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The Aftershocks from Madrid
Former CIA analyst
How many times since John Kerry sewed up the nomination (as well as the victory, for 2004 at least, of the "me-too" DLC wing of the Democratic Party) has some well-meaning intellectual said something like this to you: "Look, Bush has got to go, and the mainline Democrats are the only viable alternative. Only they have any chance of beating Bush. So even if you have to hold your nose, vote for Kerry."
But the world changed on March 11, 2004, when 200 Spaniards were killed and more hundreds injured, and it changed again on March 14, when the citizens of Spain threw out a government they felt was too closely tied to Washington and therefore had some responsibility for the killings three days earlier. This was a BIG victory for true democracy, a victory that could have beneficial results around the world if global peace movements are smart enough to capitalize on it. Such a success for democracy in Spain should encourage people in other countries to redouble efforts for greater real democracy in their own parts of the world.
We should reject the notion of holding our noses and voting for Kerry unless he quits diddling us between now and November. Even with clamped noses, thoughtful voters will still suffer from fumes infiltrating their very pores — fumes of the rotting policies so far espoused by this candidate and his copy-cat party. Worse, the full stench will still be there when these voters decide, after the election, that they had better start breathing again. We need to stanch this stench for good before we give our votes to Kerry.
The country above all where more meaningful democracy is needed is the United States, and what has happened in Spain can help inspire us to greater achievements. First of all, we should realize that Spain has something that does not exist here in the United States; it has a major political party that wants to end its participation in the war against Iraq very quickly. We have no such party. More than that, our nominal two-party system — it is actually more like a one-and-one-half party system — has just shown how easy it is here to prevent such a view from coming to the fore in either of the only parties that have real power. Given the widespread restrictions in most of the states against establishing strong third parties, it is unlikely that this situation will soon change.
The revolt of voters in Spain, however, should embolden us to seek other ways that we might revolt against an encrusted political system in which the most money is spent to strengthen the military/national security/corporate complex that dominates our government’s policies. Spanish voters were galvanized by the killings of March 11. U.S. voters need to be galvanized by the very insipidness of the alternatives offered to us by our major parties. Peace activists should be as loud and clear as possible in rejecting the frequently meaningless choices between the policies of Bush and of Kerry that the campaigns of these two men offer us.
Kerry and his advisors are presumably calculating right now how much or how little he should separate himself from Bush, and how specific his own policy proposals need to be. In a close election, which all accounts suggest this one will be, the peace movements of this country are not without bargaining power, if a considerable number of their members loudly oppose Kerry’s present "do-little-say-less" campaign rhetoric. My hope is that many of us will make clear, publicly and categorically, that we do not regard the negative goal of defeating Bush in the election as our most important objective. With respect to Iraq, we should not give Kerry a pass and support the entirely unclear and meaningless mouthings he makes today on the subject. He should explicitly state what he would do in Iraq — simply working to obtain more support from allies will not hack it. Elsewhere in the Middle East, his sycophantic praise for Israel does not give much hope that Kerry will actively support a resolution of the Palestinian issue that will provide as much justice for the Palestinians as for the Israelis. If he has no plan to approach such a balance of justice, then he effectively has no plan — except more warfare — to reduce future terrorism by all parties.
Those of us who follow this route should emphasize that if Kerry can persuade us that he has honestly changed his views enough, we will vote for him. At the moment that seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened. In any event, assuming we do not vote for Kerry, we should make it crystal clear that it was Kerry, not the candidacy of Ralph Nader or any other third party figure, that pulled our votes away from Kerry. Some of our votes may indeed go to Nader, but he will have to spell out his positions on Iraq, Israel-Palestine, and other foreign policy problems just as we are asking Kerry to do, and his answers will directly influence us. Others among us may deliberately not cast a vote for any presidential candidate, feeling that none deserves the vote. In no case should the charge be valid that Nader’s entry into the race caused Kerry to lose.
When the day comes that the Democratic Party actively pursues policies benefiting more than the rich few throughout the world and in the United States, more of us may decide to support the party. Otherwise we will keep working for another alternative, and it is possible that one day we will succeed in developing a more equitable multiparty system and a real democracy — something like Spain’s.
BILL CHRISTISON joined the CIA in 1950 and worked on the analysis side of the Agency for over 28 years. In the 1970s he served as a National Intelligence Officer (principal adviser of the Director of Central Intelligence) for Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Africa. Before his retirement in 1979, he was Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis, a 250-person unit. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org