Nader wants rapid pullout from Iraq

Seeking to generate fresh support, candidate is seizing anti-war issue

Election 2004

April 20, 2004|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Ralph Nader, still laboring to get his presidential campaign off the ground, now calls himself a "muscular peace candidate."

Nader, an independent, remains a marginal player in this year's election. He is likely to be shut out of fall debates, has little campaign money and faces a struggle to get his name on the ballot in many states.

But the anti-corporate activist apparently senses an opening for an anti-war candidate in the '04 contest.

Nader is advocating a pullout, within six months, of all U.S. military forces from Iraq. He argues that Democratic candidate John Kerry is "making a big mistake" by adopting a "stay-the-course" position in the face of rising anti-U.S. violence in Iraq.

"The peace movement in this country is going to have an interesting choice" in November, Nader told a group of reporters in Washington yesterday.

Nader wants Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney impeached for taking the nation to war without a formal declaration by Congress. But he also labels Kerry a "war candidate." He sharply criticized the Massachusetts senator for refusing to admit that the war, which he voted to authorize, was a mistake and for supporting the continued U.S. occupation.

"He's stuck in the Iraq quagmire the way Bush is," Nader said.

Kerry, he said, has been put on the defensive by Bush's campaign ads, which portray the Democrat as soft on national security. As a result, Kerry has tried to "out-Bush Bush," according to Nader, by saying, for example, that it might be necessary to send additional U.S. troops to Iraq.

A growing number of Americans - just over one of every four - favor a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops, recent polling indicates. But Nader faces considerable resistance in gaining their support, in no small part because many Democrats blame him for tipping the 2000 election to Bush.

Nader's recent swing through the Pacific Northwest - fertile territory for his campaign on the Green Party ticket last time - drew small crowds. Since announcing his candidacy two months ago, he has yet to qualify for any state ballot.

His attempt to do so in Oregon, by bringing together supporters for what amounted to a state nominating convention, was an embarrassing flop. Only 741 people showed up for the April 5 event at a Portland theater, well short of the 1,000 required by state law. (He still can qualify by getting 15,000 signatures within three months.)

Tim Hibbitts, an independent pollster in Portland who was among the first to spot rising support for Nader in 2000, sees him as a diminished factor.

"A lot of the Democrats and leftist voters that supported him last time will swallow a lot and vote for Kerry," Hibbitts said.

He predicted that Nader would get no more than about 2 percent of Oregon's votes, if he makes the ballot, mostly from "none-of-the-above" voters who prefer neither major party and who would otherwise stay home. Recent polls in the state (which Al Gore won by fewer than 7,000 votes, while Nader drew more than 77,000, or 5 percent) show a dead heat between Kerry and Bush.

By seizing the anti-war issue, Nader is hoping to generate fresh support, particularly among younger voters. A national poll last month of college students, commissioned by Harvard's Institute of Politics, showed Nader with 5 percent support, essentially the same share he's receiving among the wider electorate.

Nader contends that his proposal for a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops would reverse the cycle of violence in Iraq by signaling an end to the U.S. occupation, which has become a unifying factor for mainstream Iraqis and insurgents. His plan also calls for the removal of all U.S. civilian military contractors and businesses from Iraq and for their replacement with an international peacekeeping force under the United Nations' leadership. He is also warning college students that the machinery for a military draft "is being quietly put into place."

"Young Americans need to know that a train is coming, and it could run over their generation in the same way that the Vietnam War devastated the lives of those who came of age in the sixties," states an open letter from Nader, who is 70.

Many Democrats, and some of his former supporters, have said they hope Nader will withdraw his candidacy before November. But that, Nader said yesterday, would only breed more cynicism by disappointing those he is urging to back him. He has said he hopes to develop a "collaborative effort" with Kerry to unseat Bush, whom he derides as "a messianic militarist."

Referring to Kerry as "a political accordion" who becomes stronger the harder he is pushed by voters, Nader said he intends to "jog," "nudge" and "challenge" the Democrat into becoming a better candidate.

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