Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Growing Criticism of Kerry in The Guardian

In the last week or so, there have been four Comments critical of Kerry in the British leftist newspaper The Guardian. I of course welcome this as a sign that Europe won't harbor too many illusions about Kerry - illusions that would either hit us hard next year, or ones that allow Kerry to suck our leaders onto the wrong side on issues -, but also as a possibility that pressure to change policies might mount on Kerry before the elections (after all, he is a relatively recent convert to Beers' neoliberal imperialists).

As the, ehm, zeroeth among them, I mention naive Atlanticist Timothy Garton Ash's August 5 piece, which tough refraining from criticising Kerry and encouraging European participation in a future President Kerry's War on Terror, appends these conditions to the latter (displaying a bit more critical thinking from the author than usual):

If Europe has any wisdom at all, we should start thinking now about how we answer this Democratic challenge. Our answer should be, "Yes, so long as _ " Yes, so long as you rededicate yourself to a peace process between Israel and Palestine. So long as you recognise that Iraq has to be embedded into a much larger project of reform and development in the broader Middle East, which America and Europe can only achieve together. So long as you deliver on your promises to develop alternative energy technologies, address your own excessive carbon dioxide emissions, come back to the international treaties and institutions that the Bush administration abrogated and scorned.

We're all in the same boat, too, and we want to be. However, before skipper Kerry pulls the throttle, we have to agree not just the rules of engagement but who exactly the enemy is and what creek we're up.

The first truly critical article was from Simon Tisdall on August 10, titled "Kerry's big idea? There isn't one" and subtitled "Desperation shouldn't blind us to the faults of Bush's challenger. Relative to others, Tisdall's is a relatively kind treatment: He basically lists bad policies and divisive factors glossed over in campaign rhetoric, but then posits the election as "a choice between being bombed or bored to death".

William Pfaff goes further in his August 15 Comment titled, History is not on your side, Mr Kerry. Pfaff points out what I have in one of my first articles in this blog: that Kerry will inherit and "own" the Iraq war, like Johnson and then Nixon did Vietnam. In power politics, Pfaff can see until the 2008 elections, not just this years'. He warns about accepting "what everybody knows", in the analogy with Lyndon B. Johnson:

The murdered Kennedy's foreign policy advisers told him that if he didn't press on with the war, 'Asian communism' would conquer one non-Western state after another - dominos tumbling. So did practically everyone else in the Washington policy community. It was one of those things 'everybody knew'.

Johnson was a populist economic and racial-justice reformer. He knew nothing of south-east Asia. He knew that if he prosecuted the war, he 'would lose everything at home'. If he did not, he 'would be seen as a coward and my nation would be seen as an appeaser, and we would both find it impossible to accomplish anything for anybody anywhere'. Kerry expresses no such doubts. He apparently accepts what 'everyone knows' in Washington today, as in London, that 'failure in Iraq is not an option'.

This is true. Failure is no longer an option because it has already been assured by choices already made by the Bush administration. The questions that remain are failure's timing and the gravity of its consequences.

Later on, Pfaff lambasts Nixon for not following the example of someone Nixon admired (and an example Kerry should follow), Charles de Gaulle, who in the end had the nerve to pull out from Algeria, even against considerable opposition from public opinion, the military, and chauvinistic French terrorist organisations trying to assassinate him. (By the way, despite the film The Jackal, the latter is something pro-war people who like to rewrite history about which country did and which didn't put up against terrorism seem to forget about, along with the real Jackal - Ilyich Ramirez Sanchez -, the RAF, the nineties terror campaign by Algerian radicals including the plane hijackers who wanted to fly into the Eiffel Tower but the plane was stormed while refueling, and various separatists.)

And on more conventional wisdom that isn't wisdom at all:

The conventional wisdom in Washington and London is that political disorder and communal struggle would actually follow, leading to chaos, Iraq becoming 'a breeding ground for terrorism'. Once again, this is irrelevant. Iraq already is a breeding ground for terrorism and is nearing chaos under the occupation.

It is obvious that continued military occupation worsens the situation: it provokes resistance and disorder.
In any case, the ultimate responsibility for what happens in Iraq lies with the Iraqis, if they are let alone. This is what they have insistently been saying all along.

Third in the line of recent Kerry-critical articles comes from onetime pro-Iraq-war and anti-anti-American liberal turned harsh critic Peter Preston, whose subtitle says it all: "Kerry is playing into Bush's hands with his pseudo-military posturing". In the August 16 issue, Preston points out how a real confrontation with the opponents is marred by the rhetorical limitation imposed by this posturing, and how hypocritical it is, and even - how unconvincing. Excerpt:

And thus the me-too litany grows. Is America really embarked on a "war" against terror - as opposed to the pursuit of a particularly malign agglomeration of terrorists? It's a vital distinction, but Commander Kerry can't make it.

Don't we hear rather too much about service nobility and rather too little about Abu Ghraib? Kerry, the super vet, is hamstrung there, too. Come to think of it, where is Osama bin Laden - or even Mullah Omar? The commander can't go there either. He'd be talking military failure, not military triumph.

He could make hay with the Bush record day after day. Flip-flop? First flatten Najaf, then pick it up and dust it down. He could ridicule the Bush absurdity of bringing "democracy and freedom" to the Muslim world which doesn't appear to include Saudi Arabia.

He could laugh out loud when Bush calls Afghanistan a "rising democracy" - as opposed to the rising star of global heroin production.

At the end of the article, Preston touches on the next author's point, that Kerry doesn't seem to be able/willing to make real hard decisions:

A "new mood of cooperation" means finally proving less feeble, less flip-floppy than Bush has proved over Israel. It means telling General Sharon where he gets off and what to with his wall.

A statesman could begin to lay out that ground. An ordinary, articulate politician could begin to explain why change is necessary.

Kerry direly needs such change. It is why he is necessary. But not while he's giving that damned salute, not while the Mekong still flows straight through the purple heart of his campaign.

The final article in the line is from George Monbiot, in today's The Guardian. He is basically recommending a vote for Nader as a vote for systemic change, also blasting critics of Nader. (More on Nader in the next post.) On Kerry, he takes up where Preston ended:

Any president who seeks to change this system requires tremendous political courage. He needs to take on the corporations which have bought the elections, and challenge the newspapers and television stations which set the limits of political debate. Kerry, who demonstrated plenty of courage in Vietnam, has shown none whatsoever on the presidential stump.

He first comes to Kerry and Iraq. I observed on this blog already that a lot of anti-Bush bloggers try to see a meaning in Kerry's nuances, but all favorable explanations seem to fall apart with the next declaration from him or his advisers. The latest wishful thinking was that Kerry gave his vote for presidential authority to start the war to ensure there is enough pressure for UNMOVIC to be allowed back. But Monbiot caught something blowing this one to bits:

Ten days ago his national security adviser James Rubin told the Washington Post that if Kerry was president he would "in all probability" have launched a military attack against Iraq by now.

Again about the power to make decisions:

Kerry's ability to raise almost as much money as the Republicans is seen as a triumph for American democracy; but his corporate backers are funding him not because they believe in democracy, but because they believe that he will do what they want. And they are unlikely to be wrong. When Kerry gets his orders, he reports for duty.

The idea that this frightened, flinching man would oversee the necessary democratic revolution is preposterous.

As a final quote, from Monbiot's line of Bush-Kerry comparisons that are favorable for Kerry but not enough for recommending a vote for him, this blistering piece of sarcasm:

He wants to maintain massive levels of defence spending, but, despite his efforts to assure the media that he is as mad as Bush, he would probably be more reluctant to attack other nations.


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