Ballot Box

The Worldview of Dennis Kucinich

His instincts on foreign policy and national security.

Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they’re saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. The second series analyzed their buzzwords. The third series outlined what each candidate would focus on as president. This series sketches how they would manage America’s role in the world.

After communism collapsed, American voters lost interest in defense and foreign policy. But those subjects can consume most of a president’s time, and 9/11 returned them to the forefront. It’s difficult to anticipate which hot spots a candidate would have to deal with as president, but it’s possible to get a sense of how he approaches war, diplomacy, trade, and other challenges abroad. This series pieces together a picture of each candidate’s instincts based on his words and his record. Today’s subject is Dennis Kucinich.

Disarmament: Kucinich is the most anti-war * candidate in the race. He advocates a “Department of Peace” that would “support disarmament, treaties, peaceful coexistence and peaceful consensus building.” It would also “enhance resource distribution.” He proposes big steps toward nuclear disarmament, beginning with taking all U.S. missile systems off alert and ceasing nuclear research and development. He favors severe cuts in the defense budget but expresses confidence that the U.S. military will remain “the strongest in the world by far.”

War and nation-building: Kucinich led the Congressional Progressive Caucus in vigorous opposition to the 2003 Iraq war. Unlike Howard Dean, he accused the war’s supporters of financial motives. In February 2003, he asserted, “Since no other case has been made to go to war against Iraq … oil represents the strongest incentive.” Kucinich also questioned claims about Iraq’s biological and chemical weapons. (Dean had confined his skepticism to Iraq’s nuclear weapons. In February 2003, Dean said he believed Iraq had chemical and biological weapons.) Kucinich also seems averse to using U.S. troops for nation-building. In July 2003, he urged President Bush to withdraw all American soldiers from Iraq and cede total control to the United Nations.

Trade: Kucinich, who shares Dick Gephardt’s opposition to unregulated “free trade,” has been less influential on that issue but more aggressive. He joined the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization. He also marched against the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. He has been recognized by the AFL-CIO as a major booster of the domestic steel industry, rejecting trade agreements that would open up the U.S. market to steel imports. These positions, along with his constant emphasis on human rights, led Kucinich to join some American hawks in opposing measures to grant trading rights, such as Most Favored Nation status, to China.

Correction, Aug. 11, 2003: The article originally and incorrectly described Kucinich as “the most explicit pacifist in the race.” A pacifist rejects the use of force even in self-defense. Kucinich doesn’t. The positions outlined in the article show that Kucinich puts greater faith in peaceful solutions than other candidates do, but they don’t make him a pacifist. ( Return to corrected sentence.)