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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Attacks from the Left

A month ago, I blogged about "progressive internationalism," and noted that far left-leaning critics of John Kerry accuse him and other "mainstream" Democrats of having the same foreign policy goals as neocon Republicans. The differences, according to these critics, are cosmetic and provide only a thin veneer of legitimacy for a host of dubious practices.

Mark Hand, the author I criticized for making this claim, has responded on his blog, Press Action. His article is "The Vital Center Taunts the Disenfranchised Left."

I don't have time to rebut everything he writes -- and readers may want to review his original piece -- but I will advance several counter arguments.

My taunt, as it happens, was a simple repeat of Kerry's standard stump line directed at Bush: "Bring it on." It was nothing personal. Indeed, the blog post began with a note about Ralph Nader potentially drawing votes from Kerry in 2004. I really do not want to see that happen (again).

Regarding Hand's depiction of the Washington elite:

In the House, Democrats opposed the Iraq war resolution 126-81. In the Senate, it was 21-29 in the wrong direction. Still, it is misleading to pretend that this was a war wholeheartedly supported by the Democrats in Washington. Too many voted for it, but it was clearly not a consensus of the "vital center."

I'm quite confident John Kerry would not have gone to war in March 2003. Indeed, very few Democrats would have given the changed context. The inspectors were back in Iraq, had been met with complete cooperation, and had found nothing -- and were even reporting that Iraq had no nuclear program.

The "New Democrat" manifesto on "progressive internationalism" that Hand quotes is not the same one referenced in his earlier article that Kerry signed. I quoted the one Kerry signed verbatim in my reply. It predates the 2000 election and is hardly menacing or indicative of current debates.

The "new" manifesto on "progressive internationalism" is a document advanced by some Democrats, but the electoral platform has not yet been agreed (that occurs at the convention this summer) and there is no specific endorsement by Kerry to my knowledge. I tried to find such an endorsement when I blogged about this topic.

Hand quoted me accurately as saying that I can imagine carefully crafted humanitarian intervention to halt genocide (can't everyone?), but he misleadingly interprets that as my finding "little fault" with the Democrats generally.

Incidentally, just because the Bush administration is trying to reframe Iraq as humanitarian intervention (HI) doesn't make it a legal or legitimate case. Bush campaigned against the Clinton Doctrine in 2000 and sold the latest war in terms of WMD and proliferation. HI is associated with very specific international legal understandings. Iraq was not a nice place to live under Saddam Hussein, but he was not actively engaged in either genocide or crimes against humanity.

Hussein's past apparently included these crimes, but that authorizes international legal action -- not war, which is legal only when necessary to save those facing ongoing killings. Rwanda would have been the best contemporary use of force had it been used to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

I've been blogging since only September 2003 and I don't think many of my readers would call me a hawk. Hand asserts that I am hawkish because I endorse Kerry (now that he is the candidate) and mainstream Democrats. My readers know that I directed a lot more attention at Dean, Clark and even Edwards through the primary season (and even earlier). Dean and Clark were widely viewed as the anti-war candidates.

Finally, to be fair in Hand's overall assessment of the 2004 candidate, I think he has to note that John Kerry did play a major role in protesting the Vietnam War once he returned stateside -- and voted against the Persian Gulf War.

There are real differences between the Democrats and Republicans in 2004.

For example, did everyone notice the 50% increase in defense spending since the Bush era began?

Kerry, of course, is pretty clear left of the Clinton administration and I am hopeful that his presidency will turn out to be a lot better for the average American. His voting record is better than even Kucinich's by some measures (Kucinich often voted against abortion rights, for example) and I see no reason to elect Bush in 2004 by voting for Nader.

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