Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader called Monday for a unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors from Iraq, a proposal that underscores the political threat his campaign poses to Sen. John F. Kerry on the Democrats’ left flank.
While Nader praised Kerry’s emphasis on a multilateral approach to Iraq, the consumer activist said the presumptive Democratic nominee had failed to articulate a policy that would appeal to antiwar voters -- a charge that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean leveled at Kerry during the primary season.
Nader, speaking at a breakfast with reporters, pointed to Kerry’s experience as a Vietnam veteran who turned against that war in the early 1970s.
“I wish he would just repeat what he said when he was 27 years old before the Senate,” Nader said. “Which is, ‘How do you tell a soldier to die for a mistake?’ ”
He accused the Massachusetts senator of trying to “out-Bush Bush” on Iraq.
Kerry has sought in recent days to stress that he, like President Bush, would “stay the course” in Iraq to ensure its stability as U.S. overseers negotiate a restoration of sovereignty.
Kerry has said he would support sending more U.S. troops to Iraq if needed to quell violence. This week, the Democratic candidate joined Bush in lamenting the decision of new Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to pull his country’s 1,300 troops out of Iraq as soon as possible.
Countering Kerry and Bush, Nader proposed a plan to replace U.S. troops in Iraq by developing an international peacekeeping force under the auspices of the United Nations; holding elections in Iraq as soon as possible under international supervision; and sending U.S. humanitarian aid to the country.
“The way to save U.S. and Iraqi lives and reverse the escalating spiral of violence is for the United States to go back home,” Nader said.
He added: “The peace movement in this country’s going to have a very interesting choice: whether they’re going to basically support two pro-war candidates or whether they’re going to support a muscular peace candidate.”
Nader insisted that he intended to train most of his rhetorical fire at Bush, and said he planned to meet with Kerry soon to develop a collaborative strategy to oust the Republican from the White House. But his remarks about Kerry included some assessments likely to sting a Democrat who was hoping to marshal a unified party against Bush in the fall.
For instance, Nader said: “Substantively, [Kerry] is stuck in the Iraq quagmire the same way Bush is.”
And in an unflattering comparison to the Democratic president who led the U.S. military deep into war in Southeast Asia in the 1960s, Nader said of Kerry: “You see all the early phases of Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam.”
The war in Iraq has exposed a rift among Democrats. Last week, Kerry was confronted at a town hall meeting in Harlem by a retired college professor who accused him of supporting Bush’s policy.
Many Republicans are glad Nader is attacking Kerry from the left. They hope he will weaken the Democrat’s appeal to a core constituency. In 2000, running as the Green Party nominee, Nader drew 2.7% of the popular vote, and in the view of many analysts helped tip a close election to Bush.
Kerry, through a spokesman, disagreed with Nader’s call for an immediate troop withdrawal.
Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said: “John Kerry has made it very clear that we cannot afford to fail in Iraq, leaving it as a source of instability in the region. It’s clear that George Bush’s unilateral policies aren’t working in Iraq, and that we need to change our approach.”
On Sunday, Kerry discussed Nader’s candidacy on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“My hope is that throughout this campaign, I’m going to be talking to people who supported Ralph Nader, and I hope that by the end of this campaign those people will decide John Kerry is going to change the direction of our country,” Kerry said.
“John Kerry can beat George Bush. We need to beat George Bush, and I will make it unnecessary for them to support Ralph Nader.”