Bush defeats Kerry
Because I’m a pessimist, I see new developments in the campaign as ensuring a Bush victory. The latest blip is, by miles, the most depressing. See, here’s part of the New York Times magazine profile of John Kerry.
Bush casts the war on terror as a vast struggle that is likely to go on indefinitely, or at least as long as radical Islam commands fealty in regions of the world. In a rare moment of either candor or carelessness, or perhaps both, Bush told Matt Lauer on the ”Today” show in August that he didn’t think the United States could actually triumph in the war on terror in the foreseeable future. ”I don’t think you can win it,” he said — a statement that he and his aides tried to disown but that had the ring of sincerity to it. He and other members of his administration have said that Americans should expect to be attacked again, and that the constant shadow of danger that hangs over major cities like New York and Washington is the cost of freedom. In his rhetoric, Bush suggests that terrorism for this generation of Americans is and should be an overwhelming and frightening reality.
When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. ”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.”
The question was, what will it take for Americans to feel safe again? The answer was, we defeat the terrorists right now and neuter them until they’re just a nuisance.
This was the wrong answer.
The correct answer, as the response is showing, would have been to just say “to defeat the terrorists.” That’s not really an answer, but it’s what people want to think. Because people don’t think about this. Witness the Bush ad cooked up in response.
First, Kerry said defeating terrorism was really MORE about law enforcement and intelligence than a strong military operation… More about law enforcement than a strong military? Now Kerry says… We have to get back to the place where terrorists are a nuisance like gambling and prostitution… we’re never going to end them. Terrorism… a nuisance? How can Kerry protect us when he doesn’t understand the threat?
This message is simple: Terrorism must be stopped. Military force can stop it. Law enforcement can’t.
But this isn’t how Bush understands the threat, either. This was how he expressed it in his convention speech.
Our strategy is succeeding. Four years ago, Afghanistan was the home base of al-Qaida, Pakistan was a transit point for terrorist groups, Saudi Arabia was fertile ground for terrorist fundraising, Libya was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons, Iraq was a gathering threat, and al-Qaida was largely unchallenged as it planned attacks. Today, the government of a free Afghanistan is fighting terror, Pakistan is capturing terrorist leaders, Saudi Arabia is making raids and arrests, Libya is dismantling its weapons programs, the army of a free Iraq is fighting for freedom, and more than three-quarters of al-Qaida’s key members and associates have been detained or killed. We have led, many have joined, and America and the world are safer.
The GOVERNMENT of Afghanistan. Pakistan is CAPTURING terrorist leaders. Saudi Arabia is making RAIDS AND ARRESTS. There’s a name for that stuff. It’s law enforcement.
But in running against Kerry, Bush is saying it isn’t about law enforcement. It’s about military power and creating “free nations.” Soldiers in Iraq are fighting terrorists, but, apparently, law enforcement isn’t. Al-Qaida members are being “detained or killed,” but law enforcement isn’t detaining or killing them.
There’s a genius of ommission when Bush et al attack Kerry’s stance on fighting terror. There’s also a lot of dishonesty. By saying that Kerry’s approach doesn’t “get” the threat of terrorism, they imply that, actually, law enforcement won’t work. By implication, military force WILL work. And if you buy this ad’s spin, military force will destroy terrorism for all time.
The problem with this approach is that it’s completely insane. As Bush tacitly acknowledges, this is a different kind of war that involves rounding up terrorist operatives. Terrorists don’t have a country. There’s no capital that you can capture to force terrorists into signing a cease-fire. If you pacify every square inch of Iraq, you’ll do nothing to stop angry young men in Egypt or Pakistan from taking up the cross and crescent and deciding to attack you elsewhere.
And if you follow the military force theory to its end, you get perpetual war. Here’s how Victor Davis Hanson expressed it.
If an aggregate $50 billion in aid to Egypt; billions more to the Palestinians and Jordanians; the removal of the bloodthirsty Saddam Hussein and the Taliban; $87 billion invested in Iraq and an attempt to relieve its international debt; saving the Kuwaitis; protecting the Saudis; stopping the genocide of Muslims in the Balkans; and keeping the Persian Gulf safe gets us sky-high cartel oil prices and poll data showing that 95 percent of the Middle East does not like America, it is time to try something else.
I could start with the modest suggestion of a gradual cutting off all aid to Egypt, halting most immigration to the United States from the Middle East (in the manner we once did with Communist Eastern Europe), and announcing a carrot-and-stick non-interventionist Bush Doctrine II. All future Middle East military and economic aid would be predicated on the recipient’s having a democratic government, while evidence of either terrorist bases or weapons of mass destruction would earn sustained U.S. bombing.
I repeat myself: This is insane. It’s also not a line of thinking publicly offered by Bush or anyone in his campaign. After all – if you think the war on terror includes rounding up people inside these Muslim countries, disengaging from them completely would mean disaster. The STATES are not the problem. The terrorists are the problem.
So why am I so worried about this ad? Well, the insane taking-it-to-its-conclusion reasoning of the Bush doctrine is not being put out there by the campaign. The campaign is leaving things fuzzy – Bush is strong, he uses force, force makes us safe, Kerry doesn’t think we should use force. This is why Bush is still favored by voters on the question of “who would win the war on terror” or “protect against a terrorist attack.”
Bush, I think, will keep that advantage. There is not enough time to have a debate about how we should be fighting terror. If there was a debate between “using international law enforcement” and “killing everybody,” sure, the first idea would win out.
But we’re not having that debate. Voters are in a kind of stasis, still accepting the use of military force as a very good thing in fighting this everpresent terror threat. This is why Kerry has been in such a delicate dance, out-hawking the president on the way to defeat terror while saying we need alliances to do so.
Kerry has an ad attacking Bush’s spin, and it doesn’t change the playing field. I don’t have the entire text, but it’s called “Can’t Win,” so I assume it’s gagging on Bush’s “Today Show” interview and trying to make HIM look weak on terror.
Still, unless I’m proven wrong in 24 days, I think Bush will win the election by pivoting around the terror issue this way. And that scares me, because I agree with his convention speech – we DO need to concentrate on law enforcement to beat back terror. But the rest of his strategy is so disastrous, and so effective at ginning up terrorists to join the cause against us, that a Bush win will make us much less safe.
UPDATE: After thinking about it for a minute, I can put this more succinctly. Kerry needs (needed?) to avoid any appearence of weakness in fighting terror. He had to fight the war on Bush’s terms. Instead, he’s stated a policy which makes more sense than Bush’s but SOUNDS less tough. Hence, fucking doom.