Tuesday, September 21, 2004

No easy way out of Iraq

US elections: No easy way out

By ND Batra

For Republicans, the world is a dark and dangerous place and one can’t be too careful.

In one of the Republican campaign ads, spokesperson Senator John McCain says this war against terrorism is “between right and wrong, good and evil.

And should our enemies acquire for their arsenal the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons they seek, this war will become an even bigger thing. It will become a fight for our survival. America is under attack by depraved enemies who oppose our every interest and hate every value we hold dear.”

This pre-fabricated dark vision of the world has been driving the Bush administration to pursue a policy of pre-emptive action and instead of waiting for hard irrefutable evidence to emerge that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons, it acted on the assumption that he had them or he would if he could.

In a highly critical report released on Friday, the Senate Intelligence Committee said that Bush took the country to war against Iraq on extremely poor and unreliable intelligence.

The CIA had developed a “Group Think,” which prevented it from questioning its own assumptions. And the Bush administration still thinks that it was right in going to war.

The Democratic campaign says that its presumptive presidential nominee, John Kerry, a Vietnam combat veteran, and his vice-presidential running mate, John Edwards, the upwardly mobile southern Senator who rose from the blue collar home of a mill worker, are “a new team for America with a plan to make us stronger at home and respected in the world.”

Their domestic priorities are different. They are concerned about offshoring of jobs and foreign trade, which they perceive as skewed against the USA regardless of what economists say.

Because of the Bush administration’s proclivity for pre-emption and inability to seek the cooperation of European allies, the USA has lost respect in the world.

And they will restore the country to its pre-eminence by seeking cooperation and forging new ties, especially with European allies.

Referring to how the Bush administration misled the nation about weapons of mass destruction by deliberately ignoring, suppressing or hyping pre-war intelligence, Kerry said that Democrats are “fighting together now to restore truth to the discussion between Americans.”

Had the truth been known that Saddam did not have WMD, Congress would not have authorised the war. But the “Group Think” created a spiral of silence and most of the nation, including Congress, submitted to the will of the President.

As Kerry promises openness in national decision-making, in another era Jimmy Carter too had promised transparency to the administration, after the long dark nightmare created by Nixon and the Watergate affair. This is reactive politics.

While Kerry talked of restoring “hope to families who are struggling to make ends meet,” his running mate, John Edwards, talked of small town values, equally dear to Republicans – “faith, family, opportunity, responsibility, trying to make sure that everybody gets a chance to do what they’re capable of doing.”

It seems both parties are raiding each other’s campaign ideas and coming closer to the centre where the swing voters are. There are about 10 to 15 swing states where voters are still undecided and it is for their minds and souls that Republicans and Democrats are spending million of dollars in campaign ads.

Republicans are attacking Kerry’s choice of his vice-presidential running mate whose political experience is limited to being in the Senate for about a term. Compared to the grim-faced Vice-President, Dick Cheney, Senator Edwards looks boyishly sunny and cheerful.

It would be interesting to see how they debate each other. Years of humdrum experience in politics are not necessarily an advantage.

George W Bush, who was Texas Governor before seeking presidential election, did not have much experience in foreign affairs and national security. But he rose to the challenge and 9/11 brought out the best in him.

John F Kennedy, in spite of his youthfulness, handled the Cuban missile crisis with great courage and superb diplomacy.

Experience is not so important as is the quality of a leader’s character. The political system has a reservoir of diplomatic and national security expertise that can generate suitable responses in any emergency.

But ultimately it is the quality of judgment of the man who sits in the White House or one who might succeed him in an unforeseen eventuality that matters.

It matters a lot because what he does or does not do would have global repercussions and from that point of view, although it is the American voter who decides the election, the whole world has a stake as to who occupies the White House for the next four years.

Given that terrorism and Iraq continue to dominate the American imagination, what American voters are looking for is the competence to deal with the problem.

Ralph Nader, a consumer advocate and a political spoiler, who is seeking presidential election as an independent candidate, said the other day that Iraq is the swing state for Bush. But that is equally true for Kerry.

Having gotten into the mess in Iraq, the decisive question before the swing voters is who best could get the country out of it without losing the war on terrorism. That will determine the presidential election.

ND Batra is Professor of Communications, Norwich University, Vermont. - Ed.

The StatesmanPublication Date : 2004-07-14

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