What is a Peace Voter to Do?

By Kevin Zeese

Divisions among peace voters about the presidential election are becoming evident in columns by peace advocates and on discussion lists. The goal of ending the Iraq occupation and ending militarism is bigger than this election, so we should not let partisanship divide the peace movement. The key to unity is advocating for a real end to the Iraq occupation, pressuring all candidates in that direction, as well as pushing for an end to the militarist foreign policy of the U.S.

Elections are never easy for advocates of real change on major issues. The two parties tend to cloud their differences on the most difficult issues. Even though bringing the troops home is supported by super majorities of U.S. voters according to recent polls as well as by U.S. troops and Iraqis – none of the candidates from the two established parties are calling for a complete withdrawal, but they are all trying to play to the peace voter.
Even the most hawkish candidate, John McCain, gave a speech defining his foreign policy saying “I detest war” and called for working with other countries not dominating them and not solving every problem with the military. Sounds good. But, rather than withdrawal from Iraq he says peace will be achieved only through victory. He seems more likely to get the U.S. into a war with Iran then get us out of Iraq – while detesting war.

While McCain was trying to sound like a peace candidate, Obama was sounding like a Republican. On March 28th Obama told an audience that his foreign policy would be like Reagan’s and George H.W. Bush. He praised George H.W. Bush and said: “The truth is that my foreign policy is actually a return to the traditional bipartisan realistic policy of George Bush’s father, of John F. Kennedy, of, in some ways, Ronald Reagan.”

The two Democrats have put forward incomplete withdrawal plans promising to remove combat troops but leaving tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq. Combat troops would remain in the region to conduct strikes in Iraq. Obama has a 16 month timetable to withdraw combat troops. Clinton has no deadline but a similar pace of removal. Obama would leave tens of thousands, perhaps more than one hundred thousand, civilian security contractors in Iraq. Clinton has very recently spoken in opposition to private security contractors, seemingly to out-peace Obama on an issue she had been silent on. Both keep the military option on the table in Iran and seek to expand the U.S. military by nearly 100,000 troops.

At the same time, the independent political movement may have three of its strongest candidates in years — all opposed to Iraq and critical of militarism. Two former Democrats and one former Republican have joined third parties and are either running or considering a run for president. This includes Cynthia McKinney, the former Democratic congresswoman as the likely Green Party nominee; Mike Gravel the former Democratic senator and presidential candidate now seeking the Libertarian nomination; and Bob Barr a former Republican congressman considering a Libertarian run. And, the Nader-Gonzalez team is seeking the presidency through an independent run. All of these candidates are solidly opposed to the war, oppose war in Iran and seek a less militarist foreign policy.

Some in the peace movement, like Tom Hayden, Danny Glover, Bill Fletcher and Barbara Ehrenreich, have urged support for Senator Obama by the peace movement. They see him as the most peace-oriented candidate who has a chance of getting elected and urge the peace movement to accept his withdrawal plan, recognizing that his plan is inadequate and not a complete end to the occupation. Others, like Chris Hedges the noted author on war and military issues and former N.Y. Times writer, say that the only choice for peace voters is Nader or McKinney (he wrote before Gravel and Barr announced their intentions) because the Democrats will continue the occupation. And Naomi Klien and Jeremy Scahill urge peace advocates take a new approach — push the peace agenda and do not accept the deficient withdrawal plans of Clinton and Obama.

What is a peace voter to do?

How someone casts their vote is a very personal decision. I’m not going to tell anyone how to vote. But things to consider:

First, do not forget — you don’t vote the Electoral College votes. Only 10 to 15 states are expected to be ‘in play’ in 2008. In the vast majority of states it is possible to predict right now where those Electoral College votes are going. The democracy manipulation actually frees you to vote your hopes and dreams. In ‘safe’ states your vote will show the two parties that they need to represent the vast majority of voters who oppose the war. A peace supporter wastes their vote in these states by voting for a militarist candidate. Voters in these states can act without concern for fear of the ‘greater evil’ candidate.

Second, there is no need to decide now how you are going to vote or to announce how you are going to vote. If you remain undecided you can use the remainder of the primary as well as the General Election to tell the candidate: “want my vote you — support the majority of voters and really end the Iraq occupation.” This demand will make the candidates stronger as you will pull them toward the majority anti-war viewpoint in the U.S.

Third, recognize your power is not only in your vote but what you do during the election. Peace voters can work together to push candidates to accept their position – no matter who they are going to vote for. Those who support peace can be pushed to make it a higher priority. Concerted effort by the peace voting bloc will push the agenda in our direction. Take action today and tell the candidates to make ending the occupation a top issue in the campaign. See Peace Voter Power.

Fourth, don’t be fooled by political rhetoric. A common reaction by people who think of themselves as peace voters when hearing Obama’s withdrawal plan is only a partial withdrawal is disbelief. People want to believe he stands for truly ending the occupation even though Obama has been clear that he does not plan to withdraw all troops even by the end of his first term.

And, Senator McCain, saying he detests war will not end the Iraq occupation. His record speaks more loudly than his rhetoric. Similarly, Senator Clinton’s effort to re-make herself as an opponent of the war is held down by the anchor of her voting record. With all candidates how they vote, who funds them and who their closest advisers are tell us more than their rhetoric and advertising campaigns.

To help figure out what they will do if elected Voters for Peace maintains a collection of key speeches, news reports, columns and other materials on all of the candidates. This will be a continually expanding collection throughout the campaign. 

Fifth, recognize that the peace movement is going to have to be bigger, stronger and more unified when the election is over. So, don’t burn bridges with your allies over the election. We need to remember that elections in the U.S. are manipulated by the two major parties, the concentrated corporate media and by funding from the elites in U.S. business. Peace voters are already manipulated to vote against their interests, let’s not let this faulty democracy divide us. The peace movement will need to be unified to end the occupation and prevent future wars no matter who is elected.

Sixth, building the peace movement is bigger than the Iraq war; it is building a political bloc that can defeat the military industrial complex in future debates on war and military budgets. While our founders opposed standing armies and foreign intervention; made it difficult to start war by vesting that power in Congress; and did not want the U.S. to become an empire, the U.S. has developed a tradition of militarism in the 20th Century and foreign policy based on military and economic domination. The cold war, serving as the world’s policeman and now the war on terror has resulted in a permanent arms industry that consistently saps more than half of the federal government’s discretionary spending – no matter what the needs of the American people. We must build a peace voter bloc that is strong and unified so it can eliminate the permanent arms industry.

Seventh, the peace movement needs an inside-outside strategy. There is a role for peace voters outside and inside the two parties. Outside the two parties we should support candidates and parties that clearly stand for an end to the occupation as well as an end to militarism. And, on the inside, the Ron Paul movement needs to grow in the Republican Party and the wing represented by Dennis Kucinich needs to grow inside the Democratic Party. Having an inside-outside strategy allows the peace movement to make a legitimate threat to their party as they have somewhere else to go. Peace voters should never be taken for granted. The life and death issue we advocate on is too important.

The Iraq occupation is going to continue to be a top issue during the presidential campaign. The surge is unraveling. Attacks and deaths inside the U.S. Green Zone have led to the need to hide inside buildings within the fortified zone. Casualties of Americans and Iraqis are increasing. Baghdad is locked down in curfew. And, it is becoming more evident that the cost of the Iraq war is not only the loss of life, or increase in anti-Americanism, but also the U.S. economy which is now in what some call the Iraq recession or depression.

The peace movement needs to avoid losing its energy in the election. It needs to be protesting any candidate who does not call for a complete withdrawal from Iraq and who is not calling for a reduction in the U.S. military. Movements cannot stop and start or take a year off. Taking time off for the election year will make it difficult to re-start again in 2009.

Peace voters need to remember that president’s are not where change begins. Change begins from the grass roots and the government accepts the change if the movement gets strong enough to demand it. Elections are the time for peace advocates to demand peace.

-Kevin Zeese is the executive director of Voters for Peace (www.VotersForPeace.US). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out