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Issue Date:  August 27, 2004

Kerry's foreign policy looks much like Bush's


Those who think that a defeat of President George W. Bush in November will mean real changes in U.S. foreign policy appear to have little to hope for with the nomination of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry as the Democratic candidate for president.

On the one hand, Kerry is widely considered to be more knowledgeable and less ideological than the incumbent Republican president. His recognition of the importance of not unnecessarily alienating traditional allies and of listening to dissenting viewpoints points to the possibility of a more responsible foreign policy. As a result, he appears to have the support of the majority of both peace activists and the foreign policy establishment.

At the same time, Kerry’s overall foreign policy agenda appears to be a lot closer to the Republicans than to the rank-and-file Democrats he claims to represent.

For example, in October 2002, Kerry voted to authorize President Bush to launch an invasion of Iraq at a time and under circumstances of the president’s choosing, despite the fact that such “preventative wars” are a clear violation of the United Nations Charter. In order to justify the U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country, Kerry -- like President Bush -- falsely claimed that former dictator Saddam Hussein possessed a sizable arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and sophisticated delivery systems.

Today, while calling for increased international involvement, Kerry -- like Bush -- appears committed to maintaining the bloody U.S. occupation of Iraq indefinitely.

Kerry has also supported the transfer, at taxpayer expense, of tens of billions of dollars worth of armaments and weapons systems to governments that engage in 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 and has declared that, as president, he would not insist upon democratic reforms in dealing with autocratic allies in the Middle East and elsewhere.

-- CNS/Reuters

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry greets people outside San Felipe de Neri Church after attending Sunday Mass in Albuquerque, N.M., Aug. 8.

Kerry has also been a big supporter of the neoliberal model of globalization. He supported NAFTA, despite the treaty’s lack of adequate environmental safeguards or labor standards. He voted to ratify U.S. membership in the World Trade Organization, despite the WTO’s ability to overrule domestic legislation protecting consumers and the environment. He even pushed for most-favored nation trading status for China, despite that government’s savage repression of independent unions and pro-democracy activists.

And even though U.S. military spending is almost as high as the combined military budgets of every other country in the world and despite the fact that the Pentagon now accounts for over half of the federal government’s discretionary budget, Kerry has pledged to spend even more.

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 that had provided that impoverished African country with more than half of its antibiotics and vaccines. Clinton falsely claimed it was a chemical weapons factory controlled by Osama bin Laden, and Kerry supported him.

Kerry has rejected calls by Jordan, Syria and other Middle Eastern governments for a weapons of mass destruction-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 cosponsor 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 have far larger and more advanced stockpiles of WMDs and missiles, including, in Israel’s case, hundreds of nuclear weapons.

Perhaps the most telling example of Kerry’s worldview is his outspoken support of the government of right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Kerry voted annually to send billions of dollars worth of taxpayer money to support Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands seized in the 1967 war.

Despite the U.N. Charter forbidding countries from expanding their territory by force and the passage -- with U.S. support -- of a series of U.N. 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.

Kerry has also endorsed Sharon’s plan to annex large blocs of illegal West Bank settlements into Israel, which would make a viable and contiguous Palestinian state impossible. He has even defended Israel’s construction of the separation wall deep into the West Bank and condemned the recent 14-1 ruling by the International Court of Justice that the wall’s construction inside occupied territory was a clear violation of international humanitarian law.

Kerry has also backed Sharon’s policies of assassinating suspected Palestinian militants and his refusal to resume peace talks with the Palestinians. Kerry insists that it is the Palestinians who are responsible for the ongoing violence, declaring that Sharon is “a leader who can take steps for peace.”

As a result of the strong desire by Democrats to defeat President Bush in November and not wanting to risk losing the vote of progressives to the independent presidential bid of Ralph Nader, the liberal wing of the party has kept relatively quiet regarding concerns over the Democratic nominee’s hawkish foreign policy agenda. It does underscore, however, that even under a Kerry administration, the struggle for a more enlightened and ethical foreign policy will have to continue.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco.

National Catholic Reporter, August 27, 2004

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