October 15, 2004

Howdie from the Road

Apologies for this continuing blog hiatus. I know a lot has happened over the past couple of weeks. And I've been AWOL. There are a lot of reasons for this. For one, I think I've crossed the Atlantic 6 times in something like 14 days. It has been real busy. On top of that travel, and long, long work meetings, some of the hotels I've stayed at had no Internet access late night. So, those are some of the reasons why blogging hasn't been happening (and, trust me, there are more!). Anyway...sorry!

But let me say this. I was somehow able to see all the debates. With the possible exception of the first one (those regretable grimaces and scowls!) I think Bush carried (or, at very least, put in very solid draws) for all of 'em! Not only that--so did the people I saw the debates with. And I wasn't with a crowd of Bush lovers (I so rarely am...I, er, live in London).

Two debates I saw with a quite Democrat-leaning senior partner of a top-five New York law firm whom I'm working on a deal with. He, I think it's fair to say, thought Bush won (or, at worst, struck a draw) for both debates we saw together (the first and third). Indeed, we would commisserate about how shocked we were about the so pro-Kerry post-debate spin on the networks (though, perhaps alas, we didn't have Fox in our hotel lounge)! The second Bush-Kerry debate, well, let's just say I saw it at 3 AM after groomsman duties for an old high school buddy in Paris. Blurry and late--it felt a draw (which, all told, translates into a Bush victory given that cretinous chimp Georgie showed he can go toe to toe with the steely (war-leader ready!), sententious (so Presidential!) Senator from Massachusetts).

True, Kerry did pull something off that was critical. He performed well enough to revitalize his base and have undecideds take another good look at him. On that level, you could say he was successful--that he was likely able to achieve having the critical center of American politics view him as an acceptable alternative to Dubya as Commander in Chief (albeit often still with real reservations re: his War on Terror resolve--of which much more in going forward posts). But to argue that the debates were some Kerry blow-out is just bunk.

Oh, the Veepstakes. I saw the Cheney-Edwards debate in New York with someone who is something of a family friend of Kerry's. Both our judgments, basically: Cheney manhandled Edwards who, at one juncture (when not shamelessly pandering or appearing something of a babe in the woods) seemed incapable of doing anything other than nervously swigging at his glass of water, taking frantic notes, and then tearing into a new sheet of paper as the Tolstoyan note-taking tome proceeded apace).

Bottom line: After Debate 1 and Karen Hughes cooling POTUS off--I thought Bush was OK on substance, looked at least as Presidential as his opponent, and pretty much got through the debates just fine thank you. There were no knock-out blows, Bush more than held his own, and now the final sprint to November. Sure, as Bush was riding pretty high until the first debate--one speculates that, had he performed like a debate champ in Round 1, it might have been an early TKO with Bush sailing to victory. But I doubt it. This race was always going to be tight to the finish. No real surprises here. Except that Bush, in my view, bested or equaled Kerry in all the debates (again, with the possible exception of the first one because of all the facial ticks).

Look, I just read Sully's blog about the last debate last night and almost feel like we didn't see the same debate. Kerry won the discussion on immigration (and attendant discussion about safe borders)?!? Was Sullivan impressed by Kerry's ridiculous assertions about some Middle Easterners allegedly having gotten across the border (and wasn't the rumor about Chechens, regardless--who, er, aren't Middle Easterners, at least last time I checked)? Does Andrew really believe so tough Kerry is going to get those dastardly borders into the appropriate level of lock-down--all because hapless, weak-kneed Bush expressed flexiblity re: some work permit facilitation for some classes of aliens? And Andrew is impressed that Kerry so ingeniously introduced AK-47s to showcase how his gun control views will contribute to a more effective prosecution of the global war on terror! You mean better gun control laws are what's gonna win this war? C'mon! And the Tony Soprano line was enough to "dispense with the President"? You gotta be kidding me. From where I sat, it fell flat and felt like a pretty lame and transparent attempt to connect with some perceived comme il faut HBO constituency that likes to channel the Jersey intrigues. Whatever.

Well, I'm ranting a bit. There will be more sober, substantive posts aplenty in the days ahead (including regarding the Sunday Times magazine Matt Bai article). But look--I guess it's no big surprise--I will be voting for George Bush. I do this with major reservations--but I have now firmly concluded it is the best choice as between imperfect choices. I will be posting about all the whys soon (Sunday, perhaps?). But, no surprise, of course, the reasons are all foreign policy related. Domestic policy, as regular readers of my blog know, isn't my forte or focus. So, as I say too often, more soon. Sunday London time, with any luck. And please keep coming around. We'll get back to normal production over here sometime in the not too distant future.

NB: In fairness to Sullivan, I should note he gave Bush some points for his performance last night too.

Posted by Gregory at October 15, 2004 12:55 AM
Comments

Greg, get that absentee ballot in the mail right away. Civilization may depend on your one vote.

Posted by: John at October 15, 2004 04:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Welcome back.

Missed ya.

Posted by: Birkel at October 15, 2004 04:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

john, despite pataki recently jestfully welcoming dubya to the "swing state" of new york--i doubt my little absentee ballot is going to swing the Empire State. So I get your point, I guess.

birkel--thanks for kind words.

Posted by: greg at October 15, 2004 04:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

welcome back--you were missed

Posted by: Donna Robinson Divine at October 15, 2004 11:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Welcome back Greg. Hope all is right in the world of BD.

For the record, Bush got trounced in the first one, it wasn't a "possible" conclusion - even Fox News and the New York Post agreed. The second and third were closer contests that can be spun either way based on your preferences, but the first was an unmitigated Kerry victory. Pundits on both sides of the aisle agreed, as did the polls, focus groups, etc. Even the Bush campaign itself seemed to acknowledge as much and compensate by refocusing their efforts on the subsequent debates.

It provided Kerry with a big bounce and gave him the momentum heading out of a tough August/September. While the second and third debates drew 46.8 and 51.2 million viewers respectively (in the US that is), the first was watched by 62.5 million. In other words, Bush's worst performance was witnessed by more. Those impressions are hard to shake.

I also think you read the "draw" wrong. Bush is the president. He is supposed to be more presidential than the competitor. The fact that he may have fought Kerry to a draw in this category (although that's a stretch) is not a net positive.

This was especially true because of the impression that most Americans had of Kerry because of the effective characterizations of the Bush team. In a sense, the expectations for Kerry were so low because of how the Bush team made him out to be, that his appearance came across that much stronger. It was like 2000, only in reverse.

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 15, 2004 02:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Swing voters, Greg. Breaking for Kerry. Bush was shoring up his base. Which, I guess, worked in your case.

Posted by: praktike at October 15, 2004 03:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm not trying to offend any of you all with this admission, but I already voted for John Kerry (yesterday). I'm just being honest about it.

Anyway, I'm glad Belgravia Dispatch is back, because I'm looking forward to a more detailed critique of the John Kerry foreign policy vision outlined in the Matt Bai article.

I keep posting the following line in various weblogs, because I haven't received an acknowledgement of truth as yet:

Senator Kerry does not believe in democracy promotion as a strategy in the war on al Qaeda terrorism.

Fred Kaplan has a recent article in Slate in which he criticizes the President's vision of democracy promotion as a strategy in the war on al Qaeda terrorism. First, he says, it won't work; second, he says, the Bush Administration is ill-equipped to carry out the strategy. What Fred Kaplan doesn't acknowledge is that these are two very separate critiques.

It is possible to favor both diplomacy (including rhetorical respect for alliances and for international institutions) AND democracy promotion as a strategy in the war on al Qaeda terrorism. Indeed, this is my position. But I don't think this is John Kerry's position.

Posted by: Arjun at October 15, 2004 11:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The debates were theater; almost all presidential debates are theater.

I much prefer to see them on the stump giving and taking. The stump speeches may be scripted, but the "debates" are even more so. It's sort of a contest of who can get in a sharp jab at one's opponent more than anything else.

Posted by: George at October 16, 2004 12:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun, this might change your mind:

http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20041025&s=ackerman102504

Posted by: praktike at October 16, 2004 02:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Is the canned nature of Kerry's "tony soprano' line any worse than "freedom is on the march" ? talk about 'whatever' !

Posted by: matt at October 16, 2004 07:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

praktike,

I subscribe to The New Republic, but I can't get in to the "restricted sites" because it requires me to write down some $%^&#@ pin number which is on the magazine -- and I never have the magazine with me. Anyway, I hope Mr. Ackerman's article will be in the print magazine.

Posted by: Arjun at October 16, 2004 07:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In the meantime (before I can get my hands on that Spencer Ackerman article) would anyone here like to confirm or deny my central contention? To recap, my contention is as follows:

Mr. Kerry does not believe in democracy promotion as a strategy in the war on al Qaeda terrorism.

Posted by: Arjun at October 16, 2004 07:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun, here's a passage from the article:
----------------------------------
Far from imposing democracy from the top down, Kerry told a Los Angeles audience in February, "We must support human rights groups, independent media, and labor unions dedicated to building a democratic culture from the grassroots up." In this, Kerry has increasingly echoed Senator Joseph Biden, a leading candidate to be Kerry's secretary of state. Biden says he will tell regimes whose repression has indirectly bred terrorism, "I want to see you at least squint toward democracy.... John Kerry would have been funding openly, and supporting any way he could, democratic movements in these countries."

This aspect of Kerry's agenda is surprising. During his career, Kerry has earned a reputation for skepticism about the propriety and the capability of the United States to spread democracy. President Clinton's reference to the United States as the world's "indispensable nation" in his 1997 inaugural address chafed Kerry as "arrogant" and "obnoxious." As recently as May, Kerry gave a sprawling foreign policy interview to The Washington Post in which he emphasized that, in a Kerry administration, "security comes first," as the paper's headline put it. But, to interpret Kerry's focus on security as foreclosing aggressive ideological warfare misunderstands how Kerry conceives of defending the United States. As Biden argues, "Kerry has a much broader notion of national security" than either his caricature or his opponent--a notion that recognizes that only an ideological campaign against Al Qaeda can protect the United States in the long run.

As the 9/11 Commission observed, a crucial aspect of that ideological campaign must be a major public diplomacy push in the Islamic world. That effort has gone sorely neglected by Bush, who launched an Arabic TV network only this year and who, in 2004, is spending a mere $79 million for education and cultural exchanges in the entire Muslim world. The bipartisan U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy last month pleaded with the administration for a "more strategic and responsive" communications effort that "reflect[s] the values and attitudes of target audiences." As it happens, Biden has one ready to go. Known as Initiative 911, it is a plan to establish "credible channels of communication with the people of the Islamic world" by developing a country-specific mix of political and cultural programming for dissemination via satellite television, radio, and the Internet. (It contains differentiated strategies for broadcasting in 23 countries and regions.) For a start-up cost of $567 million and an annual cost of $345 million--less than what the United States spends every week in Iraq--the initiative would offer not only "policy statements and explanations from senior members of the U.S. government," but also a forum for discussing "major issues in the Islamic world," such as democracy, economic development, religious strife, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In fact, in addition to communicating U.S. policy more persuasively, Kerry is likely to return the United States to a visible and active role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Kerry has endorsed the road map to a two-state solution, and, in a speech at Georgetown University in January 2003, he insisted on "leading the effort to make peace" through consistent U.S. mediation--an issue he linked with broader U.S. objectives: "American engagement and successful mediation are not only essential to peace in this war-torn area but also critical to the success of our own efforts in the war against terrorism." Indeed, a recent Zogby poll that found outsized majorities in the Muslim world disapproving of the United States also found respondents linking their disapproval to the "unfair foreign policy" that disadvantages the Palestinians.
------
Read Abu Aaedvark's take here:
http://abuaardvark.typepad.com/abuaardvark/2004/10/ackerman_on_ker.html

Posted by: praktike at October 17, 2004 05:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

praktike,

Thank you very much for the excerpt. Sorry for my whining about TNR-D.

I wasn't aware of Mr. Kerry's statement about supporting human rights groups, independent media, and labor unions. It's an excellent statement, I think, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to read it, because it makes me feel better about the fact that I voted for Mr. Kerry. (Er, I shouldn't be seeking psychological solace on the B.D. comments section, but thanks.)

One mild objection I have to the excerpt is that Senator Biden is essentially used as representative of Senator Kerry. I sort of like Senator Biden, despite my recent criticisms of him below, but I sort of doubt that he'll be Secretary of State (isn't Mr. Holbrooke the top contender). Also, I get a little suspicious when Senator Biden essentially says, "Never mind what Senator Kerry SAID. I know Senator Kerry, and here's what he REALLY thinks . . . "

For example, Senator Biden recently reassured the news media that Mr. Kerry would be willing to lend support to and work with Prime Minister Allawi -- shortly after Mr. Kerry, Mr. Holbrooke, and especially Mr. Lockhart issued undiplomatic and unnecessary criticisms of the Prime Minister.

Posted by: Arjun at October 17, 2004 07:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Abu Aardvark commentary was interesting too.

I agree with Abu Aardvark that the Bush Administration may be ill-equipped to promote democracy in the Middle East. I also agree with his proposed solution: the United States must be seen to take an active role as an "honest broker" of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Still, 1) doesn't it matter that President Bush has publicly called for democratic reform throughout the Middle East? I voted for Bill Clinton twice, but I don't recall any such statement coming from him. Is it John Kerry's position that the U.S. President's public recommendation for democratic reform actually inhibits democratic reform? That's concievable (especially since the U.S. President is so unpopular in that region), and perhaps that's why Mr. Kerry made no concession to the correctness of that idea during the debates, but is it really true that the broader Middle East is becoming less democratic? What about Bahrain? What about the summit in Tunisia? Are all those Washington Post columnists (e.g. Fred Hiatt, David Ignatius) just making things up?

2) Doesn't it matter whether Iraqis succeed in winning freedom and democracy for Iraq? Wouldn't such a success, if it ever comes, have a tremendous effect on the broader Middle East?

3) (More of an objection to Matt Bai than to Abu Aardvark) John Kerry says he wants to use U.S. economic power to leverage positive reforms in the Middle East. Doesn't that require the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars? Doesn't Mr. Kerry claim to be worried about all those U.S. taxpayer dollars going overseas instead of staying right here at home in the good old United States of America where they belong? Isn't Mr. Kerry a member of the political party I've always voted for (I voted a straight Democratic Party ticket on Thursday) which is regrettably a political party that was so protective of U.S. taxpayers that its members voted overwhelmingly to turn only $18 billion in reconstruction grants for Iraq into Mafia-style forced loans, to be repaid with Iraqi oil money?

Posted by: Arjun at October 18, 2004 01:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun, I admit that some of the rhetoric that Kerry has used during the course of the campaign has been deplorable, especially the "opening firehouses in Baghdad" line. But I think it's aimed at isolationist voters in the Midwest more than it is an expression of deeply held belief.

The point about Bush being a poor agent of democratization is an important one. You say you're a fan of Fareed Zakaria, and I am too. Have you read his book? His main argument is that "democracy" isn't necessarily a good thing if it isn't based on what he calls constitutional liberalism. It's likely that Bush's policies make "democratic revolutions" like the 1979 Iranian revolution far more likely than the kind of prudent, sequenced reforms that a fresh start would bring. A further point is that you have to take Bush's rhetoric on a Palestinian state and democracy with a major grain of salt. Bush has essentially given Sharon the green light to build settlements in the West Bank, which if it is every to be a "state" will be a mere facade of one. Moreover, it's not really clear to me that Bush has an understanding of what democracy really is. He thinks that freedom is simply the absence of tyranny, which is a view founded in Rousseau. American democracy is rooted in Locke, Hobbes, and Montesquieu, who understood that liberty is much more complicated than that.

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