Monday, April 19, 2004

Zapatero & Kerry

If anyone in Europe thinks that a John Kerry Presidency will mean a "Zapatero-like" withdrawal from Iraq, they're just plain wrong. I don't know if Zapatero's troop withdrawal will make Spain more or less secure (I'm doubtful, but Spain can safely stay out of the way while the US cannot), but John Kerry understands that withdrawing American troops from Iraq will undermine US security.

I watched Kerry on Meet the Press yesterday (full transcript here) and was struck by how "hawkish" he sounds when compared with the Europeans (excepting Blair, of course). Kerry's position is that the "way the President" took the country to war was a mistake, not necessarily the war itself. He's campaigning on the promise to manage the war better than Bush not on a pledge to "bring our troops home" regardless of the situation.

On Israel, Kerry supports Bush's endorsement of the Sharon plan "completely". So, on those two issues, there is daylight between Bush & Kerry, but essentially none as far as the "European street" is concerned.

The biggest difference is in the definition of the war on terror. Kerry said that the war on terror is primarily "an intelligence gathering, law enforcement, public diplomacy effort". This is the biggest fundamental difference between Bush & Kerry (leaving out domestic concerns, which to my mind pale in significance).

The Bush administration has essentially said, through the National Security Strategy, that the war on terror is a transformative effort. Bush wants to transform the Middle East – have accountable, elected governments that provide hope for the populations of the region. Yes, the military is a big part of that, but it's not the primary focus despite Kerry's attempt to make it seem so.

This transformation project is an extremely risky, radical venture with no guarantee of success. It's one that many European nations are extremely wary of. I think it would have been much better if the Europeans and Americans had gone down this road together, but that didn't happen and I believe was never going to happen. No amount of diplomatic sweet talk would have convinced the French & Russians to go down this road with the US.

Kerry's emphasis on intelligence, law enforcement & diplomacy is 100% defensive – how can we prevent more attacks like September 11 or worse. I think without a complete shut down of immigration, much tighter controls on visitors, a greater emphasis on uni-culturalism (is that the opposite of multi-culturalism?), this approach is doomed. I can't see Kerry endorsing such a tightening at the ports and borders and he certainly will not be advocating a less multi-cultural vision of America.

Bush's approach follows the old maxim that the best defense is a good offense. Use the military to remove Saddam, whose regime was the biggest threat in the region. Then use pressure and soft power to encourage the rest of the region's governments to liberalize so that the people of the Middle East can use their own creative powers to better their lives. The thinking here is that once the people of the region feel they have power to do something for themselves, they will no longer be looking for scapegoats (the US/Israel/the west/whatever).

Bush's vision is almost obscenely optimistic, but I support it because to my mind the Kerry alternative is not a solution only a delaying mechanism. It doesn't deal with the fundamental problem that any diplomatic efforts are focussed on corrupt regimes. Those corrupt regimes have been deflecting their peoples' anger with their governments' incompetence onto Israel and the US. And, our dependency on the region's oil means the corrupt regimes hold a trump card in our dealings if we lean too heavily on them for their anti-American activities. Our position in Iraq is intended to lessen the impact of that trump card.

My biggest problem with Bush has been his failure to address the oil issue. If the war on terror is a "war" (and I believe it is) then why don't we take full action to wean ourselves off their oil by finding new sources, conserving (what about war time rationing?) and using/developing alternatives (and I'm not just talking about environmentally friendly alternatives - I'd be happy to hear coal was making a comeback). Kerry does talk about this, but he continually conflates this issue with woolly environmentalism, which also probably makes Europeans happy, but the reality will be so disappointing to them.