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Progressives Flock to Ed Markey’s Senate Campaign Despite Hawkish Record

Progressives can’t expect Democrats to field candidates who support human rights when endorsing organizations unequivocally support candidates like Ed Markey whose foreign policy record is well to the right of the majority of Democrats.

Democratic Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts is heavily favored to win the June 25 special election to fill the US Senate seat in Massachusetts vacated by John Kerry’s appointment as Secretary of State. Markey’s campaign has received widespread and enthusiastic backing from the progressive community, including endorsements from groups such as Peace Action and Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) which have previously tended to formally endorse only a selected number of candidates who have strong records on peace and human rights.

This nearly unprecedented level of support comes despite the fact that – even though he comes from one of the most liberal states in the country – Markey’s foreign policy record is well to the right of the majority of Democrats, both in Massachusetts and nationally.

As this article describes below, Markey was among the right-wing minority of Democratic members of the House of Representatives who voted to authorize the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2002. And it appears that his belief in the legitimacy of the United States waging war against oil-rich Middle Eastern adversaries has not changed: Markey has supported a series of Republican-sponsored resolutions on Iran which appear to be designed to challenge the Obama administration’s more cautious policy and push the country towards an armed conflict. Furthermore, Markey has co-sponsored a series of resolutions and signed Dear Colleague letters defending Israeli violations of international humanitarian law, has criticized the International Court of Justice for reiterating the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention in occupied territories, has attacked reputable international jurists and others for documenting war crimes, and has rejected conditioning military aid to foreign governments on human rights criteria.

Markey’s defenders note that he is not nearly as bad as Republican nominee Gabriel Gomez, particularly on domestic policy, and that Markey was also better on a number of key issues than his principal opponent in the Democratic primary, Rep. Stephen Lynch. They note he has taken relatively progressive positions on such issues as nuclear disarmament, nuclear power, climate change, the war in Afghanistan, and military spending. Indeed, given the nature of the two-party system, there is little debate among progressive Massachusetts voters that Markey at this point would be the best realistic choice for the US Senate. Yet, while no one expects a candidate to have a perfect record, many of Markey’s foreign policy positions are so far to the right that one would have thought that Massachusetts Democrats would have found a more progressive political figure with a decent chance of winning to get the nomination.

Backing Bush on Iraq

In October 2002, Markey decided to join the right-wing minority of House Democrats who voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq out of an apparent belief that it was somehow legitimate to give George W. Bush the unprecedented authority to invade a country on the far side of the world that was no threat to us at the time and under circumstances of the president’s own choosing. His vote not only illustrated bad judgment, but his support for this illegal invasion and occupation also demonstrated nothing less than contempt for the US Constitution, the United Nations Charter and the whole post-WWII international legal order which prohibits such aggressive wars. Quite a number of scholars and analysts were in communication with his office prior to the vote and warned him of the costs and consequences of an invasion and occupation as well as the likely absence of any weapons of mass destruction. As a result, claims by his supporters that Markey “didn’t know” or that he was simply an innocent victim of a “fraud” are rather suspect.

The more likely explanation is that Markey, like others who supported the invasion, embraces an extremist ideology which places US hegemony over that oil-rich region as of greater importance than the sacrifice of thousands of US service members and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. He showed his willingness to squander our country’s financial resources for overseas conquests at the expense of human needs here within the United States. Markey’s insistence that Iraq in 2002 still had “weapons of mass destruction” was completely groundless, since Iraq had actually gotten rid of its proscribed weapons and weapons systems many years earlier. Markey effectively conspired with the Bush administration to mislead the American people in order to frighten them to support a war that was not for self-defense as he claimed, but for oil and empire. As a senator, there is little reason to suspect he wouldn’t be willing to again make false claims about other nonexistent threats to justify new overseas conquests.

Markey supporters point out that he later came out in opposition to the war and voted against a number of spending measures to fund it. However, it appears that this was more a response to pressure from constituents, as public opinion turned increasingly antiwar, than it was a shift away from his support for the Bush Doctrine. Nor has he been willing to adequately explain why he made a series of demonstrably false statements about Iraq’s military capabilities as justification for his fateful support for the war authorization, or why he felt the United States had the right to run roughshod over the United Nations Charter and other international legal principles forbidding offensive wars.

In their statement endorsing his candidacy, Peace Action lauded Markey’s support for the Progressive Caucus’ “Budget for All,” an effort to reduce military spending and increase funding for important social programs. However, the modest shift in funding priorities in this budget resolution pales in comparison to the far greater amount of money which has been shifted from domestic programs to the military as a result of the Iraq War, which has already totaled $1 trillion. If Markey actually supported the needs of the American people above those of the Pentagon, he would have voted against the Iraq war authorization rather than for it.

Markey supporters don’t like to talk about his role in the Iraq tragedy and instead point to his leadership in some other important areas of legislation, such as his sponsorship of important cap-and-trade legislation (which ultimately failed to pass) designed to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change. However, given the enormous carbon footprint resulting from the Iraq War that Markey helped make possible and the fact that the financial costs of the Iraq War would have been enough to convert the United States’ power generation to renewable energy, a project that virtually all of official Washington now claims is too expensive, no one should take seriously Markey’s claim that he is concerned about climate change. Indeed, given that Markey’s justification for the war – that Iraq had somehow reconstituted its “weapons of mass destruction” – was utterly false, it inevitably raises speculation that his actual motivation may have centered on control of Iraq’s oil resources and the establishment of a network of US military bases designed to insure US hegemony over the oil-rich Persian Gulf region. No one who places a higher priority on a war of conquest to control foreign oil reserves and expand the development of carbon resources can be reasonably portrayed as someone who cares about climate change.

Pushing for War With Iran

Unfortunately, it now appears that Markey is getting the United States into another war in the Middle East. Markey has distinguished himself as a leading Democratic hawk on Iran, joining the Republican right in efforts to undermine the Obama administration’s reluctance to go to war over that country’s nuclear program. Markey signed on as a cosponsor of a resolution introduced by Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the right-wing Republican chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, which puts Congress on record opposing any policy toward Iran “that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.” Ruling out containment – the traditional US policy towards rival nuclear powers like the Soviet Union and China – is essentially a call for a unilateral first strike. Markey’s resolution also called for lowering Obama’s current threshold for military action to preventing Iran’s procurement of nuclear weapons to that of Iran simply having the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Col.Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, noted how “this resolution reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war and could be the precursor for a war with Iran. It’s effectively a thinly disguised effort to bless war.” (Here is a more detailed analysis of the resolution.)

Markey was also a cosponsor of a bill which included a provision that would have taken the unprecedented step of effectively preventing the Obama administration from even negotiating with Iran. Never in the history of the United States has Congress ever restricted the right of the White House or State Department to meet with representatives of a foreign state, even in wartime. Fortunately, the version of the bill that passed the Senate and eventually became law did not include this dangerous clause, so Markey did not get his way on this one. (My analysis of the bill is available at Foreign Policy in Focus.)

In their endorsement, Peace Action claims that Markey “opposes war” with Iran. However, it is hard to imagine how opposing any negotiations, ruling out containment and lowering the threshold of war to preventing Iran from simply obtaining nuclear “capability” can mean anything else but war. As the liberal Zionist group Americans for Peace Now observed, Markey’s legislation suggests that “unless sanctions imminently result in Iran voluntarily shutting down its entire nuclear program (and somehow deleting the nuclear know-how from the brains of its scientists), military force will be the only option available to the Obama Administration and will be inevitable in the near term.”

Undermining International Law and the United Nations

Supporting wars of aggression is not the only way in which Markey has sought to undermine international law to advance a hegemonic order by the United States and its allies.

In 2004, Markey cosponsored a resolution attacking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for its unanimous ruling (save for the US judge, who dissented on a technicality) on the universality of the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention in territories under foreign belligerent occupation, specifically in regard to the separation wall Israel has been building in the occupied West Bank. In doing so, Markey demonstrated his hostility toward legal restraints on the conduct of the United States and its allies beyond their borders and the legitimacy of raising legal questions regarding the actions of occupying powers. He also praised President Bush for his “leadership” in attacking the World Court. Despite the ICJ’s clear distinction between a government’s legal right to build a protective barrier along its border for self-defense and the construction of a barrier within the occupied territory of another nation in a manner that effectively expands the boundaries of the occupying power, Markey’s resolution called the court’s decision an “attempt to infringe upon Israel’s right to self-defense.” In reality, the ICJ decision explicitly confirmed Israel’s right to build a barrier along its internationally recognized border to protect itself from terrorist attacks, and there was absolutely nothing in the 60-page decision that in any way questioned Israel’s right to self-defense. Despite this, Markey insisted that the ruling demonstrated that the World Court – which had also ruled against two other occupying powers in previous decisions – had a “bias against Israel.”

Since the debate over the placement of the separation barrier centers on Israel’s illegal colonization of territory recognized by the international community as being under foreign belligerent occupation, Markey’s resolution appears to have been designed to support Israel’s expansion of its territory by military force, which is explicitly banned by the UN Charter and a series of UN Security Council resolutions. In cosponsoring this bill, Markey helped to place the House on record in opposition to the fundamental principle of contemporary international law that forbids any country from expanding its territory by force. In doing so, he was not only seeking to discredit the World Court, but to endorse a 19th century notion of the right of conquest. Markey, then, is literally a reactionary, one who believes that a Western-backed military power has the right to invade, occupy, and subjugate people of color and colonize their land, and that any effort by the international community to prevent such conquests must be vigorously opposed.

Not only has Markey attacked the World Court, he has even gone after reputable international jurists, such as Richard Goldstone, the noted anti-apartheid judge from South Africa who went on to head the international tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. In 2009, Markey cosponsored a resolution attacking a meticulously documented report by the UN Human Rights Council led by Goldstone in language that maliciously misrepresented the report and its authors. For example, his resolution claimed that the report failed to criticize Hamas when the report actually included more than 70 pages of harsh criticisms of war crimes by that Palestinian Islamist group. Markey’s resolution also claimed that the report denied Israel’s right to self-defense, when in fact the report explicitly recognized Israel’s right to self-defense. In short, Markey’s determination to defend allied right-wing governments is so extreme that he is willing to deliberately misrepresent a report by reputable international jurists simply because they documented evidence of war crimes by that government.

Markey’s opposition to international law extends to maritime law as well, as indicated by his 2010 decision to sign a Dear Colleague letter in which he defended an Israeli attack on an unarmed humanitarian aid flotilla in international waters as “legitimate self-defense” that he “strongly support[ed].” Nine crewmen were killed in the Israeli assault, including a 19-year-old US citizen who – according to an autopsy and eyewitness accounts, confirmed in a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – was initially shot filming the raid and then fatally shot in the face at point-blank range while lying wounded on the deck. Markey claimed that the Israeli commandoes who killed Furkan Dogan and the others used “necessary force as an act of self-defense and of last resort.” Despite the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu finally apologized for the attacks on the flotilla, Markey has refused to back down on his defense, thereby placing himself even further to the right than the right-wing Israeli government. The letter also contradicted a series of findings by the International Red Cross regarding the siege of Gaza and went on record supporting a draconian blockade imposed by Israel as necessary for the country’s security that Netanyahu himself soon thereafter acknowledged was unnecessary and subsequently liberalized. Even more disturbingly, given that Markey believes that a foreign government has the right to murder a US citizen on the high seas because some people in his group fought back when they were attacked by security forces, it is reasonable to assume that he would also defend the US government murdering US citizens if some people in a group of protesters fought back when attacked by US security forces, particularly if it involved a sensitive site such as a military base, government buildings or a nuclear power plant. Ironically, many people involved in the progressive organizations that have endorsed Markey have taken part in demonstrations in which there have been confrontations between police and protesters, and some of them no doubt have filmed such confrontations, so it’s particularly ironic that they would endorse a candidate for US Senate who would support police using lethal force against them. (In addition, Markey went on record insisting that raids on five other ships, in which non-resisting US citizens and others were brutally beaten and Tasered to the point that they required hospitalization, took place “without incident.” Markey would presumably similarly dismiss such assaults on peaceful protesters here in the United States as taking place “without incident” as well.)

Hard-Right Position on Israel/Palestine

As with the Bush administration’s policies toward Iraq, Markey was also an outspoken supporter of Bush’s policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Subsequently, he has pushed the somewhat more moderate Obama administration to take a more hardline position comparable to its predecessor.

Markey has cosponsored resolutions rejecting any Palestinian state outside the parameters agreed to by the right-wing Israeli government – which would leave the Palestinians nothing but a series of tiny noncontiguous cantons surrounded by Israel. He has called on Obama to veto any UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel. He insists that the United States demand that the Palestinians not just recognize Israel, but recognize Israel as an explicitly “Jewish state,” something that was not required of Egypt or Jordan in their peace treaties with Israel or of any other country which has recognized Israel. Markey has insisted that the United States must cut all aid to the Palestinians if the Palestinian Authority includes even one cabinet member who does not explicitly recognize Israel’s right to exist and support all previous agreements with Israel and the United States, but he has expressed no objections to the fact that over half of the current Israeli cabinet is composed of members who refuse to recognize Palestine’s right to exist and refuse to support previous agreements with the United States and the Palestinians. Markey is one of only two members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation to cosponsor the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, a controversial bill that could drag the United States into an Israeli-initiated war, which could exempt US aid to Israel from sequestration cuts and make Israel the only country in the world where its citizens could enter the United States without a visa but Israel could selectively determine which Americans would and would not require a visa based upon their religion, ethnicity or political views.

In 2009, Markey voted in favor of a resolution on the war between Israeli and Hamas forces in which he placed the blame for the death and destruction exclusively on the Palestinian side, thereby rebuking Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, other reputable human rights groups and the United Nations, which condemned both Hamas and the Israeli government for possible war crimes. The resolution also claimed that because Hamas allegedly broke the cease fire, it was somehow responsible for all of the subsequent civilian casualties in Gaza – which included over 800 civilian deaths – challenging the longstanding principle of Western jurisprudence that someone who is the proximate cause of a crime cannot claim innocence simply because of the influence of another party. The resolution also implies that because some Hamas government officials and militiamen spent time in “private homes, schools, mosques, [and] hospitals” that these somehow became legitimate targets, despite the fact that international humanitarian law declares such attacks illegal.

In 2006, Markey cosponsored a resolution unconditionally supporting Israel’s war on Lebanon which resulted in the deaths of over 700 Lebanese civilians. The resolution also praised the Bush administration’s defense of Israel’s right-wing government in the face of international outcry at the carnage. The Israeli government-appointed Winograd commission later acknowledged the war was a tragic mistake and actually hurt Israel’s legitimate security interests, but Markey is still on record defending it. Given that the Bush administration had strongly encouraged Israel to attack Lebanon (well before the provocative border incident that July, which was used as an excuse), thousands of Israeli peace activists demonstrated in Tel Aviv during the war, chanting, “We will not fight and die for Bush!” Markey essentially took the position of, “Yes, you should!”

In both of those resolutions and in others, Markey has accused Hezbollah and Hamas of using “human shields,” thereby blaming them for the large numbers of civilian casualties from Israeli bombardments. However, reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UN Human Rights Council, the US Army War College, the National Lawyers Guild and other reputable groups, while criticizing these extremist groups for other war crimes, failed to find a single case of either group actually using human shields. (Furthermore, international law forbids attacking civilians even if an armed group is using human shields.) Despite repeated calls to Markey’s office, he and his staff have failed to provide any empirical evidence countering these findings or explain why Markey believed he somehow had a clearer idea of what transpired than these expert investigators on the ground. It appears, then, that he made those charges up in order to discredit reputable human rights groups and defend the large-scale killings of civilians.

The Wrong Message

The enthusiastic and unconditional endorsement of Markey by progressives in Massachusetts and beyond sends a clear signal that a member of Congress can be as right-wing as he or she wants on foreign policy and still get the support of progressive Democrats and peace activists.

When I lived in Massachusetts in the early 1980s, peace and human rights activists referred to people like Markey as “death-squad Democrats.” While we usually voted for them as the lesser evil against the Republican nominee in the general election, it was virtually unheard of for a progressive group to give those kinds of candidates their unconditional endorsement. Politicians who defended and covered up for war crimes by the Salvadoran junta and the Nicaraguan Contras, supported sending them unconditional aid, attacked the World Court for their ruling against the Contra war, and defended the murder of US citizens by the Contras and the Salvadoran army, were targeted for noisy protests, including civil disobedience, by progressive organizations. Today, politicians like Markey – who take virtually identical positions on the Middle East as these Democratic hawks 30 years ago did on Central America – receive endorsements and unconditional praise from some of these same progressive groups.

Later that decade, when I lived in the Seattle area, I served on the board, including a stint as chair, of one the largest and most influential statewide peace organizations in the country, and our endorsement was eagerly sought after by leading candidates for House and Senate. At that time, no member of the Washington Congressional delegation who supported illegal wars and rationalized the large-scale killing of civilians in Central America could hope to receive our endorsement, even if they supported the nuclear freeze, voted against the MX missile, supported cuts in military spending and other priorities of the organization. We recognized that there were some foreign policy positions that were simply beyond the pale. Unfortunately, nowadays it appears that peace groups and other progressive organizations have lowered their standards considerably. Indeed, arms control advocates acknowledge that there are already too many arms in the Middle East, the most overly militarized region in the world. Markey, however, apparently believes that there are not enough arms in the Middle East and that we need to send even more. He has supported a series of bills and resolutions supporting a dramatic increase in military aid to Israel and other right-wing allies in the region. And Markey totally rejects the idea that military aid should be conditioned on a recipient government’s human rights record. Supporting military aid to governments which use them in attacks against civilians used to be enough to disqualify a candidate from endorsement by most progressive organizations. Not anymore.

Some of Markey’s defenders have claimed that this powerful Congressman is simply a hapless victim of a supposedly all-powerful “Israel lobby” which forces him to take certain right-wing foreign policy positions related to the Middle East, so he should not be held accountable. This is disingenuous. Not only have most Democrats in the House taken more moderate positions than Markey with no discernible negative consequences to their careers, it becomes a self-fulfilling practice to claim that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and allied right-wing Zionist organizations have so much power that progressives might as well not even try putting on pressure in the other direction. If Markey and others recognize they can be as right-wing as they want on Israel/Palestine, Iraq and Iran and still get the endorsement of groups like Peace Action and PDA, they know they have nothing to lose by taking such rightist positions.

Over the decades, peace and human rights activists and progressive Democrats – in part by practicing some discernment on their endorsements – have forced Democratic elected officials to change their positions on Vietnam, the nuclear freeze, Central America, South Africa, East Timor, Iraq and more. This can happen in regard to Israel/Palestine and Iran as well, but it cannot be done by giving people like Ed Markey a blank check. They need to know there is a political cost for their militarism and their contempt for international law and human rights.

To its credit, Peace Action – following Markey’s victory in the Democratic primary last month – wrote the newly nominated Senate candidate a letter which, while congratulating him for his victory and praising him for a number of progressive foreign policy positions he has taken, informed him of their serious concerns about positions he has taken regarding Israel/Palestine, Iran, human rights and international law. Unfortunately, this effort appears to be an exception. So far, PDA, Democracy for America, and other progressive groups have failed to communicate any displeasure whatsoever at Markey’s right-wing foreign policy agenda. And Peace Action has refused to rescind its endorsement.

On the one hand, given how extreme the Republican Party has become in recent years, it may indeed make sense to vote for Democrats like Markey as the lesser evil. At the same time, it seems unlikely that there will be much of a chance of changing US foreign policy toward the Middle East or elsewhere if we keep electing Democrats to the Senate who are even further to the right than the Obama administration. And it’s unlikely that we will stop electing such hawkish Democrats if self-described progressive and peace groups keep giving them their unconditional endorsement, and if their right-wing foreign policy positions become non-issues during the campaigns.

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