Can John Kerry be better than our current president, George W. Bush? This question begs another, better at what? The principle issue of importance in the 2004 election is the War on (Islamic) Terrorism.
George Bush’s negatives on this topic are many.
Principally, he has failed to properly identify the enemy, referring to the terrorists as guided by a totalitarian political ideology instead of being guided by uncorrupted (by reason) Islamic philosophy. Some have speculated that it is this failure, possibly caused by his own religious faith (though this creates problems discussed below), which prevents him from attacking Iran, attacking “secular” Iraq instead.
Tactically he has blundered in an immoral regard for civilian lives to the detriment of American soldiers, also presumably caused by his religious beliefs, rooted in altruism.
I readily admit these are grievous mistakes and that they are all hurting the war effort, but in the context of the upcoming election what will be the alternative offered by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry?
It has been suggested that Bush is essentially a religious zealot and hence his running of the war is compromised by that zealotry. However, does this square with historical and current example? Do religious zealots typically care about the lives of people of different religions? Certainly no crusader ever gave any thought to the women and children that were slaughtered to reclaim the holy lands from Muslim caliphs. But in more modern times we are fighting religious zealots. Osama bin Laden subscribes to a religion than literally means “surrender,” specifically of oneself to God. Does he sacrifice himself or his followers to save Americans and infidels? No, obviously not. The point here is not to say Bush isn’t religious or that his religious faith is inconsequential to his outlook. But if he were a complete zealot he would be nuking the Middle East and extolling God’s name to justify the slaughter as would Osama if he had nukes and used them against the United States.
There is another ideology at work on Bush, and it is the same ideology that has softened up Europe and the rest of the industrialized “free” world. Namely it is the secular morality of socialism, which is also altruism, but it has different justifications in this form and makes different demands upon those following it. Remember that the zealot considers nothing save his own holy texts and anyone who disagrees is automatically condemned. Twelve hundred years of Christian slaughter certainly prove that Christianity is no more immune than Islam to wholesale killing of ones opponents. In the context of our current war against fanatical Islam, a zealot, as Bush is purported to be, might actually be preferable to at least get some dangerous countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia eliminated. Of course the downside to a zealot is that he would then proceed to convert, or at least try to convert, everyone to the same irrational zealotry he believes in. We would replace fanatical Muslim terrorists with fanatical Methodist (insert whatever sect) terrorists.
John Kerry represents that ideology which has feminized (for lack of a better word) the world. Whereas most countries used to impose the death penalty without guilt, most of them now prohibit it and prevent extradition to countries where fleeing criminals might get the death penalty. Whereas most countries used to have armies to defend themselves, most of them now have puny defense forces and rely more on other countries or organizations (principally the United States, NATO, the UN) to defend their sovereignty for them. These changes in other countries accompanied a marked decline in religious activity and loyalty, except in the United State where, from 1916 to the 1990’s, church membership increased from 53 to 63 percent. To give some idea of how much the country changed from the founding in this statistic to 1916, church membership in the United States at the founding was 17 percent. Bush’s religion on his sleeve approach is nothing tremendously new of politicians. Woodrow Wilson, a college professor who was also a practicing Presbyterian, vigorously pushed self sacrifice upon Americans and declared he would fight World War I for no benefit to America. (Bush doing some of this, though not rhetorically to the same extent has gotten nearly 800 men killed in a year in Iraq. Wilson got over 120,000 men killed in an almost identical amount of time on the Western Front.) The difference from 1916 to now, aside from the modest increase in church going, is that the power of government has been greatly expanded by irrational jurists, nearly all of whom were appointed by Democrats, to allow for expansion programs that were also pushed by Democratic congresses and presidents.
Bush has certainly failed to identify the enemy, but has John Kerry achieved this goal? No, in fact Kerry’s big critique of the Bush foreign policy is that it is unilateral and too ideological! It was Bush, for all his faults (which are many), who identified Iran as part of the Axis of Evil with Iraq and North Korea. North Korea is probably the least significant of the Axis, since the North Koreans are just trying to get Bush to capitulate like the Kerry prototype Clinton did for food and oil to keep their system running. Iraq, it has been theorized, was invaded over Iran because Iraq is a “secular” country as opposed to Iran which is a theocracy. This is so because of Bush’s commitment to religion. But, again, there is a logical problem. Assuming Bush is a Christian zealot, an Islamic theocracy is more of a threat to his belief system than a “secular” Arab state.
Contrary to John Kerry’s attempts to make Bush look better, Bush is not a unilateralist, nor is his foreign policy very ideological. His foreign policy is run by Colin Powell, far from the standard bearer of the religious right, and as such Bush picked the country which already had a “clear” international reasoning in place to go to war. Were he a unilateralist, as John Kerry derides him as, he would have gone to war when the Iraqis fired a missile at one of our planes as they used to do on a nearly daily basis. A zealot would not have cared about international law or formalities; he would have gone to war immediately without thought for any opinion other than God’s. Bush is not a zealot; he is, unfortunately, much more like John Kerry, an internationalist who must beg permission from the international community before he can defend his own country. The zealot that Bush supposedly is is looking a lot better.
On the minor point of the supposed secular nature of Iraq under Saddam Hussein which is a point of some Bush critics, that he attacked secular Iraq as opposed to theocratic Iran because of his supposed zealotry and therefore paradoxical avoidance of confronting his hated religious foes. No Arab country that I know of can be characterized as secular by the understanding of any Westerner. Saddam ran, initially, an Arab Nationalist (fascist) regime in the model of Nasser’s Egypt, which is what the Baath Party is based on. Just because he ran a socialist economy, doesn’t mean he then accepted Marx’s condemnation of religion. No Arab leader could do that and expect to still be alive for very long, especially after the example of Anwar Sadat who was assassinated by Islamic fanatics simply for recognizing Israel as a country. After the first Gulf War Saddam threw his lot in with Islamic fundamentalists, putting a religious invocation on the Iraqi flag after his defeat and becoming friendly with terrorist groups since they represented his only means of attacking the United States. Iraqi intelligence was tasked to engage in terrorism, notably the first World Trade Center attack and the foiled plot to assassinate former President Bush. Saddam’s other terror activities included housing Abu Nidal, raising money for suicide bomber’s families in Palestine, and helping Abu Al-Zarqawi after he was wounded in Afghanistan. Note that Zarqawi is credited with beheading Nick Berg, and that it was not theocratic Iran that he went to for care, an oddity considering Iran is far closer to Afghanistan than Iraq. Iraq, while it may have been slightly “secular” at one point in its recent past, has not been for quite some time simply because a true secular state would not have an official religion and Iraq has always declared Islam as its official faith, as all Arab states do.
Bush has engaged in a morally bankrupt policy of sacrificing American troops in restrictive rules of engagement in order to prevent civilian casualties. This is morally evil, but is it true that this is entirely attributable to religious self-sacrifice? Again, it is not the move of a religious zealot who would never sacrifice his own forces to save his (and his God’s) enemies. It is reminiscent of how American policy makers fought the war in Vietnam. Dean Rusk, a man who admired socialism and former Secretary of State under Kennedy and Johnson, admitted in his book As I Saw It that when planning bombing raids against North Vietnam the Johnson administration purposely picked bombing routes that would take the planes nearer to SAM sites than necessary to avoid the potential of civilian casualties. I see this as more grotesque than even Bush’s policy. While Bush is ostensibly fighting a war of occupation in Iraq, and thus putting policeman rules of engagement on our armed forces (wrongly), those in the Johnson administration did the same for an enemy population. Granted some may argue that the Iraqis are an enemy population, but Bush does not see them as such while Johnson did see the North Vietnamese as enemies. While both are awful, Johnson was not a religious zealot, and either is Bush, at least in this particular case. They both subscribe to the egalitarian morality of socialists who claim that all lives are equally important (including murderers, enemy combatants, etc.) and that sacrifice for others is noble in all activities. Religious zealots don’t believe this, those who don’t accept their fanatical beliefs are an affront to God who don’t deserve to live. Bush is wrong on this front, but has Kerry critiqued this practice? No, he has uttered no word of criticism on this. Why would he alter it?
So could Kerry be better than Bush? Would he feel compelled, in the effort to be all things to all people (which also drives Bush, which is not the feature of a zealot who is uncompromising), to be tough on Islamic terrorists and states? Going by his own statements the answer is no. He has stated that, due to Bush’s “unilateralism” and “ideological” foreign policy, he will not do anything without our allies, which should be taken to mean France and Germany given that Bush already wasted months to get nearly every other major ally on board. Also, Democrats have a bad track record with being proactive in “looking tough” which John Kerry is all too familiar with. The Vietnam War was created by Democrats who were afraid of looking weak and loosing another country to communism like Harry Truman in 1949. John Kerry experienced first hand the effects of looking tough. He also has the example of Bill Clinton, who essentially did nothing to any of America’s enemies and was able to have a successful and fairly popular presidency (save for the disgrace of impeachment and his attempt to undermine the rule of law). There is no reason for John Kerry to look tough if he is elected. Bush has been timid in his dealing with the problem, but he has certainly been far more proactive than Bill Clinton who fought from afar with missiles. If he is rejected for John Kerry it will be interpreted, as the only way it can be, that Americans don’t approve of Bush’s timid actions and have chosen to go with the no response candidate. I don’t approve of Bush’s timid actions, but in the context of an election it is either some response or no response at all.
As for the hyperbolic talk of religious dictatorship being thrown about by some (which is sometimes unfortunately marked by ad hominem reasoning and irrational outbursts) as the logical consequence of Bush’s presidency, it is absurdist in the sense that it ignores that the other party is just as likely to start a dictatorship. Dictatorship, religious or otherwise, cannot take hold without the rule of law being done away with along with the remaining attachment to the constitution. Both parties are culpable with hastening the latter, but the most recent assault on the rule of law was made by Democrat Bill Clinton who broke several laws and conspired to obstruct justice by having his administration officers lie in his stead. This development was more fundamentally serious in the long run than anything George W. Bush has been able to do yet.
In closing, George W. Bush is not the ideal president by any stretch of the imagination. He leaves numerous things to be desired in every realm of policy, including that which is most important to this election, the War against Islamic Terrorism. He doesn’t identify the enemy properly, he has not been proactive enough in eliminating his own stated enemies of which Iran and North Korea remain intact, he has jeopardized American lives with foolish rules of engagement that give terrorists on the ground more of chance than they should have, and contrary to Kerry’s criticisms he has not been unilateral or ideological in his foreign policy as he ought to be. But to be so desperate as to think John Kerry would somehow be tougher on terrorism is ridiculous. He has shown no proclivity to do so and his party abandoned that impetus in 1968. Bush is not a Torquemada or Bin Laden, and to insinuate that he is somehow like them is foolish and ill-informed. Far from being a consistent religious disciple or zealot, Bush is a nuanced politician not unlike John Kerry. He flip flops on issues (steel tariffs, 9/11 commission) and is not at all a break from recent historical traditions in American politics, which of course are almost entirely all bad. But if George W. Bush looses it will be seen as an incredible mandate for John Kerry’s policies. This is so because it will mean that in the middle of a war, three years after an attack, after two separate campaigns that in the annals of military history (and even with the dumb policies in fighting) are nothing but phenomenal successes, after tax cuts, after the identification of Iran as an enemy, and after the proof shown to the terrorists that the United States is willing to invade countries to undo governments and kill tens of thousands of terrorists, we are willing to give it all up, all our gains, modest though they are for some fear of the future that is entirely unrealistic and unfounded.
Who do the terrorists want to win in this election? Can anyone seriously think they are more afraid of John Kerry than they are of George W. Bush? Though he is not doing all he can or should he is doing more than his predecessor and more than John Kerry thinks he ought to have done and more than John Kerry proposes to do if elected. As to the tactical fighting of the battles, this is a moot point when you have a Clinton/Carter Democrat in office who won’t even fight the battles to begin with and even if he were President right now, John Kerry would not alter the rules of engagement in any rational way. If anything they could become more restrictive and more closely resemble United Nations rules of engagement. No, if we’re ever to have any chance at all in winning this war we cannot take four year breathers in the hope that someone better will be nominated by one of the parties or that more people in this country will ever wise up in time to save it during these hiatuses. It is going to be either Bush or Kerry and, unfortunately, Bush is the best we’ve got.