The Centrality of Iraq
The impending election, in large part, turns on whether the American people believe George Bush or John Kerry is better suited to be Commander in Chief whilst prosecuting something we've come to call the global war on terror ("GWOT"). Now fundamental to all this, the big 800-pound gorilla in the room, is the Iraq war. Some individuals believe the war in Iraq and the GWOT are one and the same--Iraq an integral part of the wider war--and that we remain right to have gone in. Others believe Iraq was always destined to be a massive blunder--not only distracting us from the real war on terror but also, tragically, actually worsening our position in the GWOT by further poisoning relations with the Islamic (particularly Arab Muslim) world. Still others accept that the Iraq war was a necessary part of the GWOT but that it has proven a net negative given strategic blunders in theater.
The pessimists make a strong case that the war was a bad idea. Over 1,000 American servicemen and women are dead. Many thousands more wounded. Britons, Poles, Italians and other coalition countries have lost personnel. USD $120B, and counting, has been spent on the war effort. The cost in blood and treasure has been dear--and it looks set to keep mounting for a good while yet. Not to mention the cost to Iraqis. Yes, they have been freed from a bloody tyrant. But perhaps well over ten thousand Iraqis have perished since the war began. Suicide bombings are daily events in certain beleaguered Iraqi cities. Fallujah is controlled by fanatical terrorists and avowed fundamentalists. I've lost track of how many new Iraqi police forces have been massacred at recruiting stations. Lately, suicide bombers have taken to infiltrating the Green Zone itself-the very seat of interim Iraqi and coalition power--killing American nationals on their own front doorstep in brazen fashion.
Put simply, the U.S. has failed in providing basic security through wide, critical swaths of Iraq. And, consequently, reconstruction has severely lagged. So Iraqis can be forgiven musing whether the previous brutishly imposed order might not be preferable to the near chaos that reigns in parts of the country today. So, one might fairly ask, and to put it bluntly, how can I support the man who dragged us into this bloody mess, this foolhardy adventure--what might well potentially prove to be the worst foreign policy blunder for America since the Vietnam War.
A small vignette. Sometime in late 2001, I was having lunch with a couple attorneys in Washington DC. One of the lawyers, who will remain unnamed, is a smart pro who knows well the ins out and out of the Beltway and has lots of Pentagon and Middle East experience. Talk quickly turned to Iraq. My lunchmate had recently been over at the Pentagon talking to people. War-planning, he told me, seemed underway. 'Can you believe they are really serious about it' was basically the vibe he was giving off. They're gonna go into Iraq! Crazy! Do they have a clue what they are getting themselves into?
Were such skeptics right all along? And were the very smartest of the elites who were pro-intervention snookered or clueless (I'm thinking of the Ken Pollacks, Andrew Sullivans, Leon Wieseltiers, Fareed Zakarias). Well, now about two years out--we have a better sense of what Iraq has wrought. No rosy-colored lens over here at B.D.--I've mentioned the difficulties we face above. But let's also look at the positive side of the ledger. The Battle of Baghdad didn't cost the lives of 3,000-5,000 G.I.s. Saddam was unseated with blitzkrieg speed. There were no massive refugee flows. The conflict didn't spill over into neighboring countries. No conflagration tantamount to civil war has occured to date. The Turks haven't gotten too panicky about Kurdish de facto deep autonomy (yet). Iran, in deep meddle-mode to be sure--has not full-blown scuttled developments in the Shi'a south. In the region generally, the House of Saud has not been replaced by UBL adherents--and no U.S. troops remain in Saudi Arabia. Pakistan and Egypt remain, on the whole, pretty stable. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict grinds on-but the Iraq war hasn't worsened the moribund peace process in any significant manner.
All this aside, and most important of all, Iraq is (if in tortuous fashion) moving towards elections come January. We do not yet know if certain parts of the Sunni Triangle will be able to participate in the voting. We can be fearful of the perils of a crude Shia majoritarianism emerging through the ballot-box--especially if many Sunnis are denied (or simply cannot) vote. Kurdistan remains, in many ways, the sleeper issue--we shouldn't forget it too can explode given Turkey's interests there. And yet. As with Afghanistan, it appears a somewhat viable election may occur in Iraq shortly--a country that had been under the yoke of a brutal, neo-Stalinist thug for three decades. This would be an historic accomplishment by any standard, would it not? One we could be proud of--provided that the election, at least in large part, was viewed by a large majority of Iraqis as enjoying a real imprimatur of legitimacy.
Why We Went In
B.D. supported the war in Iraq mostly on traditional realist grounds. Post 9/11, I believed that Saddam posed a uniquely worrisome threat. Unlike N. Korea and Iran--Saddam had started two regional wars and had used WMD against his own people in odious fashion. Perhaps he was not a madman, but he certainly was a volatile strategic blunderer (more than the Mullahs in Teheran and more than Kim Jong Il). To be sure, we had a massive intelligence failure, but the DCI told the sitting President that the case that Iraq had an active WMD program was a "slam dunk." Did Cheney exagerrate the nuclear angle? Yes, and he should have come more clean during the postmortem. But did POTUS purposefully lie to the American people on the WMD issue? I don't think a judicious examination of the evidence bears that out.
Regardless, and after 9/11, I was concerned that Saddam, inspired by UBL's dramatic success in New York, would transfer biological or chemical weaponry to a terrorist group like al-Qaeda. Was I a simpleton or a hysteric to have been so concerned given Saddam's unique track record sketched above? Given a decade of obstruction and obfuscation--flouting well over a dozen U.N. resolutions since 1991? Given that the U.K. and U.S. were involved in military operations there through the 90s? Given that the avowed policy of the Clinton team was "regime change"? Well, no, I don't think I was.
But there is more than all this, of course. 9/11 was what Hegel might have called a world-historical event. There was something prima facie epoch-shaping that happened when those two Towers crumbled to the ground. Expressions of regret poured in from all over the world. Even the Mayor of Teheran extended condolences to Rudy. Saddam, of course, extended no such regrets. But why should he have? After all, while not reportedly sharing any collaborative, operational links with al-Qaeda--he was (to a fashion) linked to them in esprit--given his use of chemical weaponry against his own population, his support to the families of suicide bombers in Israel (a cheap propaganda ploy, but revealing nonetheless of his view of how to reward those who might purposefully go about massacring innocent civilians), his harboring of Abu Nidal and other terror-masters in the past.
Nick Lemann has an interesting New Yorker piece in the current edition (of which more in another post) entitled "Remember the Alamo--How George Bush Reinvented Himself." In it, he quotes Richard Haass (formerly Head of Policy Planning at State, now President of the Council on Foreign Relations). In a revealing passage, Lemann asked Haass why we went to war in Iraq:
I will go to my grave not knowing that. I can't answer it. I can't explain the strategic obsession with Iraq--why it rose to the top of people's priority list. I just can't explain why so many people thought this was so important to do. But if there was a hidden reason, the one I heard most was that we needed to change the geopolitical momentum after 9/11. People wanted to show that we can dish it out as well as take it. We're not a pitiful helpless giant. We can play offense as well as defense. I heard that from some people. Of course, some would say that Afghanistan was enough. There are two what-ifs. One, what if there had been no 9/11--would it have happened? I think the odds are slightly against it, even though some people were for it. Two, what if we knew there were no weapons of mass destruction? I'd say no. But the urge to do this existed pre-9/11. What 9/11 did was change the atmosphere in which decisions were made. The only serious argument for war was weapons of mass destruction. [emphasis added]
Lemann portrays Haass as a mega-Iraq war skeptic--which I'm not so sure is the case. Like many of us, of course, Haass is dismayed by the dismal post-war planning. But, even if Haass is skeptical, there is something to this argument of regaining "the geopolitical momentum." Not like some mammoth, clumsy, wounded animal lashing out blindly at all comers. But in purposeful manner, in terms of attempting the hard, generational task of moving the Middle East towards modernity (the epicenter of the radical terrorist threat we face). Given a confluence of factors too lengthy to go through in any more detail here--Iraq became the place where that effort was launched. Now we must determine who between Kerry and Bush can best lead us forward from this difficult and so important place we find ourselves.
The Existential Stakes
Today, we are at war with radical Islam. Not Islam writ large, mind you. Not all Arabs either. There is too much tut-tutting about all those towel-headed Mohameds in large swaths of the right blogosphere. I find such rhetoric repulsive and worthy of our worst racist tendencies. But, that said, we face a mortal enemy in the face of radical Islam. Its tentacles are spread in far-flung fashion; from Jakarta to Casablanca; from Bali to Madrid. Those who killed 3,000 in New York on 9/11 are only too happy to kill 3 million at their first opportunity. We can, unfortunately, not yet be confident that the 21st century will be less bloody than the 20th.
A few days after 9/11, Andrew Sullivan wrote:
THIS ISN'T TERRORISM, IT'S WAR: Besides, this enemy is not simply a band of thugs, but several regimes that aid and abet these people and have celebrated this atrocity. These regimes have declared war on the United States, and it is time we repay the favor. The precedent is not the Sudan under Clinton or even Libya under Reagan. Under Clinton, these regimes were encouraged. Under Reagan, they were scared, but, under Reagan, they had not yet launched this kind of war. Now they have - even daring to target one of the citadels of our democracy: the White House. This is the most grievous declaration of war against America in history. What Wright hasn't absorbed, I think, is that we are no longer fighting terrorism. We are at war. And we are not at war with any old regime or even a handful of terrorists. We are at war with an evil that will only grow unless it is opposed with all the might at our command. We must wage that war with a ferocity that doesn't merely scare these monsters but terrifies them. Merely murdering bin Laden is a laughable response. If this new war can be waged with partners - specifically Russia, NATO, China - so much the better. But if not, the United States must act alone - and as soon as we can be assured of complete success. There are times when it is not inappropriate or even immoral to use overwhelming power merely to terrify and avenge. Read your Machiavelli. We must shock them more than they have shocked us. We must do so with a force not yet seen in human history. Then we can begin to build a future of greater deterrence. I repeat: we are not responding to terrorism any more. We are at war. And war requires no restraint, simply massive and unanswerable force until the enemy is not simply defeated but unconditionally destroyed. To hesitate for fear of reprisal is to have capitulated before we have even begun. I don't believe Americans want to capitulate to anyone. The only question is whether we will get the leadership now to deal with this or whether we will have to endure even worse atrocities before a real leader emerges. [emphasis added]
Now three years on, that question remains as critical as it did back then.
George Bush, in my view, understands the nature of the evil we are combating. He understands it deep in his gut, to his very core, and this is why I will be voting for him in November. To be sure, I am voting for him with many reservations (of which more below); but I am confident and, indeed, proud of my vote because Bush's intellectual firmament has grasped this essential truth.
A few days after 9/11; Bush movingly went to Ground Zero and rallied a nation. This was critical to our national fabric, and I will always honor him for it. To be frank and more revelatory than I may like on this blog--I still get emotional when I remember that day. To the grotesquely cheap Mooreian attacks regarding the "My Pet Goat" readings at the Florida school--I say remember the moment Bush grabbed that megaphone and rallied a profoundly wounded nation.
Bush then proceeded to go about methodically gaining Pakistan's vital support in the fight against the Taliban--through the hugely admirable efforts of Colin Powell. Next, Bush swept the Taliban from power--denying al-Qaeda their key state sanctuary. Kerry now trots out the Tora Bora meme-that we let UBL get away because we "outsourced" the effort to local Afghans. This is a risible argument, as any serious observer well realizes. The Tora Bora mountain range is massive--and even if we had sent in many tens of thousands of our troops (as if Al Gore would have done so; a laughable notion as well)--there were myriad escape routes. Not only that, as recently pointed out in an op-ed in the WSJ, local tribesmen might well have taken up arms against us in the foothills before we even got to the die-hard al-Qaeda fighters--should such a massive insertion of U.S. fighting forces have occured. And, besides, we are not even sure UBL was even in Tora Bora during that time frame. No, more realistically, better to conclude: thank God Bush was Commander in Chief during the Afghan operation rather than Al Gore! Can you imagine a Les Aspin type planning such an operation?
Out of the rubble of Ground Zero and through the advent of Afghanistan--the Bush doctrine was born--the policy that states that nations that harbor terrorists would be held just as culpable by the United States as the terrorists themselves. Afghanistan, of course, was the wholly uncontroversial enunciation of this doctrine--and Iraq the much more controversial one. But, whatever you make of Iraq, can anyone now deny that the U.S. takes the threat of terror with the utmost seriousness? Have we not proven that we are not a paper tiger? That we will fight valiantly and hard in pursuit of our security and our values? This too, is part of Bush's record--no matter how often it is poo-pooed by cynics who think this is all dumb Simian-like macho talk that doesn't matter. I'm sorry, but it very much does. To deny this is to deny reality.
Of course, there is much that is troubling about Bush's performance during his first term. Front and center, in my view, was the fact that we never sent enough troops into Iraq to create secure conditions. From this, many troubles stemmed. Massive looting. Huge resentment of an occupier that couldn't (some there, given to conspiracy, think purposefully wouldn't) stabilize the country they occupied. And, of course, Abu Ghraib--a deep stain on our national reputation that floored me.
(Note there is a dirty little secret about Abu Ghraib that often passes unmentioned. I recently spoke to a former U.S. diplomat who travels to the Middle East often. I asked him about the impact of Abu Ghraib there. To be sure, it didn't help. But the sad reality is that many Arabs, so accustomed to their myriad mukhabarat-style secret polices and organs of repression--weren't, finally, that shocked by Abu Ghraib. The real issues that infuriate Arabs, make no mistake, are 1) their frustration with the repressive polities they inhabit, with the attendant atrophied economies and 2) the perceived humiliation born of the Arab-Israeli conflict).
In short, Bush's record has been mixed--but he gets the existential stakes at play. I would only vote for Kerry if: a) he got the stakes too and b) assuming "a", that I thought he would prosecute the war in materially more effective fashion. I don't believe either.
Kerry Doesn't Get the Stakes
I don't believe, in his gut, Kerry believes that we face an existential challenge with regard to the war on terror. How else to explain the now famous quote in the Matt Bai article:
We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,'' Kerry said. ''As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life.'
Or, in the same article, we are told that Kerry told Bai that 9/11 didn't change him. Look, I'm not one of those crazies who caught the fever after 9/11. We all know some of these people. A switch kinda clicked upstairs and it's all gung-ho, jingo off to Mecca we go--us against a billion Muslims. But I do believe, as I said earlier in this post, that 9/11 was a world historical event. It sure changed me. It quashed the Fukuyama end of history thesis (the resurgence of nationalism in the Balkans had gone some way towards doing so already, in my view). It heralded the beginning of a new, perilous era. You're effing right it changed me. How about you?
There's more, of course, re: why I'm dubious that Kerry gets the stakes. Put aside whether Allawi's speech to Congress was vetted by the White House. It was a moving, important speech nonetheless. And Iraq is the most important conflict we face now--a critical component of the generational challenge we face to modernize the Middle East--so as to reduce the pool of prospective fanatics who will adhere to a radicalized Islamic vision. But Kerry denigrated Allawi's speech--all but calling him a liar. I'm sorry, but that's just not serious. Actually, it's worse than not serious--it's immensely irresponsible and, yes, dangerous.
Kerry also suffers from something of a Vietnam syndrome. I, like Robert Kagan has written, believe that Kerry has a deep distrust and suspicion regarding exerting American power overseas. He voted against Gulf War I, for Pete's sake (Saudi oil supplies likely to be controlled by Iraq!?! Hey, who cares!). His disregard for such a vital strategic interest has been replicated when confronted by humanitarian tragedies too. See his vote against 'lift and strike' in Bosnia (Laura Rozen would like you to forget it). Kerry says he would never send our boys into war unless it is absoutely necessary. Well, what is absolutely necessary Senator? Really, what? Too little, in Kerry's worldview, I'm afraid.
Nor am I persuaded that Kerry, tactically, will prove more impressive than Bush (even if, for argument's sake, we assumed he got the stakes). Again, from the Bai article:
We need to engage more directly and more respectfully with Islam, with the state of Islam, with religious leaders, mullahs, imams, clerics, in a way that proves this is not a clash with the British and the Americans and the old forces they remember from the colonial days,'' Kerry told me during a rare break from campaigning, in Seattle at the end of August. ''And that's all about your diplomacy.''
When I suggested that effecting such changes could take many years, Kerry shook his head vehemently and waved me off.
''Yeah, it is long-term, but it can be dramatically effective in the short term. It really can be. I promise you.'' He leaned his head back and slapped his thighs. ''A new presidency with the right moves, the right language, the right outreach, the right initiatives, can dramatically alter the world's perception of us very, very quickly.
''I know Mubarak well enough to know what I think I could achieve in the messaging and in the press in Egypt,'' Kerry went on. ''And, similarly, with Jordan and with King Abdullah, and what we can do in terms of transformation in the economics of the region by getting American businesspeople involved, getting some stability and really beginning to proactively move in those ways. We just haven't been doing any of this stuff. We've been stunningly disengaged, with the exception of Iraq.
It's always like this with Kerry, isn't it? I know Gerard. And Jacques too. We get along! There will be a summit. I've got a plan! We'll agree it amidst all the cheery summitry. Paris, perhaps? Adoring crowds will crowd the Champs for a glimpse of me! Yes, we'll all get along better if I win. After all, I know what really makes key leaders tick. How to get things moving. And we need to "do" better diplomacy. Oh, Hosni and I are buddies too--so Middle East democratization will go swimmingly should I win--even if I pull our boys out of Iraq to remedy that noxious backdoor draft thang.
Let's be honest with ourselves here, OK? Kerry has shown astonishingly little by way of real, viable policy alternatives. He's brought almost nothing new to the table. To be clear. His NoKo policy is a replication of the failed Clinton policy. The only difference between Bush and Kerry on Iran policy is that Bush will play a bit harder when it gets to the U.N. and, if Kerry wins, John Bolton won't be around to bitch about it all. On Iraq, it's all: I'll reconstruct better!; I'll train better!, I'll run the elections better! and so on. Would that Kerry had, rather than signal retreat, told us he would send more troops if needed to decisively signal to our foes we will not abandon our effort there. Instead, it's the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.
How about the critical Arab-Israeli conflict? Kerry has big, bold plans, I've heard! Look, would I prefer that Bush more loudly proclaimed that Gaza first didn't mean Gaza last? That talk in Israeli political circles that a Gaza withdrawal means the U.S. will let the Israelis keep hold of the West Bank be more staunchly hushed? Oh, maybe. But it's an election year. And Sharon needs to get rightist Likudniks on board--so give him some breathing room to at least pull off Gaza. Our bright Ambassador to Tel Aviv (Dan Kurtzer) and Asst Sec of State for Near Eastern Affairs (Bill Burns) are admirably plugging away--trying to at least have a symbolic withdrawal from some West Bank settlements take place concomittantly with any Gaza withdrawal. Such linkage could then be used to spearhead some forward movement on the roadmap later on. The peace processers are still at work.
Would John Kerry handle this differently? There is talk of a special envoy, perhaps Clinton (who flubbed Camp David II by not backstopping with Fahd and Mubarak re: how far Arafat could go on Jerusalem concessions). Should we again cheapen the Presidential coin with late night poring over map sessions around the empty pizza delivery boxes? More 15 hour days at Sheperdstown? No folks, Kerry offers nothing compelling on how to resuscitate the peace process. Indeed, he (and, most theatrically Edwards, during his debate with Cheney) disingenuously play the 'we will be better friends to Israel than the Bush team' card.
Let me also say this. A Bush II will not be a Bush I repeat. By that, I guess, I mean that we are not rushing into Iran or Syria. The neo-cons, of course, have lost a lot of street cred. Bush might be stubborn and not wont to admit mistakes. But he's not an idiot. He knows, say, a land war in Iran would be folly. And he knows he has gotten a lot of bogus advice from the Pentagon. Bush is a hard competitor, indeed he's ruthlessly competitive. Above all, he's a survivor. He will be getting advice from a broader swath of advisors in his second term, I trust.
The Kerry team? Holbrooke would be strong--but the sub-Holbrooke swaths of Foggy Bottom, I fear, would be weak. Despite the major errors in the post-war planning of this Administration, I have more faith in the foreign policy aptitude of a Bush II team than a Kerry I. You can disagree, but I think you'd be wrong--even if you think Susan Rice and Jamie Rubin are the greatest things since sliced bread.
Substance Over Form, Please!
Finally, a quick point related to the below from Dan Drezner (explaining why he will likely vote Kerry):
Given the foreign policy stakes in this election, I prefer a leader who has a good decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I don't like, over a leader who has a bad decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I do like.
Boy Dan, you couldn't be more wrong in my book. This line of argument might have flyed in the 90's--but I think it's a dangerous outlook in the post 9/11 world. Perhaps if the policy making process were fatally flawed--I'd agree. But any occasional NSC breakdowns in brokering a coherent policy on Iran, NoKo, the Arab-Israeli peace process--while they have bothered me much over the past years--I must nevertheless conclude that such issues pale in comparison with the specter of a commander-in-chief who would view terror as something merely constitutive of a "nuisance" to be managed in routine fashion.
This isn't just semantic nit-picking. Kerry has hinted (often without realizing it), and too often in my view, that he would go back to the days that terrorism was treated as basically a law enforcement issue. He and his supporters will vehemently dispute this, of course. But, if you read between the lines, there's a lot there to make you strongly suspect that to be the case. In my view, that's just not acceptable in a post 9/11 world. And, more important, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding about the existential stakes at play given the long-term nature of the struggle we face against radical Islam.
This isn't just a matter of "foreign policy instincts." It's a matter of core conviction regarding the nature of the struggle we find ourselves in. About the broad direction that American foreign policy will move in vis-a-vis responding to these very real challenges during the next so critical years. Give me, even with flawed policy execution, a leader who gets the stakes deep in his gut--above one who will have a better process (which, incidentally, I doubt) but has shown (repeatedly) a worrisomely sanguine view of the perils we face at the present hour.
P.S. Drezner also writes: "If Bush gets re-elected, he and his team will view it as a vindication for all of their policy decisions to date. Whatever groupthink occurred in the first term would pale besides the groupthink that would dominate the second term."
Does Dan really believe that a Bush victory will have Doug Feith feeling "vindicated" so that group-think would prevail via some Libby-Bolton-Feith axis? Er, I think not. Nor do John Negroponte or Zal Khalilzad, I suspect. Regardless, some of these folks, I'd wager, aren't even going to be around in a Bush II.
MORE: Kerry's Senatorial work is being trotted out to make him appear almost eerily prescient re: the perils of non-state actors in terms of the terror threat. Matt Bai's piece is an (inadvertently) humorous example:
More senior members of the foreign-relations committee, like Joe Biden and Richard Lugar, were far more visible and vocal on the emerging threat of Islamic terrorism. But through his BCCI investigation, Kerry did discover that a wide array of international criminals -- Latin American drug lords, Palestinian terrorists, arms dealers -- had one thing in common: they were able to move money around through the same illicit channels. And he worked hard, and with little credit, to shut those channels down.
In 1988, Kerry successfully proposed an amendment that forced the Treasury Department to negotiate so-called Kerry Agreements with foreign countries. Under these agreements, foreign governments had to promise to keep a close watch on their banks for potential money laundering or they risked losing their access to U.S. markets. Other measures Kerry tried to pass throughout the 90's, virtually all of them blocked by Republican senators on the banking committee, would end up, in the wake of 9/11, in the USA Patriot Act; among other things, these measures subject banks to fines or loss of license if they don't take steps to verify the identities of their customers and to avoid being used for money laundering.
Through his immersion in the global underground, Kerry made connections among disparate criminal and terrorist groups that few other senators interested in foreign policy were making in the 90's. Richard A. Clarke, who coordinated security and counterterrorism policy for George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, credits Kerry with having seen beyond the national-security tableau on which most of his colleagues were focused. ''He was getting it at the same time that people like Tony Lake were getting it, in the '93 -'94 time frame,'' Clarke says, referring to Anthony Lake, Clinton's national security adviser. ''And the 'it' here was that there was a new nonstate-actor threat, and that nonstate-actor threat was a blended threat that didn't fit neatly into the box of organized criminal, or neatly into the box of terrorism. What you found were groups that were all of the above.''
"Immersion in the global underground". Heh. Is that in Davos? With apologies to Mr. Bai--but this whole part of his article reeks of B.S. Contra Richard Clarke, I don't think John 'Nostradamus' Kerry was "getting it" in '93. This all smells like inspired spin to make Kerry seem like the right guy to go after all those non-state actor meanies. Don't believe the hype. The apercu that terrorists need money, regardless, isn't particularly breathtaking. And from investigating BCCI to prosecuting a war against al-Qaeda--well, they're different kettle of fish entirely. Relatedly, the argument that the Bushies are still Politburo-watching and state-actor obsessed is just bunk. Certainly, it's now a moot point post 9/11. No one in the Bush administration can be accused, certainly at this juncture, of ignoring the perils of non-state actors. Oh, note, pace Clarke, that groups like al-Qaeda are both terrorist and criminal groupings (certainly let's never be accused of putting things in overly neat boxes!). So, er, make sure you've got process servers ready too in case court summons need to be served up in Wazirstan...I'm being facetious, of course. But I think you get my point.
UPDATE: Dan Drezner (whose post reminded me how to spell Richard Haass' name--I always drop that second "s"!), remains "unconvinced" that "Bush's foreign policy has been a greater success than commonly thought, and [he's] not convinced that [Bush] would ever be able to recognize the need for policy change." But hey, he's a tad more concerned about Kerry's "bad foreign policy instincts." Progress!
And blogger Eric Martin, who often keeps me on my toes, takes me to task too. His thoughts are well-worth reading.
STILL MORE (and with apologies for the simply ridiculous length of this post): David Adesnik, my first blog-friend (on the basis of a quick coffee in my London offices many moons ago!), looks set to vote Kerry. I won't pretend that Drezner and Adesnik's likely votes for Kerry don't give me pause--they are two of the very brightest foreign policy minds in the blogosphere. But I think Drezner, among other things, is too caught up in process; and I think Adesnik is overly generous to Kerry re: the latter's commitment to democracy.
After all David, this is pretty thin gruel you serve up, no?
Finally, I believe there is an ethical core to Kerry's foreign policy that can be put into the service of democratization. In the 1980s, Kerry's concern for human rights led him to denounce Reagan's support for anti-Communist rebels in Nicaragua known as 'contras'.
Indeed David--in the very post announcing Kerry as his likely choice--is forced to concede in the very next sentence:
Like his fellow Democrats, Kerry failed to recognize that the price of abandoning the contras was the destruction of any hope for democratic reform in Nicaragua. On a fundamental level, liberal Democrats opposed American intervention in other nations' domestic affairs, even if those nations were being held hostage by Communists.
Le plus ca change David. Kerry and Co. (ie, broad non-Lieberman swaths of the Democrat party), in my view, do not truly care about whether Iraq becomes a democratic polity or not. Now, of course, you might argue that Bush is so 'in the bubble', stubborn, clueless, and divorced from reality that--even though he might care more about forging democracy there--it doesn't mean squat on the ground because he's incapable of addressing reality square in the face.
But balancing Bush's worrisome tendency to be something of a 'Propellor President' (as Sully puts it); against Kerry's lack of true committment to forging democracy in Iraq--well, I come out on the Dubya side of the fence. Not least because I think that Bush is capable of staring reality in the face and making mid-course policy adjustments. Indeed, he has repeatedly done so in Iraq (Fallujah, Brahimi-brought-on-board, how Sadr was handled, ditching Garner for Bremer, empowering Negroponte and State over civies at the Pentagon, and more).
Posted by Gregory Djerejian at October 17, 2004 10:26 AM