The Case Against Kerry

President Obama’s selection of John Kerry as the next secretary of state sends the wrong signal to America’s allies and adversaries alike. Kerry’s record in the United States Senate, where he currently chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, has included spurious attacks on the International Court of Justice, unqualified defense of Israeli occupation policies and human rights violations, and support for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, thereby raising serious questions about his commitment to international law and treaty obligations. Furthermore, his false claims about Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” and his repeated denials of well-documented human rights abuses by allied governments raise serious questions about his credibility.

In the 1980s, during the early part of his Senate career, Kerry was considered one of the more progressive members of the U.S. Senate on foreign policy. His record included challenging the Reagan administration’s policies on Central America, providing strong leadership during the Iran-Contra investigation, opposing U.S. support for the Marcos regime in the Philippines and other allied dictatorships, and supporting the nuclear freeze, among other positions supporting peace and human rights.

More recently, however, Kerry became a prominent supporter of various neoconservative initiatives, including the invasion and occupation of Iraq, undermining the authority of the United Nations, and supporting Israeli militarism and expansionism.

Opposition to International Law – Iraq War

Kerry was an outspoken supporter of the Bush Doctrine, which declares that the United States has the right to unilaterally invade foreign countries, topple their governments, and occupy them indefinitely if they are deemed to pose even a hypothetical threat against the United States. In 2002, he voted against an unsuccessful resolution authorizing the president to use force against Iraq only if the United Nations Security Council permitted such force under the UN Charter and instead voted for an alternative Republican resolution, which authorized President Bush to invade that oil-rich country unilaterally in violation of the UN Charter.

The October 2002 war resolution backed by Kerry was not like the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution regarding Vietnam, where there was no time for reflection and debate. Kerry had been briefed by the chief UN weapons inspector and by prominent scholars of the region, who informed him of the likely absence of any of the alleged “weapons of mass destruction” and the likely consequences of a U.S. invasion, but he voted to authorize the invasion anyway. It was not a “mistake” or a momentary lapse of judgment. It demonstrated Kerry’s dismissive attitude toward fundamental principles of international law and international treaties that prohibit aggressive war.

Kerry and his supporters claim he does not really reject international law. They note that, in voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq, Kerry stated at that time that he expected President Bush “to work with the United Nations Security Council and our allies . . . if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force.” He then promised that if President Bush failed to do so, “I will be the first to speak out.”

However, Senator Kerry broke that promise. When President Bush abandoned his efforts to gain United Nations Security Council authorization for the war in late February 2003 and pressed forward with plans for the invasion without a credible international coalition, Kerry remained silent. Indeed, when President Bush actually launched the invasion soon afterwards, Senator Kerry praised him, co-sponsoring a Senate resolution declaring that the invasion was “lawful and fully authorized by the Congress” and that he “commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President . . . in the conflict with Iraq.”

Unlike the hawkish senator from Massachusetts, most Democrats in Congress voted against authorizing the invasion. For example, Senator Robert Byrd introduced a resolution in the fall of 2002 clarifying that authorizing an invasion of Iraq would not diminish Congress’ Constitutional authority to declare war and that no additional authority not directly related to a clear threat of imminent, sudden, and direct attack on the United States could be granted to the president unless Congress authorized it. Senator Kerry voted against it, saying “Every nation has the right to act preemptively if it faces an imminent and grave threat.”

Senator Kerry’s embrace of unilateralism and his rejection of the United Nations system was further illustrated in his attacks on former Vermont governor Howard Dean—who had been a rival for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination—for arguing that a genuine international coalition should have been established before the United States invaded Iraq. Kerry claimed that such multilateralism “cedes our security and presidential responsibility to defend America to someone else” since it would “permit a veto over when American can or cannot act.” Dean’s call for the United States to work in broad coalitions, insisted Kerry, is “little more than a pretext for doing nothing.”

Even after the Bush administration acknowledged that there were no “weapons of mass destruction” or WMD programs, Kerry said he would have voted for the war anyway because of the oppressive nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the fact that Iraq could potentially make WMDs in the future. What is disturbing about this is that there are scores of oppressive governments around the world that could conceivably pose some kind of threat at some time in the future. Kerry apparently believes that the president should have the power to go after any of them right now.

Even conservative analysts like Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma and later a lecturer at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, criticized what he called Kerry’s “recklessly prowar positions,” arguing that Kerry’s criteria for going to war were “wildly aggressive.” Correctly referring to Kerry as an “uber-militarist”, Edwards observed, “I know of no leading American ‘hawk,’ not even among the most militant of the neocons, who has said he or she would have supported going to war if it were absolutely known that the perceived ‘imminent threat’ did not exist.”

It appears that Kerry has not changed his hawkish view. As recently as November 2011, Kerry voted against a resolution which would have repealed the 2002 authorization for the use of force in Iraq.

Kerry basically rejects the UN Charter and the whole basis of the post-World War II international legal system, which is based on the notion of collective security and the illegality of any nation launching an aggressive war. In Kerry’s view, powerful nations like the United States can invade any country they want if they determine that it might hypothetically pose some kind of threat someday in the future. To have someone with this extremist position as secretary of state sends a message to the international community that little has changed since the Bush administration.

Opposition to International Law – Israel

Iraq is not the only example of Kerry’s hostility toward international law, however. An outspoken supporter of the policies of a series of right-wing Israeli governments in the occupied territories, Kerry has defended the Israeli re-occupation of sections of the West Bank; Israel’s ongoing violation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions; Israel’s policy of assassinating suspected militants and other Palestinian leaders; former rightist Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposed annexation of vast stretches of occupied Palestinian territory in order to incorporate illegal Jewish settlements into Israel; moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; opposing Palestinian self-determination or UN recognition of statehood outside of parameters agreed to by Israel’s right wing government; and the Israeli government’s construction of an illegal separation wall deep inside occupied territory (in defiance of a recent near-unanimous ruling by the International Court of Justice, which led Kerry to strongly criticize the UN’s judicial body).

Kerry defended Israel’s 2010 attack on an unarmed humanitarian flotilla in international waters, during which they killed nine crewmen—including a 19-year-old American citizen—despite the attack’s violation of international maritime law. Despite the ships being inspected prior to leaving the port of a NATO ally, Kerry justified the fatal raid on the unarmed ships on the grounds that Israel had every right “to make sure weapons are not being smuggled in.”

In the face of international outcry at Israeli’s 2006 war on Lebanon and 2008-2009 war on the Gaza Strip, Kerry joined Republican Senate colleagues in co-sponsoring resolutions unconditionally supporting the attacks. Reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and others condemned both Israel and the Arab militias for apparent war crimes, but Kerry insisted that Israel’s actions constituted legitimate self-defense and were perfectly legal. Kerry also attacked a well-documented 575-page report by the UNHRC, led by a team of reputable international jurists, which presented evidence of war crimes by both Hamas and Israel during the 2008-2009 fighting. Kerry insisted that attacks by Israel (which were responsible for over 800 civilian deaths) were perfectly legal, attributing the entire fault to Hamas (which was responsible for three civilian deaths). Despite longstanding international legal conventions against bombing civilian-populated areas, Kerry insisted that Israel’s entire military operation constituted legitimate self-defense.

Kerry’s hostility toward international humanitarian law came into particular focus in 2004, when he launched a series of attacks against the International Court of Justice. That summer, the World Court issued a unanimous (save for the U.S. judge) advisory opinion that Israel—like all countries—is bound by international humanitarian law and that the separation barrier being built inside the occupied West Bank was illegal.

In response, Kerry cosponsored a Senate resolution “supporting the construction by Israel of a security fence to prevent Palestinian terrorist attacks, condemning the decision of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the security fence, and urging no further action by the United Nations to delay or prevent the construction of the security fence.” Kerry’s resolution claimed that “the International Court of Justice is politicized and critical of Israel” since “The United States, Korea, and India have constructed security fences to separate such countries from territories or other countries for the security of their citizens.” Kerry’s comparison, however, fails to note that the other barriers, unlike Israel’s, were placed along internationally recognized borders and were therefore not the subject of legal challenge. The Court explicitly affirmed Israel’s right to construct the barrier on their border, just not in foreign territory under Israeli occupation. Rather than displaying a bias against Israel, the World Court has actually been quite consistent: In the only other two advisory opinions issued by the ICJ involving occupied territories (South African-occupied Namibia in 1972 and Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara in 1975), they also ruled against the occupying power.

In the case of the occupied West Bank, however, Kerry insisted, that the World Court “do[es] not have jurisdiction” and that any legal challenges to the route of the wall should go through the Israeli judiciary “and we should respect that process.” In other words, Kerry takes an extreme position, effectively saying that legal matters involving international humanitarian law in territories under foreign belligerent occupation should be addressed solely by the courts of the occupying power. Part of this may be that he doesn’t even recognized territory invaded by U.S. allies as occupied. Kerry’s Senate resolution against the World Court decision, had it passed, would have marked the first time either house of Congress has passed a resolution that refers to the West Bank not as an “occupied” territory but as “disputed.” This distinction is important for two reasons: the word “disputed” implies that the claims of the West Bank’s Israeli conquerors are as legitimate as the claims of Palestinians who have lived on the land for centuries, and disputed territories—unlike occupied territories—are not covered by the Fourth Geneva Convention and many other international legal statutes.

Despite rationalizing for his support for the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Iraq was violating a series of UN Security Council resolutions, when U.S. allies have defied UN Security Council resolutions, Kerry has defended them. For example, he has supported Israel’s annexation of occupied East Jerusalem, which Israeli forces seized in June 1967, despite a series of UN Security Council resolutions demanding that Israel rescind its annexation (such as resolutions 262 and 267). He has also opposed efforts to block Israeli efforts to colonize large sections of the West Bank, despite a series of resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from these illegal settlements (such as resolutions 446, 452, 465, and 471).

Thus, in John Kerry’s world, the United States alone can decide which United Nations Security Council resolutions to enforce and how they are enforced. No less than President Bush, Kerry seeks to effectively overturn the post-World War II international system based upon the rule of law and collective security in order to forcibly impose a Pax Americana.

Credibility Problems

A U.S. secretary of state, even one as far to the right as John Kerry, must not be perceived as dishonest. Repeatedly being caught making blatant falsehoods in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary does not give America’s chief diplomat the kind of credibility our country needs to conduct relations with foreign nations.

Unfortunately, Kerry’s credibility has repeatedly been put into question by his willingness to either fabricate non-existent threats or naively believe transparently false and manipulated intelligence claiming such threats exist—such as when he chose to ignore a plethora of evidence from weapons inspectors and independent arms control analysts who said that, prior to his vote authorizing the invasion of Iraq in October 2002, Iraq had already achieved at least qualitative disarmament.

In a speech on the Senate floor immediately prior to the vote, Senator Kerry categorically stated that Saddam Hussein was “attempting to develop nuclear weapons.” However, there appears to be no evidence to suggest that Iraq had had an active nuclear program for at least eight to ten years prior to the U.S. invasion. Indeed, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in 1998 and subsequently that Iraq’s nuclear program appeared to have been completely dismantled. To justify his claims of an Iraqi nuclear threat, Senator Kerry claimed that “all U.S. intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons.” The reality, of course, was that much of the U.S. intelligence community was highly skeptical of claims that Iraq was attempting to acquire nuclear materials, and this fact was widely circulated in academic journals, the mainstream media, and in intelligence reports.

In addition, despite being briefed to the contrary by former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter and other arms control experts, Senator Kerry stated unequivocally that “Iraq has chemical and biological weapons.” He even claimed that most elements of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs “are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.” He did not try to explain how this could be possible, given the limited shelf life of such chemical and biological agents and the strict embargo against imports of any additional banned materials that had been in place since 1990. The Massachusetts senator also asserted that authorizing a U.S. invasion of that oil-rich country was necessary since “these weapons represent an unacceptable threat.”

However, despite inspections by the United Nations Monitoring and Verification Commission (UNMOVIC) and subsequent searches by U.S. forces, no chemical or biological weapons have been found.

Senator Kerry’s fabrications about Iraq did not stop there. He made similarly ludicrous claims that “Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents, which could threaten Iraq’s neighbors as well as American forces in the Persian Gulf.” In a cynical effort to take advantage of Americans’ post-9/11 fears, Kerry went on to claim that “Iraq has some lethal and incapacitating agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery on a range of vehicles such as bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives which could bring them to the United States homeland.”

Again, no such Iraqi UAVs or other systems capable of delivering chemical and biological weapons have been found.

To this day, Kerry’s Senate office has refused to provide me or any other independent analysts access to the supposed intelligence that supposedly said Iraq had these supposed WMDs and delivery systems that were supposedly such a threat that we supposedly had to invade. He did, however, presumably see the polls that showed that the only way the American people would support a war on Iraq would be if Iraq was a threat to the United States, which may have influenced his decision to make that claim.

Kerry claims that under the circumstances present in October 2002, when he and his congressional colleagues made the fateful decision to grant President Bush unprecedented war-making authority, “any president would have needed the threat of force to act effectively.” Kerry went on to say, “The idea was simple: We would get the weapons inspectors back in to verify whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.” This is an extraordinarily misleading statement, however. Saddam Hussein had finally agreed to unconditional unfettered United Nations inspections as demanded by the UN Security Council on September 16, nearly four weeks prior to Kerry’s vote authorizing the U.S. invasion.

Kerry has also demonstrated a tendency to make things up to rationalize war crimes by U.S. allies. For example, to explain civilian deaths caused by Israeli air strikes and other military operations in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, he co-sponsored resolutions accusing Hamas and Hezbollah of deliberately using civilians as “human shields.” Subsequent human rights reports noted that Hamas and Hezbollah were guilty of other violations of international humanitarian law, but found no cases of either group deliberately holding civilians against their will as a deterrent from enemy attacks. Kerry’s office has refused to reply to a series of inquiries asking the senator to provide examples of where and when Hamas or Hezbollah ever used human shields.

Kerry insisted that a United Nations report ignored how the Israelis supposedly went to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties by dropping leaflets and sending robo-calls to Palestinian homes warning them of impending attacks. In reality, the report examined these claims in detail, but concluded that many of the calls and leaflets were sent out too late or were too vague to enable civilians to reach safety. Furthermore, Israeli calls for civilians to flee to downtown Gaza City led those who heeded such advice right into the line of Israeli fire, as when the Israelis attacked the UN compound and school with mortars and phosphorous bombs where hundreds of fleeing residents had sought refuge. The UNHRC report confirmed the conclusions of previous investigations that there were no legitimate military targets in the area.

There are quite a few other examples of Kerry’s willingness to make things up to support controversial actions by the Israeli government. For example, back in 2004, when Palestinian president Yasir Arafat was repeatedly calling for a resumption of peace negotiations but was being rejected by Israel’s right-wing prime minister Ariel Sharon, Kerry insisted that it was Arafat who was refusing to “take part in a peaceful process.”

Similarly, during an interview on Meet the Press, Kerry justified Israel’s assassination policy by saying that “The moment Hamas says, ‘We’ve given up violence. We are prepared to negotiate,’ I am absolutely confident they will find an Israel that is thirsty to have that negotiation.” In reality, the Israeli government has repeatedly stated that, even if Hamas made such a statement, they would not negotiate with the Islamic group. Furthermore, Israel’s assassination policy has included more than just terrorists: it has included community leaders such as Isaac Saada, a teacher at a Catholic high school in Bethlehem who was working with Israeli colleagues in developing a joint curriculum in conflict resolution, and Shaden Abu Hijleh, a Palestinian social worker and nonviolent activist in Nablus. A special UN investigation, headed by a prominent Jewish American professor of international law, concluded that Israel has utilized “a seemingly random hit list” in its assassinations.

Imperial Hubris

Kerry has repeatedly demonstrated an incredible level of hubris and arrogance regarding American military power. Indeed, in supporting the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Kerry apparently worked on the assumption that the United States could get away with an indefinite occupation of a heavily populated Arab country with a strong history of nationalism and resistance to foreign domination.

Similarly, his attacks on those with more moderate views raise questions as to whether he has the temperament to be secretary of state. For example, in 2003, when Governor Dean proposed that the United States take a more “even-handed role” as the chief mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “bring the sides together” in a “constructive way,” and “not point fingers” at who is to blame, Kerry not only insisted Dean was wrong for suggesting it, but made the bizarre assertion that such an approach “would throw this volatile region into even more turmoil.”

Kerry has also made a habit of accusing those who do not support his right-wing agenda as somehow being soft on terrorism. In 2004, Kerry attacked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for backing the UN General Assembly’s decision to ask the ICJ to consider the legal questions involved in Israel’s separation barrier, claiming that doing so casts doubt on the chief UN official’s opposition to terrorism.

Kerry was particularly hostile towards those who refused to support Bush’s war in Iraq and those who believed the United Nations should take the lead in the post-war effort of stabilization and reconstruction. In 2004, when the newly elected government of Spain announced that it would fulfill its longstanding promise to withdraw its forces from Iraq unless the mission was placed under the United Nations, Kerry responded by saying, “I call on Prime Minister Zapatero to reconsider his decision and to send a message that terrorists cannot win by their act of terror.” Not only did Kerry believe that the Bush/Cheney administration was somehow more trustworthy than the international community in resolving the serious problems besetting post-war Iraq, Kerry was arguing that if a government disagreed with him and insisted that there be a UN mandate in place before participating in the occupation of a foreign country, they were somehow appeasing terrorists.

When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he promised to not just end the war in Iraq, but to end the “mindset” that led to the war. However, in nominating John Kerry to be his next secretary of state, it appears that mindset is alive and well.

While Criticizing Implementation, Kerry Endorses Bush’s Unilateralist Agenda

Democratic nominee John Kerry’s foreign policy speech at New York University has been widely hailed as a long-overdue effort to place some daylight between himself and President Bush regarding Iraq. In his September 20 address, the Massachusetts senator appropriately took the president to task for launching the war prematurely, mishandling the occupation, misleading the American public regarding the deteriorating situation on the ground, and pursuing policies that have weakened America’s security interests.

However, the speech also contained a number of disturbing elements regarding how Kerry would handle Iraq as president and why he voted to authorize the invasion in the first place. More disturbingly, Kerry’s speech appears to endorse the Bush administration’s efforts to undermine the United Nations and international law and its penchant for unilaterally imposing American military force in contravention of international norms.

Despite Kerry’s belated acknowledgement that the war was a mistake, he insists that now “we must do everything in our power to complete the mission…[and] get the job done.” This sounds disturbingly familiar to the line we heard during the late1960s and early 1970s by supposed “moderates” who argued that, while we should never have become embroiled in the Vietnam conflict, “now that we’re there, we need to stay and finish the job.”

The nearest thing Kerry seems to offer in terms of a withdrawal strategy is the Iraqi equivalent of “Vietnamization,” encouraging the government that Washington installed in Baghdad to train more Iraqis to kill Iraqis so as to minimize the number of American casualties. Kerry says it could take about four years to complete the process, which is the same amount of time between Richard Nixon’s inauguration as president in January 1969 and the Paris Peace Agreement in January 1973, among the bloodiest years of the Vietnam War. Kerry, then, is essentially proposing four more years of war. One can only think of John Kerry as a young veteran in 1971 testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asking “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Kerry has long emphasized that he could bring in allies to help the United States fight this bloody urban insurgency, citing the Bush administration’s arrogant and dismissive treatment of allies regarding U.S. policy toward Iraq. Kerry, however, has shown the same kind of arrogance: when the newly elected government of Spain announced last spring that it would fulfill its longstanding promise to withdraw its forces from Iraq unless the mission was placed under the United Nations, Kerry responded by saying, “I call on Prime Minister Zapatero to reconsider his decision and to send a message that terrorists cannot win by their act of terror.” To Kerry, apparently, if a government insists that there be a UN mandate in place before they participate in the occupation of a foreign country, they are sending the wrong message to terrorists.

While a President Kerry would indeed probably have greater respect among most foreign leaders than President Bush, the main problem in getting help in Iraq at this point is not a matter of personal style or diplomatic acumen, but the failure of the policy itself.

In bowing to growing demands that he come out against war, Kerry has begun to rewrite history to justify his earlier pro-war stance: For example, Kerry claims that under the circumstances present in October 2002, when he and his congressional colleagues made the fateful decision to grant President Bush unprecedented war-making authority, “any president would have needed the threat of force to act effectively.” Kerry went on to say that, “The idea was simple: We would get the weapons inspectors back in to verify whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.”

This is an extraordinarily misleading statement, however. Saddam Hussein had finally agreed to unconditional unfettered United Nations inspections as demanded by the UN Security Council on September 16, nearly four weeks prior to Kerry’s vote authorizing the U.S. invasion.

Similarly, Kerry claims that, had he been president, he would not have invaded Iraq. Yet when President Bush launched the invasion in March 2003, Kerry supported him, even backing a Republican-sponsored resolution which declared that the U.S. Senate “commends and supports the effects and leadership of the president… in the conflict with Iraq.”

Dismissing the UN

In any case, the fact remains that he joined the majority of his Senate colleagues in granting President Bush the right to invade Iraq at whatever time and under whatever circumstance he so chose, a decision he defends to this day. Despite the disastrous consequences of that vote, Kerry insisted during his NYU speech that “Congress was right to give the president the authority to use force to hold Saddam Hussein accountable.”

Why, though, was it up to the president of the United States to “hold Saddam Hussein accountable?” The dispute regarding the destruction of Iraq’s proscribed weapons, delivery systems, and weapons programs and the ability of UN inspectors to verify these actions was never between Iraq and the United States; it was between Iraq and the United Nations. It was therefore up to the UN Security Council, not any individual member state, to hold the Iraqi regime accountable. Kerry, however, arrogantly insists–the UN Charter not withstanding–that the U.S. government alone has the right to decide how and under what circumstances regimes being challenged by the United Nations should be dealt with.

In fact, Kerry joined the Republicans in voting down a substitute amendment proposed by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin that would have authorized the use of force against Iraq if it was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. It was the UN Security Council that had imposed these demands on the Iraqi regime in the first place and threatened Iraq with serious consequences if continued in non-compliance. However, Kerry joined the Republicans in insisting instead that President Bush should be able to launch an invasion on his own without Security Council authorization.

Ironically, when U.S. allies have defied UN Security Council resolutions, Kerry has defended them. For example, he has supported Israel’s annexation of occupied East Jerusalem, which Israeli forces seized in June 1967, despite a series of UN Security Council resolutions demanding that Israel rescind its annexation (such as resolutions 262 and 267). He has also endorsed the rightist Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s efforts to colonize large sections of the West Bank, despite a series of resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from these illegal settlements (such as resolutions 446, 452, 465, and 471).

Thus, in John Kerry’s world, the United States alone can decide which United Nations Security Council resolutions to enforce and how they are enforced. No less than President Bush, Kerry seeks to effectively overturn the post-World War II international system based upon the rule of law and collective security in order to forcibly impose a Pax Americana.

Despite the ways Kerry and his supporters might want to spin it, the Democratic nominee–like President Bush–is a militarist and a unilateralist quite willing to undermine the authority of the United Nations in order to assert American hegemony in that oil-rich region.

Indeed, the only thing more dangerous than electing John Kerry president of the United States would be to re-elect George W. Bush.

Is Kerry Really More Open than Bush to Alternative Foreign Policy Perspectives?

Some progressive supporters of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry have argued that, despite his support for the invasion of Iraq and other neoconservative-driven foreign policies of the Bush Administration, at least a President Kerry – unlike the incumbent president – would be more willing to listen to the views of those with more moderate perspectives than himself.

A President Kerry, so goes this argument, while likely to take a number of foreign policy positions more hawkish than most Democrats could support, would at least be more open to hearing a number of competing assessments and policy options before choosing military solutions to foreign policy problems.

Unfortunately, while a President Kerry would almost certainly be less ideological and impulsive than President George W. Bush in formulating his foreign policy, there are a number of areas in which the Massachusetts senator appears to be just as unwilling to listen to alternative viewpoints regarding foreign affairs as the incumbent president.

Take Senator Kerry’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example:

Kerry shares the Bush administration’s support for the policies of the rightist Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. He has defended the Israeli re-occupation of much of the West Bank; Israel’s ongoing violation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions; Sharon’s refusal to even negotiate for a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinian leadership; Israel’s policy of assassinating suspected terrorists and other Palestinian leaders; Sharon’s proposed annexation of vast stretches of occupied Palestinian territory in order to incorporate illegal Jewish settlements into Israel; and, the Israeli government’s construction of an illegal separation wall deep inside occupied territory (in defiance of a recent near-unanimous ruling by the International Court of Justice, which led Kerry to strongly criticize the UN’s judicial body.)

As a result, the Kerry campaign has opened its door wide to right-wing Zionist groups that share his and Bush’s support for the illegal and repressive occupation policies of the current rightist Israeli government, with Kerry and his top foreign policy advisors meeting regularly with their representatives. By contrast, despite numerous efforts by moderate and liberal pro-Israel groups such as the Tikkun Community, Churches for Middle East Peace, Jewish Voice for Peace, and others to meet with the candidate or his leading staffers, the Kerry campaign has completely shut them out.

The sad reality appears to be that Kerry is not interested in even hearing the perspectives of the large and growing numbers of Israel’s American supporters – both Jewish and non-Jewish – who recognize that not only are Sharon’s policies toward the Palestinians illegal and immoral, they threaten Israel’s long-term security interests as well.

Even leading progressive Zionists like Rabbi Michael Lerner – one of America’s foremost intellectuals – have been systematically denied any access to Kerry or the leadership of the campaign.

By contrast, even the hawkish Bill Clinton was appreciative enough of Lerner’s counsel to have invited him personally to the White House on a number of occasions. The Clintons’ respect for Lerner’s 1996 book The Politics of Meaning and other writings was significant enough to lead the press to refer to the rabbi as President Clinton’s “spiritual advisor.”

(For more than six months, I have personally attempted, through both established channels and back channels, to secure a meeting between a group of anti-Sharon but pro-Israel intellectuals – including myself, Rabbi Lerner, Cornell West (the noted African-American studies professor at Princeton University), and Susannah Herschel (director of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College), among others – with either Senator Kerry or any influential Kerry staffer knowledgeable of foreign affairs. As with similar efforts by progressive Zionists and others, however, my appeals have been consistently ignored.)

In other words, Kerry and his foreign policy team apparently have no desire to even listen to those who may have an alternative perspective to the Democratic nominee’s strident support for the right-wing pro-Likud agenda.

And taking such neoconservative views does not help Kerry’s election chances: Public opinion polls show that the views of the majority of American Jews are far closer to Lerner’s than they are to Sharon’s.

Kerry, unfortunately, appears to be just as unwilling to consider alternative perspectives on Iraq as he does Israel-Palestine.

The Democratic presidential nominee refused to challenge, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Bush Administration’s claims in 2002 and early 2003 that Iraq was such a serious and growing threat to American national security that it required a pre-emptive U.S. invasion to overthrow the Iraqi government and replace it with one more to our liking.

In the lead-up to the October 2002 Congressional vote authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Kerry steadfastly refused to listen to numerous appeals by independent strategic analysts, former UN inspectors, independent arms control experts, former State Department officials, retired military officers, and others who insisted that Iraq was not a threat to the United States and that it was a bad idea to grant President Bush the authority to invade Iraq at whatever time and under whatever conditions he chose.

Kerry was also given documentation from the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as articles from well-respected arms control journals and other sources, demonstrating that Iraq’s nuclear program had been totally eliminated some years earlier and that – as a result of the strict sanctions regime then in place for the previous twelve years – it would have been virtually impossible for Iraq to reconstitute its program any time in the foreseeable future.

(I understand that a number of my analyses on Iraq published by the Foreign Policy in Focus Project in the spring and summer of 2002 were passed on to the senator and his foreign policy staff. In these non-technical briefs, I raised serious questions as to whether Iraq actually still had any remaining functional weapons of mass destruction, ongoing WMD programs, or workable delivery systems that could threaten its neighbors, let alone the United States.)

Despite this, Kerry stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate that October to defend President Bush’s wild assertions of an imminent Iraqi threat, not only claiming categorically that “Iraq has chemical and biological weapons” and that most of their programs were “larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War,” but that “all U.S. intelligence experts agree” that Iraq was “attempting to develop nuclear weapons.”

During that summer, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on Iraq’s alleged military threat for which only witnesses who would claim that Iraq was somehow a danger to U.S. national security were invited. Kerry – one of the senior Democrats on the committee – ignored thousands of phone calls and emails encouraging him to use his influence to invite experts who would challenge the neocons’ claims that Iraq had a dangerous and growing stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and sophisticated delivery systems.

It appears, then, that Senator Kerry, no less than President Bush, simply did not want dissenting views to be heard.

Similarly, scores of copies of my September 30 cover story in The Nation magazine “The Case against War with Iraq” were sent to Kerry’s office. A number of copies were personally placed in the hands of his foreign policy staff and even the senator himself. In that article, I predicted that “a US invasion could leave American forces effectively alone attempting to enforce a peace amid the chaos of a post-Saddam Iraq,” and that the United States could find itself stuck in a “bloody counterinsurgency war” against “ongoing guerrilla action by Saddam Hussein’s supporters” as well as by various Sunni and Shiite factions.

Still, just two weeks later, Kerry voted in favor of a resolution granting unprecedented war-making authority to a fraudulently-elected, right-wing, semi-literate, religious fundamentalist president in order for him to lead a U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country.

Despite the denials of his supporters, Kerry either knew or refused ample opportunity to learn that Iraq no longer had any weapons of mass destruction, ongoing WMD programs, or delivery systems that seriously threatened other countries.

Similarly, Kerry either knew or refused ample opportunity to learn that a U.S. invasion of Iraq – particularly under the leadership of the Bush Administration – would likely lead U.S. forces into the heart of just the kind of violent chaotic mess they are now in.

Kerry appears to have not learned from his mistakes. One would think that after people like me, former chief UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter, and so many others tried to warn the senator and his staff that the Bush Administration’s case for war was incredibly misleading and the results of a U.S. invasion of Iraq would be disastrous we might now be welcomed by Kerry’s team to advise them on how to avoid making such tragic mistakes in the future.

We continue to be completely shut out, however.

Similarly, one would think that Senator Kerry – after noting the total absence of the WMDs, WMD programs and delivery systems that he and the White House insisted Iraq possessed in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion – might be more skeptical of claims by these same neoconservatives within the Bush Administration of alleged strategic threats by Middle Eastern adversaries.

Such an assumption would, unfortunately, be wrong as well:

For example, this past fall, Kerry was one of the Senate co-sponsors of the neoconservative-backed Syria Accountability Act. Among the formal findings in Kerry’s bill justifying its imposition of sanctions and implicit military threats against Syria were alarmist and grossly exaggerated estimates of Syria’s alleged military prowess made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton. These two leading Bush Administration officials made similarly alarmist and inaccurate estimates about Iraq’s alleged military threat in the lead-up to the war, which had been shown to have been inaccurate well before the final version of Kerry’s anti-Syria bill was introduced. Yet, by deciding to leave these claims in the text of the legislation, Kerry appears to continue to trust the analyses of these neo-conservative ideologues more than he does those of independent non-partisan strategic analysts.

As a result, his pledge during his nomination acceptance speech in Boston this July that he would “ask hard questions and demand hard evidence” on alleged security threats should probably not be trusted.

Similarly, as these examples illustrate, one must be skeptical of claims that Kerry will be more likely to listen to those with more moderate to progressive foreign policy views or even those who just raise skeptical questions about alleged outside threats.

In short, not only does the Democratic presidential nominee share President Bush’s penchant for unilateralism, the undermining of international legal institutions, the support of occupation armies, and the imposition of military solutions to complex political problems, Kerry appears to be decidedly reluctant to even consider reasoned and credible analyses that might challenge militaristic ideological assumptions that the way to defend America’s security interests is through the support of invasion, occupation and repression.

The way to respond to this rather pessimistic analysis, however, is rather straightforward:

We must force John Kerry to listen to other perspectives.

One way to do this would be for millions of Democrats who oppose Kerry’s refusal to hear challenges to right-wing wing foreign policy views to threaten to vote for independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, Libertarian Party nominee Michael Badnarik, or the nominee of some small leftist party. The risks of losing enough such voters to give Bush a plurality and therefore all the electors in some key states might force Kerry to widen the base of foreign policy advisors and soften his hardline views.

The dangers of such a strategy, however, are obvious.

A second and perhaps more appropriate way would be to support Kerry’s election, but should he be elected in November immediately demand that he appoint to his foreign policy transition team, as well as to key positions in the State Department and the National Security Council, a more diverse group than just those who share his militaristic views regarding the Middle East, human rights, international law, and America’s role in the world. He must also know that any failure to do so will not only result in protests at least as large as those which have challenged the current administration, but an awareness that people of conscience throughout the county will not support his re-election in 2008 unless and until he changes these policies.

Those of us who support human rights and international law and who oppose reckless unilateral military intervention overseas cannot reasonably expect that Kerry will always take positions with which we agree. However, we do have a right to demand that he at least provide people like us the opportunity to share our perspectives and take them into consideration.

How Kerry’s Foreign Policies Leave Him Vulnerable to Republican Attacks

The only people who could possibly be swayed by the unfair and misleading attacks on Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry put forward by speakers at the Republican National Convention (particularly Vice-President Dick Cheney and Georgia Senator Zell Miller) would be those with little understanding of contemporary strategic issues and modern diplomatic history.

Unfortunately, that probably includes the majority of eligible American voters.

Whether or not such disingenuous criticism will ultimately cost John Kerry and his running mate John Edwards the election remains to be seen. More immediately, however, it is indicative of the flawed assumption of the Democratic Party that nominating two hawks (whose support for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq put them at odds with 95% of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention) would somehow make them immune from Republican charges of weakness on defense.

Instead, by nominating two supporters of the Bush Doctrine and the neo-conservative agenda, the Democrats have ended up alienating their base without sparing themselves one iota from Republican attacks.

Let’s begin by a critical examination of charges that Senator Kerry is not adequately concerned about the national security of the United States or capable of defending the nation.

The Republican Accusations

Cheney: “Senator Kerry began his political career by saying he would like to see our troops deployed ‘only at the directive of the United Nations.'”

Miller: “Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations.”

During Kerry’s unsuccessful bid for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1972, he made the quite reasonable proposal that (since the UN Charter provides for collective security and allows for unilateral actions only in the event of self-defense against armed attack) any foreign military intervention should be authorized by the UN Security Council. Contrary to the vice-president’s allegations, he did not object to the forward deployment of American forces as a deterrent, such as U.S. forces in Western Europe as part of NATO, nor of the use of military force for legitimate defense.

Kerry has since swung well to the right, however, effectively renouncing the UN Charter through his support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and for Israel’s colonization and creeping annexation of the occupied West Bank. Indeed, Kerry voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq without approval by the UN Security Council.

Miller: “As a war protestor, Kerry blamed our military.”

In his days as an anti-war veteran during the Vietnam War, Kerry never blamed the military for that tragedy, but focused his opposition on the civilian politicians who sent American troops to fight there.

Unfortunately, during his presidential campaign, Kerry has emphasized his participation in that unnecessary, criminal and misguided counter-insurgency war rather than his subsequent moral and pragmatic opposition. More saliently, he is an outspoken supporter of the current unnecessary, criminal and misguided counter-insurgency war and, as president, is likely to continue prosecuting that war years to come.

Cheney: “He talks about leading a ‘more sensitive war on terror,’ as though Al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side.

What Kerry actually said was that the United States needs to be more sensitive regarding the concerns of our Middle Eastern allies and the international community. President Bush had made a similar statement just a few months earlier.

Unfortunately, Kerry’s support for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and Israel’s occupation policies in the West Bank has placed him in opposition to virtually every U.S. ally in the region, not to mention in Europe and the rest of the world as well.

Cheney: “During the 1980s, Senator Kerry opposed Ronald Reagan’s major defense initiatives that brought victory in the Cold War.”

Kerry, along with dozens of other senators from both parties, opposed some expensive weapons systems which most objective strategic analysts saw as unnecessary for America’s defense needs. The U.S. military buildup had nothing to do with the end of the Cold War, which resulted from the collapse of the unsustainable Communist systems of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies goaded on by nonviolent grassroots pro-democracy movements within these countries.

Kerry has since moved well to the right on this issue as well, becoming an outspoken supporter (despite record deficits and pressing domestic needs) of increased military spending, backing expensive and redundant weapons systems that have nothing to do with the struggle against Al-Qaeda.

Cheney: “In 1991, when Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait and stood poised to dominate the Persian Gulf, Senator Kerry voted against Operation Desert Storm.”

This statement assumes that the only choices were either acquiescing to Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait or launching a devastating war, which was hardly the case. Kerry joined scores of senators from both parties in voting against the authorization of force, recognizing correctly that then-President George Bush was not serious about pursuing a non-military resolution to the crisis.

The Gulf War and ongoing U.S. military presence in the region that resulted was the major factor in the formation of Al-Qaeda, turning Osama bin Laden from a U.S. ally to its most notorious adversary. Had there not been a Gulf War, there would not have been a 9/11.

Unfortunately, rather than trumpet his wisdom in recognizing the importance of voting against an avoidable war which resulted in such disastrous consequences, Kerry now says he regrets his vote against the war and that President Bush was right all along.

Cheney: “Senator Kerry denounces American action when other countries don’t approve as if the whole object of our foreign policy were to please a few persistent critics. In fact, in the global war on terror, . . . President Bush has brought many allies to our side. But as the President has made very clear, there is a difference between leading a coalition of many, and submitting to the objections of a few. George W. Bush will never seek a permission slip to defend the American people.”

Miller: “Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending.”

Kerry has never claimed nor given any indication that he believes that “the whole object of our foreign policy were to please a few persistent critics.” The invasion of Iraq was a direct violation of the United Nations Charter, which (as a ratified treaty, according to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution) is to be treated as supreme U.S. law. This act of aggression was opposed by the vast majority of the world’s nations, not just “a few persistent critics.”

Secondly, the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with “the global war on terror.” Iraq had no operational links with Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group that had targeted the United States.

Thirdly, the government of France has never demonstrated any desire to prevent the United States from defending itself. France did threaten to veto a UN Security Council resolution which would have authorized a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but so did Russia and China, also permanent members of the Security Council. Non-permanent members Chile, Mexico, Guinea, Angola, Syria, Colombia, Pakistan, and Germany did not support the resolution either, thereby denying the United States a majority even without the vetoes.

Fourthly, the Democratic Party platform explicitly states, “With John Kerry as commander-in-chief, we will never wait for a green light from abroad when our safety is at stake.”

In any case, the fact that Kerry voted to authorize this illegal and unnecessary war and defends his vote to this day shows that he and the Democrats have as much contempt for international law and international opinion as does the Bush Administration and the Republicans.

Cheney: “Although he voted to authorize force against Saddam Hussein, he then decided he was opposed to the war, and voted against funding for our men and women in the field. He voted against body armor, ammunition, fuel, spare parts, armored vehicles, extra pay for hardship duty, and support for military families.”

Miller: “As a Senator, he voted to weaken our military. And nothing shows that more sadly and more clearly than his vote this year to deny protective armor for our troops in harms way, far-away.”

Unfortunately, not only did Kerry support the invasion of Iraq, he has continued to defend the war and occupation, he has supported using billions of our tax dollars to fund it, and he has repeatedly stated he will not withdraw U.S. forces if elected. Kerry did, on procedural grounds, vote against the administration’s bill allocating $87 billion to U.S. occupation forces. Kerry instead backed an amendment which would have sent just as much money to support the U.S. occupation and bloody counter-insurgency efforts (including protective armor), only the funds would be drawn from a reduction in tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans rather than by simply increasing the federal budget deficit, as did the administration’s version.

Accepting Republican Assumptions Leaves Kerry Vulnerable

Kerry has become vulnerable to Republican attacks because he agrees with the Republicans on their basic foreign policy assumptions. This is particularly evident regarding his opposition to certain Pentagon boondoggles and other excessive military spending.

Senator Miller, in his speech at the Republican convention, attacked Kerry for opposing funding for the B-1 and B-2 bombers because of their key role in the U.S. assault on Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. This would be a valid criticism only if you believe that massive high-altitude bombing of an impoverished central Asian nation is the most effective means of dealing with a decentralized Saudi-led international network of underground terrorist cells. Kerry, unfortunately, has refused to challenge this assumption.

Miller’s criticism of Kerry’s opposition to the F-14A Tomcat program because of the jet fighter’s role in attacking Libyan planes in the Gulf of Sidra during the 1980s assumes that the Reagan Administration’s reckless military engagements with that North African country were necessary and unavoidable. Kerry has also refused to question that assumption.

Miller’s criticism of Kerry’s opposition to the Patriot Missile “that shot down Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles over Israel” not only ignores the fact that subsequent investigations revealed the Patriot worked less than 10% of the time, but the Iraqi strikes against Israel took place only because the United States had launched a war against Iraq. Again, if Kerry had maintained his opposition to the Gulf War or bothered to point out the technical failures of the Patriot system, such criticisms could not be taken seriously.

Miller’s criticism of Kerry’s opposition of the Apache helicopter, “that . . . took out those Republican Guard tanks in Kuwait in the Gulf War” not only fails to note that Saddam Hussein withdraw virtually all of his Republican Guard units from Kuwait prior to Operation Desert Storm, it assumes that the Gulf War was necessary, something that Kerry now refuses to question.

In short, the most successful way for the Democrats to defend attacks questioning their nominees’ commitment to the national security of the United States is to challenge the Republicans’ distorted notions of what national security entails. Kerry and Edwards, however, have failed to do so.


Indeed, Kerry is arguably the Democrats’ most right-wing militaristic presidential nominee since James K. Polk. Kerry’s vote authorizing the illegal, unnecessary and disastrous invasion of Iraq (which he defends to this day), his calls for increased military spending (despite the end of the Cold War), his denunciation of the International Court of Justice (for its July decision reiterating the obligation of UN member states to enforce international humanitarian law), and his strident support for the rightist Israeli government’s illegal colonization and creeping annexation of the occupied West Bank (despite the opposition of such policies by most Israelis and American Jews) has alienated millions of liberal, progressive and moderate voters who, as a result, may vote for independent candidate Ralph Nader or stay at home on Election Day.

In other words, despite nominating a decorated combat veteran who takes positions on human rights, international law, and presidential war-making authority far to the right of the vast majority of Democrats and independents, the Republicans will still question the Democratic nominee’s willingness to defend the country.

There is an important lesson here: those who argue that the Democrats cannot take more moderate positions on foreign and military policy without being subjected to Republican attacks are simply wrong. For despite Kerry’s enthusiastic embrace of the Bush Doctrine and his militaristic world view, he is being attacked anyway.

If the Democrats are going to win, they will have to redefine national security by boldly challenging the assumptions (currently embraced by Kerry and Edwards) that effectively renouncing the United Nations Charter, authorizing the invasion and occupation of foreign countries, backing international outlaws like Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, supporting dictatorships from Egypt to Uzbekistan, and spending more on the military than the entire rest of the world combined somehow makes us more secure.

For if the Democrats’ surrender these key assumptions, it would appear that the Republicans are right and Bush and Cheney should indeed be re-elected. However, if the Democrats are willing to publicly recognize how dangerous these assumptions are, then the importance of preventing a Republican victory in November would become obvious to the vast majority of Americans who care about our nation’s defense.

Attacks Against World Court by Bush, Kerry and Congress Reveal Growing Bipartisan Hostility to International Law

On July 9, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined that the Israeli government’s construction of a separation wall running through the occupied Palestinian West Bank was illegal. Among other things, the ICJ noted that the construction of the first 125 miles of the proposed 450-mile barrier “has involved the confiscation and destruction of Palestinian land and resources, the disruption of the lives of the thousands of protected civilians and the de facto annexation of large areas of territory.” The court called on Israel to cease construction of the wall, to dismantle what has already been built in areas beyond Israel’s internationally recognized border, and to compensate Palestinians who have suffered losses as a result of the wall’s construction.

The vote was 14-1, a not-unexpected margin, given the overwhelming consensus of international legal experts regarding the responsibilities of occupying powers. The majority included the highly respected conservative British jurist, Rosalyn Higgins; the sole dissenter was the American judge, Thomas Buergenthal. The 57-page decision examined in detail the various arguments raised by the interested parties and was consistent with strictures set by the United Nations Charter, a series of UN Security Council resolutions, previous ICJ rulings, and relevant international treaties.

Despite the seemingly clear-cut nature of the ruling however, the Bush administration, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress have all gone on record denouncing the verdict. Never before has there been such a unified negative response by America’s political leadership to a decision by the world’s highest court.

This unprecedented reaction to an ICJ ruling is neither a moral commitment to the security of Israel nor an example of the power of the “Jewish lobby.” It appears instead to be yet another indication of the growing bipartisan hostility to any legal restraints on the conduct of the United States and its allies beyond their borders, particularly in the Middle East. Both Republicans and Democrats have determined that any effort to raise legal questions regarding the actions of occupying powers must be forcefully challenged.

The United States and the World Court

The International Court of Justice has its origins in the Permanent International Court, established in The Hague in 1899. Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, the ICJ—also known as the “World Court”—has functioned essentially as the judicial arm of the UN system. Designed to better enable nations to settle their disputes nonviolently based upon the rule of law, the ICJ has been used by Washington on a number of occasions over the years to advance U.S. foreign policy interests ranging from fishing disputes with Canada to the seizure of American hostages by Iran.

(The ICJ is a separate body from the International Criminal Court (ICC), also located in The Hague, which was established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for war crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. The United States has refused to ratify the ICC treaty, has pressured other nations to reject it as well, and has demanded special exemption from the ICC’s authority.)

Despite America’s strong legal tradition and its key role in the development of international humanitarian law and related international legal constructs, and despite the fact that the ICJ has more often than not ruled in favor of the United States and its allies, recent decades have seen increasing American hostility toward any legal constraints upon U.S. foreign policy. For example, in 1986, the ICJ—also in a 14-1 vote isolating the U.S. judge—called for the United States to cease its attacks against Nicaragua, both directly and through its proxy army of Nicaraguan exiles known as the FDN or Contras, who were notorious for their attacks against civilian targets. Moreover, the court ruled that the United States had to pay the Nicaraguan government over $2 billion in compensation for the damage inflicted upon the country’s civilian infrastructure. The Reagan administration refused to comply with either directive.

The Democrats’ response to the ICJ verdict on Nicaragua was not much better: the Democratic-controlled Congress voted to continue to provide military and economic aid to the Contras. Even Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who held hearings that uncovered the Contras’ involvement in drug trafficking, voted to send the group $20 million of additional aid following the World Court’s decision. President Clinton, just like preceding and subsequent Republican presidents, also refused to compensate Nicaragua’s debt-ridden government as ordered by the ICJ.

Similarly, in 1999, the World Court voted that the United States and other existing nuclear powers were legally bound by provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty—signed and ratified by the United States and all but a handful of the world’s nations—to take serious steps to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. Continuing Clinton’s recalcitrance, the current administration has refused to comply, and Congress continues to approve White House requests for funding the development and procurement of new and dangerous nuclear weapons systems.

The Barrier and the Court Decision

The idea of a physical barrier between Israel and the new Palestinian state that would emerge from the occupied territories was originally promoted by Israeli moderates as a means of securing Israelis from attack after the withdrawal of Israel’s occupation forces. What the right-wing government of Ariel Sharon has done, however, is to build most of the barrier not along Israel’s recognized border, as originally proposed, but in a lengthy serpentine pattern through the occupied West Bank in order to incorporate illegal settlement blocs of Jewish colonists—along with large areas of Palestinian farmland—into Israel.

According to the Fourth Geneva Convention—which is binding upon its signatories—an occupying power is forbidden from transferring any parts of its civilian population into territories seized by military force. Furthermore, a series of UN Security Council resolutions (446, 452, 465, and 471) specifically call on Israel to withdraw from these settlements. Successive Israeli governments have refused to comply with these resolutions, however, and the United States has blocked the UN Security Council from enforcing them.

Within the next few years, depending on the final route chosen for the incomplete sections, the wall could reduce Palestinian areas in the West Bank by half. The remaining Palestinian areas would be subdivided into a series of noncontiguous cantons, each of which would be surrounded by the barrier and land that would be unilaterally annexed to Israel. (Already, the Palestinian city of Qalqilya is surrounded on all sides by the wall.) At that point, Israel and the United States have indicated that they may be ready to recognize what’s left of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “an independent Palestinian state.” This “state”—bearing a striking resemblance to the infamous Bantustans of apartheid South Africa—would amount to barely 10% of historical Palestine. Thus, the International Court of Justice ruled that the wall’s construction violates the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

Bush Administration and Senator Kerry Both Criticize World Court

The Bush administration quickly challenged the World Court’s authority by questioning whether international law should even be applied to Israeli-occupied territories. White House spokesman Scott McClellan stated, “We do not believe that it is the appropriate forum to resolve what is a political issue.” Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry concurred, arguing: “It is not a matter for the ICJ. … I do not believe that the ICJ should [have] even been considering this issue, given that they do not have jurisdiction.”

Neither the incumbent administration nor its electoral challenger mentioned that the General Assembly voted to send the issue to the World Court only after the United States vetoed an otherwise-unanimous UN Security Council draft resolution last fall, declaring “that the construction by Israel, the occupying power, of a wall in the Occupied Territories departing from the armistice line of 1949 is illegal under relevant provisions of international law and must be ceased and reversed.” In fact, Senator Kerry defended President Bush’s decision “to oppose the resolution in the General Assembly and to convey this opinion to the ICJ.”

The ICJ claimed jurisdiction partly because the United States had frustrated the Security Council from exercising its authority to address actions by Israel that it deemed constituted a “threat to international peace and security.” The court reasserted the authority of the General Assembly to seek such an advisory opinion to rectify Washington’s abuse of its veto power. Over the past 35 years, the United States has used its veto 79 times, almost half of them to block resolutions critical of Israeli violations of international law.

Reiterating the Bush administration’s longstanding insistence that the occupier’s interests have as much legitimacy as the welfare of those under occupation, John Danforth, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, argued that addressing such legal issues as the wall “points away from a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” since “the claims of each side must be accommodated.” (As a U.S. senator in 1990, during Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, Danforth took just the opposite position, insisting that to address Iraqi land claims would be rewarding aggression, and arguing that international law should be strictly enforced “by all necessary means.”)

Both Kerry and Bush stated that they were “deeply disappointed” by the World Court’s ruling, but Kerry went on to claim that “Israel’s fence is a legitimate response to terror that only exists in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israel. The fence is an important tool in Israel’s fight against terrorism.” At least President Bush was able to say: “I think the wall is a problem. It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and the Israelis with a wall snaking through the West Bank.”

Further cementing his position, Kerry joined 78 senators—including his running mate, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina—in signing a strongly worded letter to Kofi Annan criticizing the UN secretary general for backing the General Assembly’s decision to ask the ICJ to consider the legal questions involved. In the letter, Kerry, Edwards, and their Senate colleagues declared that the wall was a justifiable and necessary defensive measure by Israel and that questioning Israel’s policy cast doubt on the chief UN official’s opposition to terrorism.

The Congressional Reaction

On July 15, the House of Representatives—by an overwhelming 361-45 majority—voted to deplore the World Court’s decision. Underscoring bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for the White House challenge to the UN system, a large majority of congressional Democrats joined their Republican colleagues in commending President Bush for “his leadership in marshalling opposition to the misuse of the ICJ…”

On July 20, an even stronger Senate resolution was introduced by Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, “supporting the construction by Israel of a security fence to prevent Palestinian terrorist attacks, condemning the decision of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the security fence, and urging no further action by the United Nations to delay or prevent the construction of the security fence.” This bipartisan Senate resolution, effectively endorsing Israel’s colonization drive in the occupied territories, quickly collected 34 co-sponsors, including Republicans Trent Lott of Mississippi, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and George Voinovich of Ohio as well as Democrats Hilary Rodham Clinton of New York, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Patty Murray of Washington, Barbara Boxer of California, and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

One of the leading co-sponsors of the House resolution was California Congressman Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, who called the ICJ ruling “a perversion of justice.” (As an indicator of the cynical view with which members of Congress treat human rights issues, Lantos has been repeatedly elected chair of the House of Representative’s “Human Rights Caucus.”)

Congressional opposition to the World Court decision centered on several dubious assertions:

An Allegation that the Ruling Interferes with Israel’s Right to Self-Defense:

In its ruling, the International Court of Justice acknowledged the tragic realities that “Israel has to face numerous indiscriminate and deadly acts of violence against its civilian population” and that the Jewish state “has the right, indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the lives of its citizens.” The court recognized, however, that such security measures “are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law.”

In other words, Israel—like any country—has the right to build a wall, a fence, a moat, or anything else along its borders to protect itself. The World Court even recognized a number of UN resolutions specifically reiterating Israel’s right to defend its borders. The basis of the court’s ruling against the Israeli policy is that the jurists were “not convinced that the specific course Israel has chosen for the wall was necessary to attain its security objectives…” Since the barrier was not following Israel’s borders, the court simply confirmed the widespread assumption in Israel and elsewhere that the wall was being built for political reasons rather than security reasons and was therefore illegal.

The proposed Senate resolution cites the successful precedent of a security fence “in Gaza [which] has proved effective at reducing the number of terrorist attacks.” However, senators are ignoring the fact that the Gaza barrier—unlike the wall in the West Bank—is built along the recognized border between Israel and the Gaza Strip and therefore is not considered illegal by the World Court ruling.

Despite the ICJ’s clear distinction between a government’s legal right to build a protective barrier along its border for self-defense and the construction of a barrier within the occupied territory of another nation in a manner that effectively expands the boundaries of the occupying power, the bipartisan House resolution called the court’s decision an “attempt to infringe upon Israel’s right to self-defense.” Typical of remarks by leading House Democrats, New York Congressman Eliot Engel, a senior member of the House International Relations Committee Subcommittee on the Middle East, falsely claimed that the ruling totally ignored Israel’s right to defend its citizens. Similarly, Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkley asserted that the advisory opinion was done “solely for the narrow purpose of condemning the State of Israel for its effort to protect its innocent citizens from suicide bombers.” Democratic Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton declared, “It makes no sense for the United Nations to vehemently oppose a fence which is a nonviolent response to terrorism rather than opposing terrorism itself.”

Indiana Republican Mark Souder went further, charging that “the ruling declares that Israel has no right whatsoever to defend itself, protect its people, or to live at peace.” Souder added: “The International Court of Justice has ruled that they would prefer a Middle East without Israel. They would rather see a democratic state… disappear from the face of the Earth.”

Many Israelis, however, argue that constructing the wall inside occupied territory actually decreases Israel’s safety. For example, several prominent military and security officers have spoken out against Sharon’s policy, forming groups like the Council for Peace and Security to challenge the barrier’s route, which is projected to be at least three and a half times as long as Israel’s internationally recognized border with the West Bank. Avraham Shalom, former head of Israel’s security division, Shin Bet, said that the wall “creates hatred, it expropriates land and annexes hundred of thousands of Palestinians to the state of Israel. The result is that the fence achieves the exact opposite of what was intended.”

Similarly, as Aharon Barak, the Israeli Supreme Court chief justice, wrote regarding a recent case brought before him: “Only a separation fence built on a base of law will grant security to the state and its citizens. Only a separation route based on the path of law will lead to the security so yearned for.”

The Charge that the ICJ has an Ideological Bias Against Israel:

Members of Congress from both parties have claimed that the World Court ruling was not based on well-recognized legal precedents but was instead an ideological attack on the state of Israel. For example, the Senate resolution expresses the concern that “the International Court of Justice is politicized and critical of Israel.” It notes, “The United States, Korea, and India have constructed security fences to separate such countries from territories or other countries for the security of their citizens.” On the House floor, Representative Engel claimed that the International Court of Justice was demanding “one standard for Israel and one standard for everybody else,” since the court had not ruled on security fences erected by Saudi Arabia, India, and Turkey.

Such comparisons fail to note that the other barriers, unlike Israel’s, were placed along internationally recognized borders and were therefore not the subject of legal challenge. Rather than displaying a bias against Israel, the World Court has actually been quite consistent: In the only other two advisory opinions issued by the ICJ involving occupied territories (South African-occupied Namibia in 1972 and Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara in 1975), the court also decided against the occupying powers.

The Discrediting of Human Rights Reports:

In a recent document, Amnesty International noted, “This fence/wall is having devastating economic and social consequences on the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, separating families and communities from each other and from their land and water—their most crucial assets.” Reports from the World Bank, the United Nations, the Red Cross, and local human rights groups have documented in detail the barrier’s harmful impact on local populations, such as separating farmers from their fields, children from their schools, workers from their jobs, patients from medical care, and families from each other. Last fall, Human Rights Watch unsuccessfully lobbied President Bush to deduct the cost of the wall’s construction inside occupied territories from the recently approved $9 billion U.S. loan guarantee to Israel, observing that as the barrier’s route snakes through the West Bank, it “is having a profound impact on the ability of the Palestinian residents to exercise fundamental human rights.”

In an effort to discredit these reputable human rights groups, the Senate resolution contests their assertions that the route chosen for the wall has a negative impact on the civilian population under Israeli occupation, declaring that “the Government of Israel takes into account the need to minimize the confiscation of Palestinian land and the imposition of hardship on the Palestinian people.” The ICJ, however, confirmed the findings of the human rights groups, determining that Israel was indeed violating the Geneva Conventions’ proscription against occupying powers unnecessarily interfering with the subjected population’s rights to property, access to education and health care, and normal economic activity.

The Senate’s resolution also claims that Israel’s barrier is a “proportional response to the campaign of terrorism by Palestinian militants.” This contrasts, ironically, with a recent decision by Israel’s Supreme Court ordering the Israeli government to re-route a section of the wall bisecting some Palestinian towns, because the “relationship between the injury to the local inhabitants and the security benefit from the contraction of the Separation Fence along the route, as determined by the military officer, is not proportionate.”

A Denial that the West Bank Is Occupied Territory:

Questions regarding the legality of Israel’s practices in the West Bank fall under United Nations jurisdiction, because the West Bank—seized by the Israeli military in the 1967 war—constitutes occupied territory and is therefore covered by certain international legal conventions that do not apply to domestic matters. This helps explain why various UN bodies have been more critical of Israeli violations of international humanitarian law than of comparable human rights abuses by autocratic Arab governments. The operable legal distinction is that Israel is an occupying power, while neighboring Arab states are not. The only way to claim—as Senator Kerry and others have—that the UN does not have jurisdiction is to deny that Israel’s incursion and territorial control constitute an occupation.

Indeed, if approved, the Senate resolution against the World Court decision will be the first time either house of Congress has passed a resolution that refers to the West Bank not as occupied territories but as “disputed” territories. This distinction is important for two reasons: the word “disputed” implies that the claims of the West Bank’s Israeli conquerors are as legitimate as the claims of Palestinians who have lived on the land for centuries, and disputed territories—unlike occupied territories—are not covered by the Fourth Geneva Convention and many other international legal statutes.

The Senate resolution contends that the request by the UN General Assembly for a legal opinion by the ICJ referred to “the security fence being constructed by Israel to prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel.” In reality, the UN request said nothing regarding security measures preventing terrorists from entering Israel. Instead, the document refers only to the legal consequences arising from “the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory…” Moreover, the UN statement refers to the secretary-general’s most recent report on the occupation, which reiterates the longstanding international consensus that Occupied Palestinian Territory refers only to the parts of Palestine seized by Israel in the 1967 War, not to any part of Israel itself.

Congressional leaders insist, however, that to refer to the West Bank as occupied territory is somehow blasphemous. In describing a recent trip to the West Bank, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay remarked, “I did not see occupied territory; I saw Israel.” Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma simply stated his conviction that Israel alone “has a right to the land… because God said so.” Mike Pence, house deputy assistant majority leader, declared that when the World Court “described Israel as an occupying power in Occupied Palestinian Territory, it was most assuredly a dark day and a day of disgrace for the International Court of Justice.”

If the West Bank is seen as part of Israel and not as occupied territory, then any legal dispute there should simply be a matter for the Israeli courts, not the World Court. Senator Kerry, for example, has argued that any legal challenges to the route of the wall should go through the Israeli judiciary, “and we should respect that process” rather than referring the issue to international forums.

However, the World Court went on record in its recent 14-1 decision that the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is indeed occupied territory. Even Thomas Buergenthal, the American judge who cast the lone negative vote (largely on procedural grounds), acknowledged that the Palestinians were under occupation and had the right to self-determination, that Israel was obligated to adhere to international humanitarian law, and that he had “serious doubt” that routing a wall to protect West Bank settlements would qualify as “legitimate self-defense.” Furthermore, the Israeli Supreme Court has acknowledged that Israel holds the West Bank “in belligerent occupation” and that “the law of belligerent occupation… imposes conditions” on the authority of the military, even in areas related to security.

Why the Anti-ICJ Reaction?

It is not new for the American right-wing, in an effort to discredit the UN system, to fabricate outlandish charges against the world body, such as the popular conspiracy theory floated in the 1990s that the UN was on the verge of taking over the United States with its fleet of black helicopters in order to impose a world government. What is new is the willingness of Democrats to similarly fabricate claims of malfeasance.

It appears that both congressional Republicans and Democrats deliberately misrepresented the position of the International Court of Justice in order to so discredit the United Nations system in the public consciousness that Americans will no longer object to the United States or its allies violating UN rulings. Israeli professor and human rights leader Jeff Halper, while celebrating the World Court verdict, expressed his concerns that “delegitimizing the ICJ, human rights, and international law has fundamental implications for other struggles as well.” But what prompted this unprecedented bipartisan hostility toward the World Court?

The Desire to Maintain U.S. Control of the Israeli-Palestinian “Peace Process”

One explanation for the anti-ICJ reaction is that the World Court seems to threaten the U.S. role as the sole arbiter of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The White House insists that the U.S.-led peace process should be the appropriate venue to discuss the Israeli wall, stating that “this is an issue that should be resolved through the process that has been put in place.” The Bush administration, in essence, is arguing that even the most blatant violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention by an occupying power should not be subjected to any independent legal review but can only be addressed through the voluntary cooperation of the occupying power.

The ICJ did recognize—and spoke positively about—the existence of a U.S.-led Israeli-Palestinian peace process based upon the “Road Map.” But the court emphasized that any peace agreement had to be made “on the basis of international law.”

So far, the Road Map does not appear to include any consideration of international law. For example, during a decade of U.S.-brokered peace process, Palestinians have watched the number of settlers in the West Bank more than double. Understandably, they are skeptical that their international right to freedom from colonization will ever be enforced.

The expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and of the special highways—reserved for Jews only—connecting them has resulted in the confiscation of large tracts of Palestinian property, dividing the West Bank into a patchwork arrangement whereby settler holdings encircle Palestinian population centers. The security barrier being built by Israel in the occupied West Bank is designed so that it incorporates most of these settlement blocs and divides Palestinian communities from one another.

And now, using logic that also employs an encirclement strategy, both President Bush and Senator Kerry have gone on record as saying that Israel should not have to withdraw from most of the West Bank lands taken to support illegal Israeli settlements, since there are new “demographic realities on the ground”—namely, the construction of these selfsame illegal settlements. In June, the House of Representatives passed a resolution defending Sharon’s refusal to withdraw from most of the occupied territories using similar logic. Manifesting a bipartisan consensus, there were only nine dissenting votes in the 435-member body. The 2004 Democratic Party platform, approved by an overwhelming majority in July at the convention in Boston, contains similar language.

The anti-ICJ House resolution warns other countries not to try to encourage the application of international law in arenas that the United States considers under its purview. Indeed, the resolution “cautions members of the international community that they risk a strongly negative impact on their relationship with the people and Government of the United States should they use the ICJ’s advisory judgment as an excuse to interfere” with the U.S.-managed peace process.

Similarly, the Senate’s resolution insists that, on matters such as the legality of the barrier, the Oslo Accords—signed between Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States in 1993—insist that “all disputes between the parties be settled by direct negotiations or agreed-upon methods.” Taking this issue to the World Court, according to the Senate resolution, violates the Oslo Accords requirement that none of the parties take any unilateral initiatives that would prejudice the outcome of the peace process.

The Senate resolution fails to note, however, that successive Israeli governments—with U.S. backing—have repeatedly prejudiced the outcome of the peace process through their ongoing construction of illegal settlements in the occupied territories and other unilateral initiatives. Moreover, the Sharon government has long declared that it no longer feels bound by any of the provisions of the Oslo Accords.

Furthermore, Israel—again, with U.S. support—has refused to return to the negotiating table to meet with the Palestinians on any substantive issues for nearly three and a half years. Indeed, construction of the wall began after Israel broke off negotiations, so the Palestinians have not even had a chance to negotiate about it. In addition, most of the settlements that the wall is built to separate from the local Palestinian population have been established since the start of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resulting from the 1993 Oslo Accords.

What is upsetting to Bush, Kerry, and Congress is that the ICJ ruled that all nations “are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation arising from the construction of the wall, and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining that situation.” Unchallenged, this ruling would prevent the United States from recognizing Israel’s planned annexation of West Bank lands and could even threaten U.S. financial and military support for the occupation.

The Palestinians recognize that they have very little leverage regarding the occupation. Having expelled most Palestinians from their homeland more than 50 years ago, Israel occupies most of what remains of Palestine, has placed Palestinian towns and cities under siege, and launches periodic air strikes and armed incursions into populated Palestinian areas at will. This power imbalance is further exacerbated by the fact that the occupying authorities continue to receive unconditional, large-scale military, economic, and diplomatic support from the world’s sole remaining superpower.

In desperation, frustration, and anger, some Palestinians have responded by launching terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, a course of action that is both morally reprehensible and politically counterproductive. Other Palestinians contend that their cause is advanced more successfully by taking a legal and nonviolent route by going to the International Court of Justice.

Sadly, this internationally backed effort by moderate Palestinians to advance their struggle for self-determination nonviolently through the rule of law has been met by an overwhelmingly negative bipartisan reaction from the United States, which controls the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” As a result, the appeal of Palestinian extremists advocating violence is likely to grow.

Challenging the Threat of International Law

Speaking broadly, the attacks on the integrity of the World Court ruling by the Bush administration, the Democratic contender for the White House, and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress, appear to be part of an ongoing effort—further exemplified by the overwhelming bipartisan vote in support of the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq—to undermine and discredit the United Nations system. International law and intergovernmental organizations are seen by both Republicans and Democrats as interfering with the prerogatives of the U.S. government and its allies in strategically important areas like the Middle East. Given the overwhelming military dominance of the United States globally (and allies such as Israel regionally), international legal institutions are among the few potential restraints on the unfettered exertion of American power.

As a result, the bipartisan attacks against the ICJ should not be seen simply as “pro-Israel” sentiment, particularly in light of the long-term detrimental impact on Israeli security if Israel continues its current policies. Instead, Washington’s unified hostility must be viewed as part of a broader effort to undermine international law in order to give the United States freer rein in pursuing its policy objectives overseas.

For example, Democratic Congressman Gene Green of Texas claimed that the ICJ ruling “sets dangerous precedents in international law that hinder and impede United States anti-terrorism efforts.” In reality, the ruling has no bearing on legitimate anti-terrorism efforts, but it may have implications regarding the legality of certain U.S. actions committed in the name of anti-terrorism. For example, a nearly unanimous congressional vote last year declared that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a legitimate part of the ongoing “war on terrorism.”

In its far-reaching decision, the World Court made a definitive ruling that member states of binding treaties, conventions, and charters—such as the Fourth Geneva Convention and the United Nations charter—are obliged to ensure that other member states live up to their legal obligations under those agreements. Specifically, the court insisted that every country that is party to the Fourth Geneva Convention must “ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention.”

This is what the Bush administration, the Kerry-Edwards ticket, and an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress, are so upset about: any such strict and uniform application of international law would interfere with U.S. policy objectives in the region, which rely heavily on the use of military force, including conquest and occupation. This is why any attempt to enforce international humanitarian law must be met by slander, condemnation, and other attacks against the credibility of the international organizations daring to suggest that the United States and its allies are not somehow exempt from such legal obligations.

In its ruling, the ICJ also determined that “the United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, should consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall.” Not surprisingly, however, President Bush has promised to veto any UN Security Council resolution based upon the World Court’s ruling. The United States was also one of just six countries (five of which are dependent on U.S. economic aid) in the 191-member General Assembly to vote against a resolution upholding the ICJ decision.

Indeed, the Senate’s resolution specifically urges the administration “to vote against any further United Nations action that could delay or prevent the construction of the security fence and to engage in a diplomatic campaign to persuade other countries to do the same.” Should the Senate resolution pass, it will effectively put the United States on record that, despite the nearly unanimous World Court decision to the contrary, parties to international agreements are not bound to abide by or enforce agreement provisions.

Given that the World Court enjoined the United States and other signatories to “ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law,” any refusal by the United States government, which—as Israel’s primary military, economic and diplomatic supporter—is in the best position to “ensure compliance,” places the United States in violation of the World Court, just like Israel. However, just as the Bush administration—backed by Senator Kerry and both houses of Congress—chose to ignore the UN Charter by invading Iraq, it appears that these same U.S. leaders are quite willing to ignore the world’s highest court.

In essence, this wholesale bipartisan rejection of international law stems from the way in which U.S. backing of the expansionist agenda of the Israeli right wing has merged—under the banner of the “war on terrorism”—with the growing militarization of U.S. Middle East policy, exemplified by the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Indeed, the Bush administration, with strong backing from both parties in Congress, is now engaging in what the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has referred to as the “Sharonization of U.S. Policy.”

Even if Washington were to adopt a principled and law-based policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how could Bush or Kerry criticize Israel for its occupation while maintaining the U.S. occupation of Iraq? How could Bush or Kerry criticize the widespread Israeli maltreatment of Palestinian prisoners when U.S. abuses against Iraqis rank even worse? How could Bush or Kerry criticize the killing of Palestinian civilians by Israeli occupation forces while American occupation forces exact an even higher death toll among Iraqi civilians? How could Bush or Kerry criticize Israel’s violations of international law given the manifold violations committed by the United States in its invasion and occupation of Iraq?

In conclusion, the recent attacks against the World Court by both Republicans and Democrats are not simply an endorsement of the dangerous and illegal policies of a right-wing ally. They are, in effect, a declaration of empire—a brazen assertion that the United States and its allies are somehow exempt from longstanding and respected international legal institutions. If such a declaration goes unchallenged, the Palestinians will certainly not be the only ones who will suffer.

The Disappointing Selection of John Edwards, a Foreign Policy Hawk

John Kerry’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate who shares his militaristic foreign policy agenda has once again demonstrated the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s willingness to take the party’s activist core, which overwhelmingly supports human rights and international law, for granted.

While bringing Senator John Edwards—a bright and charismatic Southern populist—onto the Democratic ticket might attract some voters, it will likely serve to further alienate the majority of Democrats already disappointed in Kerry’s strident support for President George W. Bush’s illegal and disastrous decision to invade Iraq as well as a number of other questionable foreign and military policies of the current administration.

In September of 2002, in the face of growing public skepticism of the Bush administration’s calls for an invasion of Iraq, Senator Edwards rushed to their defense in an op-ed article published in the Washington Post. In his commentary, Edwards claimed that Iraq, which had been successfully disarmed several years earlier, was actually “a grave and growing threat” and Congress should therefore “endorse the use of all necessary means to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.” Claiming “our national security requires” that Congress grant President Bush unprecedented war powers, he further insisted, “we must not tie our own hands by requiring Security Council action…”

The Bush administration was so impressed with Edwards’ arguments that they posted the article on the State Department website.

Two weeks later, Edwards joined Kerry in authorizing President Bush to attack Iraq whenever and under whatever circumstances he chose. When the invasion went forward—despite Iraq’s belated cooperation with UN inspectors and the absence of any signs of recent WMD activity—Edwards joined Kerry in supporting a Republican-sponsored resolution which “commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President… in the conflict against Iraq.” In the same resolution—despite the consensus of the international legal community that such an offensive war is illegal—Edwards joined Kerry in insisting that the war was “lawful.” Subsequently, despite growing public disenchantment with the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, Edwards has also joined Kerry in supporting the ongoing U.S. occupation.

No WMD, No Problem

In an interview on Meet the Press this past November, interviewer Tim Russert asked the North Carolina senator if he regretted giving President Bush “in effect a blank check for the war in Iraq.” Edwards replied by saying “I still believe it was right.”

When Russert noted the absence of Iraqi any weapons of mass destruction or any ongoing WMD programs, Edwards insisted that Iraq still posed a threat regardless of whether Saddam Hussein actually “had them at the time the war began or not” because “he had been trying to acquire that capability” previously and therefore posed “an obvious and serious threat to the stability of that region of the world.” In short, the Democrats are nominating a vice president who believes the United States has the right to invade any country which at some point in the past had tried to develop biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons capability.

Given that that would total more than fifty countries, the prospects of Edwards as commander-in-chief is rather unsettling.

The invasion of Iraq is widely seen as the incumbent administration’s biggest blunder and is therefore the place where President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are most vulnerable politically. Nominating a ticket consisting of two senators who also supported the invasion of Iraq therefore robs the Democrats of what could have been their most powerful issue of the campaign. Indeed, in his Washington Post article, Edwards called for his Democratic colleagues to ensure “that politics plays no part in the debate about Iraq.”

Beyond Iraq

Unfortunately, Edwards’ militarism is not restricted to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

He has joined Kerry in supporting dramatic increases in military spending, most of which have nothing to do with the war on terrorism.

He has also joined Kerry in his strident support for the occupation policies of the rightist Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This has included supporting Sharon’s plans for the unilateral Israeli annexation of large swaths of the occupied West Bank in order to incorporate illegal Jewish settlements from which the UN Security Council has called for an Israeli withdrawal. Edwards also joined Kerry in criticizing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for raising questions regarding the legality of Israel’s separation wall in the occupied West Bank, recently declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in a 14-1 decision.

The incipient Democratic nominees also appear to have little concern regarding human rights: For example, in the face of widespread criticism by reputable human rights organizations over Israel’s systematic assaults against civilian targets in its April 2002 offensive in the West Bank, Edwards joined Kerry in 1) defending the Israeli actions, claiming that they were “necessary steps to provide security to its people by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas;” 2) opposing United Nations efforts to investigate alleged war crimes by Israeli occupation forces; and 3) criticizing President Bush for calling on Israel to pull back from its violent incursions into Palestinian cities in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

In summary,

* Kerry and Edwards, like Bush and Cheney, lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction in order to convince the American public to support the U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country.

* Kerry and Edwards, like Bush and Cheney, insist on maintaining the U.S. occupation in the face of a growing and increasingly radical armed opposition.

* Kerry and Edwards, like Bush and Cheney, believe that while the use of sanctions and military force are appropriate means of enforcing UN Security Council resolutions against governments they don’t like, it’s acceptable for allied governments that violate UN Security Council resolutions to be rewarded with billions of dollars worth of unconditional military and economic aid.

* Kerry and Edwards, like Bush and Cheney, reject the efforts of Israeli and Palestinian moderates to end the repression and violence in favor of Sharon’s policy of occupation, colonization, and repression.

* Kerry and Edwards, like Bush and Cheney, have wasted tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars to fill the coffers of military contractors in the face of severe cutbacks in education, health care, housing, public transportation, and other important programs.

* Kerry and Edwards, like Bush and Cheney, are willing to ignore the concerns of the human rights community in order to support repressive governments they deem to be strategic allies of the United States.

Kerry’s choice for his running mate contrasts dramatically with that of independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who chose Peter Camejo, a forceful and articulate advocate of human rights and international law widely respected among peace and justice activists. In the months leading up to the U.S. war against Iraq, during the invasion, and subsequently, Camejo found himself in the forefront of the anti-war movement, speaking at rallies and appearing in the media to denounce what virtually the entire international community saw as an act of aggression. Camejo has been a longstanding advocate of redirecting federal budget priorities away from excessive military spending toward human needs and has been an outspoken opponent of U.S. support for the Israeli occupation and other human rights violations.

Given the nature of the presidential election process and the Democrats’ superior record to that of the Republicans on the environment, civil liberties, and a number of other issues, most supporters of peace and international law will probably vote for the Kerry/Edwards ticket anyway. It would be naïve, however, to take such voters for granted.

It did not have to be this way. There are quite a few Democratic leaders who, unlike Kerry, do support more ethical and rational foreign policies. If the Democrats were smart, they would have tried to balance the ticket by bringing in someone who identifies with the party’s liberal majority instead of yet another Senate hawk trying to be some kind of a “Bush Lite.”

If the Democrats want our vote in November, they need to convince us that, in this time of unprecedented international threats and pressing domestic needs, they will pursue a more responsible foreign and military policy than that of the Republican incumbents. Choosing John Edwards as the party’s vice presidential nominee has only made that job more difficult.

The US in Iraq: If Bush is Blind, Kerry is at Best Near-Sighted

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry was one of a minority of Democratic members of Congress who voted to authorize President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. With the war becoming increasingly unpopular with the electorate, however, Senator Kerry has recently been sounding more critical. Still, his recent efforts to explain his evolving position raise some troubling questions.

For example when Tim Russert asked Senator Kerry on Meet the Press on April 17 if he believed the war in Iraq was a mistake, Senator Kerry could only say that “the way the president went to war is a mistake.” In other words, as president, Kerry would invade and occupy countries the right way.

He has properly accused the Bush Administration of having “misled America.” Yet Kerry, in an apparent effort to scare the American people into supporting a U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country, also falsely claimed that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, a nuclear weapons program, and advanced delivery systems that they had either gotten rid of years earlier or never had in the first place.

In his April 13 op-ed in the Washington Post, as American troops laid siege to the city of Falluja in attacks that have killed up to 600 civilians, he described the situation in Iraq as that of “extremists attacking our forces.” He called for the U.S. military to make “full use of the assets we have,” including (if commanders request it) the deployment of more troops. In his Meet the Press interview, he did not rule out there still being 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq a year from now.

He called on NATO “to create a new out-of-area operation for Iraq under the lead of a U.S. commander.” He apparently believes that the U.S. military (which has been accused by reputable human rights organizations of widespread violations of the international humanitarian law in Iraq which has served to alienate most of the Iraqi population) should remain in charge, but other countries should be willing to sacrifice their soldiers and financial resources in this U.S.-created quagmire.

When asked as to whether NATO countries would be willing to contribute troops in a country undergoing an increasingly violent insurrection, he replied “if it requires more troops in order to create the stability that eliminates the chaos that can provide the groundwork for other countries, that’s what you have to do.” In short, in order to lessen the burden for U.S. forces, we need to send in more U.S. forces.

Where Senator Kerry has sounded more reasonable is in his call for giving the United Nations a more prominent role. He correctly recognizes that “You cannot have America run the occupation, make all the reconstruction decisions, make the decision of the kind of government that will emerge, and pretend to bring other nations to the table.”

When the Massachusetts senator voted to authorize the invasion in October 2002, he stated from the floor of the Senate that he expected President Bush to “work with the United Nations Security Council . . . if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force,” promising that if President Bush failed to do so, “I will be the first to speak out.”

However, when President Bush abandoned his efforts at getting UN Security Council approval for an invasion that March, Kerry was silent. When President Bush actually launched the invasion soon afterwards, Senator Kerry praised him, co-sponsoring a Senate resolution in which he declared that the invasion was “lawful and fully authorized by the Congress” and that he “commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President . . . in the conflict with Iraq.”

Once again, Senator Kerry is promising that he will demand a leading role for the United Nations. Given that he broke his promise before, however, it may be naive to believe that he would follow through this time.

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.

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, 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.

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.