John Kerry and the Mission of War

Revolutionary Worker #1243, June 13, 2004, posted at

"The difference between the two on the war on terror is much less than most people think. There might be a difference in emphasis, but not overall gist, because frankly, it's like (Rolling Stones guitarist) Keith Richards said to Mick Jagger: `It's bigger than the both of us.'"'

John Hulsman, an analyst at the conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation

"The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee focused less on criticizing the president's policies than on whether he could provide the international leadership to implement them. `That's the principal difference at this point in time,' said Rand Beers, the Kerry camp's national security coordinator."

Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2004

"For the people of the world, this moment in history crackles with both danger and opportunity," the Revolutionary Worker wrote in our May 1, 2004, issue. Today, millions sense that irreparable harm may result if the U.S. juggernaut of war and repression isn't challenged and stopped.

This is a presidential election year--a time when, according to democratic myth, the people are supposed to have their say in the direction of the country. Yet even in the middle of a monstrous mess of an unjust war in Iraq, there seems to be little difference between the two major candidates.

The widespread "anybody but Bush" sentiment reflects the deep hatred that many people have for the Bush agenda. At the same time, many people simply don't know what Kerry's position is on the war. Many simply assume that he is "anti-war," opposed to the Bush doctrines of preemptive war and domestic repression. But that is not the reality.

In the 1960s Bob Dylan sang, "Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late." With such high stakes for the whole world, the people have to dare to confront reality as it is and to cast off illusions.

This article will examine John Kerry's positions on the war in Iraq, domestic repression, and the overall international agenda of the U.S. government.

Kerry on Iraq

"While we may have differed on how we went to war, Americans of all political persuasions are united in our determination to succeed. The extremists attacking our forces should know they will not succeed in dividing America, or in sapping American resolve, or in forcing the premature withdrawal of U.S. troops."

John Kerry in an April 13, 2004, op-ed piece in Washington Post

Kerry voted for the 2003 Congressional resolution authorizing the war with Iraq. He voiced the same lying justification for war as Bush--accusing Iraq of possessing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

"These weapons represent an unacceptable threat," Kerry said. "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."

Even now, Kerry won't even say he was wrong about the U.S. going to war against Iraq. What he does say is that the way the Bush administration went to war was a mistake. Kerry argues that the U.S. should have put more emphasis on drawing in other countries and the United Nations to support the war.

And Kerry is firmly against any pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq. "We will persevere in that mission," he insists--regardless of who is elected in November.

And we should be clear that for both Bush and Kerry the "mission" in Iraq is the same --setting up a stable U.S. client state in the heart of a strategically important region by shaping Iraq's future, economically, politically, and militarily in ways that favor the U.S. This mission has nothing to do with "liberating" the people of Iraq.

Kerry's main criticism is that Bush has been "stunningly ineffective'' in advancing this mission by not providing enough forces to successfully conquer Iraq--not enough U.S. forces, and not enough forces from allied imperialist powers.

Kerry says Bush should have sent more troops in the first place to invade and conquer Iraq. Speaking on June 3 in Independence, Missouri, Kerry said, "We went into Iraq with too few troops."

And Kerry thinks the U.S. should pour in a lot more troops now to stabilize Iraq. In an op-ed piece on Iraq, Kerry wrote, "To maximize our chances for success, and to minimize the risk of failure, we must make full use of the assets we have. If our military commanders request more troops, we should deploy them."

Kerry hopes that additional troops in Iraq will come from U.S. allies. "We also need to renew our effort to attract international support in the form of boots on the ground to create a climate of security in Iraq," Kerry writes.

But Kerry has also made clear that he will quickly enlarge the size of the U.S. military as a whole if he wins the election. He said on June 3: "My first order of business as commander-in-chief will be to expand America's active duty forces. Not to increase the number of soldiers in Iraq, but to add 40,000 new soldiers to prevent and prepare for other possible conflicts.

"As president, I will double our Special Forces capability to fight the war on terror. That's the second part of my plan to modernize the military."

Kerry declared his intention to create what he called a "New Total Force": "Our military must be prepared to defeat any enemy, any time, any place. And our soldiers must be capable of success in any conflict."

Two things must be said about Kerry's position that the UN and allied countries must be drawn in more to help in Iraq. First, this in no way challenges what Bush and company are doing in Iraq. In fact, as the U.S. has gotten into deeper and deeper trouble in Iraq, Bush himself gave the UN a role in pulling together a puppet government for Iraq.

Second, Kerry makes clear that his idea for recruitment of more allies doesn't mean giving them an equal partnership in imperial plunder. He stresses that any UN force in Iraq must be "under the lead of a U.S. commander."

Pictures of tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison have given people all over the world a sense of what the U.S. occupation of Iraq is all about. Yet it takes a long and hard search to find any comment by Kerry on the crimes committed by the U.S. at Abu Ghraib.

Kerry's remarks make Bush and Rumsfeld's damage-control apologies seem strong. In one of his few public comments on the torture, Kerry criticizes "some American troops [who] under some circumstance have engaged in behavior that ... is absolutely unacceptable." When some people in Kerry's campaign used the prison torture as a campaign issue, Kerry quickly apologized.

Kerry's "National Security" Team

A look at Kerry's main foreign policy advisors gives a picture of the politics and interests that would shape a Kerry administration.

Rand Beers is the Kerry campaign's main advisor on matters of "national security." Beers is often mentioned as a possibility for the position of National Security Advisor (Condoleezza Rice's post in the Bush administration) in a Kerry administration. Beers served under not only Clinton but also earlier in the Bush administration as Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Beers was one of the architects of the program to spray deadly chemicals from the air in southern Colombia--in the name of wiping out coca fields. In reality, this has been a key part of the Colombian government's anti-insurgency war. The U.S. hired private contractors to fly crop dusters at high altitudes, spraying poison on all the vegetation and, often, peasants below. Beers testified under oath that anti-government armed forces in Colombia had received training in al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan. He later backed off of this allegation, which had no basis in fact.

Beers was appointed Special Assistant to President Bush and Senior Director for Combating Terrorism in August 2002, replacing Richard Clarke. Beers served in the Bush administration until last year.

Also on Kerry's national security team is Richard Morningstar, a former advisor to President Clinton on energy resouces in the Caspian Sea region. Morningstar was instrumental in pushing for the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline which will run through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey. The pipeline would bring oil west to the world market--and keep it under U.S. control. This is an important U.S. strategic goal, supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Last year, Amnesty International released a report noting that the project would cause severe environmental damage and violate the human rights of thousands of people. (For more on the pipeline and the geo-political and economic interests behind it, see "Afghanistan: The Oil Behind the War" in RW #1125, available online at

Rounding out Kerry's team is William Perry. As Clinton-era Secretary of Defense, Perry spearheaded U.S. imperialism's post-cold war plans to restructure the military and the defense industry. He had worked as a paid consultant for defense contractor Martin Marietta immediately before joining the Clinton administration.

"The Cause of Israel Is the Cause of America"

Recently Bush announced a major change in U.S. policy in the Middle East. He publicly expressed support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's declaration that his government intends to formally annex land in the West Bank stolen from Palestinians by Zionist settlements. These settlements are in violation of numerous UN resolutions, and even illegal by Israeli law--and the U.S. government's official position had been to oppose them. So Bush's backing of the Sharon plan was a White House move to openly support Israel's armed land grabs in the West Bank-- and a major reactionary break with previous official U.S. policy.

What was Kerry's response to this outrageous escalation of Israel's attacks on the Palestinian people and robbery of Palestinian land? He strongly backed Bush's support of Sharon's plan.

Kerry also supported Israel's assassination of Palestinian leaders--which often involve missile attacks in crowded streets that kill many nearby people in addition to those specifically targeted by the Israeli military.

In an editorial Kerry wrote that the U.S. must "reaffirm our belief that the cause of Israel must be the cause of America."

In Latin America, Kerry argues that Bush has not been aggressive enough in pursuing U.S. interests. The U.S. backed a failed coup attempt against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in April 2002. Since then the Bush administration has backed Chávez opponents who have been organizing to oust him. Kerry accuses Bush of not being tough enough on Chávez and of "sending mixed our hemisphere." Kerry has also called for the intensification of the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

National Defend America Initiative

"It's very clear that they're creating, openly declaring, an open, unlimited war and they're creating a situation of a country that is more or less permanently at war--that's a permanent feature of the U.S. now. And then what has to go along with that is a lot of police-state repression and a whole repressive and intimidating atmosphere, because you can't carry out the one without carrying out the other."

RCP Chairman Bob Avakian

Just six weeks after 9/11, the U.S. Congress passed the USA Patriot Act. This extremely repressive law treats the "homeland" as another front of an international "war on terrorism." It further undermines legal protection against unlawful search and seizure, along with the distinction between law enforcement and political suppression. Everything from our e-mail traffic, to the videoed images of our daily life, to formerly secret grand jury testimony is now available to local cops and the CIA alike. (See "The Danger of the USA Patriot Act," RW #1242.)

The Patriot Act is not about "keeping us safe"--it's about strengthening police-state repression to keep the U.S. government safe. It's about the U.S. rulers stepping up their efforts to keep tabs on and suppress domestic opposition while they carry out their conquests and wars around the world.

Kerry voted for the Patriot Act. He boasts that he authored most of the law's money-laundering provisions--which can be used to attack political support of movements and groups abroad.

In fact, Kerry insists that the Patriot Act needs to be strengthened --and he criticizes Bush for not being tough enough on domestic security. "When it comes to protecting America from terrorism, this administration is big on bluster and short on action," Kerry said in March of this year.

Think about this: With all the fascistic moves that have been carried out by John Ashcroft and the whole current administration, Kerry says that Bush hasn't gone far enough!

On his campaign web site, Kerry lays out his policy of domestic repression--the "National Defend America Initiative." Among the proposals are:

A "Community Defense Service" to enlist hundreds of thousands of people as spies for the domestic "war on terror." Kerry says that these "service captains would act as a 21st century Neighborhood Watch." Somebody in the neighborhood speaking Arabic? Reading the Koran? Not flying the flag on the Fourth of July? Didn't stand for the national anthem at the Little League game? Kerry's "service captains" will be there to report. Kerry also says that Americorps should be doubled in size and its mission expanded to include "homeland security"--and that "homeland security" should be a central mission of the National Guard.

Kerry wants increased federal funding to add 100,000 new cops. And Kerry criticizes Bush for not drawing the local police forces enough into the "war on terror." Kerry calls for modernizing and further developing government databases and making them more available to local police forces.

Kerry wants to further break down the separation between domestic and international intelligence.

In some ways there is clearly a "consensus" within the U.S. ruling class--a broad agreement that now that they have "thrown down" in Iraq and elsewhere around the world, they can't pull back without major consequences. At the same time, the deepening quagmire in Iraq, the puncturing of promises of easy victory, and the sense that the Bush team made a mess of the war have encouraged all kinds of "advice and critique" in bourgeois circles about how to fix the war effort and finally, decisively win this conquest of Iraq.

Kerry's stand on war and domestic repression fits well within this ruling class framework of consensus-and- debate. He expresses a broad unity with Bush and the current government on the overall "mission" of their class: The ruling imperialists of this country think this is "their time" and that no one can stand in their way--and they want to grab for a permanent dominant position around the globe.

At the same time, Kerry has some critiques (a few of which are major, most of which are petty) about how this imperialist mission is being carried out. These are differences over how to pursue a policy of global domination, not whether to pursue it.

This does not mean that there aren't sharp divisions within the ruling class, including over the situation in Iraq. While an analysis of these ruling class divisions is beyond the scope of this article, two things should be pointed out. First, this infighting cuts across party lines. For example, Brent Scowcroft, the first Bush's National Security Advisor, has sharply opposed aspects of the second Bush's Iraq policy. Second, the divisions have intensified (and will continue to intensify) as the U.S. confronts enormous difficulties in Iraq and faces the real possibility of a strategic defeat.

Those who want to concentrate the efforts against the Bush agenda in the electoral arena need to confront the reality of what Kerry stands for.

Kerry's Challenge.and Ours

"For the Democrats, a big part of their role is to keep all those people confined within the bourgeois, the mainstream, electoral process...and to get them back into it when they have drifted away from--or broken out of--that framework. Because those people at the base are always alienated and angry at what happens with the elections, for the reason I was talking about earlier: they are always betrayed by the Democratic Party, which talks about "the little man" and poor people and the people who are discriminated against, and so on. And at times they'll even use the word oppression. But then they just sell out these people every time--because they don't represent their interests. They represent the interests of the system and of its ruling class. But they have a certain role of always trying to get people who are oppressed, alienated and angry back into the elections. You know: `Come on in, come on in--it's not as bad as you think, you can vote, it's OK.' This is one of the main roles they play. But the thing about them is that they are very afraid of calling into the streets this base of people that they appeal to, to vote for them."

Bob Avakian, from "The Pyramid of Power and the Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down"

A key contradiction that Kerry faces is that most people in, or influenced by, the Democratic Party oppose the war in Iraq-- and are livid about the way Democratic leaders have shamelessly and repeatedly fallen in behind the White House on this question.

A big part of Kerry's political role for the bourgeoisie is to keep these people confined within the system's framework of electoral politics. Kerry, and the ruling class forces around him, do not want a big debate in society over the war itself, over the larger "war on terrorism," or over the new extreme levels of domestic repression and surveillance. And they certainly don't want millions in the streets opposing the war and occupation in Iraq.

Kerry's challenge is how to keep these forces in line while continuing to support the war. This contradiction is bound to intensify for Kerry.

Part of the way that Kerry deals with this is to only offer extremely vague proposals around Iraq and other major policy issues. For example in a major speech on national security delivered on May 27, Kerry only mentioned Iraq at the end of a long talk and offered no concrete proposals about how he would deal with the situation in Iraq.

On May 26, former Vice President Al Gore gave what was described as a "fiery speech" blasting Bush's Iraq policy, calling it "a catastrophe." Gore denounced the Bush administration's "twisted values and atrocious policies" and called for the resignations of Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and CIA Director George Tenet. Gore also denounced the abuse and torture of prisoners in Iraq.

Some have contrasted Gore's talk with Kerry's and urged Kerry to take a more Gore-like tone. This misses the point that there is a political division of labor between Gore and Kerry. Democratic pundits have pointed out that Gore helps Kerry by keeping antiwar forces within the Kerry camp. As one of them said, "It is better that Gore says this, inside the Kerry campaign, than that Nader does from the outside." Gore's role is to speak to people who oppose the war and convince them that there is a place for them inside the Democratic Party and to keep them from leaving the fold. A key point of Gore's speech was that electing Kerry was the first step toward changing things in relation to Iraq.

Kerry, as the candidate, has a different necessity. Kerry's role is to contain debate and dissent in terms that are within the consensus of the ruling class.

This system wants to channel people into an electoral circus where real opposition is forbidden and suppressed. To wrench a different future than the one that Bush, Kerry, and their whole class have planned, we cannot be confined to this electoral framework. It's crucial for us to unite in doing what will actually make a difference--millions of people delivering an unmistakable NO to their whole agenda through a massive outpouring of opposition, an outpouring of opposition that cannot be denied, ignored, or covered up.