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Ed Markey Gains Progressive Support Despite Hawkish Foreign Policy Agenda

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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.

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, falsely claiming Iraq had somehow reconstituted its "weapons of mass destruction."

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, including the killing of U.S. citizens. He has criticized the International Court of Justice for reiterating the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention in occupied territories and has attacked reputable international jurists and others for documenting war crimes.

Arms control advocates acknowledge that there are already too many weapons 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 allied right-wing governments 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.

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.

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 U.S. 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 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. 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 U.S. 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.