In the 2000 presidential election, I was a stalwart supporter of Ralph Nader. A disgruntled volunteer for the Bill Bradley campaign, I was so riled at the former senator’s loss to Al Gore in the primary that I made the leap to the Green Party. I gathered nomination signatures for Nader at my town’s dump, represented him in my high school mock presidential debate and enthusiastically cheered him on from the front row at his “Super Rally” held at the Fleet Center in Boston. So I did not feel totally out of place last Saturday at the New Haven County Green Party anti-war fund raiser, held at, of all places, BAR. Yet despite my liberal views on a whole host of domestic policy issues, I find myself increasingly at odds with the left today over the issue of war in Iraq.
Reading the press release issued by the national Green Party gave me a sampling of what to expect for the rest of the day. “I’m no Saddam Hugger,” the Green Party spokesman is quoted as saying, “but if we want someone to step down from office, the world would benefit if George W. Bush would do so.”
Waiting for Nader to arrive, I milled about BAR with a cup of coffee for the good part of a half hour. Signs were placed next to the pool table that read, “We Have No Right to Kill More Iraqis.” Apparently those in the Green Party do not have much beef with Saddam Hussein; in their warped minds it is the United States that is attempting to start — nay, continue — a genocidal campaign whose purpose is to murder Iraqi civilians. Another sign read, “There is No Reason to Bomb a Starving Nation.” But what if bombing that nation will remove the tyrant responsible for the starvation?
I have deep respect for Ralph Nader, despite his purely ego-driven presidential campaign. The man has made inestimable contributions to this country as a consumer advocate. So I did not pass him off like the other Greens in the room when he pleaded with me to question my support for this war and suggested a series of books and articles that would hopefully change my mind. To be fair, Nader did raise some important concerns about possible war in Iraq, questioning the administration’s commitment to nation building. Yet too often he descended into the petty rhetoric that has characterized this country’s anti-war movement. He labeled John Ashcroft an “authoritarian” who “in other countries would become a tyrant.” He ridiculed Bush by stating that the president “always felt inferior to his father, [and] now he has the chance to play commander-in-chief.” Apparently to Ralph Nader, assassination attempts by our declared enemies on a former U.S. president are something to joke about. He repeatedly referred to those in the administration as a “clique of chickenhawks” that is “marinated in Big Oil.” But what Ralph Nader and the rest of the anti-war movement ignores is that if Bush’s motivation for war in Iraq were all about oil then Dubya would simply be advocating for the removal of sanctions, a move that the oil industry itself has been clamoring for since the end of the Persian Gulf War. But the anti-war left ignores this simple logic because it challenges its Marxist conception of President Bush as a man who is solely motivated by greed and plunder. Their opposition to Bush and this war is simplistic and cartoonish.
In spite of his predictable hyperbole, Nader aptly criticized U.S. foreign policy, stating that we should stop our support for “oligarchs who brutalize their people.” I agree with him completely. Yet presently, Saddam Hussein has no greater friends in the United States than the anti-war movement. While hawks urge Saddam’s removal, it is the anti-war movement whose efforts aim to keep the tyrant in power. True, the United States has a questionable history with regard to propping up dictators around the world. But in the case of Iraq, Nader and the anti-war movement state that this policy should remain unchanged — for the sake of consistency I guess.
I am a humanitarian at heart, and while Saddam’s capability of threatening international security is reason enough to get rid of him, to me the most compelling argument for deposing Saddam Hussein is to liberate the Iraqi people. Call me a hopeless idealist, but I have difficulty calling myself a Democrat (with a big or little “d”) while simultaneously supporting policies that deny others, simply by virtue of the fact that they live in foreign countries ruled by despots, the opportunity to live in democracy. When I asked Allan Brison, an organizer of the event and former Ward 10 aldermanic candidate, about the Iraqi people’s thoughts about this potential war, I nearly choked on my complimentary slice of broccoli pizza. He told me, “One of the things Saddam has done in Iraq is build up the middle class — Iraq had the best health care and educational system in the Third World, which is all gone now due to the Gulf War.” Like many of his comrades on the left, Brison couched his sympathy for Saddam by prefacing this flourish with, “Of course Saddam is a brutal dictator,” but the damage was done. To people like Brison, the United States’ enforcement of international law (by defending Kuwait) only destroyed a marvel in state-building.
This outright denial to accept the will of the Iraqi people is endemic to the anti-war left. Several weeks ago, at a Master’s Tea sponsored by Pierson College, I was moved to hear the stories of Qubad Talabani and Ghalib Bradosti, two Iraqi Kurds who are working tirelessly in this country to expose the menace that Saddam has been to his own people and the threat he poses to the world at large. Yet the firsthand accounts of these men (Lord knows how many of their friends and family have been tortured or killed in Saddam’s prisons), were not enough to budge the anti-war Yalies sitting in the back of the room from snickering at the visitors’ rationale or from issuing their own cynical reprisals. Who are they to tell Iraqis that their suffering is not worthy of our active concern?
The Green Party encapsulates the irrational faction of the left and while accurately representing the attitudes of many on this campus, in particular the Yale Coalition for Peace, polls show that similar sentiments are hard to find in mainstream America. But lucid assessment of the Iraq question still seems to be a problem for the legitimate left in this country. Just take a look at the Democratic presidential candidates. John Kerry, though voting in favor of a Senate resolution that would give President Bush the necessary flexibility to initiate the liberation of Iraq, has been two-faced in his rhetoric on a possible war. Despite voting for a measure that would allow Bush to declare war without gaining the support of allies, Kerry recently stated on “Meet the Press,” “I will not support the president to proceed unilaterally.”
Howard Dean is also playing games with voters over the Iraq issue. Dean has consistently stated that he would support action against Saddam Hussein if it can be proven that he is in violation of Security Council mandates, a set of circumstances that Dean continues to deny. Like Kerry and Nader, Dean makes little room for the increasingly likely scenario that the United Nations simply will never sanction military action against Iraq, no matter how flagrantly Saddam breaks the world body’s rules. With Colin Powell’s presentation at the Security Council last week, only those conspiracy theorists who think that the death of Paul Wellstone was a Republican plot can claim that Iraq is fully complying with the United Nations. Howard Dean is a bright guy, so why is he still dodging on Iraq?
Liberals need to get over their knee-jerk aversion to this president as well as their instinctive reliance on useless authorities like the United Nations and realize the very grave danger that Saddam Hussein poses to the world. Many Democrats, myself included, are losing faith in their party because day after day its leaders sound more like the Greens.
James Kirchick is a freshman in Pierson College. His columns will appear regularly on alternate Wednesdays.