Steve Sachs Duke


Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Thoughts on the RNC: Picking up where Josh left off, I concur on the admiration of McCain's speech and the dislike of Giuliani's. The statements of the 9/11 relatives were incredibly powerful, reminding us of the preciousness of those lives that were lost. And then Rudy followed with a poorly-organized collection of red meat and laugh lines.

A second thought: both McCain and Giuliani described the remaining mission in Iraq in terms of democracy promotion. Even the ineloquent woman from Iowa interviewed by Ray Suarez on PBS emphasized "freedom" as the message of the GOP, at home and abroad. Have the neocons succeeded at capturing the heart and soul of the party (I hope so), or, as Josh suggested, is their rhetoric just better?

The pool game and convention-watching followed a long discussion that evening about Kerry, who thus far has been maddeningly vague about what his foreign policy intentions are. I write this as someone who agrees with many of Bush's foreign policy goals, but is very frustrated with the administration's record in implementing them. (To my mind, some of the most dangerous consequences of failure in Iraq are that it would (1) equate democracy with chaos in the minds of millions in the Middle East; (2) discredit the cause of humanitarian intervention elsewhere, creating a sense that "nobody wants to do this again"; (3) destroy the credibility of our intelligence, so that no one will believe us when someone actually has WMD; and (4) make it impossible, while we're tied down, to pose any real threat to adversaries like Iran or North Korea.)

The war is very important to me, and I'd feel happier voting for Kerry if I thought he'd conduct it better. I'm glad that someone on Kerry's team worries a lot about suitcase nukes; I'm glad that they're at least trying to outflank Bush on the right. In fact, that's what the military-friendly convention was designed to show -- that "we want the same things Bush wants, but we'll do it better."

But frankly, I don't know whether to believe him. Since 9/11, Kerry has tried to have it both ways on some very important questions. I think the line that "he voted against the $87 billion" is in some ways unfair; people vote for amended bills and against the final versions all the time. But his vote came at a time when a lot of people just didn't want to spend the extra money, and when it actually wasn't clear whether Bush would have enough support to get the aid package through. Other candidates, such as Gephardt, took the political risk, and paid the price. And Kerry's "firehouses in Baghdad" line, which Christopher Hitchens rightly excoriates, doesn't give me much confidence.

In some ways, I agree with Andrew Sullivan's description of the Democrats as a war party with the wrong general. Joe Lieberman--who, as far as I know, never went to Vietnam--could make the arguments Kerry's making and be believed; he's been out in front on democratizing the Middle East for a long time. He would have been able to focus the debate on the administration's competence, and not its goals, which are far easier to defend. But Lieberman, in the Bizarro World in which he gets elected, would also have had a mandate to finish the job in Iraq, to stay the course until we can build a stable and democratic government. It's hard to know just what Kerry's mandate would look like, or what the political pressures on his administration would be, especially now that he's expressed a desire to bring some troops home after six months. (Which is, incidentally, one of the worst things he could have said before the election. How committed to the mission will our troops be, if they know they're only marking time? How many terrorist groups will step up their attacks in month five, knowing that they don't have long to wait? It's like Sonny Corleone spilling the beans in front of Sollozzo -- "Never let anyone outside the family know what you're thinking again!")

The main pressure on a President Kerry would come from the left, especially if his unrealistic expectations on allied help aren't met. (There won't be a single French soldier stationed in Falluja anytime soon, regardless of who's in the White House.) And the reactive, rather than proactive, tone of his convention speech--as well as his explicit endorsement of stability over democracy in Iraq--makes me worry that he might be ready to cut things short.

Maybe this is the wrong way to look at things; maybe a more restrained foreign policy would be more achievable, and better serve American interests. Perhaps George Will is right to say that some things are beyond our power, and we just aren't strong enough to remake the Middle East. Perhaps we can, as so many European commentators have urged us to, just accept living in a world with a little less security.

But then I read about two more busloads of murder victims in Israel, and I'm not ready to "accept" that yet. If we're too weak to remake the Middle East, let's at least find out by trying. I wish I knew if Kerry feels the same way.




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