Skip to comments.WHY I AM SUPPORTING JOHN KERRY. Risk Management (Sullivan)
Posted on 10/26/2004 1:45:29 PM PDT by ARCADIA
The phrase "lesser of two evils" often comes up at this time every four years, but this November, I think, it's too cynical a formula. Neither George W. Bush nor John Kerry can be credibly described as "evils." They have their faults, some of which are glaring. They are both second-tier politicians, thrust into the spotlight at a time when we desperately need those in the first circle of talent and vision. But they are not evil. When the papers carry pictures of 50 Iraqi recruits gunned down in a serried row, as Stalin and Hitler did to their enemies, we need have no doubt where the true evil lies. The question before us, first and foremost, is which candidate is best suited to confront this evil in the next four years. In other words: Who is the lesser of two risks?
Any reelection starts with the incumbent. Bush has had some notable achievements. He was right to cut taxes as the economy headed toward recession; he was right to push for strong federal standards for education; he was right to respond to September 11 by deposing the Taliban; he was right to alert the world to the unknown dangers, in the age of Al Qaeda, of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. He is still right that democratization is the only ultimate security in an age of Jihadist terror. And when you see women bravely exercising their right to vote in Afghanistan, you are seeing something that would not have happened without our current president. That moral achievement can never be taken away from him.
Equally, his presidency can and should be judged on its most fateful decision: to go to war against Iraq without final U.N. approval on the basis of Saddam's stockpiles of weapons and his violation of countless U.N. resolutions. I still believe that his decision was the right one. The only reason we know that Saddam was indeed bereft of such weaponry is because we removed him; we were going to have to deal with the crumbling mafia-run state in the heart of the Middle East at some point; and the objections of the French and Germans and Russians were a function primarily of mischief and corruption. And what we discovered in Iraq--from mass graves to children's prisons to the devastating effect of sanctions on the lives of ordinary Iraqis--only solidifies the moral case for removing the tyrant. The scandal of the U.N. oil-for-food program seals the argument.
At the same time, the collapse of the casus belli and the incompetent conduct of the war since the liberation point in an opposite direction. If you are going to do what the Bush administration did in putting all your chips on one big gamble; if you are going to send your secretary of state to the United Nations claiming solid "proof" of Saddam's WMDs; if you are going to engage in a major war of liberation without the cover of international consensus--then you'd better well get all your ducks in a row.
Bush--amazingly--didn't. The lack of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq remains one of the biggest blows to America's international credibility in a generation. The failure to anticipate an insurgency against the coalition remains one of the biggest military miscalculations since Vietnam. And the refusal to send more troops both at the beginning and throughout the occupation remains one of the most pig-headed acts of hubris since the McNamara era. I'm amazed that more war advocates aren't incensed by this mishandling of such critical matters. But even a Bush-supporter, like my friend, Christopher Hitchens, has termed it "near-impeachable" incompetence.
I would add one more thing: Abu Ghraib. In one gut-wrenching moment, the moral integrity of the war was delivered an almost fatal blow. To be involved in such a vital struggle and through a mixture of negligence and arrogance to have facilitated such a fantastic propaganda victory for the enemy is just unforgivable. In a matter of months, the Bush administration lost its casus belli and its moral authority. Could it have run a worse war?
Domestically, the record is horrifying for a fiscal conservative. Ronald Reagan raised taxes in his first term when he had to; and he didn't have September 11 to contend with. Ronald Reagan also cut domestic spending. Bush has been unable to muster the conservative courage to do either. He has spent like a drunken liberal Democrat. He has failed to grapple with entitlement reform, as he once promised. He has larded up the tax code with endless breaks for corporate special interests; pork has metastasized; and he has tainted the cause of tax relief by concentrating too much of it on the wealthy. He has made the future boomer fiscal crunch far more acute by adding a hugely expensive new Medicare prescription drug entitlement.
He ran for election as a social moderate. But every single question in domestic social policy has been resolved to favor the hard-core religious right. His proposal to amend the constitution to deny an entire minority equal rights under the law is one of the most extreme, unnecessary, and divisive measures ever proposed in this country. And his response to all criticism--to duck the hardest questions, to reflexively redirect attention to the flaws of his opponents, and to stay within the confines of his own self-reinforcing coterie--has made him singularly unable to adjust, to learn from mistakes, to adapt to a fast-changing world. In peacetime, that's regrettable. In wartime, it's dangerous.
I know few people enthused about John Kerry. His record is undistinguished, and where it stands out, mainly regrettable. He intuitively believes that if a problem exists, it is the government's job to fix it. He has far too much faith in international institutions, like the corrupt and feckless United Nations, in the tasks of global management. He got the Cold War wrong. He got the first Gulf War wrong. His campaign's constant and excruciating repositioning on the war against Saddam have been disconcerting, to say the least. I completely understand those who look at this man's record and deduce that he is simply unfit to fight a war for our survival. They have an important point--about what we know historically of his character and his judgment when this country has faced dire enemies. His scars from the Vietnam War lasted too long and have gone too deep to believe that he has clearly overcome the syndrome that fears American power rather than understands how to wield it for good.
So we have two risks. We have the risk of continuing with a presidency of palpable incompetence and rigidity. And we have the risk of embarking on a new administration with a man whose record as a legislator inspires little confidence in his capacity to rise to the challenges ahead. Which is the greater one?
The answer to that lies in an assessment of the future. We cannot know it; we can merely guess. My best judgment of what we will face is the following: a long and difficult insurgency on Iraq; an Iran on the brink of a nuclear capacity; a North Korea able to distract the United States at a moment's notice from the crisis in the Middle East; and an immensely complicated and difficult task of nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. At home, we face a fiscal crisis of growing proportions--one that, if left alone, will destroy our future capacity to wage the war for our own survival.
Which candidate is best suited for this unappetizing ordeal? In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has shown itself impatient with and untalented at nation-building. Moreover, the toll of the war has left the United States with minimal international support, one important ingredient for the successful rebuilding of nations. If Bush is reelected, even Britain will likely shift toward withdrawal in Iraq, compounding American isolation there and making it even harder for a new Iraqi government to gain legitimacy. In the essential tasks of building support for greater international help in Iraq--financially, militarily, diplomatically--Kerry is the better choice. No, other countries cannot bail us out or even contribute much in the way of an effective military presence. But within Iraq, the impact of a more international stamp on the occupation and on the elections could help us win the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis. That battle--as much as the one on the battlefield itself--is crucial for success. I fear Bush is too polarizing, too controversial, too loathed a figure even within his own country, to pull this off.
The president says that he alone can act militarily when the danger is there; and Kerry is too weak for our current crisis. I disagree. The chance of a third forced regime change somewhere in the world in the next four years is extremely low. We don't even have the troops. Bush's comparative advantage--the ability to pull the trigger when others might balk--will be largely irrelevant. That doesn't mean it hasn't come in handy. Without Bush, Saddam would still be in power. But just because the president was suited to fight the war for the last four years doesn't mean he is suited to succeed at the more complicated and nuanced tasks of the next four. In fact, some of the very virtues that made him suited to our past needs now make him all the more unsuited to our future ones. I am still glad he was president when we were attacked. But that doesn't mean he's the right leader for the years ahead. And one of the great benefits of being a democracy at war is that we can change leaders and tactics to advance the same goals. Dictatorships are stuck with the same guy--with all his weaknesses and all the hubris that comes from running successful wars, hubris that almost always leads to fatal errors, hubris that isn't restricted to tyrants.
Does Kerry believe in this war? Skeptics say he doesn't. They don't believe he has understood the significance of September 11. They rightly point to the antiwar and anti-Western attitudes of some in his base--the Michael Moores and Noam Chomskys who will celebrate a Kerry victory. I understand their worries. But they should listen to what Kerry has said. The convention was a remarkable event in that it pivoted the Democratic Party toward an uncomplicated embrace of the war on terror. Kerry has said again and again that he will not hesitate to defend this country and go on the offensive against Al Qaeda. I see no reason whatsoever why he shouldn't. What is there to gain from failure in this task? He knows that if he lets his guard down and if terrorists strike or succeed anywhere, he runs the risk of discrediting the Democrats as a party of national security for a generation. He has said quite clearly that he will not "cut and run" in Iraq. And the truth is: He cannot. There is no alternative to seeing the war through in Iraq. And Kerry's new mandate and fresh administration will increase the options available to us for winning. He has every incentive to be tough enough but far more leeway to be flexible than the incumbent.
Besides, the Democratic Party needs to be forced to take responsibility for the security of the country that is as much theirs as anyone's. The greatest weakness of the war effort so far has been the way it has become a partisan affair. This is the fault of both sides: the Rove-like opportunists on the right and the Moore-like haters on the left. But in wartime, a president bears the greater responsibility for keeping the country united. And this president has fundamentally failed in this respect. I want this war to be as bipartisan as the cold war, to bring both parties to the supreme task in front of us, to offer differing tactics and arguments and personnel in pursuit of the same cause. This is not, should not be, and one day cannot be, Bush's war. And the more it is, the more America loses, and our enemies gain.
Does Kerry believe in the power of freedom enough to bring Iraq into a democratic future? I don't know. It's my major concern with him. At the same time, it's delusional to believe that democracy can take root overnight in Iraq; and a little more humility in the face of enormous cultural difference does not strike me as unwarranted at this juncture. Besides, Kerry has endorsed democracy as a goal in Iraq and Afghanistan; he has a better grasp of the dangers of nuclear proliferation than Bush; he is tougher on the Saudis; his very election would transform the international atmosphere. What Bush isn't good at is magnanimity. But a little magnanimity and even humility in global affairs right now wouldn't do the United States a huge amount of harm.
Domestically, Kerry is clearly Bush's fiscal superior. At least he acknowledges the existence of a fiscal problem, which this president cannot. In terms of the Supreme Court, I have far more confidence in Kerry's picks than Bush's. In 2000, Bush promised moderate, able judges; for the last four years, he has often selected rigid, ideological mediocrities. Obviously, Kerry's stand against a constitutional amendment to target gay citizens is also a critical factor for me, as a gay man. But I hope it is also a factor for straight men and women, people who may even differ on the issue of marriage, but see the appalling damage a constitutional amendment would do to the social fabric, and the Constitution itself. Kerry will also almost certainly face a Republican House, curtailing his worst liberal tendencies, especially in fiscal matters. Perhaps it will take a Democratic president to ratchet the Republican Party back to its fiscally responsible legacy. I'll take what I can get.
And when you think of what is happening in the two major parties, the case for a Kerry presidency strengthens. If Bush wins, the religious right, already dominant in Republican circles, will move the GOP even further toward becoming a sectarian, religious grouping. If Kerry loses, the antiwar left will move the party back into the purist, hate-filled wilderness, ceding untrammeled power to a resurgent, religious Republicanism--a development that will prove as polarizing abroad as it is divisive at home. But if Bush loses, the fight to recapture Republicanism from Big Government moralism will be given new energy; and if Kerry wins, the center of the Democratic party will gain new life. That, at least, is the hope. We cannot know for sure.
But, in every election, we decide on unknowables. When I read my endorsement of George W. Bush of four years ago, I see almost no inkling of what was about to happen and the kind of president Bush turned out to be. But we do the best we can in elections, with limited information and fallible judgment. I should reiterate: I do not hate this president. I admire him in many ways--his tenacity, his vision of democracy, his humor, his faith. I have supported him more than strongly in the last four years--and, perhaps, when the dangers seemed so grave, I went overboard and willfully overlooked his faults because he was the president and the country was in danger. I was also guilty of minimizing the dangers of invading Iraq and placed too much faith, perhaps, in the powers of the American military machine and competence of the Bush administration. Writers bear some responsibility too for making mistakes; and I take mine. But they bear a greater responsibility if they do not acknowledge them and learn. And it is simply foolish to ignore what we have found out this past year about Bush's obvious limits, his glaring failures, his fundamental weakness as a leader. I fear he is out of his depth and exhausted. I simply do not have confidence in him to navigate the waters ahead skillfully enough to avoid or survive the darkening clouds on the horizon.
Kerry? I cannot know for sure. But in a democracy, you sometimes have to have faith that a new leader will be able to absorb the achievements of his predecessor and help mend his failures. Kerry has actually been much more impressive in the latter stages of this campaign than I expected. He has exuded a calm and a steadiness that reassures. He is right about our need for more allies, more prudence, and more tactical discrimination in the war we are waging. I cannot say I have perfect confidence in him, or that I support him without reservations. But not to support anyone in this dangerous time is a cop-out. So give him a chance. In picking the lesser of two risks, we can also do something less dispiriting. We can decide to pick the greater of two hopes. And even in these dour days, it is only American to hope.
Andrew Sullivan is a senior editor at TNR.
RECAP - I think that he makes some strong points -
The absence of WMDs is just a miserable failure, pure and simple.
Not anticipating the strength of the insurgency - also a major mistake
I have a hard time getting past these two issues as well
all this is window dressing
gay marriage is the only real reason he is endorsing Kerry, he even said Bush can't get his vote in the advocate because of it. It would be helpful if he was a more honest about it.
Hokum. We all know why Sullivan is backing Kerry. Its too bad that he has lost so much focus.
"I am Jack's spastic colon."
Sorry, but the prospect of this nation being turned over to Eurotrolls and the UN makes me sick to my stomach. I'll take another 4 years of Bush over that.
My boat's name is Arcadia. Now I'm seriously thinking of renaming it.
Little Bobby was in his 4th grade class when the teacher asked the children what their fathers did for a living. All the typical answers came up - fireman, policeman, salesman, doctor, lawyer, etc. Little Bobby was being uncharacteristically quiet, so the teacher asked him about his father.
"My father's an exotic dancer in a gay cabaret and takes off his clothes in front of other men and they put money in his underwear. Sometimes, if the offer is really good, he will go home with some guy for money."
The teacher, obviously shaken by this statement, hurriedly set the other children to work on some exercises and took little Bobby aside to ask him, "Is that really true about your father?"
"No," said Bobby, "He works for the Democratic National Committee to elect John Kerry, but I was too embarrassed to say that in front of the other kids." !!!
Good luck with that, Andrew...
If he were being honest he would have said: I support John Kerry because he is pro-homosexual and becuase Bush support the FMA. Period. That's his reason. Personally, I think he always has been a liberal and only faking conservative thought to push gay issues on the GOP. He's been largely successful and now is the time to go home to the DNC.
Andrew the Butt Pirate cannot forgive the President for not supporting gay marriage. All the rest of the booshwa in this piece is simply CYA (something which Mr Sullivan should do more of!).
If Bush wins, the religious right, already dominant in Republican circles, will move the GOP even further toward becoming a sectarian, religious grouping. If Kerry loses, the antiwar left will move the party back into the purist, hate-filled wilderness, ceding untrammeled power to a resurgent, religious RepublicanismThose are two excellent reasons to vote for Bush!
Who gives a rats ass?
Yea,Andrew "You're a bigot if you disagree with me" Sullivan cares about one issue and one issue alone
The only reason he's supporting Kerry is because he's throwing a hissy fit because Pres. Bush is supporing the constitutional amendment that would keep the courts from imposing homosexual "marriage" on the states.
This whole article is BS. Sullivan has his panties in a bunch about gay marriage and that's the only issue he's voting. He's done a complete 180 from where he was a year ago.
Sullivan changed his tune on the President when President Bush came out against homo marriage. He's using the "Iraq war is a miserable failure" as his cover. He's a single issue voter.
I guess this guy doesn't think that treason is so evil.
I have a hard time getting by anyone who would support Kerry. He's a UN loving, commie loving, America hating traitor. Can't get by that. He's also an abortionist pig. Can't put lipstick on that. He's a tax and spend Massachusetts liberal. In fact, even more liberal than Kennedy. Can't get by that. And he's a fraud and a liar to boot. Anyone who would even remotely consider Kerry as presidential material is NO conservative.