Kerry’s Foreign Policy Record Suggests Few Differences with Bush
Those who had hoped that a possible defeat of President George W. Bush in November would mean real changes in U.S. foreign policy have little to be hopeful about now that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has effectively captured the Democratic presidential nomination.
That Senator Kerry supported the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq and lied about former dictator Saddam Hussein possessing a sizable arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in order to justify it would be reason enough to not support him. (See my March 1, 2004 article “Kerry’s Support for the Invasion of Iraq and the Bush Doctrine Still Unexplained” )
However, a look at his record shows that Kerry’s overall foreign policy agenda has also been a lot closer to the Republicans than to the rank-and-file Democrats he claims to represent.
This is not too surprising, given that his top foreign policy advisors include: Rand Beers, the chief defender of the deadly airborne crop-fumigation program in Colombia who has justified U.S. support for that country’s repressive right-wing government by falsely claiming that Al-Qaeda was training Colombian rebels; Richard Morningstar, a supporter of the dictatorial regime in Azerbaijan and a major backer of the controversial Baku-Tbilisi oil pipeline, which placed the profits of Chevron, Halliburton and Unocal above human rights and environmental concerns; and, William Perry, the retired Republican Senator, former Secretary of Defense, member of the Carlisle Group, and advocate for major military contractors.
More importantly, however, are the positions that Kerry himself advocates:
For example, Senator Kerry has supported the transfer, at taxpayer expense, of tens of billions of dollars worth of armaments and weapons systems to governments which engage in a pattern of gross and systematic human rights violations. He has repeatedly ignored the Arms Control Export Act and other provisions in U.S. and international law promoting arms control and human rights.
Senator Kerry has also been a big supporter of the neo-liberal model of globalization. He supported NAFTA, despite its lack of adequate environmental safeguards or labor standards. He voted to ratify U.S. membership in the World Trade Organization, despite its ability to overrule national legislation that protects consumers and the environment, in order to maximize corporate profits. He even pushed for most-favored nation trading status for China, despite that government’s savage repression of independent unions and pro-democracy activists.
Were it not for 9/11 and its aftermath, globalization would have likely been the major foreign policy issue of the 2004 presidential campaign. Had this been the case, Kerry would have clearly been identified on the right wing of the Democratic contenders.
As Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in the early 1980s, Kerry ignored widespread public opposition to encourage the Reagan Administration to base a large naval flotilla in Boston Harbor, which would include as its central weapons system the nuclear-armed Tomahawk cruise missile. Kerry’s advocacy for the deployment of this dangerous and destabilizing first-strike weapon not only raised serious environmental concerns for residents of the Boston area, but was widely interpreted as an effort to undermine the proposed nuclear weapons freeze.
The end of the Cold War did not have much impact on Senator Kerry’s penchant for supporting the Pentagon. Despite the lack of the Soviet Union to justify wasteful military boondoggles, Senator Kerry has continued to vote in favor of record military budgets, even though only a minority of the spending increases he has supported in recent years has had any connection with the so-called “war on terrorism.”
Senator Kerry was a strong supporter of the Bush Administration’s bombing campaign of Afghanistan, which resulted in more civilian deaths than the 9/11 attacks against the United States that prompted them. He also defended the Clinton Administration’s bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan which had provided that impoverished African country with more than half of its antibiotics and vaccines by falsely claiming it was a chemical weapons factory controlled by Osama bin Laden.
In late 1998, he joined Republican Senators Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, Alfonse D’Amato, and Rich Santorum in calling on the Clinton Administration to consider launching air and missile strikes against Iraq in order to “respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.” The fact that Iraq had already ended such programs some years earlier was apparently not a concern to Senator Kerry.
Nor was he at all bothered that a number of U.S. allies in the region actually did have such weapons. To this day, Senator Kerry has rejected calls by Jordan, Syria, and other Middle Eastern governments for a WMD-free zone for the entire region, insisting that the United States has the right to say which countries can possess such weapons and which cannot. He was a co-sponsor of the “Syrian Accountability Act,” passed in November, which demanded under threat of sanctions that Syria unilaterally eliminate its chemical weapons and missile systems, despite the fact that nearby U.S. allies like Israel and Egypt had far larger and more advanced stockpiles of WMDs and missiles, including in Israel’s case hundreds of nuclear weapons. (See my October 30 article, “The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony” )
Included in the bill’s “findings” were charges by top Bush Administration officials of Syrian support for international terrorism and development of dangerous WMD programs. Not only have these accusations not been independently confirmed, but they were made by the same Bush Administration officials who had made similar claims against Iraq that had been proven false. Yet Senator Kerry naively trusts their word over independent strategic analysts familiar with the region who have challenged many of these charges.
Kerry’s bill also calls for strict sanctions against Syria as well as Syria’s expulsion from its non-permanent seat Security Council for its failure to withdraw its forces from Lebanon according to UN Security Council resolution 520. This could hardly be considered a principled position, however, since Kerry defended Israel’s 22-year long occupation of southern Lebanon, that finally ended less than four years ago, and which was in defiance of this and nine other UN Security Council resolutions.
Indeed, perhaps the most telling examples of Kerry’s neo-conservative world view is his outspoken support of the government of right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, annually voting to send billions of dollars worth of taxpayer money to support Sharon’s occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands seized in the 1967 war. Even as the Israeli prime minister continues to reject calls by Palestinian leaders for a resumption of peace talks, Kerry insists that it is the Palestinian leadership which is responsible for the conflict while Sharon is “a leader who can take steps for peace.”
Despite the UN Charter forbidding countries from expanding their territory by force and the passage, with U.S. support, of a series of UN Security Council resolutions calling on Israel to rescind its unilateral annexation of occupied Arab East Jerusalem and surrounding areas, Kerry has long fought for U.S. recognition of the Israeli conquest. He even attacked the senior Bush Administration from the right when it raised concerns regarding the construction of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, going on record, paradoxically, that “such concerns inhibit and complicate the search for a lasting peace in the region.” He was also critical of the senior Bush Administration’s refusal to veto UN Security Council resolutions upholding the Fourth Geneva Conventions and other international legal principles regarding Israeli colonization efforts in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Kerry’s extreme anti-Palestinian positions have bordered on pathological. In 1988, when the PLO which administered the health system in Palestinian refugee camps serving hundreds of thousands of people and already had observer status at the United Nations sought to join the UN’s World Health Organization, Kerry backed legislation that would have ceased all U.S. funding to the WHO or any other UN entity that allowed for full Palestinian membership. Given that the United States then provided for a full one-quarter of the WHO’s budget, such a cutoff would have had a disastrous impact on vaccination efforts, oral re-hydration programs, AIDS prevention, and other vital WHO work in developing countries.
The following year, just four days after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir restated that Israel would never give up the West Bank and Gaza Strip and would continued to encourage the construction of new Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, Kerry signed a statement that appeared in the Washington Post praising the right-wing prime minister for his “willingness to allow all options to be put on the table.” Kerry described Shamir’s proposal for Israeli-managed elections in certain Palestinian areas under Israeli military occupation as “sincere and far-reaching” and called on the Bush Administration to give Shamir’s plan its “strong endorsement.” This was widely interpreted as a challenge to Secretary of State James Baker’s call several weeks earlier for the Likud government to give up on the idea of a “greater Israel.”
In his effort to enhance Shamir’s re-election prospects in 1992, Senator Kerry again criticized the senior President Bush from the right, this time for its decision to withhold a proposed $10 billion loan guarantee in protest of the rightist prime minister’s expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
The administration’s decision to hold back on the loan guarantees until after the election made possible the defeat of Shamir by the more moderate Yitzhak Rabin. However, when the new Israeli prime minister went to Norway during the summer of 1993 to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization for a peace plan, Kerry joined the Israeli right in continuing to oppose any peace talks between Israel and the PLO.
Indeed, for most of his Senate career, Kerry was in opposition of the Palestinians’ very right to statehood. As recently as 1999, he went on record opposing Palestinian independence outside of what the Israeli occupation authorities were willing to allow.
Today, Kerry not only defends Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he has backed Sharon’s policies of utilizing death squads against suspected Palestinian militants. He claims that such tactics are a justifiable response to terrorist attacks by extremists from the Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, even though neither of them existed prior to Israel’s 1967 military conquests and both emerged as a direct outgrowth of the U.S.-backed occupation and repression that followed.
In summary, Kerry’s October 2002 vote to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq was no fluke. His contempt for human rights, international law, arms control, and the United Nations has actually been rather consistent.
When Howard Dean initially surged ahead in the polls in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, in large part due to his forceful opposition to the invasion of Iraq and some other aspects of Bush foreign policy, the Kerry campaign launched a series of vicious attacks against the former Vermont governor.
Dean was certainly no left-winger. His foreign policy advisors were largely from mainstream think tanks and he received the endorsements of former vice-president Al Gore and others in the Democratic Party establishment. Indeed, a number of Dean’s positions such as his refusal to call for a reduction in military spending, his support for the war in Afghanistan, his backing unconditional military and economic aid to Sharon’s government in Israel, and his call for continuing the U.S. occupation of Iraq were quite problematic in the eyes of many peace and human rights advocates.
That was not enough for Senator Kerry, however, who apparently believed that Dean was not sufficiently supportive of President George W. Bush’s imperial world view. Kerry and his supporters roundly criticized Dean for minimizing the impact of Saddam Hussein’s capture on Iraqi resistance to the U.S. occupation, for calling on the United States to play a more even-handed role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and for challenging the Bush Doctrine of unilateral preemptive invasions of foreign countries. (See my September 14 article “Kerry, Lieberman, and the House Democratic Leadership Attack Dean” and my January 7 article “Democrats’ Attacks on Dean Enhance Bush’s Re-election Prospects” )
It was just such attacks that helped derailed Dean’s populist campaign and has made John Kerry the presumptive nominee.
The Democrats are wrong, however, if they think that nominating a Bush Lite will increase their party’s chances of capturing the White House. In all likelihood, it will do the opposite: for every hawk who might now consider voting for the Democratic ticket, there will be at least one dove who will now be more likely to vote for Ralph Nader.
Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco, and author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism.