In the months before the 1972 election, Ayn Rand gave her recommendation for voting in that year’s presidential election:
“I am not an admirer of President Nixon, as my readers know. But I urge every able-minded voter, of any race, creed, color, age, sex, or political party, to vote for Nixon–as a matter of national emergency. This is no longer an issue of choosing the lesser of two commensurate evils. The choice is between a flawed candidate representing Western civilization–and the perfect candidate of its primordial enemies.
“If there were some campaign organization called ‘Anti-Nixonites for Nixon,’ it would name my position.
“The worst thing said about Nixon is that he cannot be trusted, which is true: he cannot be trusted to save this country. But one thing is certain: McGovern can be trusted to destroy it.”
This, in essence, is my reaction to the current election. I am an “anti-Bushite for Bush.”
There are some differences between now and 1972. George W. Bush is, in some ways, not as bad as Nixon. By this point in 1972, Nixon had already imposed wage and price controls on the US economy and made his famous trip to China, where he betrayed Taiwan in order to appease the Chinese Communists. In one other respect, Bush is worse: he is much more sympathetic to the agenda of the religious right. Also, Kerry is not as clearly evil as McGovern. While McGovern had floated a proposal, for example, to cap all private incomes at $20,000 per year, you have to go decades back into Kerry’s past to dig up his more flamboyant expressions of anti-Americanism.
But the essentials, I believe, are the same. Kerry may not be the “perfect” candidate of the enemies of civilization–but he is their candidate, nonetheless, and he must be defeated. Bush is far from being the perfect candidate for those who want a vigorous defense of civilization against murderous Islamic fanatics. But he is our candidate, such as he is, and he deserves our support.
The big issue in 1972 was whether this country would be delivered over to the strident socialism and anti-Americanism of the New Left. The big issue in 2004 is whether we will retreat in the War on Terrorism.
Both parties have made the war the main issue. They had no choice in the matter: it is the most pressing issue facing the US government today. We are actively at war with pro-Islamist insurgents in Iraq, and the next year will determine whether we persevere or retreat.
The issue, at this point, is not whether we will fight the war properly. It is not, despite the rhetoric at the Republican convention, whether we will be “fierce and relentless,” “firm and unyielding,” and so on. The issue is whether we will fight at all–whether we will regard this war as a necessity that cannot be avoided and which we cannot afford to lose, or whether we accept the claim that taking the offensive against terrorist regimes is a fatal moral and diplomatic blunder that has turned America into a “rogue nation.”
Readers of TIA know my frustrations with George W. Bush, from his diplomatic efforts to save Yasser Arafat in the Spring of 2002, through his elaborate year-long charade of seeking UN resolutions to justify the invasion of Iraq, to the most disheartening events of all: his endorsement of disastrous deals that let insurgent leaders off the hook in Fallujah and Najaf. If Bush faced a pro-war opponent, someone who promised to fight the war more vigorously, to crush the insurgents and confront their sponsors in Iran and Syria, then I would gladly vote for that opponent, no matter what his party.
The Democratic Party was unable to produce such a candidate. They were unable to do it, because the moral base of the party still lies in the anti-American New Left, which took over the party in 1972. The New Left believes that America–as the armed defender of capitalism–is a force for evil in the world that must be restrained. The New Left’s grip on the Democratic Party was tested in this year’s primaries, and it could not be broken.
True, Democratic voters did not choose the rabidly anti-war Howard Dean–but only because they did not believe he was “electable.” They chose, instead, to pick a candidate who would dress up the same anti-war ideas in more respectable camouflage. But as we have detailed repeatedly in our print magazine and in TIA Daily, John Kerry is a consistent, life-long exponent of the New Left outlook. He began his political career by declaring his desire to subordinate the US to the UN, by slandering his fellow veterans with New Left propaganda about wartime atrocities, and by demanding an immediate and unilateral US withdrawal from Vietnam, plus the payment of reparations to the Communist government of North Vietnam. When he got to the US Senate, he opposed the Reagan-era military buildup and fought to eliminate US support for anti-Communist forces in Central America.
The Republicans have successfully portrayed Kerry as a waffler, with a good deal of justification. But the waffles and flip-flops are not the essence of Kerry’s record. They are the political expedients intended to camouflage the essence of his agenda–which has not changed since his days as a New Left anti-war protester.
The Bush campaign has struck back at Kerry–so far, with great success–by promising to remain on the offensive against terrorism, to be “fierce and relentless,” in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s words at [the Republican] convention. But we know, from almost three years of bitter experience, that these promises will be continually undercut by altruism and pragmatism–again, as I have detailed many times in TIA and in TIA Daily.
So why would Bush be better than Kerry?
He is better because of the “forward strategy of freedom.”
The “forward strategy of freedom” is the name Bush has given to his grand strategy–the administration’s highest-level plan of action–in the War on Terrorism. It is a grand strategy that necessarily puts America on the offensive, committing us to spreading representative government and free institutions to overhaul the political system of the Middle East.
September 11 demonstrated that it is necessary to topple and destroy the Middle Eastern regimes that use terrorism as a weapon against the West–the principle behind the Bush Doctrine. The administration has applied that doctrine to two regimes, and they deserve credit for it. But even that is not enough, over the long term. Even if our leaders applied the Bush doctrine consistently (against Iran and Syria, for example) and backed it up with the maximum force available, that would still leave the question: then what? What would prevent the re-emergence of new terrorist regimes to replace the old ones?
The only long-term answer is that the Arab and Muslim worlds must be civilized. They must have imposed on them a better system of government, one that allows, for the first time in the Arab world, the material vibrancy of a relatively free economy and the spiritual vibrancy of the free exchange of ideas. This would do exactly what the clashing examples of East Berlin and West Berlin did in the Cold War: it would provide an unanswerable demonstration of the benefits of a free society on one side, contrasted to misery and oppression on the other side. It is, in my view, the most important thing that can be done in the military and political realm to defeat the philosophy that animates Islamic terrorism.
Note also that, despite the Bush administration’s timidity in following the full implications of its strategy, the “forward strategy of freedom” does commit Bush to an inevitable confrontation with the chief sponsor of Islamic terrorism and the main model of Islamic theocracy: Iran. The idea of turning Iraq into the model for a free society–the administration’s main goal right now in the Middle East–is an ideological weapon aimed directly at Iraq’s neighbor. The administration has not yet taken the logical next step of actively supporting internal dissent against Iran’s theocracy, though they have hinted at this. But I believe that their most fundamental premises about the war will lead them to a more vigorous policy against Iran in their second term. (John Kerry, by contrast, has proposed an undemanding diplomatic deal with Iran and criticized even the Bush administration’s weak policy for being “too confrontational.”)
President Bush has the correct “grand strategy” in the War on Terrorism, but since his philosophy is deeply undercut by altruism and pragmatism, that grand strategy will be executed in a muddled, confused, halting, and tentative manner.
On the diplomatic level, the administration will continue to alternate between criticizing the UN and appeasing it, wasting months or years of precious time in diplomatic wrangling. This is a particularly vital problem in dealing with Iran, where diplomatic dithering could delay a confrontation until after the theocracy has already armed itself with nuclear weapons.
On the strategic level, the administration has treated Iraq as one battle that can be fought in isolation, rather than just a step in a regional war. Hence, while the invasion and occupation of Iraq put America on the offensive in a larger sense, the strategy of this particular battle is defensive. It consists of fighting off the isolated attacks of insurgents within Iraq–while refusing to take the offensive against the outside sponsors and supporters of that insurgency in Syria and Iran.
On the tactical level, this administration has been far too eager to mollify European critics, the “Arab street,” and the sensibilities of Islamic fanatics by shrinking from the ruthless use of force to put down the insurgencies in Fallujah and Najaf. Instead, it has passed the buck to the vacillating political leadership in Iraq and to the still-weak Iraqi armed forces.
But it is the highest-level plan for the conduct of the war that is most important. Errors and evasions in the execution of the administration’s strategy can be survived and overcome–if the grand strategy is essentially correct.
Contrast this to what Kerry has to offer on the war. His “grand strategy” is clear: he would treat the war as a matter for diplomacy, intelligence, and law-enforcement, not for military action against America’s enemies. And on the philosophical level–his view of the essence of a proper foreign policy–he is also clear: he would sacrifice American interests for the sake of the “collective security” that would allegedly be gained by abdicating leadership to the Europeans and the UN. This would almost certainly lead to a policy of withdrawal and retreat from Iraq, emboldening terrorists and demoralizing our allies.
I do think that if Kerry were elected, he would be stronger at first than his past record and public statements suggest. He would feel the need, out of political expediency, to mollify his critics by trying to prove that he is not weak. But over the long term, he would have no choice but to revert to the path indicated by his deepest, longest-held convictions.
The choice, in short, is this. George Bush is a candidate who stands for a vigorous projection of American power to reshape the political structure of the Middle East, destroying the political underpinnings of Islamic terrorism–but whose execution of that goal is continually undercut by compromise and appeasement. John Kerry is a candidate who stands for American withdrawal and passivity–for whom any expression of American strength would be an act of compromise and appeasement.
George W. Bush cannot be trusted to fight the war properly, but John Kerry can be trusted to retreat.
The main issue of this election is the war, but we must also look at the candidates’ domestic agendas, which I will do in follow-up posts over the next few days. But I believe that the difference between Bush and Kerry on domestic issues is not enough to make Bush worse than Kerry, nor is it significant enough to outweigh the more pressing issue of the war.
The domestic issues are part of the reason that I believe we should be _anti-Bushites_ for Bush. We should support him, on the grounds that he is the only candidate who wants to fight the war, and because he has an essentially correct grand strategy for achieving victory over the long term–but we should oppose what is bad in his domestic agenda and oppose the compromises and weakness of his foreign policy.
In today’s context, where every party and every candidate is a confused mix of good and bad premises, fighting for our values in the political arena will always require this kind of approach: it means fighting for a candidate when he proposed to act in defense of liberty on the most important issues of the day–then fighting against him when he compromises or when he promotes policies that are opposed to individual liberty.
Thus, I do not recommend merely that you reluctantly cast your vote for Bush on election day. Both parts of the slogan “anti-Bushites for Bush” imply the need for vigorous action. By being “for Bush,” I meant that we should actively advocate and promote Bush’s re-election, but do so on specific, narrow grounds: that it is necessary to fight an offensive war against terrorism and to fundamentally reform the political system of the Middle East. But we should also be prepared, after the election, to immediately and vigorously oppose everything that is wrong with the Bush agenda–to demand that he live up to his fierce rhetoric in prosecuting the war, and to oppose his attempts to expand the welfare state and to inject religion into politics.
That is what it means to be an anti-Bushite for Bush.
Publisher’s Note: The above is part 1 of a 4 part series that appeared in the Intellectual Activist. For another article in the series, read “How to Be an Anti-Bushite for Bush: Working for a Pro-War Opposition and a Secular Right” on the TIA Daily website.