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Would the Third World be better off with Kerry?

October 29, 2004 | Page 8

JOHN KERRY is as dedicated as Bush to furthering U.S. foreign interests. LEE SUSTAR explains what this means for poor countries around the world.

DEFEND THE Third World--vote for John Kerry. That's the message of assorted antiwar activists and progressives who argue that we've got to line up behind Kerry in order to show our solidarity with those struggling against Bush's wars and the U.S. empire.

For example, a letter signed by Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange argues that the world would be a "less dangerous" place without Bush in office. Nation columnist Naomi Klein has made similar arguments. Tariq Ali, moreover, has used his authority as a lifelong anti-imperialist campaigner to criticize those on the U.S. left who would opt for the antiwar ticket of Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo rather than vote for Kerry--arguing that the "outside world" wants a defeat of Bush.

This logic may seem compelling to those who revile Bush and his neocon conquistadors. But the Anybody-But-Bush-for-the-Third-World's-sake argument falls apart the minute you look at the Kerry campaign.

"Bush and Kerry tout similar plans for Iraq," a reporter for the Knight Ridder newspaper chain noted October 23--an obvious point that the Anybody-But-Bush crowd is reluctant to admit. Kerry has repeatedly given Bush political cover in Iraq--most obviously, by saying that he'd still authorize the use of force, even knowing that there was no weapons of mass destruction.

In the first presidential debate, Kerry chided Bush for "back[ing] off the Fallujas and other places, and send[ing] the wrong message to the terrorists." That gave a political all-clear signal for the U.S. military policy of strafing and bombing densely populated Iraqi cities.

Are the ABB leftists prepared to explain to Iraqis that they'll be better off dying from U.S. bullets in attacks ordered by Kerry than by Bush?

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IT'S IMPOSSIBLE to completely ignore the hawkish nature of Kerry's foreign policy positions.

In its current issue, the Nation writes, "We believe the United States should withdraw from Iraq; he wants to 'win' the war there. We think the military budget should be cut; he plans to increase it, adding 40,000 troops. (For what, exactly? to fight another wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time?) We reject pre-emptive war; he embraces it. We oppose the wall that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is building on Palestinian lands; he supports it. We believe in the elimination of all nuclear weapons; he wants only to stop their spread."

Sounds like the lead-in to an endorsement of Nader-Camejo--but the headline reads, "John Kerry for President."

Why? "The Democrats are reluctant imperialists; the Republicans are imperialists by avocation," the Nation says.

But the phrase "reluctant imperialist" doesn't do justice to people like Rand Beers, Kerry's top national security adviser. Beers is an architect of Plan Colombia, Bill Clinton's program to militarize the Andes and support Colombia's dirty war on insurgents under the banner of the "war on drugs."

Kerry clearly regards Latin America as the U.S. government's "backyard" and has signaled an aggressive line there, declaring, "We can't sit by and watch as mob violence drives a president from office, like what happened in Bolivia or Argentina." He called Venezuela a "threat" to the U.S. and told an interviewer earlier this year that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is "fast on the road of becoming" a dictator.

Kerry also backs the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would extend NAFTA from Canada to the tip of South America (Cuba excluded). He claims to support labor and environmental standards as a precondition for such trade deals--which sounds fine until one recalls that a NAFTA "side letter" on labor standards has been ignored.

Kerry also seeks to put a new coat of paint on other discredited free-market, neoliberal policies. He calls for debt forgiveness to impoverished Third World countries, but only if they are "reforming their economies"--that is, removing investment and trade barriers to U.S. multinational corporations.

That's a strategy that Clinton's top economic adviser, Roger Altman, knows well. As deputy treasury secretary under Clinton, he helped engineer the opening of East Asian economies to foreign investors, setting the stage for their crash and hellish austerity "reforms" imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF was following the dictates of the then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, currently a top executive at Citigroup and--if Kerry is elected--the likely successor to Alan Greenspan as head of the Federal Reserve Bank.

Now Altman and Beers are ready to take on the world. "The goals of the two administrations are in fact not all that different," Beers told reporters on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.

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KERRY HASTENED to embrace the militaristic Bush Doctrine, declaring in the candidates' first debate that he would not give up "the right to pre-empt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America."

Visit and you'll see that the Democratic candidate does indeed have, as he ceaselessly claims, a plan--for world domination. "Today's American military is the best in the world, but tomorrow's military must be better still--stronger, faster, better armed, and never again stretched so thin," begins a long article about gearing up the U.S. armed forces to carry out multiple interventions more effectively with new technology and additional Special Forces troops.

For many on the ABB left, such language is disturbing--but it's accepted as inevitable in the post-September 11 world in which the U.S. must "defend itself" against terrorist attacks. Yet the Kerry camp seeks to use the "war on terror" for the same purposes as the Bush administration--as leverage to extend and entrench U.S. imperial power.

As Michael Klare, author of numerous books and articles on the U.S. military put it, Kerry is an "enlightened hawk who seeks to neutralize the Bush administration's perceived advantage in security by advocating a more aggressive campaign against terrorism and nuclear proliferation." To that end, Kerry repeatedly blasts Bush for allegedly underestimating the "threat" from North Korea.

The Kerry commitment to the U.S. imperial project is clearest on the question of Israel and the Palestinians. In the three presidential and one vice presidential debates, neither Kerry nor his running mate John Edwards even mentioned the "P" word--turning back the clock to the 1960s when Israel denied the very existence of the Palestinian people. "When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the challengers give the administration a free pass," a Time columnist noted.

This isn't about chasing Jewish votes in South Florida. It's a reflection of Washington's policy convergence with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This includes not just the tactical symmetry of the U.S. offensive in Falluja and Israel's devastating attacks in Gaza, but a U.S.-Israeli strategic drive to dominate the Middle East--backed by both Republicans and Democrats. Kerry may well be prepared to give Israel a longer leash than Bush, judging by his echoing of Israeli threats to attack Iran's nuclear program.

Ultimately, Kerry's plan for the Third World boils down to this: Crush resistance in Iraq and Palestine. Enhance U.S. military capacity to intervene anywhere in the world--for example, Iran and North Korea. Squeeze Third World nationalists like Chávez hard while using debt relief to further the neoliberal agenda in developing countries. Spruce up free trade deals with a few workers' rights clauses while giving free reign to U.S. multinationals.

Kerry, no less, than Bush, is devoted to advancing the interests of U.S. imperialism--and explicitly so. Why is so much of the left pretending otherwise?

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