The U.S. General Election: What Is a Peace Voter to Do?

The candidates for the General Election are set. Iraq continues to be a major concern of voters, with polls showing that 25% to 30% count it as a top concern, ranking second only to the economy. A growing majority of Americans want to see the U.S. out of Iraq.

Senator Obama won the Democratic nomination last week. Senator McCain will be the Republican nominee. Ralph Nader is moving forward with his independent campaign getting on ballots throughout the country. The Libertarians have nominated former Congressman Bob Barr as their standard bearer. And, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has a majority of delegates for the Green Party which holds its convention from July 10th to13th in Chicago.

Where does Iraq fit in with the General Election? The candidates will continue to make Iraq an issue to differentiate themselves and the public will continue to be focused on it. On both Iraq and Iran, the voters are more progressive than either McCain or Obama; they want the Iraq war ended and the military option removed from dealing with Iran. Neither candidate goes that far on either issue.

Senator McCain is clearly the most aggressive in pursing “victory” in Iraq. In an honest moment, he said he would not mind if U.S. troops stayed in Iraq for 100 years, comparing it to Korea where U.S. forces have continued presence. Of course, Korea was, at best, a war the U.S. fought to a draw — some would say a defeat — and the troops in Korea have not prevented North Korea from becoming a nuclear power. He has been trying to back away from that comment for months now giving a speech where he declared, “I hate war.” In another speech, he promised to win the war during his first term. But McCain has been consistently wrong about the Iraq war since before the invasion when he was memorably a cheerleader for the war. Among McCain’s wrong statements are: “Saddam Hussein is on a crash course to construct a nuclear weapon,” “I believe… that the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators,” “this conflict is… going to be relatively short,” “only the most deluded of us could doubt the necessity of this war,” “We can know fairly well [whether the surge is working] in a few months,” and six months later, “the next six months are going to be critical.” He’s been an advocate of the use of military force against Iran without negotiating with them, and he wants to expand the U.S. military — which is already more costly than the rest of the world’s military spending combined. McCain seems more likely to get the U.S. into a war with Iran than out of the war with Iraq. In addition, he has not been an advocate for adequate veteran’s benefits. For a review of McCain’s policies: click here.

Next to an aggressive militarist like McCain, Obama looks like a peacenik; make no mistake — he’s not. Obama has said two things that are very important to the peace movement. First, he does not only want to end the war but “end the mindset that got us into the war.” Now, he said that very early in the campaign during a January debate and has not repeated it during the campaign, but that is the standard the peace movement should hold him to — end the cause of war. And second, he said that change will only come if the people are organized and demand it. This is an invitation to the peace movement to pressure him. He responds to pressure as can be seen by many of his positions.

There are many things for peace advocates to be concerned about regarding Obama. He has said he admires the foreign policy of Reagan, Bush I and JFK — all strong militarists. Obama also wants to expand the U.S. military by 92,000 additional soldiers, and he pledged to the right-wing Israeli lobby that he will always keep the military option. While Obama gets loud applause when he pledges to begin to end the war in 2009, the details of his withdrawal plan show an ongoing war, not an end to war. Obama has said he will remove “combat” troops, saying that it may mean putting them somewhere else in the region like Kuwait where they can serve as a strike force in Iraq. As to non-combat troops, advisors have estimated between 35,000 to 80,000 remaining behind to protect U.S. interests, fight al Qaeda and train the Iraqi military. And, when asked about the private security forces like Blackwater, fairly labeled mercenaries by some, he said he would leave all 140,000 of them in Iraq. Thus, Obama’s withdrawal plan leaves 175,000 to 220,000 troops and mercenaries in Iraq, threatens to expand the war to other nations by putting combat forces in Kuwait and he keeps the bombing of Iran on the table. Obama, unlike McCain, has said he would negotiate with Iran before using military force but both have been exaggerating its nuclear capability. Obama’s campaign recently released a detailed position statement on Iraq: click here.

Americans got to see the similarities between senators Obama and McCain when they both spoke to the right-wing Israeli lobby last week. (Obama speech, McCain speech.) Indeed both the Washington Post and LA Times editorialized about the similarities between McCain and Obama. While there are some differences they both pledge not only complete fealty to Israel, but also a continued effort to build the Israeli military while maintaining U.S. military policy in support of Israel. Furthermore, Obama gave virtually no criticism of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. Ralph Nader put out a critique of Obama and McCain, McKinney has also been critical of the Israeli lobby and the U.S.’s blind support for Israel.

The only spark of debate has been over whether the U.S. should talk to its adversaries. But even on this issue, Obama has changed his position and McCain, according to senate colleagues, is also likely to talk to adversarial nations. When it comes to Iran, both candidates are threatening a military attack as an option.

The three non-duopoly candidates, Barr, McKinney and Nader, are all calling for a rapid end to the Iraq occupation—a position more aligned with the views of a majority of Americans. If any of them gain steam, it could pull the two establishment party candidates toward the view of the American people. Nader and McKinney have been opposed to the military attack on Iraq since before the war began. Both have also spoken at anti-war rallies and worked to end the occupation for the last five years. Barr takes a non-interventionist view of foreign policy, but favors a strong military. He is not as clear about how quickly he would get out of Iraq. Nader and McKinney both described the military budget as bloated and are calling for less military spending.

Where does U.S. militarism fit into the General Election? The military has become much larger and more deeply embedded throughout the federal government. Neither of the establishment party candidates is calling for shrinking the U.S. military; indeed, both are calling for expanding the military with tens of thousands of more troops. Obama is calling for 92,000 additional troops, while McCain wants even more. The three insurgent candidates are calling for reductions. All three oppose the U.S. having 700 military bases around the world. Nader and McKinney are calling for dramatic reductions of the military budget. Once again, they will be able to pressure Obama and McCain if they start to get some traction.

What can peace advocates do? Your vote may not be the most important action. Indeed, it is predictable where the Electoral College votes for approximately 39 states are going now. So, no matter whom you are planning to vote for take action today. Write to all the candidates. Urge them to end the occupation of Iraq, stop threatening Iran with military attack and prevent future wars of aggression. Tell them it is time to invest in the civilian economy by rebuilding U.S. infrastructure, responding to climate change, providing for the basic necessities of the American people and to reduce the investment in the military economy. The candidates need to hear from you.

Kevin Zeese co-directs Popular Resistance and is on the coordinating council for the Maryland Green Party. Read other articles by Kevin, or visit Kevin's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar balkas said on June 12th, 2008 at 8:00am #

    if nader gets 5% of the votes it would have been an enormous success for working class.
    will US expansion cease/abate because of this? it’l have some effect. and more people might vote for nader. thank u

  2. Paul Boyle said on June 12th, 2008 at 9:05am #

    This article neglects to mention the Moore-Alexander ticket of the
    Socialist Party USA. The SP has a strongly anti-war and anti-militarism platform (including an immediate 50% cut to the military budget.

    Check out:
    for the SP’s platform regarding the military:

  3. rosemarie jackowski said on June 12th, 2008 at 1:56pm #


  4. Tom Yager said on June 12th, 2008 at 4:15pm #

    Vote McKinney. If the Greens get 5%, they will maintain most of their ballot lines and gain others around the country. Their viability as a party will increase tremendously.

  5. Deadbeat said on June 12th, 2008 at 6:46pm #

    rosemarie jackowski writes…

    Tom Yager says…
    Vote McKinney.

    And herein lies the problem. Rather than Nader and McKinney join forces the two of them splits the slim numbers on the left while Obama entices.

    I’d be surprised if Nader garners 5% of the vote this year. We’ll see but I’ve seen too many folks who should be voting for Nader and folks who voted for Nader in 2004 considering Obama this time around AIPAC warts and all.

    There needs to be a serious re-engagement of the anti-war movement was left to twist in the wind since 2004 as the “left” abandoned it for the ABB mantra.

  6. Binh said on June 13th, 2008 at 10:41am #

    So are you calling for a vote for Nader or McKiney or not? The article never addresses that question…

  7. Brandy Baker said on June 13th, 2008 at 1:01pm #

    “And herein lies the problem. Rather than Nader and McKinney join forces the two of them splits the slim numbers on the left while Obama entices.”

    Right on, Deadbeat. I have been making this point to people as well. This is the stupidity of the American progressive Left and it is frustrating to say the very least. Split scarce resources, real smart. One of them should have backed out and supported the other. I would have liked to have seen Nader, whom I supported in 2000 and 2004, not run and speak across the country for McKinney.

    But what is done is done. I’ll give them both money, but I’m voting and will GOTV for McKinney as there is a threshold to meet (5%) for some electoral success; Nader will spend most of his time getting ballot access.

    I am no longer a Green, I’m an Independent, but I would like to see a strong third party in my lifetime. And if McKinney is successful on even a small scale, maybe her movement will bring in visionaries whose, well, vision prevails and override the timid Party bureaucrats and GP bloggers.

  8. Edwin Pell said on June 13th, 2008 at 5:24pm #

    My prediction for November no third party get more than 3.0% of the vote. And it does not matter which branch of the war party wins (dem or repub).