Progressives believe it’s possible to preserve peace by working in concert with other countries in global organizations, enacting international laws, strengthening the United Nations, and embracing other world-linked initiatives.
They reject the concept of “peace through strength,” in which war is best avoided by maintaining a strong military force to deter others from engaging in military action. For progressives, creating a powerful military force leads to aggression and imperialism, and makes possible an interventionist foreign policy, which they oppose.
This is why progressives support deep cuts in defense spending and using the funds to “grow a peace economy,” directing the money to education, housing, sustainable energy projects, and other domestic concerns.
Progressives want to close America’s foreign military bases, withdraw US forces “from Europe and other conflict zones, and disband NATO.”3 They support nuclear disarmament and view terrorism as a crime that should never be used as a pretext for military action.
Progressive oppose drone attacks and other “targeted killing” operations, unless there has been a formal declaration of war. They opposed America’s retaliation against al Qaeda after the 9/11 terrorist strikes and, instead, view the attacks as a crime in which the perpetrators should have been brought to justice in the International Criminal Court and through joint action in the UN.
Both Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly supported America’s military involvement in Iraq in 2003. But not progressives. Months before the war began, progressives established the “United for Peace and Justice” (UFPJ) organization to oppose America’s “policy of permanent warfare and empire-building.”4
A week before the conflict, progressives mounted a protest in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City, declaring:
“We hold that sovereign nations have the right to determine their own future, free from the threat of ‘pre-emptive attacks’ and ‘regime change,’ military occupation, and outside control of their economic resources.”5
In the progressive mindset, Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein should be allowed to do whatever he wanted as a sovereign nation and the rest of the world be damned. They brushed aside Hussein’s violent history and reasons the US and its allies intervened in Iraq. Hussein had:
- Launched two major wars in the Middle East (against Iran and Kuwait) and would rearm and strike again.
- Defied 16 UN Security Council resolutions demanding that Iraq comply with provisions of the Gulf War truce.
- Expelled weapons inspectors responsible for locating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
- Admitted to producing chemical and biological weapons, including 2,000 gallons of anthrax. (Just a five-pound bag, evenly distributed across Washington, DC, would kill half the population, according to former Defense Secretary William Cohen.)
- Announced he would no longer respect the no-fly zones and had resumed attempts to shoot down US and allied aircraft patrolling the skies.
- Murdered an estimated 300,000 Iraqis.
Hussein’s regime was described as a “grave and gathering danger.” He had tried to build a nuclear weapon and had developed biological and chemical weapons, the latter of which he had used against citizens in northern Iraq. In response:
- In October 1998, Democratic President Bill Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act into law, which called for regime change in Iraq in response to significant violations of international law by Saddam Hussein, and his failure to comply with the Gulf War peace obligations and UN Security Council resolutions. (The Act passed the Senate unanimously and by a vote of 380-38 in the House.)
- In 2002, the US Senate, by a vote of 77-23, and the House, by a vote of 296-132, passed a joint resolution to authorize the use of force against Iraq.
- The UN Security Council unanimously passed a war resolution (1441), giving Iraq a month to provide inspectors immediate and unrestrained access to suspected weapons sites and to fully disclose all of its weapons programs.
Progressives acknowledged Hussein posed a threat but claimed it was minimal. Barack Obama, then a state senator in Illinois, attended an anti-war rally in Chicago in October 2002, the same day the joint resolution was introduced in Congress to authorize the use of force in Iraq. Obama, like other progressives, publicly condemned going to war against Iraq.
1 US Labor Against the War.
2) Progressive Democrats of America.
3) “No to NATO! No to War! Global Call for Peace Movement Action, July 8-10,” United for Peace & Justice, July 3, 2016.
6) “Hillary Clinton: No Regret on Iraq Vote,” CNN, April 21, 2004.