The War Election

by Paul Olson, NFP President Emeritus

Because Nebraskans for Peace is a 501(c)4 organization, we are limited by law in what we can do electorally.

We can however frame the discussion. And we must, as this election is in danger of being hijacked by forces both inside and outside the United States.

Nowhere are the fingerprints of these ‘outside’ efforts more apparent than in the Middle East, where both Islamic and pro-Israel belligerents are actively working to provoke a crisis that will influence the presidential race. The timing of the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt by al-Qaida or its surrogates is no fluke. In the same vein, the recent saber-rattling by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about attacking Iran insidiously pairs with the ‘inside’ Super PAC ad attack on Obama funded by Nevada casino mogul and Romney supporter Sheldon Adelson, who opposes a peace settlement with the Palestinian Authority.

As advocates for peace and justice, we must vote precisely as that: as peace and justice advocates. We must set aside personal economic gain, ‘identity politics’ interests and party labels—which for most of us is easily enough done. What is less easy (particularly in a ‘red state’ like Nebraska) is forgoing the temptation of political ‘purism’ and casting a vote for independent or third party candidates in the symbolic gesture of ‘voting our principles.’ That high-minded vote for a third-party presidential candidate in Florida in 2000, you will remember (and here, I speak for myself, not NFP), wound up handing the election to George W. Bush.

Though it is easy to posit some slumbering revolutionary impulse out there among the populace just waiting to awaken, it does not in fact exist. The vote is all we have right now. And we need to exercise discipline in using it. Elected officials who have a conservative voting record, for instance, may have voted conservative when nothing was up for grabs and the outcome was a foregone conclusion. It’s how they vote when they can change things that’s crucial. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, for example, put together the bipartisan coalition that got through the $17 million dollars that enabled the decommissioning of large numbers of nuclear weapons—this despite his generally hawkish record. He also publicly repudiated the Grover Norquist pledge of no new taxes precisely when it has assumed the stature of a litmus test for members of his party, because it was making negotiation on the budget in Congress impossible.

Contrast that leadership with 2nd District incumbent Lee Terry, who has a rating of 8 on a scale of 1 to 100 on Peace Action’s congressional scorecard. His opponent is John Ewing, an African American and Democrat who is serving his second term as Douglas County Treasurer. Ewing cannot fail but improve on Terry’s dismal scorecard ratings, should be elected November 6.

But the marquee contests on the fall ballot dealing with peace and justice at the national level are those for the presidency and the Senate.

On issues having to do with racial and gender justice, the presidential race presents a clear choice. So does it on climate change issues. On issues of the military budget, peacemaking and international security, the record is more mixed. Despite President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize and his laudable effort to assure world security through multilateralism, he has not gotten our troops out of Afghanistan; indeed, he has escalated the war, extended it into Pakistan, and used the drones in ways that are likely to make the whole world a killing field in the future. Though he has said that he would support the sequester agreement with its mandatory $500 billion in cuts in military spending in the next decade, his Secretary of Defense has argued that such cuts are untenable.

On the other hand, Mr. Romney has said that he will raise the military budget by 50 percent and has poured gasoline on the fire in the Middle East whenever he has had the chance through his comments on Israel, Syria and Iran. He has also given comfort to climate change deniers.

We do not have a credible candidate who has any real understanding of how the tools of international law and nonviolence might be used. Secretary of State Clinton for a time seemed to support the use of these tools in parts of the “Arab Spring” movement. The Administration’s policy in Libya killed that, however.

One should also understand that real danger lurks in Obama’s ramping up of its military force in the South China Sea. Nothing could be more dangerous than our leaving behind the ‘pacification-through-trade-policy’ we’ve had with respect to China and our going for a hegemonic policy in such a strategically sensitive region. That said, d Does anyone seriously believe that Romney would offer a more restrained view?

As to the Senate, Deb Fischer has made the following boiler plate statement on national security:

In the Senate, I will not play politics with our security and our troops. I will give our military the tools they need to keep America safe and free… America cannot allow nuclear arms to get in the hands of terrorist states or allow rogue nations to threaten or bully others with nuclear threats. That is why we must fight—and win—the war on terrorism. To succeed in this mission, fighting terrorism needs to be the top priority of the federal government, not an afterthought.

Fischer was endorsed by Sarah Palin whose ability almost to see Russia from her front porch is well-known. It is not clear exactly how Fischer will vote on that 50 percent of our national budget that goes to military, but her statement seems to suggest that she will give the Pentagon carte blanche. Bob Kerrey was a founding member of “Vietnam Veterans Against the War” in the 1970s, and he did some work with Nebraskans for Peace when he came back from Vietnam (though he was not univocal in his support for our positions). When he was in the Senate, he supported a series of anti-terrorism bills that may have been somewhat helpful. And while he consistently supported the Clinton Administration’s increased defense appropriations, they were at least far lower than those we have now. To his credit, Kerrey has released a campaign ad in which he asserts that an attack on Iran would be a disaster. In the same ad, he says concerning the past wars in the Middle East and Central Asia and any future war with Iran:

Three trillion dollars for Afghanistan and Iraq… Six thousand Americans dead. I don’t know what the numbers are that are disabled with all kinds of injuries. There’s 80 million people living in Iran. I mean, if we were undersized with 250,000 men and women going into Iraq, it’s going to take a million to go to war with Iran… It would be a disaster… It’ll make Iraq and Afghanistan look like a cakewalk.

Kerrey also believes that climate change is happening.

I am no prophet, and I cannot tell how people will behave in new circumstances and under new threats. Woodrow Wilson and FDR both promised peace at election time and did everything they could to create a crisis that invited war. Daily though, as Russia and China and the United States and the great powers of the Middle East choose sides—lining up behind Sunni or Shia, Arab or Israeli—I am becoming more and more alarmed at the prospect of a Third World War just over the horizon. If the peace movement does not do a thorough job analysis and vote and write and protest with discipline, there will be no stopping the momentum toward such a conflict.

I beg of you: analyze the present candidates carefully, vote, and get all of your friends to vote.

Add Comment


October 26th 2012

Geri - Living overseas and mostly in the Middle East for the past 9.5 years has made it impossible to ignore the considerable effect that America's choice has on expats and their local colleagues. The last Republican administration put Americans in the Middle East in real danger, the assumption being that we represent and support the decisions our government makes. Common advice was, "Say you're Canadian if anyone asks." I will not resort to that. Instead, I choose to think that what is good for the world is good for Americans at home as well and have voted accordingly. Paul Olsen's assessment is, as usual, correct. I would add that we are dismayed and embarrassed by US failure to point out the obvious double-standards being applied to Israel and the rest of the world in the areas of nuclear arms, human rights, and the impossibility for peace as long as Israel continues to grab land and allow extremism to guide their Palestinian agenda. My hope is that a second term for Obama will put him in the position of making Netanyahu and his government accountable for credible peace talks that are not undermined by hypocritical action.

November 15th 2012

Wallstreetobserver - Hopefully, we and the international community will do a better job of convincing the government in Gaza that their endorsement of terrorist activity against Israel is not only wrong, but contrary to the best interests of the Palestinian people. The electoral victory of Hamas several years ago is an excellent lesson to the world community on the importance of voting intelligently. While unfortunate, the Palestinian people are reaping what they sowed. What did they expect when they elected terrorists into power? Those terrorists send rockets into Israel and then when Israel defends itself, and innocent people are killed along with the terrorists, Hamas screams as if they were the victim. While Israel tries to target only the terrorists, the terrorists surround themselves with women and children to make sure there are civilian casualties. This behavior is not going to help the cause of a free and independent Palestinian homeland. Hamas must start acting like a government and stop acting like thugs. They must do what all other civilized countries have done and work to eliminate terrorism from within their borders. They must respect the rights of other nations. We all should work diligently to make sure Hamas gets the message. Only then will there be a chance for peace in the middle east. Only then will the Palestinian people earn their home land.