Saturday, October 30, 2004

On the Election

I suppose the dreaded moment has arrived for me to jot down a few notes about the election. I suppose its fairly clear by now that I am not a Kerry supporter, but I think its worth a brief explanation as to why. Firstly, I don't think Kerry understands the situation we are currently involved in nor how to deal with it. I come from Massachusetts and I remember Kerry from way back. In my opinion, he has always been a notable intellectual and political mediocrity. The claim that he is a "flip-flopper" is, of course, electioneering, but there is a strong element of truth in it. This being said, I think Kerry does have something of a default position, a political center of gravity, as it were, and this has always been with the McGovernite Left wing of the Democratic Party. Taking this into consideration, a Kerry administration would be problematic not only because of the convictions of the man himself but also because of what he will bring with him into office. As others have noted, Kerry's political debts as well as his natural sympathies will undoubtedly lead to a resurgence of power and influence for the extreme Left of the Democratic Party; the Left with which Kerry stood when he slandered (and I do not use the term lightly) his fellow soldiers after Vietnam, the Left with which Kerry voted throughout the Reagan years in opposition to the Cold War, and the Left whose insidious falsehoods Kerry has echoed on many occasions when he felt their support waning; for instance, when Howard Dean appeared to be beating him to the nomination. Kerry's fetishistic approach to Europe is also a severe worry, and this goes to a deeper question: Kerry's intellectual mediocrity. I personally cannot understand the constant harping on Kerry's well-informed and nuanced understanding of the world; in my opinion, his grasp of foreign policy is short-sighted, close-minded, reactive, and almost shockingly unimaginative. He seems congenitally unable to grasp the realities of the world we live in today, and appears mired (as are his advisors, Richard Holbrooke most notable among them) in the elitist Left worldview that Europe's approach to foreign affairs is inherently superior to the American, all use of military force represents a failure to adequately employ diplomacy, and all problems in the world have a rational explanation and can be alleviated through the proper rearrangements of the international system. This way of thinking was outdated by 1945 and it hasn't aged well since. It certainly will do nothing to combat radical Islam and its use of terror and, in all likelihood, will not even succeed in the shallowest goal of improving America's image in Europe and the Islamic world. As far as I can tell, Kerry's grasp of the war on terror ends with Bin Laden and Al Queda; he does not see it as a broader struggle between competing ideologies and worldviews. This failure to formulate a "Kerry doctrine" to answer the Bush Doctrine is telling indeed; Kerry has had more than enough time to formulate a conception of the War on Terror from the Left (I refer again to Paul Berman's excellent Terror and Liberalism for an outline of such a conception) but he has not done so. He has rather left us with a series of piecemeal - and often obviously disingenuous - criticisms which, taken together, seem to boil down to the fact that Kerry would have done everything differently and better than the president. Some of Kerry's criticism's may well be legitimate, but without any overriding counter-proposal to the Bush Doctrine, they have to be seen as spiteful, cheap, and unhelpful election year demogoguery rather than a genuine and workable politics of opposition. Is Kerry a pacifist? No, but he seems to have no discernible position on when and how to use force in a different way from the president. Is he soft on terrorism? Unfortunately, I would have to say yes, if only out of ignorance, lack of imagination, and the influence of a political base which is still mired in the passions of 1968. Is he a Chomskyite? No, but he has no answer to the Chomskyites, and in a confrontation like the one we face today, that makes all the difference.

All of this is, of course, merely anti-Kerry. Are there discernible and cogent reasons to support president Bush? In my opinion, the answer is absolutely yes. The president, while he is hardly without his flaws (I am among those who cringe when he speaks in public) has nonetheless displayed a level of political courage over the past few years which, combined with a shift in foreign policy outlook that, while not entirely his creation, he has made synonymous with his administration, bodes well for the inevitable confrontations with the future. Most importantly, the president, unlike Kerry, is not burdened with a quarter-century of deep skepticism and often outright hostility towards his own country and its society. This lack of ideological baggage, with which Kerry would be forced to struggle every second of his administration, has given Bush the ability to see beyond the narrow limits of American liberalism's grasp of the world, bounded, as it is, on one side by Vietnam and on the other by the cringing acquiescence to European scorn. If Bush has not formulated a visionary foreign policy shift to deal with Islamic terror, most notably in the elevation of democracy and liberty's spread to a primary foreign policy priority of the United States, he has nevertheless embraced it wholeheartedly and faced down opposition to it which would have annihilated a lesser president. I simply cannot imagine a Kerry administration facing down the combined opposition of France, Germany, the United Nations, and the Left wing of Kerry's own party. Bush, whether one disagrees with him or not, deserves credit for courage, conviction and determination to accomplish the imperatives of the moment.

None of this, of course, means anything if the president's ideas are not good ones. I believe they are good ones, and it is worth explaining why. In my view, the claims of so-called "realist" foreign policy analysts regarding the possibilities of democracy in the Middle East and beyond are both defeatist and fundamentally wrong. There is nothing "realistic" in the belief that the current state of affairs in this neck of the woods - with Israel the only democracy and the illiberal nature of neighboring regimes granted near ecstatic indulgence - is workable in the long term. Sooner or later, all of the Arab regimes will fall, the question is whether they will be reconstituted as Islamic theocracies or as liberal democracies. Radical Islam is working hard to ensure the former, we must work equally tirelessly to ensure the latter. It may be that it may not always be possible to do so, but it is imperative that this goal stand astride the commanding heights of American foreign policy priorities, as it does in the case of the Bush administration and which it unquestionably would not in a Kerry administration.

You have probably noted that I have written nothing about the domestic policies of the two candidates. While this may be a flaw of mine, I simply do not consider domestic issues a priority in this election. We are living in a time more fateful than perhaps any of us have fully grasped, and the way for America to seize its fate and the fate of the world lies in that idea of liberty which has served us so well in the past and may yet still represent the first, best hope for the rest of the world as well. One candidate in this election understands this, the other does not. I believe that all of us ought to vote accordingly.

Whatever your voting intentions, democracy in action is a sublime event. Enjoy yourselves and, win or lose, savor the day.