and regain Crimea?

The Hamas massacre of Israelis was horrific and rightly dubbed an exercise of evil. Indeed, Israel’s trauma appears even greater than America’s after the 9/11 attacks. In both countries politicians,, the media, and the public called for retribution.  Yet U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq led only to more war and war crimes. Will that be different for Israel?

Following Biden’s greenlight,  the IDF began a relentless bombing campaign on Gaza–striking hospitals, mosques, schools, churches, businesses, and residences. The civilian death toll (mostly women and children) already exceeds Israel’s losses by many thousands. In Biden’s photographed embrace of Netanyahu, in his failure to press for de-escalation and ceasefire, and in his rush to supply Israel with offensive weapons, the U.S. President has made Americans complicit with “evil” on the Israeli side, Biden asked Israel to abide with “the rules of war,” yet he failed to apply conditions that would at least limit the collective punishment of civilians. As in the Ukraine conflict, the President is stoking a proxy war against Gaza.  His voiced concern for civilians falls on deaf ears as Gaza City and most of the rest of Gaza turn to rubble.

The ongoing two proxy wars (Ukraine/Russia and Israel/Gaza) raise identical questions of morality, legality and reality.  Is it morally right for Biden to fight Russians and Gazans with the blood of Ukrainians and Israelis?  Is it legally justified for the U.S. to fuel conflicts that fail to meet the self-defense tests of a “just war?”  Does it make sense to commit endless support to a Ukraine that faces an adversary four times its population? Can Zelensky really expel Russians from Crimea by force of arms? Is it wise to feed Israel’s understandable desire for retribution with increased weaponry? What about the danger to hostages, the mounting loss of life in Gaza and the risk of a wider war in the Middle East (where the Arab street identifies with Gaza suffering).

I appreciate the social justice values of a succession of Democratic presidents, and I fear another Trump victory at the polls.  I believe the greatest threat to our democracy lies at home.  Yet I say no to a Democratic party that has become America’s war party–a party that at times seems unwilling to abide with the international rule of law.

Now I say yes only to politicians who value life and know that war yields only more violence. As one privileged to work with the late Harvard Law Professor Roger Fisher (Getting to Yes) decades ago, I came to understand the value and peace potential of diplomacy, mediation, and negotiation.  We need those tools today.  We need to stop the killing. We need a ceasefire now in both Ukraine and Gaza.

On October 16,  I appeared at the town clerk’s office in Eastham on Cape Cod where I signed a document that ended my long-standing affiliation with the Democratic Party.  I am now a designated “Unenrolled (No-Party)” voter.  I resolve never to cast my ballot for a candidate who advocates war over peace or the supply of weapons over diplomacy.

L. Michael Hager is cofounder and former Director General, International Development Law Organization, Rome.