February 02, 2005

Good News..

... for the Republicans.

Posted by Gregory at 02:48 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

January 22, 2005

More on the Inaugural

More on the speech here.

A day after President Bush's inaugural speech vowing to spread freedom in the world, administration officials said Friday that Mr. Bush was setting a long-term goal that did not portend dramatic changes in American foreign policy but rather an expansion of existing approaches. A senior official said that the speech signaled Mr. Bush's intention to raise the need to expand freedoms in Russia, China and the Arab world but that this did not mean that such pressure would become the only factor in these relationships.

"It's not a discontinuity, a right turn, but an acceleration, a raising of the priority," the official said of the new policy direction, discussing the speech with reporters on Friday. The official insisted on anonymity in order, he said, to keep the focus on Mr. Bush's words and not those of his aides.

The official also said that American officials would not necessarily raise principles of freedom and democracy with foreign leaders in a public way because doing so might sometimes be counterproductive.

"Do you want us to be rhetorical or to be effective?" the official asked, asserting that senior administration officials had, for example, raised concerns about anti-democratic trends in Russia [ed. note: And Uzbekistan too, for example] long before these concerns were mentioned publicly by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on a trip to Moscow last winter...

...The administration official said that while the speech was aimed at being bold - he used the word "bold" several times to describe it - the president's address did not imply that the United States would impose its views on other countries or overlook their particular social and political problems.

"One of the purposes of the president's speech was to get countries to do some self-examination and see where they are on accepting a vision of freedom and greater liberty for their people and to prod them a little bit," said the official.

I think that's about right. Hyper-feverish, neo-Wilsonian messianism is not nigh. Reminder: My take on the speech, from yesterday, here.

P.S. On the Euro-rapprochment meme, don't miss this either:

A rapprochement with Germany comes naturally to Ms. Rice and her selected deputy, Robert B. Zoellick, both of whom were involved in the country's unification in 1990, an example of transformational diplomacy that left a lasting impression on the incoming secretary of state. The likely No. 3 at the State Department, R. Nicholas Burns, who is now ambassador to NATO, is also a committed Atlanticist.

"We see old European hands coagulating at the top of the State Department," said Jonathan Eyal, a British foreign policy expert. "We see a secretary of state with the ear of the president, we see the president coming to Brussels and deferring for now to European diplomatic efforts in Iran, and we see a quest for quiet mediation in the Airbus-Boeing dispute. All of that seems to amount to an opportunity we must grab."

UPDATE: More support for B.D.'s thesis here.

Bush's speech appeared to put the United States on a course in which moralism and idealism, rather than realpolitik, form the philosophical foundations of foreign policy. But White House officials said that is a misreading of how Bush operates. "His goals are deeply idealistic," Gerson said. "His methods are deeply realistic. In fact, that was one of the themes of the speech, that this traditional divide between realism and idealism is no longer adequate for the conduct of American foreign policy."

Be sure not to miss this interesting snippet from the WaPo piece:

One meeting, arranged by Peter Wehner, director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, included military historian Victor Davis Hanson, columnist Charles Krauthammer and Yale professor John Lewis Gaddis, according to one Republican close to the White House. White House senior adviser Karl Rove attended, according to one source, but mostly listened to what became a lively exchange over U.S. policy and the fight for liberty.

Gaddis caught the attention of White House officials with an article in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs magazine that seems to belie the popular perception that this White House does not consult its critics.

Gaddis's article is, at times, strongly critical of Bush's first-term foreign policy calculations, especially what he calls the twin failures to anticipate international resistance to Bush's ideas and Iraqi resistance to peace after the fall of Baghdad. But the article also raises the possibility that Bush's grand vision of spreading democracy could prove successful, and perhaps historic, if the right choices are made in the years ahead.

So, who says Bush can never listen to critics!?! I had blogged Gaddis' piece here, btw.

Posted by Gregory at 02:46 AM | Comments (17)

January 21, 2005

The Inaugural Speech

Number of times the words free, freedom or liberty was used in Bush's inaugural? 49! Throw in "democratic" and "reforming" and we cross 50 (to 53)! Hey, the fifty states; plus Afghanistan, Iraq, and...[insert your favorite "outlaw regime" here!]? Speaking of, they were surely listening in such "outposts of tyranny"! (oh wait, correct link here). (But are they listening in 'friendly' Tashkent, Riyadh and Islamabad?)

More seriously, some passages from the speech worth mentioning:

We have seen our vulnerability and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder, violence will gather and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom. We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

Yes. In this age of potential miniaturization of nuclear weaponry, of growing biological and chemical weapons development prowess in far-flung spots--all these worrisome trends married to nihilistic, fanatical ideologies--this is the crux of the critical challenge that will need to be fought, marshalling all resources of our national power (including, perhaps mostly, non-military ones), for decades to come. Is Freedom some mega-panacea? No. But societies not simmering in atrophying autocracies, it is safe to say, breed fewer radicals. There is no doubt about that. We might, therefore, do worse than a forward strategy of democracy exportation (pursued more intelligently than in Iraq, however, hopefully with the employ of quite a few 'lessons learned').

This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary.

Translation: This document is still live policy in Bush II. Though I don't think that means GIs will be milling about Teheran or Damascus in the printemps.

The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America's influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause.

Translation: I may sound life Paul Wolfowitz on steroids--but I realize American power has real limits and that the spread of freedom, as worthy a goal as it is, will not be miraculously accomplished, in toto, by 2008. Yes, a realist side, too (that Condi/Zeollick will bolster).

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies. Yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

"Grudging concessions of dictators..." A good line. Translation: Not just horse-trades by Kissingerian realpolitikers with the Fahds of the world. Real, no B.S. efforts to see bona fide democratization initiatives--ones that actually impact populations--are on the agenda.

Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

The democratization, post WWII, of large swaths of the Eurasian landmass is indeed an awesome historical accomplishment. That a land war among major European powers, say, is wholly inconceivable today (though who knows what might happen should unemployment, in a major economic crisis, head north of 20%...) is impressive indeed. Bully for Bush to bolster the optimists among us who think the same could happen in the Middle East (where admitedly, pre-Enlightenment societies have far fewer democratic traditions to speak of than Mitteleuropa did).

The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people, you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice and America will walk at your side. And all the allies of the United States can know: we honor your friendship, we rely on your counsel, and we depend on your help. Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom's enemies. The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies' defeat.

Translation: Germany (hell, even France) get back on board! Don't let dictators divide us. And, yes, we'll listen a bit more even. By the way, the "walk at your side" line part at the beginning of this passage was good too. The message there? Quasi-autocrats with vested interests, a bit reticent to move more towards democratization, take the plunge! We'll help.

I give the speech a B plus. What kept if from an A? B.D., like Francois Lyotard, say, might fairly be accused of occasional bouts of incredulity vis-a-vis too simple, hyper-idealistic meta-narratives. We need a little more gray this second term--a bit of a Thermidor (think Fukuyama more than Krauthammer). Still, his heart and instincts are in the right place--especially if they are increasingly tethered to pragmatic advice. Good luck to him in what is sure to be an eventful four years.

UPDATE: Safire was counting too--and our numbers match!

Posted by Gregory at 02:18 AM | Comments (4)

January 17, 2005

Bush's War Leadership

Bush has in the past used presidential speeches to rally the country, but he has failed to follow through on the promise of his rhetoric. After 9/11, like Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor and John F. Kennedy upon assuming office, Bush lifted our spirits and brought much of the world to our side. He quickly defined what had happened -- War! -- and so readied us for sacrifice while warning friend and foe alike of our resolve. In a bold campaign, he overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan and put al Qaeda on the run. Those first months were the high point of leadership for a president fond of talking about himself as a leader.

But Bush identified the wrong enemy -- "terrorism" instead of "radical Islamic terrorists" -- and quickly slipped into the apocalyptic rhetoric of good and evil, complicating strategy and making success impossible to measure. He followed with actions uncharacteristic of wartime presidents and harmful to war-making. First, he implored the American people to return to normal, never asking for sacrifice (or even for youth to join the military). Then he refused to increase the size of our ground forces, even after embarking on campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unlike Lincoln and Roosevelt, he turned the conduct of war over to underlings, eschewing active presidential involvement. He refused to abandon his domestic agenda (as Lyndon Johnson did in 1965) or to subordinate it to war's necessities (as Roosevelt did in World War II).

Bush never followed up his burst of bipartisan rhetoric with true bipartisan action, and, unlike his predecessors, he avoided the commitment of time and energy necessary to bring our allies together, antagonizing them instead with take-it-or-leave-it choices. Most divisive of all, he attacked Iraq without a unifying casus belli.

Unlike Lincoln, who freely admitted to error and once boasted that "my policy is to have no policy," Bush has made consistency into a fetish and refuses to admit any mistake, thus forfeiting credibility and respect.

Richard Kohn, a former chief of history for the U.S. Airforce, who is working on a study of presidential war time leadership, writing in the Washington Post.

Kohn is somewhat more critical of Bush than I'd be (Bush has made strategic readjustments, when necessitated, so that the consistency as fetish charge is a tad overblown. Witness ditching Garner for Bremer, giving the U.N. and Brahimi a major role in structuring Iraqi elections, negotiating with Sadr rather than pursuing all out assaults in places like Najaf). Nor do I think Bush should be, as a tortured, micro-managing LBJ was, hunched over picking specific bombing targets late night at the White House. And Kohn is more pessimistic on Iraq than me too (I'm not sure Iraq, per Kohn, is moving from insurgency to civil war-as I've previously analyzed here). But I do think Kohn makes some fair points about rhetorical excesses muddying the parameters of the struggle we are engaged in. For instance, I'm veering towards liking the term the "Global War on Terror" less and less. Like LBJ's war on poverty or Reagan's war on drugs--it sounds more like an amorphous soundbite than a specific enunciation of the strategic threat we face. On the other hand, calling the conflict, say, a war on radical Islam is, not only a bit clunky, but also too reminiscent of the Crusades. Aside from this arguably trival word parsing, however, the point is that the expansive rhetoric ("global war on terror", "good and evil" etc), while somewhat reassuring in terms of moral clarity (if the purposeful indiscriminate slaughter of innocents isn't evil, well, what is?) likely confuses monitoring progress in this struggle and stokes not inconsiderable confusion with allies about our objectives.

The closest analogue to Bush's present challenges, per Kohn, is probably Truman:

As his second term begins, Bush has few precedents on which to draw. His war resembles the Cold War more than any previous shooting war, making perhaps his closest analogue Harry Truman in 1949: winner of a narrow election victory; lacking in respect at home and abroad; facing a conflict and an enemy that is both unclear and elusive. Then as now, U.S. relationships with many countries were in transition, and the winds of change -- social and technological as well as political and economic -- were sweeping the world in the wake of a cataclysm that had remade the map. Just as in the Cold War, this fight is for people's loyalties and interests, ideologies and beliefs.

Like Truman, who used his inaugural address to define the enemy, reassert American values and outline a strategy for the future, Bush must in his address on Thursday clarify the nature and purpose of the global war on terror, so that he can bring about the domestic unity and improve the foreign relationships that will allow the United States to prevail.

More importantly, like Truman and then Eisenhower (who quickly ended the Korean War, a divisive local conflict that was harming the struggle against the larger enemy), Bush must understand that his legacy will be "foundational." He has created or strengthened many policies, programs, institutions and initiatives to prosecute this long conflict against murderous radical Islam, but the work has just begun.

What is to be done? To succeed, Bush must rebuild American intelligence. He must separate radical Islam from its host populations. He must dramatically increase the diplomacy and dollars devoted to preventing the spread of nuclear and biological weapons. He must formulate new policies about the detention of prisoners that command respect at home and abroad. And he must emphasize, as he promised in Canada last year, rebuilding the foreign relationships that will permit us to chase down terrorists anywhere in the world...

In this vein too, Bush must more effectively communicate to the world audience the nature of his global war on terror. Between a widely (though, it should be noted, not quite as widely as sometimes suggested) supported Afghanistan campaign and the so controversial war in Iraq--America's war on terror lost much support in the court of international opinion. I'm not talking here of the cheap Euro-Gaullist broadsides about Iraq simply consituting a bid for hegemony in the Middle East, or for access to cheap oil (that worked out well, eh?), or simply a dynastic clean up of Poppy's unfinished business. But the reality is, of course, that there exists much misapprehension and confusion about why, for Bush, the war in Iraq has been conflated with the war on terror. Bush must now, as his second term begins, communicate better what he means when he says Iraq is now the "central front" in the war on terror. This is particularly critical in the conspiracy-ridden Middle East. On that front, Bush (and, perhaps more important, his Arab-speaking diplomats) must increasingly pound in the message that: a) Iraq is already sovereign, is embarking on historical elections, and that a national assembly and consitution will take shape thereafter, b) U.S. forces remain in theater solely to help bring about the successful conclusion of this hugely difficult political process (but won't be rushed out until such goals are accomplished), c) that no permanent American bases will remain in Iraq, d) Iraq will have its own independent foreign policy (even an anti-Israeli, pro-Iranian one, if that's how things pan out, though I don't think they necessarily will); e) the perpetrators (at least the direct ones) of Abu Ghraib are being tried and jailed--in sharp distinction to the treatment afforded Saddam's torturers)--and that all efforts will be made to ensure no repeats of such horrific human rights violations, f) America's move to pressure the Arab world to democratize is not an exceptional singling out of that region--indeed it represents the reversal of a pre-existing 'democracy exception' whereby we didn't spearhead democracy there (unlike our democracy-promotion initiatives through the Cold War in Latin America and Asia) g) America has supported Muslims from Aceh to Zepa in the past odd decade and h) the U.S. will more forcefully re-engage in attempting to bring about a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.

As Kohn points out, Bush has, of late, shown a greater grasp of what the war on terror portends. For instance, Bush has grasped that the war on terror is not a war that can be "won"--at least in any conventional sense. Nor, however, is the goal merely a Kerry-esque reduction of terror to mere "nuisance" levels--a locution that reveals a lack of comprehension regarding the massive security challenges America faces from the intersections of transnational terror groups, WMD proliferation, and radical Islam's pervasive appeal. It's a systematic, decades long endevour that aims to reduce the appeal of radical Islam to millions of potential adherents. As I've written before, a comprehensive strategy would include (in no particular order): peaceful progress towards promoting counter-revolutionary tendencies in Iran; stabilizing Iraq (as a unitary non-theocratic state); admitting Turkey into the E.U. (this would help constrain any potentially nefarious behavior from Ankara), robust counter-proliferation efforts (the goal should be a WMD-free zone a couple decades out, however utopian this may seem now); increased democratization of key governments (not at the barrel of a gun and at a realistic pace) like Saudi Arabia and Egypt; forging a just two-state solution for Israel-Palestine (yes this means most settlements need to be dismantled--as well as portions of the security fence--and that the Palestinians finally need to overhaul their security apparatus and do their damnest to put an end to the scourge of suicide bombings); getting the Israeli-Syrian track resolved; resolution of the Pakistani and Indian divide over Kashmir; increased state-support for moderate madrassas; better monitoring of financial flows to dubious charities serving as fronts for terror outfits; continued eradication of groups like al-Qaeda and staunch opposition to all radical jihadist groups and, finally, well thought out initiatives on preserving/distributing scarce water resources, fostering economic development and related issues.

Put simply, the time for a detailed, sober and intelligent delineation of our goals in this global campaign on terror has come. From such a wide-ranging exposition of our war aims we can better understand how best to translate and enunciate our objectives to the international community. This is part of what I hope people have in mind when they speak of their hopes for a "transformational diplomacy" in Bush's second term. This would involve a reassessment of grand strategy, ensuring it is married to concrete achievable ends, and that it is better communicated to key consituencies. Such parties include a) Americans, who must begin to think of this conflict along the lines of an long-term ideological struggle that will take place over decades, b) Europeans, who must be disavowed from the notion that we are simply in brutish, militaristic preemption mode, and who must be reassured that our actions are being coordinated strategically in order to achieve real ends, and c) to the Arab and Muslim worlds, we must be sure to stress, at every opportunity, that it is fanaticism and nihilism we combat--not one of the three great monotheistic religions of the world--which has been crudely hijacked by too many theocratic barbarians. (Also, I'd be remiss in not noting the increasing importance of Asia as a major force in world politics--and thus the need to better understand how best to communicate our objectives there too).

Is all this the kind of thing Bush has in mind? I'm unsure. Kohn sees some hopeful signs:

There are signs that Bush is moving to meet these challenges. Two new Cabinet choices promise less divisiveness and more effective management. Alberto Gonzales, a loyalist who exudes caution and cooperation, replaces the clumsy ideologue John Ashcroft at Justice. Michael Chertoff, who expresses sensitivity to the conflict between liberty and security, replaces the colorless (except for his warning system) Tom Ridge, whose Homeland Security department's disorganization calls to mind the chaos of World War I and "the mess in Washington" notorious during World War II. In Iraq, the unwavering march toward elections and "Iraqification" indicates that an exit strategy is in place.

Meantime, I was happy to see this snippet from Bush's interview with the WaPo:

Well, you know, it's interesting. The people of Afghanistan, which is a part of the Muslim world, are really happy that the government of the United States, along with others, liberated them from the Taliban. I suspect that people in the Muslim world, as we speak, are thrilled that supplies are being delivered by U.S. servicemen and women. The Iranians -- the reformers in Iran are, I suspect, very hopeful that the United States government is firm in our belief that democracy ought to spread. In other words, there are some places we're not popular, and other places where we're liked.

And there's no question we've got to continue to do a better job of explaining what America is all about; that in our country you're free to worship as you see fit, that we honor the Muslim faith, and that if you choose not to -- we don't want territory, we want there to be freedom. And I've talked to Condi [Rice, the nominee for secretary of state] about this, and she agrees that we need to work on a public diplomacy effort that explains our motives and explains our intentions.

I am happy to see the President state that he views public diplomacy as a priority for Condi Rice. By the way, and speaking of Condi Rice, she appears to view the Truman analogy as apropos too:

In campaign speeches for President Bush last fall, Ms. Rice likened the current world climate, including the daunting insurgency in Iraq, to the period of skirmishing that followed World War II, when the United States took the lead in establishing international institutions and the policy of containing the Soviet Union that rebuilt Europe and Asia and won the cold war.

"Europe and Asia are safer as a result," Ms. Rice said in October in Cleveland. "And so it shall be in the Middle East."

Oh, and here's my 'I told you so' for the evening:

Even some foreign policy experts who have been critical of Ms. Rice in the past say they see her selection of Robert B. Zoellick, the administration's top trade negotiator and a veteran diplomat, as deputy secretary of state as a sign that she intends to pursue a pragmatic, traditional Republican internationalist approach.

Posted by Gregory at 04:07 AM | Comments (31)

December 17, 2004

Bush and Religion

...he's not a religious nutter. The Economist makes the case (one often made here at B.D.)

By and large, Mr Bush has not associated the workings of providence with America or himself. The best evidence is his frequent assertion that ďthe liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world. It is God's gift to humanity.Ē To many Europeans, this formulation seems unnecessary. They argue that liberty is good in itself, not because it is God's gift. But to Americans the association is almost axiomatic, since it is rooted in the declaration of independence (ďall men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rightsĒ). In some ways, Mr Bush is actually rejecting the ďexceptionalistĒ claim that America is a unique nation singled out by its liberty.

Mr Bush's followers have been less prudent. They talk as if he has the mandate of heaven. ďThe Lord has just blessed him,Ē said Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network. ďI think President Bush is God's man at this hour,Ē said Tim Goeglein, of the White House Office of Public Liaison, soon after the September 11th attacks. But when Mr Gerson said the same thing (ďMr President, when I saw you on television, I thought God wanted you thereĒ), Mr Bush retorted: ďHe wants us all here, Gerson.Ē

Lastly, while Mr Bush goes on about the importance of faith, he never talks about policyóeven issues with a moral componentóin terms of doctrine or revelation. Evangelicals, for example, want to ban gay marriage because (they say) it is against God's will. Mr Bush never says this. He opposes it on the grounds that marriage is an institution so fundamental to society that it should not be changed. That is also why he has been so cautious in arguing for his faith-based policies.

Posted by Gregory at 04:33 AM | Comments (6)

November 03, 2004

Bush's Re-election, the Transatlantic Divide, and Related Musings

There are times in commercial transactions when the deposit money put down by the prospective purchaser is said to have gone "hard", ie. your due diligence and other outs have expired, and you're on the hook for your full deposit--even if you don't ultimately pull the trigger and close the deal. Today was the day Robert Kagan's thesis about Europeans from Venus and Americans from Mars went "hard."

A brief explanation. Doubtless, of course, the broad, European masses in France, Germany, Spain and (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in my experience) Italy and the UK were hoping for a Kerry win. Bush's three post-9/11 years could then have simply been chalked up as some fearsome aberration. Sanity had returned to les Etas-Unis! A transatlantic rapprochement could proceed apace. Jean, Gerhard and Jacques would clink glasses and make nice nice. And so on. Instead come hard reckonings--especially on the European side of the pond. The American people, and quite decisively, have voted George Bush a second term. No Florida 2000 repeat here--despite the "echoes" of Florida the NYT espied in Ohio earlier today. Bush sizably won the popular vote, and similarly handily, the electoral college. Europe's hugely anti-Bush sentiment was therefore strongly rebuffed by the American electorate. A leader many Europeans view as a crusading, messianic, simpleton--indeed, a man they often view as representing a real danger to global order--has been re-elected with some enthusiasm by the world's leading democracy.

I don't sketch out these painful realities re: transatlantic discord with any happiness. The transatlantic alliance has been one of the most successful in history. And, note too, it is far from dead. Indeed, I would urge that we be more cautious in too frequently employing a 'cherry-picking' strategy of dividing Old and New Europe--at least if Old Europe is willing to shoulder more of its international responsibilities in a Bush II. Regardless, and as I've argued in this blog these past weeks, a Bush II will moderate some of its, shall we say, more Rummy-esque tendencies. As Aznar had once pleaded to Bush: "More Powell, less Rumsfeld." Specific figures and bureaucratic intrigues aside (of which, of course, much more at a later date), I trust the tenor of this Administration will take on at least some of Aznar's admonition in the months ahead.

After all, victory can be a humbling thing, as wise victors well know defeat can lie around the next corner. Thus better to dampen tendencies towards full-blown, chest-beating triumphalism. Put differently, Bush will not see this election as a vindication of all the excesses of his first term. Revolutionary zeal has abated somewhat, amidst the cold, hard realities of Iraq, and something of a Thermidor awaits (though an Iran crisis remains an unpredictable, and incendiary, variable in all this).

But make no mistake. A majority of Americans believe we are in something of an existential struggle with a radical jihadist foe that aims to massacre us, indiscriminately, however possible, and in as large numbers as possible. In the face of this, the electorate sought, despite its misgivings about elements of Bush's Iraq policy, a leader they believed would prove resolute in squarely staring down this threat. I believe, despite my suspicions of the 'moronic inferno' that can prove the large, brawling body politic--I believe in my head and heart there is a deep wisdom in the collective voice of the American people. Well, the American people have spoken--and their verdict was clear yesterday. They decided this post 9/11 era is a time for moral clarity and the robust prosecution of American interests on the international stage. And they are right.

Also, and in so doing so, they have reinforced Bob Kagan's famous words quoted below:

It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power ó the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power ó American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kantís ďPerpetual Peace.Ē The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.

Contra Kagan, let me say I think we do "occupy the same world." We just see it very differently at this juncture. But a French intelligence agent knows well that a Salafist cell is worth tracking down and combatting as much as a guy at Langley does. But there are differences in approach, strategy, tactics, the willingness to use hard power, and so on--often starkly different ones. So while Kagan's language can ring a tad hyperbolic--he is certainly right that the American hyperpower and the Brussels Euro-cracy see the uses and employ of power in materially different terms today. Some of this, of course, stems from the horrors of 9/11. But memories have cooled some, and a lot has happened since the Towers fell. The American public was not in the grips of some mass hysteria yesterday--when they returned Dubya to power. They were, in the main and some in the evangelical wing aside, exercising their vote through the employ of their reason. They rightly perceive major threats continuing to gather on horizons near and far--and seek rock-ribbed conviction in seeing such perils through. Of course, the fact that the election was not fraught with mass hysteria only makes the Euro-American divide all the deeper, at least in the near term. (We will be returning to how to better broach the divide in the coming weeks here).

Bush must now act, if he seeks to move towards greatness, to unite the American people (and the world, hard as it is to imagine!) in his second term. This means, in my view, that he must begin to marshall all the resources of American power (hard and soft) in this struggle against radical jihadism. He must act with more subtlety, at times, but still with the strength and conviction that were the hallmarks of his stewardship of the Oval Office and which gained him a second term. But he must better realize that military action alone will not win this conflict. He must now move to resucitate the moribund peace process (especially with Arafat incapacitated), he must better explain America's intentions to the Arab and Muslim worlds, he must coax, cajole, badger and occasionally force the Saudis and Egyptians to democratize further--in organized and disciplined fashion--using economic reforms as an initial lever perhaps. But always, in all of this, the hard currency of American power cannot be doubted by our enemies. We will therefore need to soldier on, militarily, in Afghanistan and Iraq and perhaps points beyond. The road ahead is fraught with peril; but the rewards of peace and prosperity, however elusive they may seem today, remain great indeed. Tonight I congratulate President Bush and wish him godspeed during the inevitable crises that await him and this great nation in the four years ahead. "Here buildings fell and here a nation rose." Onwards!

UPDATE: Exhibit A.

Posted by Gregory at 06:50 PM | Comments (21)

Election Result Watch

I went to bed (in the far-away Caucasus; where I'm traveling on business)--veritably deluged with exit poll data E-mailed around and on various websites (Drudge etc) showing a possible (probable?) Kerry win. I was all set, come morning, to not only (of course!) confirm my agreement with the Jarvis pledge--but also congratulate a President-elect Kerry (and ask him in my blog to please pick Dick Holbrooke as his Secretary of State!).

And then, per CNN this A.M. before heading to meetings, I see that FL looks pretty safe in the Bush column (and Ohio?). And, er, more revelatory perhaps--that James Carville has just said on CNN: 'I think it's time to acknowledge that President Bush has a competitive advantage in this race' or words to that effect.

It's looking pretty good for Bush, isn't it?

Either way, let me echo Josh Chafetz's words here.

Good luck to both these hard-fought, passionate candidacies as the end game plays out. And here's hoping for a clear, uncontroversial victor by my afternoon--which is looking very likely indeed.

UPDATE: Classy of Kerry--good on him for not unnecessarily dragging this one out. More commentary on all this soon.

MORE: A mature, generous concession--particularly the heartfelt call for unity in these divisive times. I felt, yes, like I was sometimes too hard on him in these cyber-pages. For a man who has likely wanted this job ever since St. Paul's (if not before)--today must have been a crushing blow. But he handled the moment with dignified grace. Bravo, Senator!

Posted by Gregory at 05:11 AM | Comments (9)

October 31, 2004

Why Can't Bush Admit Mistakes?

Yevgeny Vilensky sends in some cogitations on the issue here. Soundbite--the positively poisonous political climate plays a hand in Bush's retinence to do so too (particularly stemming from the aftermath of the 2000 election and concommitant attacks on Bush's very legitimacy as President). Look, Bush's stubborness and 'bubble' mentality is the bigger factor here and it would be good to get more of a Truman-like sense of the 'buck stops here' out of him (as Vilensky himself points out). But Vilensky's post is worth throwing in the mix too--particularly his musings about the impact of attacks on Bush's very legitimacy.

Another Gore-style contestation of the election, just on the heels of the last go-around, would prove quite harmful to American democracy. I hope either campaign thinks long and hard before contesting election results this time--unless there are truly legitimate reasons to cry foul. We are in danger of being over-lawyered at the very core of our most important political processes. Wouldn't it be ironic if our polity--a thriving democracy guaranteed by the most sophisticated legal regime in the world--were in danger of being consumed by legions of lawyers? We need more statesmanship from our senior lawyers if, say, Ohio is 4,000 votes apart and the electoral grievances appear more by way of 'hell let's give it a try to get our guy in'--rather than fundamental irregularities that have resulted in scuttling the people's vote materially. If the voting public begins to detect a pattern (fairly or unfairly) that their sovereignty is being denied them through judicial processes--one of the costs will be an increase in the noxiousness aimed at our leaders--stemming from an increasingly widespread belief that the power they wield is not legitimate. This is a dangerous phenemenon if it begins to become routinized. Party eminences--to the extent there are any that have broader civic horizons beyond rapacious partisanship--need to keep this in mind too early Wednesday morning if the election looks close.

Posted by Gregory at 12:00 PM | Comments (37)

October 29, 2004

Sully's Endorsement

FYI, I hope to throw my two cents in and post reaction to his endorsement tonight [Don't you have better things to do on a Friday night? Er, not from my present island-bound, undisclosed location folks.] So...check back tonight if able. Oh, I should add--if any of you have strong views why Sullivan got it wrong (or right!) feel free to comment below. While I've already formed some pretty strong views re: the substance of his endorsement (and just need some time to write them up)--your comments could make my job easier or, even better, provide insights I hadn't thought of before. So comments welcome.

UPDATE: UBL and a deadline on another matter kept me from getting this done last night. Today, unfortunately, I board a series of marathon flights getting me from the Carribbean to Yerevan, Armenia-- where I'll be for a week working on behalf of a philanthropic concern I'm involved with. That means the electoral going-ons will be followed by B.D. from a rather distant vantage point. Still, I'll have late night Internet access and CNN. Blogging will continue--if at odd hours. I sincerely hope we'll have a clear winner by my Weds noonish (I'll be 9 hours ahead). Back soon.

Posted by Gregory at 02:06 PM | Comments (41)

October 25, 2004

It's Kerry Endorsement Season!

Wow, it's getting lonely out there! WaPo. TNR. Drezner. Chafetz. Adesnik. Andrew, likely soon?

Oh, and the Nation and the NYT too (which endorsement is more surprising, one wonders?).

Speaking of the NYT, they are, predictably, in mega-anti-Bush-overdrive-mode right now. There was the Ron Suskind piece--all but portraying Bush as a theocratic fanatic on par with UBL--and clearly aimed at terrorizing wavering secular elites in a city or town near you! There was the Gordon series--which methodically, via three meaty installments, hammered in on many of the Administration's screw ups in Iraq. And, today, this staggeringly awful story (that rings so out and out FUBAR and, in many ways, sums up so much of what went awry with the Iraq occupation). When I read it, my first thought was: "criminally negligent." I went to Sullivan's blog and, lo and behold, that was his exact, verbatim take too. Well yeah, it takes your breath away, really.

And yet--war is a complex and hugely difficult business. What might look like the most critical site in all of Iraq to secure must, in the real world, compete with many other sites for attention (not to mention real, live insurgents trying to kill our forces). We must make sure we are not too wont to carp from the sidelines incessantly--whether from the halls of academia or the editorial rooms--about how our policymakers are so hugely incapable of handling basic tasks that we would have handled so much more swimmingly (of which more below).

Put differently, isn't there something a bit too easy about this rash of elite defections by those who supported the Iraq war? Lawrence Kaplan touches on that here. No true, as people like Dan Drezner (perhaps a wee bit self-defensively) note, this isn't a case of hindsight being 20-20. Critics were pointing out, in real time, the missteps of this Administration in Iraq (yes, B.D. included--particularly re: the fact we never had enough troops in theater--despite being mocked for so contending by 'the Rummy is always right' amen corners of the blogosphere). And, as I've often pointed out, a CFR task force report pre-invasion explicitly warned against Jacobin-like de-Baathification writ large and, more important perhaps, a full-scale disbanding of the Iraqi army.

But still, waging a war of this scope is bound to produce myriad unintended consequences. Major ones. When you support such a mammoth endeavour--you need to be prepared for major problems too. The risks of failure, miscalculation, unintended consequences--all are high. So, let's be blunt. Aren't we seeing, with all these 11th hour Bush defections from war supporters, a bit of the old adage that 'victory has many fathers but defeat is an orphan'? At least to some degree, no?

Now, going through old archives playing gotcha is a hugely lame game. And I'm certainly not going to engage in it or (heaven forbid) invite someone do the same to me. But how many of us, way back when, were so absolutely sure that major de-Baathification was a lousy idea? That a wholesale disbanding of the Iraqi army was wholly dumb (there are still smart counter-arguments about why disbanding the army was a good idea)? That our rapid initial victory may, in some respects, have proven somewhat 'catastrophic'? That the U.N. HQ would be blown up minimizing (though this is changing, of which more below) a U.N. role post-conflict? That a rash of beheadings and kidnappings would terrify NGOs and hamper reconstruction efforts? And so on.

Worth noting too, I'm far from sure Laura's right when she writes about the Iraq situation that "(t)his is one of those times when changing horses midstream is the only rational thing to do." Especially, as I've extensively detailed, when the alternative horse doesn't appear to care too much about forging a democratic Iraq.

Folks, let's all stop and take a deep breath for a second. Review Kerry's long voting record (his hyper-reticence to use American forces (or even proxies) overseas whether Desert Storm, Bosnia, Central America and so on--save the uber-safe Kosovo vote and disingenuous Iraq position). Think of how his Vietnam stance reveals much about his worldview. Think of wrong war wrong place wrong time. Ask yourself, will he see Iraq through given such rhetoric? Given his voting record over the decades? Given, as best we can espy it, his worldview? Given his snub of 'parrot' Allawi? I could go on. But I think the answer is pretty clear. It's, much more than likely, a no.

Now, of course, people like Drezner and Adesnik are asking: maybe Kerry's a gamble--but at least he's not a proven train wreck. While Adesnik think "accountability", in the main, is the issue that has gotten waverers on board for Kerry--the real core grievance appears to be best reflected, instead, in this Adesnik graf that Drezner approvingly links too:

As a professional researcher, I think I simply find it almost impossible to trust someone whose thought process is apparently so different from my own.

In theory, I am sure that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld all believe in evaluating the relevant data and adjusting their decisions to reflect reality. Thus, when I say that I object to the way that this administration makes decisions, I am saying that I do not believe that it has lived up to the intellectual standard it presumably accepts. [emphasis added]

Let's put all this in plainer English, OK? What Dan and David are saying, I think, is: When this Bush team effs up (and they have effed up a lot), are they able to (on a bare-bones constitutive level, say): a) even recognize they have effed up and b) then move to redress the eff up?

For David and Dan (and likely Andrew Sullivan too) the answer to both "a" and "b" above appears to be no. I, contra them, think the answer is yes and yes to both (Abu Ghraib, admitedly and importantly, aside).

The greatest misstep of the Iraq war, of course, was that we never had enough troops in theater. But as even the Michael Gordon NYT series points out:

According to United States officials, Mr. Bremer raised the troop issue in a June 18 video conference with Mr. Bush. Mr. Bremer said the United States needed to be careful not to go too far in taking out troops. The president said the plan was now to rotate forces, not withdraw them, and agreed that Washington needed to maintain adequate force levels.

Still the American forces shrank, from a high of about 150,000 in July 2003 to some 108,000 in February 2004, before going up again when violence sharply increased early this year. Some of the troop declines were offset by the arrival of the Polish-led division in August 2003.

General Franks said he had sought to assure Mr. Bremer that he would have enough troops in late May. While Mr. Bremer argued that he could not get Iraq's economy going until the American military made the country safer, General Franks asserted that the slow pace of reconstruction was undermining security. [emphasis added]

A few quick points here. One, note that Bremer ulimately did get an increase from the 108,000 February low. Note too, of course, that the time for a mammoth 350,000 thousand influx of troops was likely at the beginning of the occupation. Real 'shock and awe' (read: boots on every corner) showing Iraqis that America was going to guarantee their security and stability would have been most effective then.

Later, (ie, now) a massive influx of troops could send the wrong message about U.S. intentions in the region--perhaps that we aim to have a permanent Mesopotamian garrison, for instance. Therefore, in my view, we need to focus like a laser on a serious 3-5 year 'train and equip' effort of nascent Iraqi forces--while calibrating our force posture to meet the needs posed by the insurgency, the need to secure the country, the requirements of reconstruction.

That number could yet increase, of course. But does anyone believe Kerry is more likely to increase our troop posture in Iraq than Bush? Or really 'train and equip' better (someone smart on T.V., if there are any anchors so capable, needs to dig in the weeds with a Susan Rice about how, precisely, a Kerry team will train and equip Iraqi forces better than currently underway).

Would the party of Howard Dean go for this? Would John 'wrong war, wrong place, wrong time' Kerry authorize the deployment of an extra 50,000 GIs to Iraq (recall, he explicitly mentioned that any increases to the size of our military did not entail increases to our force posture in Iraq). Bottom line: the most critical mistake of the Iraq war, namely that we never had enough forces in theater, is more likely to be effectively redressed by Bush than Kerry.

Another point. Note the fascinating snippet from Gordon's piece re: the Bremer-Franks contretemps (the latter saying slow reconstruction efforts was hampering security, the former saying the opposite). My view, of course, is that Bremer had it right. Security needs to be established first--it is the 'critical enabler' to all that must follow (reconstruction, democratization, etc etc). But here's my point: Bush has empowered John Negroponte to move funds from reconstruction to security. He's doing, to put it differently, what David and Dan think he is unable to do, namely: a) recognizing an eff up and then b) redressing said eff up.

Money quote from a Richard Armitage press conference:

Since the U.S. Embassy opened in Baghdad on June 28, our officials have worked side by side with Iraqis and Coalition forces, to implement this strategic approach. In the past 12 weeks, disbursements of U.S. assistance from the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) have reached $1.217 billion. During this same period, Ambassador Negroponte conducted a comprehensive six-week review of spending priorities under the IRRF to ensure that our spending is directly keyed to our objectives. The Ambassador consulted with his entire Country Team, including Multinational Force-I Commander, General Casey, as well as with the Iraqi Interim Government. The adjustments that I will now outline are based on the recommendations of Ambassador Negroponte's review.

We propose shifting a total of $3.46 billion from sector allocations outlined in the July 5, 2004 Section 2207 report into six key, high-impact areas:

$1.8 billion more for Security and Law enforcement... [emphasis added]

You might scoff that USD2B is de minimis, of course. But, for starter's, note a) it's not an insignificant amount, and, further, it showcases that b) Bush understands that reconstruction cannot proceed, willy-nilly in utopic fashion, without security and c) that he is capable of shifting course to redress such eff ups.

Another example? Drezner pointed to a lack of adequate supplies to prosecute the Iraq war effort. Yep, smells FUBAR, all right. But, in the very article Dan links, we read:

The lack of key spare parts for gear vital to combat operations, such as tanks and helicopters, was causing problems so severe, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez wrote in a letter to top Army officials, that "I cannot continue to support sustained combat operations with rates this low."

Senior Army officials said that most of Sanchez's concerns have been addressed in recent months but that they continue to keep a close eye on the problems he identified. The situation is "substantially better" now, said Gary Motsek, deputy director of operations for the Army Materiel Command...

...Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson, the senior logistics officer on the Army staff at the Pentagon, said the readiness problems in Iraq peaked last fall but largely have been addressed. He said they were caused by a combination of problems in the supply pipeline and an unexpectedly high pace of combat operations as the Iraqi insurgency flared last year. [emphasis added]

Why, you ask, didn't we have enough spare parts and gear to begin with? Rummy, again? Piss poor planning? No proper preparation? Oh, doubtless such too rosy assumptions played a hand. Or Rummy's cocksure arrogance and hubris. But, as the WaPo article points out, so did things like this:

All of a sudden, at the end of July [2003], the insurgency started to do that IED business all over Iraq," he noted, using the acronym for "improvised explosive device," the military's term for roadside bombs. In response, the pace, or "operating tempo," for U.S. troops jumped, causing them to use their tanks and other armored vehicles at much higher rates than had been expected.

"The tanks are operating at 3,000 to 4,000 miles a year," Christianson said, which he noted is about five times the rate they are driven while being used for training at their home bases. The readiness rate for M-1 Abrams tanks fell to 78 percent last October, he said, compared with an Army standard of 90 percent. Because of the intensity of recent operations, said Motsek of the Army Materiel Command, the readiness rate for the tanks recently dropped from 95 percent to 83 percent.

Readiness rates also generally dipped last spring when insurgents destroyed seven bridges along the main supply route from Kuwait to Baghdad, Christianson said. In some cases, he said, supplies were cut off for "several days."

But he said the supply situation has improved since then, even as the pace of U.S. combat operations has remained intense. The waiting period for critical spare parts in Iraq is now about 24 days, about half of what it was when Sanchez wrote his letter, Christianson said. [emphasis added]

Did Dan and David know that we would face a scourge of IED attacks? Probably not. Did I? No. Should Pentagon planners have war-gamed that out when thinking of their supply/gear requirements? Probably more than was done--but who knows, really? This is a tricky business--but the point here, again is: a) the eff up was noted and kicked up the chain of command and then, b) redressed.

I could go on, of course. Everyone loves to yelp on about Fallujah. We were either a) dumb not to have razed the town to the ground (Kerry would have been tougher!) or b) dumb if we had razed the town (international opinion re: an American Jenin!). No one, it seems, stops to ponder whether a) it was smart to stop when we did (get adequate troops positioned), b) whilst wearing Zarqawi down with air attacks, to c) make a final push later in a manner that might minimize civilian casualties given more time to plan the operation and wear down hard-core insurgents. (Or not--but let's question ourselves a little bit, OK--keeping in mind that policymakers are making decisions in real time, on the ground, with real lives at stake).

Regardlesss, the point, again, is merely to showcase that Bush has shown flexibility in his war tactics. He did so with Sadr (successfully, so far). He did so in Fallujah. He's adjusted forces levels up and down via rotation schedules and the like. He's tried to remedy supply chain issues and getting enough body armor and gear to theater. He make midcourse changes too by bringing in Brahimi to help with electoral modalities. He did so by bumping Garner for Bremer and than expediting Bremer's exit. Some of these changes were forced by events. Some were thought through. Some make sense. Some might prove to have been ill advised. But, again, Bush is not some raging Messiah who believes he possesses the Truth--facts be damned! (There's some pragmatic Harvard MBA in all that born-again evangelicalism!)

Folks, I'm not trying to be a Bush apologist. Regular readers know that I've been hugely angered by some of this Administration's actions. There have been massive mistakes committed (most notably, the assumption that Iraq would be a cakewalk--where are you now Ken Adleman?-helping contribute to the troop lite issue). I've called for Don Rumsfeld's resignation, in this blog, over Abu Ghraib.

But my point here today is to query: a) don't these 11th hour Bush defections (from war supporters like Dan, Josh, and David) feel a bit too easy somehow?; b) is Bush truly incapable, per David, of adjusting his decision-making process to reflect reality in a manner that is, at least arguably, competent?; and c) has Bush's Iraq effort really proven that awful all told?

On this last, go read Chrenkoff (whom I've jokingly referred to as Pangloss!). There's meat in his regular dispatches--true blue good news. It's not all doom and gloom in Iraq. Really. And, if you think he's too rosy-colored, go read Jim Hoagland too.

Money quote:

The big but underreported news on the U.N. front is that efforts by employee unions and some senior U.N. officials to get the world body to pull out of or delay the January elections have been rejected by Secretary General Kofi Annan and his tough-minded elections director, Carina Perelli.

Perelli told me last week that she saw no technical reasons for January elections to be delayed. About 600 registration centers -- including one in Fallujah -- are scheduled to open this week in Iraq.

Cold Warriors such as George Kennan and Paul Nitze, who died last week at age 97, knew how to turn such small events into the stuff of strategy. But the nation's current strategic impatience makes that approach much more difficult.

Ancient Greeks would have seen the timing of Nitze's death as a message from Olympus. If a nation allows speed, superficiality and a quest for novelty to dominate the way it thinks about serious problems such as Iraq and Islamic terrorism, the gods will conclude that country no longer has need of thinkers like Nitze.

We are engaged in an effort in Iraq that will likely prove generational in duration and is of the utmost strategic import. There is far too much easy grousing from the sidelines and wails of despair from those who might demand instant gratification and success. To be sure, massive blunders have occurred in Iraq. But real adjustments in course, contra popular belief, have been undertaken to address them.

Reality check, including for those snidely inhabiting their so-called 'reality based communities' (showcasing a good amount of lock-step group-think in the process)--the U.N.'s top official in charge of Iraq elections sees no reason for delaying Iraq elections. Nor does Kofi Annan--whom is working the issue in conjuction with the (big, bad unilateral) United States.

Now, you can be sure, may of the 600 voter registration centers Hoagland mentions are about to become even more temping targets than Iraqi police recruitment centers for varied insurgents and/or terrorists. Have we planned for that? Will the stations be adequately protected? Or will dozens be destroyed? If so, will the elections perhaps be scuttled? Rendered illegitimate? Or, instead, will we eke out an Afghanistan scenario, if more violent, but in toto nevertheless a giant step forward for Iraq in its voyage towards a democratic future.

We don't know, really, none of us. But we do know Bush is trying, hard. And that he is capable of acknowledging errors and adjusting his policies. Will Kerry try as hard in Iraq? I doubt it. Given that judgment (it's my view, fell free to disagree and tell me why I'm wrong about Kerry), and given my further judgments that a) Bush is not some raging messianic figure wholly divorced from reality and b) he therefore can make cogent, strategic adjustments--I think Bush, at least if your main issue is Iraq and the GWOT, is your "better bet". Contra the WaPo. And, yes, contra good people like Dan Drezner, David Adesnik and Josh Chafetz.

Posted by Gregory at 12:09 PM | Comments (17)

October 18, 2004


A reader writes in:

Why We Deserve to Lose:

"By "we" I mean we of the Right, particularly those of us who call themselves, as I have called myself for twenty years, "neo-conservative". We deserve to lose this one.

We deserve to lose because we did deceive America about the reasons for Iraq. The deceit was not over whether Saddam had WMD, but why it would have mattered if he did. There were good reasons to be afraid of a nuclear armed Saddam. Reasons good, enough, I think, to justify going to war. But those reasons were not the reasons the president gave. The president said that what we had to fear was "the worst weapons in the world" falling into the hands of terrorists. But that was absurd and we knew it. After years of effort and billions spent, there was not the slightest chance that Saddam would have given his nukes to terrorists. Saddam had no interest in jihad. Saddam was interested in Saddam.

Of course, when it turned out that there were no WMDs we said, quite sincerely, that WMDs weren't the only reason for invasion. The other reason-- the real reason-- we now said, was to change the dynamic of middle eastern politics by planting a democracy in the middle of all those Arab tyrannies. And that was certainly was the vision that animated many of us. We were sickened by 9/11, sick of the Arab-Israeli crisis and sick of having to treat these oriental despotisms as modern nation states. Above all we wanted the US to be proactive. And perhaps we were right. Perhaps we will succeed in Iraq, convert it to a democracy and by its example bring democracy to all its neighbors. If that happens it will vindicate the war. But it will not excuse us, because that is not how we sold this war. It would have taken a great communicator to convey that vision to the American people. Our president's specialty is not communication it is fear mongering.

It is the relentless sounding of the tocsins of fear and dread that we should be most ashamed of . The truth is Arab terrorism against homeland targets is not hard to fight. The enemy is ill-organized, inept and incapable of operating effectively in the first world. It took billions of dollars of Saudi agitprop to create this generation of jihadis and Bin Laden spent tens of millions more to create his band of terrorist boy scout troops in the Afghani wilderness. And to what effect? In the harsh economics of real war, the spectacularly lethal stunt that was 9/11 was a poor return for a lavish investment. For comparison, Timothy Macveigh killed more, man for man, paid for it with his credit card and almost got away. The Beltway Sniper closed down much of the eastern seaboard with a deer rifle and a secondhand card. We frighten ourselves with visions of hi-tech terrorists wielding biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. In fact the actual enemy has not perfected the shoe bomb and most have never driven a car. America has not been attacked since 9/11. Bin Laden had no war plan. There were no sleeper cells. Indeed in its protracted history Al Qaeda has been responsible for far more talk than action.

As anyone who bothers to read the 911 commission report must realize, Bin Laden could have been stopped at any time in the nineties. The CIA knew where he was and had a fair estimate of his intentions. Had there been a simple policy of interdiction in place-- had the CIA been warranted to kill at least those who were known to have killed Americans abroad-- Al qaeda's leadership would have been quietly extinguished by the end of the Clinton presidency and 911 would almost certainly not have happened. Presumably that policy is in place now and, if so, we have little to fear.

Of course, no one dares now to say we need not be afraid. Where presidents once tried to calm the national mood, telling us not to fear "fear itself", our current leaders do everything they can to inflame it. Just this last week Secretary of Education Hickock issued a warning to beware of terrorists attacks against schools. What parent can have heard that warning without a moment of panic? And yet, as Hickock conceded, there was not a shred of intelligence that hinted at any real threat. Does the Secretary really think that Chechen rebels are as likely to show up in Oakland as in Ossetia or did he have some other reason in this election season, to try to scare the wits out of American mothers. This is shameful but typical.

Today John Kerry is being derided for expressing the hope that we may sometime in the future regard terrorism as a mere "nuisance". This is being offered as evidence that he doesn't "get it". "It" being that we are now in an eternal state of war and which can never won, lost or ended. No one is safe, nor should they feel safe! You can never be too safe!

This paranoia, there is no other word for it, will cripple American political discourse for decades to come. It will be our most shameful legacy."

Terrance Tomkow PhD
Los Angeles


So...have we become too paranoid post 9/11? Is the specter of nuclear terrorism blown out of proportion? All the talk about miniaturized nukes in a back-pack in a city near you? (Note that both Kerry and Bush stated in a recent debate that loose nukes were their greatest fear. What, specifically, do they fear? Rogue states with them? al-Qaeda and Co. with them? Something else?) What about chemical and biological weaponry?

If air-liners loaded with jetfuel were the last battle--well, what's the next one? Or was 9/11 some horrific one off--al-Qaeda's A-team hitting us with their best shot--the group and its affiliates now (with planes now unavailable, full of sharp-eyed Todd Beamers) not really capable of anything much more than blowing up a few train coaches and hotels?

In a word, a "nuisance." Manageable. Painful if a few hundred get killed every few months, but not a full-blown "existential" (to use a word that's been making the rounds) challenge going forward. Look, I think a massive WMD attack on a major Western city is all but inevitable in the next decade or so (and didn't one almost happen in Amman recently?) But my correspondent would likely consider me a rank fear-mongerer, I suspect.

I'd like to think I'm not peddling snake-oil and being grossly hyperbolic about the terror threat. Am I? What do others think? Comments welcome.

Posted by Gregory at 11:12 PM | Comments (42)

October 17, 2004

Why I'm Supporting Dubya

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.

Bush's Record

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 at 10:26 AM | Comments (245)

October 16, 2004

Drezner's Long Fence-Sit Is Coming to an End

Dan Drezner is all but set to vote Kerry (Hat Tip: Andrew). Too bad! Dan's foreign policy acumen is second to none in the blogosphere. It's regretable to see him end up voting Kerry--particularly as I feel our worldviews aren't too far apart. Anyway, I'll address some of his issues in my post explaining why I am voting for the other guy.

Oh, don't miss the retired diplomat who tries to sway Drezner back to the Dubya camp towards the end of Dan's post. He's spot on in many respects (I've heard much of the same from worried former Foggy Bottom-ites). More on all of this, including the Matt Bai piece and much more, hopefully Sunday.

And Dan, it's not too late!

P.S. Does Dan really want John Mearsheimer to disapprovingly scowl at him in the faculty cafeteria come November?

UPDATE: A commenter (somewhat rightly) takes me to task for intimating (jestfully, of course) that Mearsheimer might cast a disapproving glance in Dan's direction should he vote Kerry. I respond in comments--but please note, by way of general context, as follows: a) I'm not a huge fan of uber-realist Mearsheimer (I plead more neo-Wilsonian stripes--supporting U.S. intervention in the Balkans, for instance, contra Mearsheimer); b) that said I think he's one of the most intelligent realists out there; c) yes, he's rightly criticized Bush for not fully understanding the ethnic/religious/tribalistic complexities of Iraq (and, even, not using alliance structures more efficaciously); but d) for reasons I begin to sketch out in the comments I think he's nevertheless more likely to vote Bush than Kerry.

Maybe I'm wrong on this one (Mearsheimer's electoral orientation) but I don't think so. Anyone with more info on this or (even) an inside scoop is urged to comment below. Not that Mearsheimer's selection for President is some kind of Holy Grail--but given Robert George's recent defection it would be interesting to get a better feel for Mearsheimer's outlook. Put differently, how many rightist or right-leaning, seasoned academics of top caliber are jumping ship and voting Kerry?

IMPORTANT UPDATE: I stand corrected. Mearsheimer is voting Kerry. Thanks to the commenter for pointing it out. And please accept my apologies.

Posted by Gregory at 12:51 AM | Comments (23)

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 12:55 AM | Comments (20)

September 24, 2004

Krugman Channels Kerry

"Realistic goals".

Read: A mammoth abdication of responsibility and the biggest blow to American credibility in the international arena since Vietnam.

Make no mistake--this is what Krugman is advocating. And, I strongly suspect, this is the face of a prospective Kerry Iraq policy too. Once you strip away all the "nuance." Certainly his embarassing performance yesterday would tend to reinforce such a view, no?


Joe Lockhart, a top advisor to Kerry's campaign:

“The last thing you want to be seen as is a puppet of the United States, and you can almost see the hand underneath the shirt today moving the lips,” said Joe Lockhart, a senior Kerry adviser.

Disgraceful. (Hat tip: Glenn).

Remember, Kerry may need to work with this so-called "puppet" in the future. Regardless, this is astonishingly irresponsible campaign rhetoric from a key member of the challenger's campaign team. To malign the serving PM of Iraq as appearing a "puppet" plays right into the handbook of insurgents operating in Iraq. I'm truly shocked Kerry would ostensibly authorize such an inflammatory statement (ie., not in the Casablanca 'shocked, shocked' kinda way).

STILL MORE: I'm not the only one who is using the "D" word this week.

Meanwhile, W.43rd St. is dutifully playing Kerry campaign defense--reporting this straight-faced without any, er, blushing:

Mr. Kerry's campaign replied that he had not insulted Dr. Allawi but was just questioning his outlook.

Heh. As Sully puts it: I link, you decide. Lockhart's statement wasn't meant as an insult to Allawi? C'mon-- Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin' eyes?

Posted by Gregory at 01:10 PM | Comments (95)

September 23, 2004

Allawi's Speech

Wow. Strong speech. Advantage Allawi (and Bush).

Kerry looks, er, very small today. I mean, was this statement for real? In its discombobulation, utter lack of grace (all but calling Allawi a liar--a man almost axed to death by Saddam's henchmen in the U.K. and under constant threat of assassination today), near absurdities ("Let me tell you, if the 4th Infantry Division and the diplomacy had been done (ed. note: whatever "done" means) with Turkey, you wouldn't have had a Fallujah"), pleading tone ("And ask the military leaders. Go ask the military leaders")--it reads more like a bona fide Deanian (or Goreian?) meltdown than a serious policy statement/press conference.

And am I the only one concerned that Kerry opened his remarks by proclaiming: "I want victory. I want to win." Er, shouldn't that go without saying? Why does a candidate for the U.S. Presidency even need to say that? How very odd. Of course, if he is serious about us winning--he should instead act like a statesman, head to Washington, and assure the new Iraq PM that there is a bipartisan consensus to support Iraq during its perilous path towards democracy whoever wins in November.

But no. Instead, a sour, rambling statement from the sidelines. As I said, small. Very small. I'm tempted to say he needs new advisors--but he's already gone through quite a few batches. At some point, the buck stops with the principal, no?

More on the Allawi speech and Kerry's remarks hopefully later tonight London time.

UPDATE: Heh. Matt Yglesias has a slightly different take (Hat Tip: Memeorandum). Needless to say, I guess, I think Matt's being a tad generous to Mr. Kerry. Or maybe, as one of B.D.'s smartest commenters (who runs an erudite left-of-center blog) contends--I'm being unfair to the Senator.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I just got off a special dial-in teleconference to hear Iyad Allawi speaking at the CFR (I trust it's on the record as the Council's main webpage mentions it is to be broadcast live on C-SPAN). Someone in the audience pointedly asked Allawi about Kerry's comments that I blog above--ie, that Allawi was in heavy-spin mode to give Bush political cover. Allawi responded: "I'm a tool of nobody." And then something about not getting involved in the internal politics of the U.S., that it's "none of our business."

He's better at all of this than Kerry, isn't he? And, apparently, more gracious too.

Posted by Gregory at 09:09 PM | Comments (50)

September 22, 2004

Bush's UNGA Speech

And today I assure every friend of Afghanistan and Iraq and every enemy of liberty, we will stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq until their hopes of freedom and security are fulfilled. These two nations will be a model for the broader Middle East, a region where millions have been denied basic human rights and simple justice.

Er, guess Bush hasn't seen the Novak story--or, in this post-Clintonian era, perhaps we need to inquire about what the meaning of "stand with" or "fulfilled" is. That said, I'm not so sure such an uber-skeptical inquiry is warranted just yet--Novak story or no Novak story. Bush might not be as smart as Clinton--but I trust him a helluva lot more (let the Atrios crowd denigrate us types as bovine, imbecilic apologists for the Chimp-in-Chief--they well know, if beneath so many layers of tiresome and showboaty sarcasm, that it's prima facie evident that Bush is more of a straight-shooter than his predecessor).

Oh, don't miss this portion of the speech on the "little graves." Quite powerful.

In the last year alone, terrorists have attacked police stations and banks and commuter trains and synagogues and a school filled with children. This month in Beslan, we saw once again how the terrorists measure their success: in the death of the innocent and in the pain of grieving families. Svetlana Deibesov (ph) was held hostage, along with her son and her nephew. Her nephew did not survive. She recently visited the cemetery and saw what she called the little graves. She said, I understand that there is evil in the world, but what have these little creatures done?

Members of the United Nations, the Russian children did nothing to deserve such awful suffering and fright and death. The people of Madrid and Jerusalem and Istanbul and Baghdad have done nothing to deserve sudden and random murder. These acts violate the standards of justice in all cultures and the principles of all religions. All civilized nations are in this struggle together, and all must fight the murderers. We're determined to destroy terror networks wherever they operate, and the United States is grateful to every nation that is helping to seize terrorist assets, track down their operatives and disrupt their plans.

More commentary (in more critical vein) on the U.N. address soon.


I've noted Bush's obvious penchant for simple, broad narratives in the past. If you like that kind of thing--his UNGA speech didn't disappoint:

For decades the circle of liberty and security and development has been expanding in our world. This progress has brought unity to Europe, self-government to Latin America and Asia and new hope to Africa. Now we have the historic chance to widen the circle even further, to fight radicalism and terror with justice and dignity, to achieve a true peace, founded on human freedom.

Translation of "widen the circle even further" means Iraq and the broader Middle East. All this is wonderful, of course, particularly if such a vision weren't so often blemished by all the assorted imperfections of human nature, inconsistencies in the selection of where we choose to pursue our democracy exportation exercises, and (what often seems like) myriad errors in the execution of such efforts.

Still, it is clear that Bush was digging deeper in this speech. Check this part out:

Because we believe in human dignity, peaceful nations must stand for the advance of democracy. No other system of government has done more to protect minorities, to secure the rights of labor, to raise the status of women or to channel human energy to the pursuits of peace. We've witnessed the rise of democratic governments in predominantly Hindu and Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian cultures.

Democratic institutions have taken root in modern societies and in traditional societies. When it comes to the desire for liberty and justice, there is no clash of civilizations. People everywhere are capable of freedom and worthy of freedom. Finding the full promise of representative government takes time, as America has found in two centuries of debate and struggle. Nor is there only one form of representative government because democracies, by definition, take on the unique character of the peoples that create them.

Democracy can not only work and take root in the Islamic world; but also in "traditional" societies. Message: Democracy can take root in the Shi'a hinterlands around Basra or the tribalistic swaths of the Sunni Triangle. Is Bush right? Well, it's possible, isn't it? And we can at least admire him the courage to essay such a historic task. One a John Kerry, rest assured, wouldn't.

All this is linked, of course, to what his critics view as his messianic preoccupation with "freedom."

Yet this much we know with certainty: The desire for freedom resides in every human heart. And that desire cannot be contained forever by prison walls or martial laws or secret police; over time and across the Earth, freedom will find a way. Freedom is finding a way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we must continue show our commitment to democracies in those nations. The liberty that many have won at a cost must be secured.

Norm Podhoretz would be pleased. And note the bolded part--more anti-Novak talk.

But, as so often in life, the devils are in the details (the grays I often worry Bush doesn't see). Right now, democracy in Iraq is deeply imperiled. We are at the very beginning of this effort--not nearing the end. Bush needs to tell us this loudly and directly--so we are reassured the Novaks are wrong. And he then needs to tell us, in some detail, what specifically he is going to do to a) improve the dreadful security situation for ordinary Iraqis b) beat back the insurgency and c) get the reconstruction effort back on tap.

Put differently, the too often utopic meta-narrative needs to be embroidered with more of the gritty, pesky details. Call it, perhaps, a Fukuyama-induced Thermidor after too much excessive Jacobin zeal. We need a bit of that, I fear...on which, more soon.

Posted by Gregory at 12:36 AM | Comments (61)

September 16, 2004

Kerry Watch

Kerry's doing better in the latest polls--and is also looking better on the campaign trail than I've seen before. I just caught him on Fox over here now back in London. Here's where he sounded, er, like he actually had some combination of balls, gravitas, and conviction (text at this NYT article):

He [Bush] did not tell you that with each passing day, we're seeing more chaos, more violence, more indiscriminate killings," the senator said. "He did not tell you that with each passing week, our enemies are getting bolder — that Pentagon officials report that entire regions of Iraq are now in the hands of terrorists and extremists. He did not tell you that with each passing month, stability and security seem farther and farther away.

Now, all this is easy carping from the sidelines. And it doesn't get me even remotely close to thinking Kerry is sincere about trying to see the Iraq project through. But it might, just perhaps, lead Bush to have to play defense a little more on the Iraq issue than he has to date.

You know, that's probably good--if it comes to pass. Bush needs to reassure people that he gets how complex and fraught with danger the situation in Iraq is. It wasn't (and isn't) just a miscalculation here and there. It's a project that, while still salvageable, is today imperiled in very real fashion.

So Mr. President--tell it like it is. We're grown-ups--we can handle it. More important, clue us in (at least in a couple speeches--let the listening crowds eyes glaze over if need be)--to what your game plan is if elections can't happen and Sistani goes ballistic (Shi'a crude majoritarianism held at bay!), or elections happen but hundreds get bombed to death at polling stations dotting the land, or the Sunnis refuse to abide by the results, or Kurdish-Shi'a tensions burst to the fore post-elections.

Now, I know this President has doubtless been counseled by Karl Rove to play to his strength--projecting simple, rock-ribbed conviction--so that speeches getting him caught up in such details would not necessarily play well in Peoria or might have him stumbling over his lines. But he, or surrogates like Powell or Condi, need to start giving us more than we've been getting: 'freedom is on the march'! 'elections coming up in January'! more kindergartens opening! (now that we, er, do kindergartens...)

I believe it will be a net gain if Bush hits back at Kerry hard on this latest line of attack--despite Roveian 'keep it simple' guidelines. Bush should go beyond the standard lines mocking Kerry's flip-flopping (it might get stale). He should also say that it's easy to whine from the sidelines--but Kerry has still not offered any cogent, real, intelligent policy alternatives on Iraq. And then (if only!), how wonderful it would be to see Bush begin to chart a more detailed road ahead showing that a) he's more in touch with reality and not too far in the bubble and b) he is thinking more proactively than Kerry and his foreign policy advisors (not a hard thing to do!)

UPDATE: Polls are really all over the map right now. I can't really make much sense of them...though I suspect campaign internals would show a continuing post-convention lead for Bush of 3-5% pts. Not huge--but not statistically irrelevant either. Incidentally, per some e-mails, I gather some of my readers think my recommendations above are poppycock--that Bush should keep it real simple and 'on message' re: Iraq barring massive disaster there between now and November. I still think, all told, that he should level with us more re: the real challenges taking place there. Seeing POTUS more apprised and engaged with the issues might help make some fence-sitters think a Bush II will be less flat-footed in terms of making breezy, erroneous policy assumptions about complex conflict situations.

MORE: Others were less impressed by the Senator from Massachusetts:

The convention of more than 4,000 Guard officers responded far more coolly to Mr. Kerry than it had to Mr. Bush. The hall, which had been full on Tuesday, had scattered empty chairs on Thursday as Mr. Kerry arrived, and the group, which repeatedly interrupted the president's speech with standing ovations and hoots of approval, offered Mr. Kerry a polite but quieter reception.

At the point that Mr. Kerry said Mr. Bush had not told the convention the truth, a man shouted out "No!" As Mr. Kerry finished speaking, a few officers sat in their chairs, arms crossed. Col. Joanne F. Sheridan, of the Louisiana National Guard, got up and walked out before he was done.

"Mine was a silent protest to what he was saying," Colonel Sheridan said later. "What he was saying about George Bush not telling the truth on Iraq - I just don't believe that. George Bush did tell us the truth, so I guess I couldn't believe what Kerry was saying. Here, he came before a military audience, but he said what he said for the media, for the television cameras - not for us, that's for sure."

Posted by Gregory at 11:54 PM | Comments (5)

September 08, 2004

Kerry's August

August was a very bad month for John Kerry--and not just because of the Swifties:

"If you were to say what was the pivotal moment in August, I don't think it included Swift boats," Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said. "I think it was the back-and-forth between the president and Senator Kerry over Iraq."

Though Kerry is correct when he says he always held a different view on Iraq, especially an unwavering insistence that the United States should have built a much broader international coalition before attacking Hussein and occupying a foreign country, the candidate's comments throughout August served only to complicate his case, several Democratic operatives said.

In addition to the debate over the Iraq vote, Kerry was reluctantly pulled into a broader discussion during the first two weeks of August over whether he, like Bush, would have gone to war with Iraq if he were president now. At first Kerry said maybe. Then Jamie Rubin, the candidate's national security adviser, said that "in all probability" a Kerry administration would have waged war to depose Hussein by now. Several Kerry friends and advisers considered Rubin's comment a mistake, but the campaign did not issue a retraction until weeks later -- on Aug. 24.

Tony Coelho, who chaired Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000, said he was "very disgusted" by how Kerry's top advisers handled the Iraq debate last month. "You are paying these guys a lot of damn money. If Kerry is screwing up, where is our Karl Rove?"

Er, non-extant, I guess.

Meanwhile, Kerry's latest (I've honestly lost track) position on Iraq is very Howard Deanesque--the boys are gonna come home by the end of his first term.

If you've been reading B.D. over the past months--you know that I have pretty much believed that to be Kerry's going forward Iraq position all along. This isn't because B.D. is a great reader of tea leaves and such. After all, he was saying stuff like this back in early August:

In interviews on television talk shows, the Democratic presidential nominee said that he saw no reason to send more troops to Iraq and that he would seek allied support to draw down U.S. forces there. "I will have significant, enormous reduction in the level of troops," he said on ABC's "This Week." Kerry accused President Bush of misleading the country before the war in Iraq, burning bridges with U.S. allies and having no plan to win peace. But when questioned about saying Thursday in his acceptance speech, "I know what we have to do in Iraq," he would not tip his hand.

"I've been involved in this for a long time, longer than George Bush," he said. "I've spent 20 years negotiating, working, fighting for different kinds of treaties and different relationships around the world. I know that as president there's huge leverage that will be available to me, enormous cards to play, and I'm not going to play them in public. I'm not going to play them before I'm president."

Reminded that he sounded like Richard M. Nixon, who campaigned in 1968 by saying he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, Kerry responded: "I don't care what it sounds like. The fact is that I'm not going to negotiate in public today without the presidency, without the power."

Kerry previously has discussed his desire to reduce U.S. forces in Iraq but declined to attach any timetable to that goal.

Now, of course, Kerry has gone further:

Asked about Iraq, Mr Kerry declared it to be “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time”, and Mr Bush’s “most catastrophic” wrong choice. Although he said recently that he hoped to bring a “significant number” of US troops home from Iraq in his first term as President, Mr Kerry went much farther. “My goal would be to bring them home in my first term, and I believe that can be done,” he said. Mr Kerry has repeatedly criticised Mr Bush’s handling of the war but has struggled to explain why he voted to give Mr Bush the authority to invade Iraq before voting against an $87 billion (£49 billion) request to fund troops and reconstruction costs.

Last month he perplexed many Democrats when he said that he would still have voted to authorise Mr Bush to invade even had he known that no weapons of mass destruction would be found.

Look, we all want the G.I.s back home. And, of course, it might be helpful (to a fashion) to signal that the U.S. does not intend to keep U.S. forces in Iraq on a quasi-permanent basis. For instance, some in the Arab and Islamic world (not least Iraq)--to the extent they bought into Kerry's comments--would have one fewer conspiracy theory to help stoke some of the anti-Americanism in the region (namely, that the U.S. invaded Iraq to maintain permanent military bases in the region). But, of course, the much more likely impact of such statements, in highly problematic places like Anbar province or increasingly Beirut-like Sadr City, is to smell weakness and, as Sully put it, make possible failure in Iraq a "self-defeating prophecy." You simply don't, in the middle of a war, announce a withdrawal timetable like this (Nixon's 'peace with honor' was much further into the Vietnam conflict).

You know, Kerry, after getting advice from Clinton's sick-bed, was supposed to drop Vietnam and move the debate to domestic issues (traditional soi disant "Democrat" issues like the economy and health care). One ingenious way to do this was Kerry's new line about the $200 billion allegedly squandered in Iraq and how these funds could have been used for more critical domestic needs.

But, as is his wont, Kerry effed it up. Instead of sounding like Clinton--he took Clinton's advice and came off sounding like Howard Dean. It's not just, per Tony Coehlo, that Kerry has no Karl Rove. The candidate himself is making, repeatedly, serious mistakes. You can't just blame the dearth of Dem Karl Roves for all these going-ons.

One final note. There was a little brouhaha last night about Cheney's comments about the perils of a Kerry victory. As I'm in the States, I caught Edward's reaction last night on a cable news show. Whatever you make of Cheney's comments, Edwards (during his response) looked young, under pressure, and even a tad panicky. It was not an impressive performance--the seasoned, silver-tounged, smart trial lawyer this wasn't. Instead, he looked fidgety and non-convincing. Not a major Kerry asset right now, I'm afraid.

Make no mistake. This is a campaign in pretty serious trouble right now. If they're going to turn it around--they need to do so damn quickly. But I'm not sure the candidates or their advisors have the requisite street smarts, conviction on key foreign policy issues, and general mojo to pull it off right now.

MORE: There might be hope for Mr. Kerry. Nicholas von Hoffman thinks he's in trouble--so maybe all is well!

Meanwhile, NY money is getting worried too.

Just to clarify. Yeah, I obviously think Kerry is in real trouble. But Bush's lead in polls is most recently looking to only be around 2-3% (the post-convention bounce is diminishing quite rapidly). It is still anyone's race...

Posted by Gregory at 04:48 AM | Comments (17)

September 07, 2004

Sullivan's Loss of Faith in Bush

Andrew Sullivan:

I agreed with almost everything in the foreign policy section of the speech, although the president's inability to face up to the obvious sobering lessons from Iraq is worrying. I get the feeling that empirical evidence does not count for him; that like all religious visionaries, he simply asserts that his own faith will vanquish reality. It won't. We heard nothing about Iran, North Korea or even anything concrete about Iraq. We heard no new bid to capitalize on the new mood in France or to win over new allies in the war on terror. We heard nothing about intelligence reform. And the contrasts with Kerry were all retrospective. There was no attempt to tell us where Kerry and Bush would differ in the future over the Middle East, just easy (and justified) barbs about the past. But Bush's big vision is, I believe, the right one. I'm just unsure whether his profound unpopularity in every foreign country has made real movement more or less likely. I do know that the rank xenophobia at the convention did not help American foreign policy or American interests.

You know, I've often felt grateful to Sullivan for his passionately intelligent writing or, perhaps, a poem he digs up that well reflects the national mood. Two days after 9/11, he posted this poem on his blog:

There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand;
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand

This Melville poem, somehow, provided some much needed strength that day. I remember scrawling the poem down on a piece of paper and placing it in Union Square just days after the attacks.

Um, so what's my point? Well, I view Sullivan as someone who has a lot of integrity (for example, he rightly and forcefully called this Administration to task for the FUBAR going-ons at Abu Ghraib). And so, I guess, I was particularly saddened to see him fall (if in limited fashion) for the relativistic argument peddled in large swaths of lefty-Europe that Dubya is as much of a religious nutter as UBL ("...like all religious visionaries, he simply asserts that his own faith will vanquish reality.")

Sorry, but Bush is much more pragmatic than that. He has shown such pragmatism (put differently, a willingness to learn from his mistakes and engage with reality) repeatedly in Iraq. When Garner wasn't up to the job; he canned him and put in Bremer. After giving the U.N. short-shrift; Bush later gave Brahimi and the U.N. free rein to help broker Iraqi electoral modalities. He refused to flatten Fallujah, like a religious visionary might have done, in favor of sending in Iraqi forces (a strategy that looks to be proving highly problematic; though likely less problematic than if Bush had simply carpet-bombed said town). Similarly, the Sadr situation was handled, all told, with some subtlety (the Imam Ali mosque stands, Sadr hasn't been made a martyr, a political space for Sadr might still be allowed going forward). Some of the worst excesses of de-Baathification have been reversed. Rapprochment with Ankara and Berlin has proceeded apace. And so on.

Are these the actions of a wild-eyed, religious visionary? Well, no, of course they aren't.

And what of this "new mood" in France that Andrew espies? Right now, Le Monde's chat rooms are in full-blown schadenfreude mode that seven Marines died today, speculation that the CIA is behind the taking of the two French hostages (to drag the French into the Iraq imbroglio!), and that the U.S. is imperiling the freeing of the two French hostages.

Chat rooms certainly aren't scientifically accurate gauges of the national mood--whether in the U.S. or France. Still, they provide a window into some of the to and fro of national sentiment and debate. Relatedly, check out this article:

La concomitance de l'assaut contre Latifiya, décidé par le premier ministre Iyad Allaoui, et des négociations, trŹs délicates et trŹs médiatisées, relatives aux otages franćais n'est pas passée inaperćue ą Bagdad.

Lors d'une conférence de presse, dimanche, le cheikh salafiste Mahdi Al-Soumeēdaē, en annonćant qu'il avait "promulgué une fatwa - décret religieux - appelant les ravisseurs des deux journalistes ą les libérer immédiatement", a estimé que l'opération de Latifiya a "perturbé le processus de libération".

Translation: The occurence in connection with one another of the assault against Latifiya, decided by Prime Minister Iyad Allaoui, and very delicate...negotiations regarding the French hostages did not pass unnoticed in Baghdad. During a press conference on Sunday, the Salafist Sheikh Mahdi al-Soumeidai announced that he had "promulgated a fatwa--a religious decree--calling on the kidnappers to liberate the two journalists immediately," and averred that the Latifiya operation has disturbed the liberation of the hostages."

Similar stories are appearing in the leading center-right French daily Le Figaro--strongly suggesting that the U.S.'s latest military actions are risking scuttling the hostage release deal.

Now, is it possible that joint U.S.-Iraqi counter-insurgency operations are having a negative impact on the hostage release negotiations? Oh, maybe. But might not it be more warranted for the French press to, just perhaps, instead explore with more vigor the fanatical Islamic group's culpability in this whole sad affair? Instead of the old and tired 'blame the brutish Americans' song and dance? (Regardless, someone will have to clue in the French government that U.S. military actions in Iraq will not be calibrated and timed so as to ensure optimal conditions for various Salafist sheikhs to deem the time ripe for release of their two nationals. Fair, non?)

My point? There really isn't a "new mood" in France for Bush to have capitalized on. Any appeals by Bush to France in his Convention speech would, more likely, and I say this with real regret, have been met by Gallic scoffs, scorn and mockery rather than truly open and receptive ears.

Sullivan also complains that detailed Iran and NoKo plans weren't put on the table at MSG. But is a convention speech really the time to say:"..and if Iran doesn't cooperate with the latest IAEA requests I plan to ask my Euro-troika counterparts to bring this matter to the UNSC for consideration re: bringing punitive sanctions to bear on Iran"? Eyes would glaze over; the bounce would be smaller, and anyway, Bush would be castigated for going foward war-mongering.

Instead, as Sullivan admits, Bush made a powerful speech largely about the civilizational nature of the struggle we are involved in (the "big vision"). A speech that sounded, in parts, similar to this passage:

The forces of barbarism have clearly struck an extraordinary blow against freedom this morning. This is not about the United States alone. It is about the survival of free societies in an open, interconnected world where forces deeply hostile to freedom can wage a new kind of war against our humanity and our success. Words fail me. But my hope is that this will awaken the sleeping tiger. When our shock recedes, our rage must be steady and resolute and unforgiving. The response must be disproportionate to the crime and must hold those states and governments that have tolerated this evil accountable. This is the single most devastating act of war since Nagasaki. It is the first time that an enemy force has invaded the precincts of the American capital since the early nineteenth century. It is more dangerous than Pearl Harbor. And it is a reminder that the forces of resentment and evil...can no longer be appeased. They must be destroyed - systematically, durably, irrevocably. Perhaps now we will summon the will to do it.

The author? Andrew Sullivan, writing the day of 9/11. I wonder if Andrew, in his heart of hearts, truly believes Kerry will "summon the will to do it"?

I doubt he does. And, I suspect, many of my and his readers do to.

A final note. My Beltway spies tell me that a Bush II team (even sans Colin) will have a more pragmatic, realist tilt. Wolfy/Feith are not in the ascendancy anymore. Put differently, regime change is not coming to Iran in February of '05 in any Bush II (Bush just hinted at this strongly saying diplomacy had been given 12 years in Iraq; just one so far in Iran...)

Now, don't get me wrong. There's not going to be any Poppy restoration with Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker rushing about hither dither. But a Bush II team is likely going to feature foreign policy practitioners more tethered to reality than some in Bush I. If nothing else, people are going to have learned from their mistakes. Wars (particularly securing the peace) takes soldiers. Lots of them. Intel needs to be judiciously and cautiously examined without histrionics and hyperbole. People, once liberated, turn on liberators quickly (ingrates abound in this world, let's never forget!). Exiles, particularly of the Knightsbridge variety, twist and turn with the winds with breathtaking gall.

Compare a more sober and realist Bush II team to Kerry's prospective line-up. Holbrooke might do a great job--but who will occupy the vast sub-Holbrooke ranks at State (key 6th floor appointees and such)? Who will man the Pentagon?

The bench is light, I fear. More on that soon.


A reminder. Comments are often unmonitored and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author of this blog. That said, I will exercise, at my sole discretion, the right to delete any and all posts that I view as off-topic, hateful, or otherwise offensive (even by regular commenters whose views I might often value). Thanks for your understanding and patience--even if I've deleted a comment of yours that you might have viewed as within the confines of appropriate discourse. Sometime it's a close call--but my space, my rules.

As for Kerry's prospective foreign policy team--check this article out. Sorry, but I'm just not that impressed (some quite junior people are being touted as heavy-weights-to-be). This link is registration required; so go check this out too.

As I said, more on this soon. I'm traveling on business to the States all week. Blogging may occur but will be somewhat irregular, erratic etc. Thanks for your patience.

STILL MORE: On France's current take on the hostage crisis, don't miss this either:

Frustration in Paris at delays in releasing the hostages kidnapped in Iraq is leading to suggestions that military action by the US-led coalition is undermining diplomatic efforts and jeopardising the lives of the captives.

Fouad Alaoui, secretary-general of the Union of French Islamic Organisations, said new US military operations might have made it harder to arrange a handover. "I think that it is making the mission difficult," said Mr Alaoui.

In an implicit criticism of the coalition's post-war planning, Michele Alliot-Marie, the French defence minister, told LCI television: "This country [Iraq] is in complete chaos, so that poses major difficulties."

A British diplomat in Paris yesterday said: "The current coalition operations are part of regular ongoing activity and have no connection with the French hostages. We continue to offer the French our full support."

This isn't from a Le Monde chat room. It's a statement from the French Minister of Defense.

Again, where is the "new mood"? Why are French government ministers suggesting the U.S. is to blame for the plight of their nationals--rather than the fanatical terrorists who have kidnapped and threatened to kill them? Really, why?

Posted by Gregory at 01:02 AM | Comments (28)

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 don’t 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.


An on the ball commenter writes in:


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


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 I’m 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. I’m 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 01:00 AM | Comments (32)

June 22, 2004

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics


But this is better news for Dubya.

Here's the lead WaPo story.

You know, I'm a bit of a skeptic when it comes to polls.

For instance, how can this be right?

The president is viewed as a stronger leader than Kerry and as the candidate who can be most trusted in a crisis. He is also seen as best able to "make the country safer and more secure" and the one who "takes a position and sticks with it."
But by 52 percent to 39 percent, Kerry is seen as more honest and trustworthy -- a troubling finding for Bush, whose truthfulness before the war in Iraq has been called into question.

The two bolded parts appear a bit contradictory, don't they?

Here's the specific polling data:

1) Kerry more honest; BUT

2) Bush can be trusted more in a crisis...

Hmmmm....work that one out for me? My guess:

Bush is seen a strong, principled leader--but all the (mostly hyped) stories about how Bush ginned up al-Q/Saddam links have hurt him (ed. note: If so many Americans think they were misled on this score; someone please explain this poll result to me?)

Again, lies, damn lies, and statistics.

So you throw in a good dollop of media stories about all the space between avuncular Tom Kean/Lee Hamilton and messianic 'damn the evidence' Dubya and Cheney--you get a disconnect where most Americans (over 60%) believe or suspect Saddam had cooperated with al-Q historically--but a full 48% nevertheless believe they were misled on said alleged links.

How about the critical economy?

Well, are you better off than you were 4 years ago?

Well yeah, or at least the same ....

Not bad given one of the most absurd bubbles in financial history had just popped as Dubya came into office.

And, importantly, it appears most people think the economy is going to be on an uptick going forward.

So here's the deal folks.

Pretty much, people are evenly split on whether Bush or Kerry would handle the war on terror better (48% Kerry to 47% Bush).

But by a margin of 54% to 40% people think Bush will make the country safer and more secure (second link at top of post).

And Bush beats Kerry on having a "clear plan" on terrorism 55% to 42%.

More Americans trust Bush in a crisis (but perhaps trust Kerry more during quotidian times?) (again, per above links)

More Americans think Bush has a clear plan for Iraq than they believe Kerry does (48% to 42%).

Oh, and this strikes me as important.

So tell me, please, why does the WaPo headline blare: "Bush Loses Advantage in War on Terrorism"?

Just asking.

P.S. Not a sole query on Abu Ghraib? All Lottian insouciance, I reckon, even amongst the pollsters and the great public....

UPDATE: Jon Henke and Robert Tagorda have more on this. Tagorda's post has an interesting take on why the WaPo's unnuanced lede (the 21% drop in Bush's war on terror approval rating) has occurred.

Posted by Gregory at 12:58 PM | Comments (4)