The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Friday, July 30, 2004

THE IRAQ RED HERRING

Watched a bit of Crossfire today, and I saw Tucker Carlson trot out a criticism of John Kerry's acceptance speech regarding Iraq that I thought was both interesting, and essentially irrelevant.

(note: I shouldn't take Carlson seriously, not after this)

The transcript isn't up yet, but the gist of it is that John Kerry failed to fully differentiate his Iraq policy from that of Bush, in terms of troop deployment, timeframe, democracy promotion, and so on.

Tucker is absolutely correct in this point, Kerry did not lay out a fundamentally different plan for Iraq from Bush's.

But he can't. Hell, Howard Dean wouldn't have, had he been nominated. Here are the reasons...

The first is that by choosing to invade Iraq, topple Saddam's regime and replace it with one more to our liking, the Bush administration committed the US to one path with a number of steps, only some of which have been reached as of today. There is certainly a "you broke it, you bought it" element to the situation; now that we've taken that first step and committed ourselves to a series of steps (which could last all the way to the end of this decade, or more) we really can't turn back. A failed Iraqi state would make the US less secure, period.

Howard Dean's candidacy was about that first step, a damning critique of the choice to invade. And he was right, and the polls now agree. The problem was that once Bush took that first step, thereby committing us to a series of other steps, it was much harder for Dean to differentiate himself from the other Democratic candidates, let alone Bush. The timing of the invasion meant that the choice to be made in the 2004 election is which candidate will be the best person to manage our efforts in Iraq and guide them towards success. Dean's Iraq message -- don't invade -- was enough of a rationale to give Bush a "one-way bus ticket back to Crawford" as Dean put it, but not enough to separate Dean from the Democratic pack on who could best manage the reconstruction and stabilization of Iraq. That, in a nutshell, was Iowa and the states that followed. Voters selected John Kerry as the candidate they thought best qualified and most able to manage "postwar" Iraq.

Flash forward to the present, and you have right-wing pundits like Carlson criticizing Kerry for not substantially differentiating his Iraq policy from Bush's. Well guess what. Because Bush's initial decision to invade has committed us to a series of irrevocable steps (lest we leave Iraq a failed state), this is a red herring of epic proportions from Carlson.

Bush and Kerry will say a lot of similar things about their Iraq policies during the campaign, but no, the differences will not be in what. Rather, they will be found in how and who.

The sketch of the near future in Iraq will not change. Get as much international cooperation as we can, in troops or otherwise. Secure the country and limit the insurgency. Expand employment and basic services to as many people as possible. Ensure the maximum perceived sovereignty of the interim government. See to it that Iraq is able to carry out a democratic election. Bush and Kerry want all of these things.

To me, John Kerry is preferable to George Bush because of who he is, and the nature by which he would take those necessary steps. The step in which Kerry will most differ from Bush in result is the most important step of them all: international cooperation. A bold statement: Kerry will get real help from countries from whom Bush failed to receive any.

France is an example of this. Remember in March 2003, when Bush pulled the 2nd UN resolution? He did this shortly after France expressed support for a Chilean resolution giving Iraq just 30 more days to comply with the ongoing inspections after UN Resolution 1441. Part of the reason he did that was because France was much more useful to him as a hostile ally than a friendly one, both internationally (US trumps divided Europe!) and domestically (Freedom Fries!). Bush used France domestically to tap a "negative opinion reservoir". So you can imagine the French and German reaction when Bush went back to NATO this year and asked for help. Oliver Twist comes to mind.

With Kerry, we really do get a fresh start with France, Germany and Russia, no matter what some on the right might say. John Kerry is an internationalist in the best sense of the word, with a humility not poisoned by the cynical realpolitik of Bush's manipulation of Europe to his own electoral purposes. The right-wing naysayers, who point to "old Europe" as being a bunch of snooty "bourgeoisophobes", seek only to reify Europe to the point where they exist as static hostile egotists in the eyes of the electorate. It's just like Said-ian orientalism, but in different clothing.

In terms of our internatinoal credibility on Iraq, the slogan of ABB -- "anybody but Bush" -- is more than just a hollow statement.

So, 850 words later, that's why Tucker Carlson's criticism of John Kerry's speech is nonsense. It's after Iraq that the real foreign policy differences emerge. Now I'm off to get some honey for my throat.

UPDATE: It appears that wasn't all Tucker said today.

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