In this post I play the role of neutral observer. For the record, although I am basically a liberal on domestic policy and agree with Kerry on more individual issues than Bush, I feel Bush’s zealotry regarding the war on terror is the most important single attribute that either candidate possesses, and that happens to be the most important issue of our time. Too bad I can’t pick and choose aspects of each candidate and create my own Frankenstein-like composite (not that I’m commenting on Kerry’s looks or anything).
But anyway, Steve Chapman is a totally pro-Democratic columnist – the guy brays when he speaks and had a tail pinned on him – and here is his assessment of the Kerry campaign:
To: John Kerry, Republican mole
From: Karl Rove, White House political adviser
….let’s review some of the tactics we’ve implemented. They fall into the following categories:
Making Michael Dukakis look good. People thought he looked like a doofus riding in a tank wearing that goofy helmet. But you outdid him when you put on an anti-contamination suit to tour the space shuttle orbiter. You looked like one of those sausages that race around the field at the Milwaukee Brewers’ home games. Dukakis would never have let himself be photographed in that outfit–heck, Ben Stiller wouldn’t have let himself be photographed in it.
….Impersonating Thurston Howell III. One of the ways rich politicians show their kinship with “Joe Six-Pack” is speaking the universal language of sports. But you’ve cleverly “bungled” every opportunity to show your sports savvy. You went to Michigan and said, “There is nothing better than Buckeye football.” When someone mentioned stock-car racing, you asked, “Who among us does not love NASCAR?” You said your favorite Red Sox player of all time was Eddie Yost, who never played for Boston. Maybe I’m overoptimistic, but that last one might even put Massachusetts in play this year.
Those remarks were scripted by our crack staff, of course, but they didn’t equal your brilliant ad lib when you showed up in Green Bay and made a reference to the Packers’ “Lambert Field”–when everyone this side of Paris know it’s “Lambeau.” The only thing that could have hurt the Democratic ticket more in the Dairy State is to confess that you’re lactose-intolerant.
Creating your own woman problem. Bill Clinton had Gennifer and Monica, but you’ve got Teresa. It was shrewd to equip you with a fabulously wealthy wife who speaks with a foreign accent, but Teresa has expanded the role far beyond my fondest hopes. That speech she gave at the Democratic National Convention–well, I haven’t witnessed such a prolonged display of self-absorption since Alanis Morissette’s last CD.
One of our biggest challenges this year is finding a way to help Bush among black voters who would rather eat dirt than vote Republican. But for a rich white lady to proclaim herself “African-American” might cause them to reconsider.
….Making yourself look hopelessly confused on Iraq. Honestly, who could have imagined one U.S. senator could come up with a different position for every day of the week? At this point, I doubt God himself could figure out what you really think about Iraq. But here’s what you can do to seal the deal: I’ll plant a question at your next town hall meeting, asking what colors you’d like to see in a new Iraqi flag. Your answer: “Plaid.”
….So I’ll tell you what. For the time being, do your best to look like a competent politician who wants to win the election. I know it’s a stretch, but try. Really. [Chicago Tribune]
So Kerry is running a crappy campaign, and that’s a big part of why he is losing, but there is a much more important reason why he is losing and why he will lose, and after an entire career of waffling, his recent tough clarification of his position regarding Iraq and the war on terror in general seals the deal.
(Ironically, indecision regarding Iraq has been, until now, Kerry’s biggest political liability:
- Iraq, however, has been the source of the most damaging charges of equivocation and wind-shifting against Kerry. The Massachusetts senator voted for the Iraq war in October 2002, but a year later voted against Bush’s request for $87 billion for military and reconstruction spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. The latter vote came when former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s antiwar candidacy was ascendant. The vote may have been wise politics at the time, but came with a high price — lending an aura of plausibility to the subsequent charges by Bush that Kerry is motivated by opportunism.
Kerry’s statements have compounded the damage. In September 2003, he said at a Democratic debate, “We should not send more American troops” to Iraq. “That would be the worst thing.” In April, he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “if it requires more troops . . . that’s what you have to do.” In August, he told ABC’s “This Week” that if elected, “I will have significant, enormous reduction in the level of troops.” This week, he said that, as president, he would not have launched an invasion if he had known that there was not clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction or ties to al Qaeda, though last month he said, knowing these things, he still would have voted to give Bush congressional authority to wage the Iraq war.
Polls make clear the extent to which Bush’s flip-flop charge has stuck. A poll released last week by Kohut’s Pew Center showed that 53 percent of voters believe Kerry “changes his mind too much.”
….Stevens, who has been studying Kerry since advising then-Massachusetts Gov. William H. Weld (R) in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the senator in 1996, said Kerry’s very manner exacerbates the flip-flop impression: “He says these things with great condescension, [suggesting]: ‘If only you were as smart as I and understand this that these issues are too complicated to have a consistent position.’ . . . People have a good internal detector of the difference between nuance and confusion and opportunism.” [Washington Post]
But now Kerry appears to have made up his maind – Jim Hoagland explains:
- …The incumbent president is the radical in this unorthodox election year. In his view, a new threat to U.S. security, in a new geographic region and from a new kind of enemy, demands a paradigm shift in international behavior that can be unilaterally enforced by U.S. power if necessary.
Bush believes that America’s friends and foes abroad can — and must — be made to change their ways to make the world safer for democracies and particularly for the United States. Only by making the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia and Libya understand that their very survival is at stake can effective cooperation be gained in the war on al Qaeda and other parts of the loosely connected and fanatical Islamist network.
The challenger is for once the pragmatist and traditionalist on foreign policy. Kerry first would change the U.S. approach to the world, then persuade and gently pressure allies and adversaries to return to established patterns of cooperation or coerced behavior.
Restoring NATO’s Cold War cohesion is a primary goal for Kerry but a secondary tactical issue for Bush in grappling with turmoil in the Middle East, where European interests and reflexes often run counter to those of the United States. Israel is important to Kerry as a diplomatic and political partner; to Bush as a strategic ally in waging a long, necessary war.
….It is also prudent to remember that campaigns produce their own dynamic of change as issues become more serious and contrasts more vivid. Other nations adapt in real time to what Kerry and Bush say (and are), and subtly change the policy environment the two leaders pretend to command.
This is particularly true for Kerry, whose repeated promises to get Europe to shoulder more of the burden in Iraq and in the war on terrorism have begun to worry even those Europeans who are favorably disposed to a change at the White House in January.
Gerhard Schroeder’s Germany is perhaps the most important example of a country that fully expects diplomatic tensions to continue if Bush is reelected but is also beginning to fret that a new crisis in NATO could emerge if a Kerry administration piles too many burdens on the alliance.
“I think some of my colleagues were perturbed by the briefings they heard at the Democratic convention in July about how much more Europe would have to do for President Kerry,” says one European diplomat. “All the speeches since then saying U.S. allies and not just Halliburton have to rebuild Iraq just add to the concern.”
Another future problem lies in the way Kerry and John Edwards have portrayed (although not named) Britain, Italy, Japan and other nations as having been bribed and coerced into serving in the coalition now in Iraq. [Washington Post]
America invested in the “radical” Bush worldview after the trauma of 9/11 and acknowledged that this reshaping of the world wouldn’t happen without forceful American action making it so. People know deep down that Europeans aren’t going to do much more than they are now no matter who is in the White House, including John Kerry, therefore they know his worldview really means retreat and retrenchment and a return to the status quo, the status quo out of which 9/11 emerged.
No one – even Mr. Allawi – says things are going swimmingly in Iraq. This is a difficult, depressing, bloody, and trying time – it may even be called a time that tries men’s souls – but Max Boot reminds us that it was ever thus with war:
- John Kerry is right to accuse President Bush of “colossal failures of judgment” in Iraq. These range from decisions taken in the early days of the occupation, such as the premature disbanding of Iraq’s army, to more recent missteps, such as allowing Fallouja to become a terrorist sanctuary.
….Despite all that’s gone wrong so far, Iraq could still go either way. (In one recent poll, 51% of Iraqis said their country was headed in “the right direction”; only 31% felt it was going the wrong way.)
Lest we be too hard on Bush, it’s useful to recall the travails of the nation’s two most successful commanders in chief, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.
Lincoln is remembered, of course, for winning the Civil War and freeing the slaves. We tend to forget that along the way he lost more battles than any other president: First and Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Chickamauga…. The list of federal defeats was long and dispiriting. So was the list of federal victories (e.g., Antietam, Gettysburg) that could have been exploited to shorten the conflict, but weren’t.
As the Union’s fortunes fell, opponents tarred Lincoln with invective that might make even Michael Moore blush. Harper’s magazine called him a “despot, liar, thief, braggart, buffoon, usurper, monster, ignoramus.” As late as the summer of 1864, Lincoln appeared likely to lose his bid for reelection. Only the fall of Atlanta on Sept. 2 saved his presidency.
….Roosevelt had more than his share of mistakes too, the most notorious being his failure to prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor, even though U.S. code breakers had given him better intelligence than Bush had before Sept. 11. FDR also did not do enough to prepare the armed forces for war, and then pushed them into early offensives at Guadalcanal and North Africa that took a heavy toll on inexperienced troops. At Kasserine Pass, Tunisia, in 1943, the U.S. Army was mauled by veteran German units, losing more than 6,000 soldiers.
….Though FDR bore only indirect responsibility for most of these screw-ups, he was more directly culpable for other bad calls, such as the decision to detain 120,000 Japanese Americans without any proof of their disloyalty. Like Lincoln, who jailed suspected Southern sympathizers without trial, Roosevelt was guilty of civil liberties restrictions that were light-years beyond the Patriot Act. And, like Bush, Roosevelt didn’t do enough to prepare for the postwar period. His failure to occupy more of Eastern Europe before the Red Army arrived consigned millions to tyranny; his failure to plan for the future of Korea and Vietnam after the Japanese left helped lead to two wars that killed 100,000 Americans.
None of this is meant in any way to denigrate the inspired leadership of two great presidents. Both Lincoln and Roosevelt were brilliant wartime leaders precisely because they were able to overcome adversity and inspire the country toward ultimate victory with their unflagging will to win. That’s what Bush is trying to do today.
And, no, I’m not suggesting Bush is another Lincoln or Roosevelt. But even if Bush hasn’t reached their lofty heights, neither has he experienced their depths of despair. We are losing one or two soldiers a day in Iraq. Lincoln lost an average of 250 daily for four years, Roosevelt 300 daily for more than 3 1/2 years. If they could overcome such numbing losses to prevail against far more formidable foes than we face now, it’s ludicrous to give in to today’s fashionable funk.
“Colossal failures of judgment” are to be expected in wartime; I daresay even John Kerry (whose judgment on Iraq changes every 30 minutes) might commit a few. They do not have to spell defeat now any more than they did in 1865 or 1945. [LA Times]
With anti-war writers brandishing historical analogies from classical Athens to Vietnam, Boot’s perspective is a corrective tonic.
Finally, the notion of “exporting democracy” has been ridiculed as impractical, foolish, and disingenuous – a utopian notion of the dreaded “neocons.” Boot, again, provides some necessary perspective and data:
- From Pat Buchanan to Paul Krugman, the cry has gone up that the stress on exporting American ideals is a plot by nefarious “neoconservatives.” Even John Kerry — the nominee of Wilson’s own party — sounds disdainful of attempts to spread freedom to places like Cuba and Iran.
Maybe, the cynics suggest, some people (the Arabs, for instance) are simply unfit for self-rule. More sophisticated versions of this argument suggest focusing on economic development first, to be followed eventually by political liberalization. If impoverished nations rush to hold elections, realpolitikers fear, the result could be the rise of “illiberal democracies” or instability and civil war. Better to deal with enlightened despots like Hosni Mubarak or Lee Kuan Yew rather than risk the messiness of freedom.
Anyone seduced by these arguments would do well to peruse two important studies conducted by scholars with impeccable liberal credentials. The first is a new book called “The Democracy Advantage”
….Siegle, Weinstein and Halperin puncture the myth that democracy works only in rich nations. In fact, many poor countries have freely elected governments (think India, Poland and Brazil) while some rich ones (think Saudi Arabia and Singapore) do not. Far from economic development being necessary for democracy, they argue that democracy promotes economic development. Free countries grow faster than their more repressive neighbors. They also perform better on social measures such as life expectancy, literacy rates, clean drinking water and healthcare. And they are less prone to armed conflict.
….According to Siegle, Weinstein and Halperin, autocracies are prone to wild swings in economic and political performance. Democracies, with greater openness and accountability, generally produce more consistent results. They note that “the 87 largest refugee crises over the past 20 years originated in autocracies,” and they cite Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s observation that “no democracy with a free press has ever experienced a major famine.”
In light of these findings, Siegle, Weinstein and Halperin urge the U.S. to eschew a “development first, democracy later” model in favor of spreading democracy first and foremost. That case is strengthened by a study last year in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Alan Krueger, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton (and a Clinton administration veteran), and Jitka Maleckova, a professor of Middle Eastern studies in Prague.
They reject the conventional wisdom that terrorism is rooted in poverty and lack of education. It does not comport with data showing, for instance, that Palestinian suicide bombers are wealthier and better educated than the general population.
…the only variable that was consistently associated with the number of terrorists was the Freedom House index of political rights and civil liberties. Countries with more freedom were less likely to be the birthplace of international terrorists. Poverty and literacy were unrelated to the number of terrorists from a country. Think of a country like Saudi Arabia: It is wealthy but has few political and civil freedoms. Perhaps it is no coincidence that so many of the Sept. 11 terrorists — and Osama bin Laden himself — came from there.”
Paul Wolfowitz couldn’t have said it better. Of course, even admitting that democracy promotion is in U.S. interests, there will be differences over how to go about it. Anyone not on the administration’s payroll would concede that its performance has been far from flawless. But President Bush is on the right track because he recognizes the democracy imperative that too many of his critics unfairly dismiss as neocon nuttiness. [LA Times]
Bush sees that the right thing is also the best thing to do: attacking terror aggressively and clearing a way for democracy at the same time. Ultimately – campaign style, personality, and mud-slinging from both sides notwithstanding – this is why he will win.