John Kerry: “The Name of the Game is Different Now”

The cashing in of political debts, Washington’s peculiar political culture, and Republicans eager for another chance to return Scott Brown, once the bankers’ senator, to the Senate conspire to ensure that Senator John Kerry will soon be the United States’ Secretary of State.

Support for Kerry’s nomination is far from universal. Neo-conservative Frank Gaffney, who seems never to have found a US military intervention or weapons system that he didn’t enthusiastically support, has once again dredged up the Swift Boat and other calumnies, making it almost enough to lead a peace activist to want to work for Kerry’s confirmation.

On the Left, possibly forgetting Senator Kerry’s role in shepherding the New START arms reduction treaty with Russia through the Senate and his role as a point man for President Obama with the Pakistani military, Prof. Stephen Zunes has written a lengthy and searing critique of the Senator[]. Zunes reminds us that Kerry backed the invasion of Iraq, even after it was demonstrated that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, and that he has uncritically supported Israel’s wars, its illegal colonization of the lands conquered in 1967, and its equally illegal seizure of peace flotillas in international waters. There is also the matter of Kerry’s support for US military unilateralism.

To be fair, this applies equally to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and to almost anyone likely to get the nod from the Washington Establishment.

As, the Senate’s “advise and consent” confirmation process proceeds, this seems to be the moment to place my single personal encounter with the patrician Senator on the public record.

In 1983, at the height of President Reagan’s extraordinarily dangerous nuclear brinksmanship, the Pentagon moved to implement a plan to take four aging WW II battleships out of mothballs and to arm them and accompanying destroyers with nuclear armed cruise missiles. The idea was to take the US nuclear threat closer to the Soviet Union, especially to its largely homebound nuclear fleet.

The battleships were to be based in four US ports, one in the Northeast, another in the Southeast, and two more in Louisiana and San Francisco. With elegant cynicism, the Reagan Administration created a competition between Boston, New York City and Cranston, Rhode Island to win the home porting of the Battleship Iowa task force. The Massachusetts, Rhode Island and most of the New York Congressional delegations had been in the forefront of challenging Reagan with their support for the Nuclear Freeze movement and its demand to halt the nuclear arms race. (Ultimately successful, the Freeze Campaign resulted in the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty that marked the end of the Cold War.)

Senator Ted Kennedy took the bait. He was eager to reinforce his base among conservative Massachusetts Democrats to compensate for his leading role in the Freeze movement. And, as his staff told us, there was something “macho” in his will to demonstrate his continuing ability to “bring home the bacon” even with a Republican in the White House.

With Kennedy and Boston’s business elite committed to winning the fleet and the money they believed would accompany it, the state’s Democratic party, including Lt. Governor John Kerry who was delegated partial responsibility for negotiations with Washington, clicked heels and fell in line.

Not so the Boston area peace movement. We knew the Navy’s record of nuclear weapons accidents, the reality that fewer than 200 permanent jobs would come with the base, and that the fleet’s cruise missiles were a gross violation of the Nuclear Freeze which the state’s Congressional delegation had endorsed. With a campaign that included bringing the former Operations Officer for the Navy’s Atlantic fleet to testify before the Boston City Council, rallies, a media strategy and outreach to environmental activists, we pressed our Campaign for a Safe Boston Harbor.

As part of our advocacy, I arranged what became a one on four meeting with Lt. Governor Kerry in his State House office. We were joined by two of his aides and one from Governor Dukakis’ office. Each question I asked the Lt. Governor elicited the same response: “As an old Navy hand, I can assure you that this will be safe. There is nothing to worry about.” The base will be just across from a runway at Logan Airport…? “As an old Navy hand, I can assure you….” Former Navy Captain James Bush testified before the City Council about the Navy’s record of nuclear weapons accidents….? “As an old Navy hand, I can assure you…..” What if there is an accident with an LNG tanker in the harbor? “As an old Navy hand, I can assure …..” The cruise missiles violate the Nuclear Freeze which you supported… “As an old Navy hand….”

It was soon clear that I was banging my head against a kryptonite door. It was equally clear that I had nothing to lose. So I asked one more question: “While you were organizing Vietnam Veterans against the War, I was organizing in Arizona to end the war. How does what you are saying now square with what you said then?”

There was silence, a seemingly endless silence.. Wordlessly, we looked at one another not knowing how or when the silence would be broken. We watched dust drift through rays of sunlight and almost heard it land on the State House’s old wooden floor. Bearing the silence was excruciating, probably for all of five us.

Finally, the Lt. Governor, who somewhat towered above me, looked me in the eye and said “The name of the game is different now.”

His ambition had trumped any concern for the safety of the millions of people who live in the Boston metropolitan area and whatever moral fibers reside in the DNA of this member of the extended Forbes clan.

Fortunately, others’ moral courage and wisdom prevailed. Dudley Clendonnon of the New York Times published a half page story about our opposition to the nuclear fleet, and his article ignited a media firestorm. Three Boston mayoral candidates spoke out publicly against the home port. With the exception of Ted Kennedy, the Congressional delegation ceased campaigning to win the fleet. In the end, opposition to the nuclear battleships in the Northeast and the San Francisco Bay area led the Pentagon to drop its campaign to redeploy the battleships. They remained in mothballs, as did Reagan’s dangerous gambit.

Thirty years later, the former Lt. Governor is on the verge of becoming the American Empire’s Secretary of State, and people are again asking who John Kerry is and what he stands for. We have his record, and for those of us in Massachusetts the memory of Senator Kerry voting for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, even as his staff confirmed that 95% of the calls and letters coming into his office opposed the invasion, is still fresh. What I can add is the memory of an ambitious pawn playing his part in preparations for nuclear Armageddon which he justified to himself with the belief that “The name of the game is different now.”

Ready for our new Secretary of State?