Friday, November 05, 2004

An article from the

Here was the fair and moderate (almost half-hearted) support of the Economist for John Kerry.

Oct 28th 2004

With a heavy heart, we think American readers should vote for John
Kerry on November 2nd

YOU might have thought that, three years after a devastating terrorist
attack on American soil, a period which has featured two wars, radical
political and economic legislation, and an adjustment to one of the
biggest stockmarket crashes in history, the campaign for the presidency
would be an especially elevated and notable affair. If so, you would be
wrong. This year's battle has been between two deeply flawed men:
George Bush, who has been a radical, transforming president but who has
never seemed truly up to the job, let alone his own ambitions for it;
and John Kerry, who often seems to have made up his mind conclusively
about something only once, and that was 30 years ago. But on November
2nd, Americans must make their choice, as must THE ECONOMIST. It is far
from an easy call, especially against the backdrop of a turbulent,
dangerous world. But, on balance, our instinct is towards change rather
than continuity: Mr Kerry, not Mr Bush.

Whenever we express a view of that sort, some readers are bound to
protest that we, as a publication based in London, should not be poking
our noses in other people's politics. Translated, this invariably means
that protesters disagree with our choice. It may also, however, reflect
a lack of awareness about our readership. THE ECONOMIST's weekly sales
in the United States are about 450,000 copies, which is three times our
British sale and roughly 45% of our worldwide total. All those American
readers will now be pondering how to vote, or indeed whether to. Thus,
as at every presidential election since 1980, we hope it may be useful
for us to say how we would think about our vote--if we had one.

That decision cannot be separated from the terrible memory of September
11th, nor can it fail to begin as an evaluation of the way in which Mr
Bush and his administration responded to that day. For Mr Bush's record
during the past three years has been both inspiring and disturbing.

Mr Bush was inspiring in the way he reacted to the new world in which
he, and America, found itself. He grasped the magnitude of the
challenge well. His military response in Afghanistan was not the sort
of poorly directed lashing out that Bill Clinton had used in 1998 after
al-Qaeda destroyed two American embassies in east Africa: it was a
resolute, measured effort, which was reassuringly sober about the
likely length of the campaign against Osama bin Laden and the
elusiveness of anything worth the name of victory. Mistakes were made,
notably when at Tora Bora Mr bin Laden and other leaders probably
escaped, and when following the war both America and its allies devoted
insufficient military and financial resources to helping Afghanistan
rebuild itself. But overall, the mission has achieved a lot: the
Taliban were removed, al-Qaeda lost its training camps and its base,
and Afghanistan has just held elections that bring cautious hope for
the central government's future ability to bring stability and

The biggest mistake, though, was one that will haunt America for years
to come. It lay in dealing with prisoners-of-war by sending hundreds of
them to the American base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, putting them in a
legal limbo, outside the Geneva conventions and outside America's own
legal system. That act reflected a genuinely difficult problem: that of
having captured people of unknown status but many of whom probably did
want to kill Americans, at a time when to set them free would have been
politically controversial, to say the least. That difficulty cannot
neutralise the damage caused by this decision, however. Today,
Guantanamo Bay offers constant evidence of America's hypocrisy,
evidence that is disturbing for those who sympathise with it,
cause-affirming for those who hate it. This administration, which
claims to be fighting for justice, the rule of law and liberty, is
incarcerating hundreds of people, whether innocent or guilty, without
trial or access to legal representation. The White House's proposed
remedy, namely military tribunals, merely compounds the problem.

When Mr Bush decided to frame his foreign policy in the sort of
language and objectives previously associated with Woodrow Wilson, John
Kennedy or Ronald Reagan, he was bound to be greeted with cynicism. Yet
he was right to do so. To paraphrase a formula invented by his ally,
Tony Blair, Mr Bush was promising to be "tough on terrorism, tough on
the causes of terrorism", and the latter he attributed to the lack of
democracy, human rights and opportunity in much of the world,
especially the Arab countries. To call for an effort to change that
lamentable state of affairs was inspiring and surely correct. The
credibility of the call was enhanced by this month's Afghan election,
and may in future be enhanced by successful and free elections in Iraq.
But that remains ahead, and meanwhile Mr Bush's credibility has been
considerably undermined not just by Guantanamo but also by two big
things: by the sheer incompetence and hubristic thinking evident in the
way in which his team set about the rebuilding of Iraq, once Saddam
Hussein's regime had been toppled; and by the abuses at Abu Ghraib
prison in Iraq, which strengthened the suspicion that the mistreatment
or even torture of prisoners was being condoned.

Invading Iraq was not a mistake. Although the intelligence about
Saddam's weapons of mass destruction has been shown to have been flimsy
and, with hindsight, wrong, Saddam's record of deception in the 12
years since the first Gulf war meant that it was right not to give him
the benefit of the doubt. The containment scheme deployed around him
was unsustainable and politically damaging: military bases in holy
Saudi Arabia, sanctions that impoverished and even killed Iraqis and
would have collapsed. But changing the regime so incompetently was a
huge mistake. By having far too few soldiers to provide security and by
failing to pay Saddam's remnant army, a task that was always going to
be long and hard has been made much, much harder. Such incompetence is
no mere detail: thousands of Iraqis have died as a result and hundreds
of American soldiers. The eventual success of the mission, while still
possible, has been put in unnecessary jeopardy. So has America's
reputation in the Islamic world, both for effectiveness and for moral

If Mr Bush had meanwhile been making progress elsewhere in the Middle
East, such mistakes might have been neutralised. But he hasn't. Israel
and Palestine remain in their bitter conflict, with America readily
accusable of bias. In Iran the conservatives have become stronger and
the country has moved closer to making nuclear weapons. Egypt, Syria
and Saudi Arabia have not turned hostile, but neither have they been
terribly supportive nor reform-minded. Libya's renunciation of WMD is
the sole clear piece of progress.

This only makes the longer-term project more important, not less. To
succeed, however, America needs a president capable of admitting to
mistakes and of learning from them. Mr Bush has steadfastly refused to
admit to anything: even after Abu Ghraib, when he had a perfect
opportunity to dismiss Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, and
declare a new start, he chose not to. Instead, he treated the abuses as
if they were a low-level, disciplinary issue. Can he learn from
mistakes? The current approach in Iraq, of training Iraqi security
forces and preparing for elections to establish an Iraqi government
with popular support, certainly represents an improvement, although
America still has too few troops. And no one knows, for example,
whether Mr Rumsfeld will stay in his job, or go. In the end, one can do
no more than guess about whether in a second term Mr Bush would prove
more competent.

That does at least place him on equal terms with his rival, Mr Kerry.
With any challenger, voters have to make a leap of faith about what the
new man might be like in office. What he says during the campaign is a
poor guide: Mr Bush said in 2000 that America should be "a humble
nation, but strong" and should eschew nation-building; Mr Clinton
claimed in 1992 to want to confront "the butchers of Beijing" and to
reflate the economy through public spending.

Like those two previous challengers, Mr Kerry has shaped many of his
positions to contrast himself with the incumbent. That is par for the
course. What is more disconcerting, however, is the way those positions
have oscillated, even as the facts behind them have stayed the same. In
the American system, given Congress's substantial role, presidents
should primarily be chosen for their character, their qualities of
leadership, for how they might be expected to deal with the crises that
may confront them, abroad or at home. Oscillation, even during an
election campaign, is a worrying sign.

If the test is a domestic one, especially an economic crisis, Mr Kerry
looks acceptable, however. His record and instincts are as a fiscal
conservative, suggesting that he would rightly see future federal
budget deficits as a threat. His circle of advisers includes the
admirable Robert Rubin, formerly Mr Clinton's treasury secretary. His
only big spending plan, on health care, would probably be killed by a
Republican Congress. On trade, his position is more debatable: while an
avowed free trader with a voting record in the Senate to confirm it, he
has flirted with attacks on outsourcing this year and chosen a rank
protectionist as his running-mate. He has not yet shown Mr Clinton's
talent for advocacy on this issue, or any willingness to confront his
rather protectionist party. Still, on social policy, Mr Kerry has a
clear advantage: unlike Mr Bush he is not in hock to the Christian
right. That will make him a more tolerant, less divisive figure on
issues such as abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research.

The biggest questions, though, must be about foreign policy, especially
in the Middle East. That is where his oscillations are most unsettling.
A war that he voted to authorise, and earlier this year claimed to
support, he now describes as "a mistake". On some occasions he claims
to have been profoundly changed by September 11th and to be determined
to seek out and destroy terrorists wherever they are hiding, and on
others he has seemed to hark back to the old Clintonian view of
terrorism as chiefly a question of law and order. He has failed to
offer any set of overall objectives for American foreign policy, though
perhaps he could hardly oppose Mr Bush's targets of democracy, human
rights and liberty. But instead he has merely offered a different
process: deeper thought, more consultation with allies.

So what is Mr Kerry's character? His voting record implies he is a
vacillator, but that may be unfair, given the technical nature of many
Senate votes. His oscillations this year imply that he is more of a
ruthless opportunist. His military record suggests he can certainly be
decisive when he has to be and his post-Vietnam campaign showed
determination. His reputation for political comebacks and as a strong
finisher in elections also indicates a degree of willpower that his
flip-flopping otherwise belies.

In the end, the choice relies on a judgment about who will be better
suited to meet the challenges America is likely to face during the next
four years. Those challenges must include the probability of another
big terrorist attack, in America or western Europe. They must include
the need for a period of discipline in economic policy and for
compromise on social policy, lest the nation become weak or divided in
the face of danger. Above all, though, they include the need to make a
success of the rebuilding of Iraq, as the key part of a broader effort
to stabilise, modernise and, yes, democratise the Middle East.

Many readers, feeling that Mr Bush has the right vision in foreign
policy even if he has made many mistakes, will conclude that the safest
option is to leave him in office to finish the job he has started. If
Mr Bush is re-elected, and uses a new team and a new approach to
achieve that goal, and shakes off his fealty to an extreme minority,
the religious right, then THE ECONOMIST will wish him well. But our
confidence in him has been shattered. We agree that his broad vision is
the right one but we doubt whether Mr Bush is able to change or has
sufficient credibility to succeed, especially in the Islamic world.
Iraq's fledgling democracy, if it gets the chance to be born at all,
will need support from its neighbours--or at least non-interference--if
it is to survive. So will other efforts in the Middle East,
particularly concerning Israel and Iran.

John Kerry says the war was a mistake, which is unfortunate if he is to
be commander-in-chief of the soldiers charged with fighting it. But his
plan for the next phase in Iraq is identical to Mr Bush's, which speaks
well of his judgment. He has been forthright about the need to win in
Iraq, rather than simply to get out, and will stand a chance of making
a fresh start in the Israel-Palestine conflict and (though with even
greater difficulty) with Iran. After three necessarily tumultuous and
transformative years, this is a time for consolidation, for discipline
and for repairing America's moral and practical authority. Furthermore,
as Mr Bush has often said, there is a need in life for accountability.
He has refused to impose it himself, and so voters should, in our view,
impose it on him, given a viable alternative. John Kerry, for all the
doubts about him, would be in a better position to carry on with
America's great tasks.

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