September 01, 2004

Winning the War on Terror

So there has been a big hullabaloo about Dubya's comments that we might not "win" the war on terror:

"I dont think you can win it (i.e., the war on terror). But I think you can create conditions so that the those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."

Reacting to this, grown-ups on the other side of the aisle might have issued a joint statement saying:

"We are glad that the President is signaling that the campaign against terrorism is more than just a military effort. That we will need to win hearts and minds in the Islamic world, resolve outstanding territorial conflicts that fuel hatred against us and our allies, provide greater economic opportunities for citizens throughout the Middle East region. So we are heartened to see the President moving in a more sober direction and seeming to move away from his unfortunate focus on a rigid, militaristic doctrine of preemption. We need to use all the tools in America's arsenal--including soft power, public diplomacy, and more economic assistance."

Or something like that.

The Kerry-Edwards reaction?

Cherub-like Edwards disingenuously enthuses:

What if President Reagan had said that it may be difficult to win the war against communism?" Senator John Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, said on ABC. "The war on terrorism is absolutely winnable."

Better to spread the empty talk around, eh?

And then there's this cheap shot:

"This president has gone from mission accomplished to mission miscalculated to mission impossible on the war on terror," said Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer.

Glad to see the Democrats are taking the high road--casually tossing around movie name soundbites re: the biggest issue of the day.

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

An on the ball commenter writes in:

Gregory:

I encourage you and readers to visit Michelle Malkin's web site. She describes how President Bush's remarks were taken out of context.

Dialogue:

Lauer: You said to me a second ago, one of the things you'll lay out in your vision for the next four years is how to go about winning the war on terror. That phrase strikes me a little bit. Do you really think we can win this war on terror in the next four years?

President Bush: I have never said we can win it in four years.

Lauer: So Im just saying can we win it? Do you see that?

President Bush: I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world - let's put it that way. I have a two pronged strategy. On the one hand is to find them before they hurt us, and that's necessary. Im telling you it's necessary. The country must never yield, must never show weakness [and] must continue to lead. To find al-Qaida affiliates who are hiding around the world and harm us and bring em to justice - we're doing a good job of it. I mean we are dismantling the al-Qaida as we knew it. The long-term strategy is to spread freedom and liberty, and that's really kind of an interesting debate. You know there's some who say well, You know certain people can't self govern and accept, you know, a former democracy. I just strongly disagree with that. I believe that democracy can take hold in parts of the world that are now non-democratic and I think it's necessary in order to defeat the ideologies of hate. History has shown that it can work, that spreading liberty does work. After all, Japan is our close ally and my dad fought against the Japanese. Prime Minister Koizumi, is one of the closest collaborators I have in working to make the world a more peaceful place.

It is much different when taken in proper context.

Indeed it is.

Posted by Gregory at September 1, 2004 01:00 AM
Comments

These kind of silly attacks should be beneath intelligent people. Everyone of sound mind understands what Bush meant. I agree that your suggested statement would have been much more impressive.

Do these people not realize that their spin is to transparent.

I caught a couple of Dems on the Factor last night and they just could not resist repeating the standard Dem spin and talking points not impressive to O'Reilly's audience.

Contrast that to the interviews with Mary Matelin and William Weld who were sober and analytical. Weld even stated that Kerry is an excellent debater whom Bush could not beat on policy issues.

Posted by: tallan at September 1, 2004 03:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If the Kerry campaign had issued the statement you made (modifying the 'hearts and minds' phrase - enough Vietnam-speak from Kerry already), Kerry could have scored some points.

Instead, they chose the playground gotcha-politics that only the obtuse or the childish believe.

Posted by: Les Nessman at September 1, 2004 03:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oh, please. If Kerry had been the one with the soundbite saying you can't win the war on terror, you know you would have been all over him. Any further elaboration would have been attacked for being "too nuanced" and lacking "clear vision" or "firm resolve" or "steadfast leadership".

Bush deserves kudos for -finally- saying what he said, and I agree that any reasonable person understands what he meant. But spare me your double standard.

Posted by: Keev at September 1, 2004 06:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gregory:

I encourage you and readers to visit Michelle Malkins web site. She describes how President Bush's remarks were taken out of context.

Dialogue:

Lauer: You said to me a second ago, one of the things you'll lay out in your vision for the next four years is how to go about winning the war on terror. That phrase strikes me a little bit. Do you really think we can win this war on terror in the next four years?

President Bush: I have never said we can win it in four years.

Lauer: So Im just saying can we win it? Do you see that?

President Bush: I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world - let's put it that way. I have a two pronged strategy. On the one hand is to find them before they hurt us, and that's necessary. Im telling you it's necessary. The country must never yield, must never show weakness [and] must continue to lead. To find al-Qaida affiliates who are hiding around the world and harm us and bring em to justice - we're doing a good job of it. I mean we are dismantling the al-Qaida as we knew it. The long-term strategy is to spread freedom and liberty, and that's really kind of an interesting debate. You know there's some who say well, You know certain people can't self govern and accept, you know, a former democracy. I just strongly disagree with that. I believe that democracy can take hold in parts of the world that are now non-democratic and I think it's necessary in order to defeat the ideologies of hate. History has shown that it can work, that spreading liberty does work. After all, Japan is our close ally and my dad fought against the Japanese. Prime Minister Koizumi, is one of the closest collaborators I have in working to make the world a more peaceful place.


It is much different when taken in proper context.


http://www.michellemalkin.com/

Posted by: Capt America at September 1, 2004 01:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Update this, Greg:

Oh Captain, if only that mattered.

Quick story:

After Mort Kondrake's prescient warning about the next days news, I popped a tape in to record the first half-hour of Tuesday's 'The Today Show'.

Now these people had the source feed. It was their man that did the interview, it was their network that physically owned the tape.

And to their credit: Couric played the extended, in-context quote - going even farther back and further forward than your capture, above, Captain. She comes out of the bite to Russert and what is their analysis?

And to their shame, their take: What a mistake it was to say that we can't win the war on terror, and isn't this going to hurt him, Tim?

Absolutely incredible. Where now your desire for nuance, Katie? Whither your parse, Timothy?

Yeah, that's what I thought, hacks.

Posted by: Tommy G at September 1, 2004 02:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

With regard to Mr. Bush's full comments, as I conceded earlier, war is not the only way, or the best way, to promote democracy. We can promote democracy using our "economic power" and "the power of our ideals".

Mr. Kerry can use "soft power" to advance democracy. But my question is, will he even be interested?

Posted by: Arjun at September 1, 2004 02:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Go to Rush Limbaugh's web site. he has a follow-up interview with the President where the statement is clarified.

Posted by: Paul at September 1, 2004 02:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You guys are awfully, uh, sensitive about this matter of jumping on quotes.

Taken in context, Bush's remark doesn't seem to have much to do with its context. He starts out by saying we can't win the war on terror, then outlines his standard strategy for winning the war on terror.

Generous listeners like yourselves may conclude he knows what he's talking about because he's your favorite president; the rest of us see once again why he needed Cheney by his side when he went up before the 9-11 panel.

Posted by: Kyle at September 1, 2004 02:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If you saw the portion of the interview where he said "I don't think we can win it," he did emphasize the "win it" part (kinda like putting finger/air quotes on those last two words).

(He meant that we cannot win this war in a traditional sense.)

Obviously, the guy is not good at "nuance". The one time he tried it, he messed up. My advice for Bush is to leave the "nuance" business to the experts like Kerry.

I'm sure the dems will try to use this gaffe to show that Bush is "weak on terrorism." But people know better, and the dems will be ridiculed and laughed at if they made that claim.

Posted by: john marzan at September 1, 2004 02:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun,

You said:

"Mr. Kerry can use "soft power" to advance democracy. But my question is, will he even be interested?"

I think the answer to that question is "yes." Democrats and Republicans can have open, honest and respectful debates about the best methods to spread democracy, and the best strategy for combatting the spread of radical Islamist terrorists, but to suggest that one side or the other is not interested in the desired outcome is a little below the belt.

Tactics may differ, and they often have over the past century, but the goal for both parties, propaganda aside, has always been the spread of democracy to all regions of the world. John Kerry is no different, and the Middle East is more pressing an area of focus than any at this time. He knows that, just as Bush knows that.

I know some people on the right like to claim Dems are socialists who don't support democracy, and people on the left claim Repubs are fascists who don't like democracy, but the truth does not lie with these shrill voices of partisan extremism (there arguments based in emotion not fact). The truth lies in the mainstream of the two parties that are, all told, relatively close to each other on almost every policy issue.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 1, 2004 04:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As for the out of context quote, I agree that it is a silly attack to make, and that the Dems should abstain.

But aren't many of you the same people who delight in pointing out that Kerry looks French, acts French, is elitist (ignoring Bush's most impressive elitist bona fides), brahmin, and other scurrilous empty attacks?

Haven't the GOP also made considerable hay out of the famous Kerry quote about voting for funding and then voting against it? Out of context it seems awful, but in context it is not as bad. He was trying to tie the funding to a subtle change in tax policy, pegging the $87 billion to cessations in the tax cuts to the wealthiest recipients. That is what he voted for. He voted against it in the second vote because he preferred his measure and wanted that to pass.

Politically daft? Yes. Is it what the GOP have made it out to seem. No.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 1, 2004 04:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric Martin,

As always, I greatly appreciate your excellent postings. I might vote for Mr. Kerry this year, and if I do, you'll deserve a lot of the credit. I sincerely apologize if I gave any offense.

However, I submit that some U.S. administrations are less interested in democracy promotion than others. Perhaps the best example of an administration with a notable lack of interest in this area is the Bush Administration, 1989-1993, which 1) "liberated" Kuwait without even encouraging its rulers to democratize, and 2) sent Mr. Scrowcroft to toast China's rulers a few months after the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

It is also the case that past U.S. administrations have in some cases, to my deep regret as an American, actively undermined democracies, for example, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Chile in 1973.

Posted by: Arjun at September 1, 2004 05:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thank you for the kind words Arjun. I appreciate your obvious generosity.

I admit that the examples of Iran, Guatemala, and Chile do somewhat undermine my overall thesis. These three are examples in which economic interests trumped the goal of spreading democracy in the extreme. Not only was democracy not encouraged, it was actively usurped in favor of totalitarianism.

These are not bright moments in our foreign policy history, and in many ways we are still paying for the deposal of Mossadegh in Iran and the subsequent instalation of the Shah. Khomeini did not emerge out of a vacuum. Still, it is hard to see how these examples would fit into a Kerry administration's foreign policy, which would seem prone to other tactics.

In defense of Bush the elder's approach to China, we have been much more successful in encouraging the spread of democratic reform in China through engagement and trade than by isolationism or punitive measures - even if it meant looking the other way with regard to the brutality of Tianmen.

By opening their society up to our marketplace of goods, and more importantly, ideas, we have planted a seed that inevitably will sprout in the form of progress toward the establishment of democratic institutions and the respect for human rights. This process, which has already begun, will take time and will often proceed in fits and spurts, with occasional setback, but change is imminent.

I think the same can be said for our current policy toward Vietnam and elsewhere. Of course, this makes our current stance toward Castro that much more perplexing. I argue that opening up Cuba as much as possible would do more to undermine and destabilize Castro than the sanctions and boycotts ever could. The track records for each approach are the evidence.

Unfortunately, both parties appear beholden to the whims of the electoral college which allow a small but vocal Cuban-American population in Florida to dictate the policy instead of the experts, who in my opinion have a better approach.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 1, 2004 06:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Oh, and no offense taken in the least.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 1, 2004 06:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I completely agree with Eric Martin about Cuba policy, and perhaps I overreached about China -- after all, at least the Bush administration didn't defend that 1989 massacre, whereas Henry Kissinger did defend the Chinese government for its use of force.

I think I remember reading once that the Kuwaiti leaders were worried that the U.S. would push for democracy after Desert Storm, and Mr. Cheney (then Defense Secretary) reassured them that the Bush Administration was not trying to promote democracy in the Middle East.

Posted by: Arjun at September 1, 2004 06:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The other point I wanted to make about the President's statement is that his point of view -- that spreading liberal democracy is necessary to win the war on al Qaeda terrorism -- isn't self-evident. (It isn't even "conservative".) People may legitimately disagree with that strategy. As for me, I agree with Mr. Bush. And my non-rhetorical question is, does Mr. Kerry agree with that strategy?

Posted by: Arjun at September 1, 2004 07:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Spreading liberal democracy is a difficult process and one that takes time and effort to nurture the necessary institutions, no matter what the context. For example, if Saudi Arabia were to instantly call national elections, the type of regime that would emerge would be worse than the one in power now. So freedom and elections don't necessarily mean democracy if there is not the right groundwork.

Similarly, Russia is learning what a fragile thing democracy is unless there are strong underlying institutions to preserve its viability. Putin is slowly exerting his control over the media, the legislature, the economy, and almost all other aspects of society in a totalitarian quasi-coup. Sure, it looks like a democracy, but what is the rule of law and freedom of press really worth in Russia. And without those two, what is an election?

As hard as it is for a country to break tradition and transform to democracy, tt is even harder to invade a country with no democratic tradition, depose the leadership, and within a year or two establish a democracy.

While normally a monumentally difficult task, it becomes that much more problematic in a country whose population has large segments (if not a majority) that are hostile to your presence, and suspicious of your motives, and whose neighbors are either hostile as well or have their own agendas that do not coincide with your own.

As almost impossible as those goals are, it is made even more difficult if the post-invasion planning is riddled with errors, miscalculations and ideology-based assumptions that flout empirical evidence and expert analysis.

In short, I believe Kerry does agree with that strategy, but from what I have read, it seems that he is in favor of exerting pressure to effect a more gradual transformation in the Middle East. He is more prone to utilize diplomatic channels to support the reform movements in the region, to strengthen their hand and influence so as to lay the necessary groundswork for a civic society ripe for democratization. Think of China, which is moving in baby steps, as opposed to Russia which flipped almost over night.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 1, 2004 08:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Also, there are means that we can use in the immediate future to greatly aid the cause against al-Qaeda and their ilk that fall short of full blown liberal democracy immediately installed across the Middle East. Take this assessment from neoconservative author Francis Fukuyama:

But the radicals swim in a much larger sea of Muslims-1.2 billion of them, more or less-who are not yet implacable enemies of the United States. If one has any doubts about this, one has only to look at the first of the United Nations Development Program's two Arab Human Development reports, which contained a poll asking whether respondents would like to emigrate to the United States if they had the opportunity. In virtually every Arab country, a majority of respondents said yes. On the other hand, recent Pew surveys of global public opinion show that positive feelings about the United States in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and other supposedly friendly Muslim countries has sunk to disastrously low levels. What these data taken as a whole suggest is that for the broad mass of public opinion in Muslim countries, we are disliked or hated not for what we are, but rather for what we do. What they do not like is a familiar list of complaints about our foreign policy that we somehow continue to fail to take seriously: our lack of concern for the plight of the Palestinians, our hypocritical support for dictators in Muslim countries, and now our occupation of Iraq.

The War on Terror is, in other words, a classic counter-insurgency war, except that it is one being played out on a global scale. There are genuine bad guys out there who are much more bitter ideological enemies than the Soviets ever were, but their success depends on the attitudes of the broader populations around them who can be alternatively supportive, hostile or indifferent-depending on how we play our cards. As we are seeing vividly in Iraqi cities like Fallujah and Najaf, counter-insurgency wars are incredibly difficult to fight, because we must somehow destroy the enemy without alienating the broader population and making things worse. Counter-insurgency requires a tricky mixture of precisely targeted force, political judgment and extremely good intelligence: a combination of carrots and sticks.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 1, 2004 08:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with almost everything written in Eric Martin's postings above.

I just want to reiterate, the radical idea that spreading freedom and democracy throughout the Arab and Muslim world is the key to winning the war on al Qaeda terrorism isn't obvious. One could certainly argue in exactly the opposite direction. For example, a "realist" could argue that we need to forget about democracy promotion in order to avoid offending friendly non-democratic Muslim governments such as those in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

For example, the 9/11 Commission Report heaps praise on General Musharraf, and barely criticizes the lack of democracy in Pakistan. There is bipartisan consensus that U.S. policy toward Pakistan ought to be focused on support for a single individual, General Musharraf, rather than on support for liberal democracy.

Also, as far as I can tell, the first Bush Administration had a cozy relationship with Persian Gulf autocrats and had no interest in using "soft power" to promote gradual democratization in the Middle East (although I do give that administration a great deal of credit for its willingness to spend political capital on behalf of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process).

Posted by: Arjun at September 1, 2004 10:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why do I keep attacking the first Bush Administration, 12 years after I helped vote that administration out of office?

It's because Mr. Kerry's foreign policy team keeps praising that administration (TPM's Josh Marshall even wrote an article stressing the similarities between the Kerry team's approach and Bush I's approach) and that bothers me, not because I'm a Democrat (although I am) but because I'm a democrat.

Posted by: Arjun at September 1, 2004 11:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Yeah - I am of a progressive bent and I wish the Democrats had taken the chance to agree when Bush actually said something true and sensible.

"I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world ..."

Wow. I am amazed. Too bad they wanted to slap him down for it. A flash of light in that mind, and they wanted to snuff it out.

Jeez.

the wesson

Posted by: The Wesson at September 2, 2004 10:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


on the other hand, the Democrats have figured out that when you're campaigning against a Republican, it's 100% hardball - dirty tricks, character assassination, innuendo - playing gotcha is the least of it.

Don't forget Bush and Rove knocked McCain out of the race in 2000 with rumors about sexual disease and black babies.

No, the grownups are not in charge - the Republicans have thrown them all out of their own party, and the Democrats simply can't afford to be mature and reasonable at this point.

the wesson

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