Saturday, October 30, 2004

"Strong" is not a synonym for "competent"

On Saturday, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo quoted Kerry's and Bush's responses to the release of the new video from Osama bin Laden.
John Kerry: In response to this tape from Osama bin Laden, let me make it clear, crystal clear. As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden and the terrorists. They are barbarians. And I will stop at absolutely nothing to hunt down, capture or kill the terrorists wherever they are, whatever it takes. Period.

George W. Bush: Earlier today I was informed of the tape that is now being analyzed by America's intelligence community. Let me make this very clear: Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country. I'm sure Senator Kerry agrees with this. I also want to say to the American people that we're at war with these terrorists and I am confident that we will prevail.
"Which of these two statements," Marshall asks, "sounds like it comes from the stronger leader?"

Frankly, my answer is neither. Bush sounds like an unsteady politician reverting to boilerplate in the attempt to slip past an issue he knows can't play well for him, while Kerry sounds like he OD'ed on testosterone pills; I'd half expect his next statement to be a proposal that he go one-on-one with "that wimp Schwarzenegger." Both sound like people who prefer sloganeering to analysis; neither sounds like a leader who has a flaming clue about the roots of terrorism or has a means to deal with it.

Blind faith, however, will find its champions even if it means embracing fantasy. For example, several liberal blogs have approvingly cited Zbigniew Brzezinski's op-ed piece in Monday's New York Times because of it's critique of Iraq policy and how Shrub has "lost credibility among other nations." But they fail to note that "Zbig," as he was known during his time as national security advisor to the Carter White House, didn't have much better to say about Kerry.
Unfortunately, the predicament faced by America in Iraq is also more complex than the solutions offered so far by the Democratic side in the presidential contest. Senator John Kerry would have the advantage of enjoying greater confidence among America's traditional allies,
but that alone won't be enough unless the US actually breaks free of "a worldview that fundamentally misdiagnoses the central challenge of our time," one he says holds both Bush and Kerry "prisoner."
To get the Europeans to act, any new administration will have to confront them with strategic options. The Europeans need to be convinced that the United States recognizes that the best way to influence the eventual outcome of the civil war within Islam is to shape an expanding Grand Alliance ... that embraces the Middle East by taking on the region's three most inflammatory and explosive issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the mess in Iraq, and the challenge of a restless and potentially dangerous Iran.
While Brzezinski goes on to offer a hopelessly wrong proposal for "basic principles of a formula for an Israeli-Palestinian peace," the point remains he recognizes the centrality of dealing with the issue. But the painful fact is, John Kerry is even less likely than George Bush to undertake a change in US policy in the region.

His basic policy position offers not the slightest hint of a critique, much less a criticism, of Israeli policy and a fair amount of it is lifted directly from Israel's policy positions, even when it seemed beside the point in a declaration of basic principles (i.e., he "supports Arafat's isolation"). For example:

- He supports any military action Israel takes so long as it's "self-defense" (as if it's ever called anything else).
- He endorses the claim that Israel has no "partner for peace" until the emergence of "new, responsible Palestinian leadership" once the "failed...unfit" Yasser Arafat leaves the scene.
- He applauds the so-called "security fence" and condemns the International Court of Justice for even considering the issue.
- He enthuses over Sharon's "unprecedented" plan to create a gulag in Gaza under the rubric of "withdrawal."
- He supports Israeli military superiority in the region and opposes any restrictions on aid, citing his lobbying against George H. W. Bush's 120-day suspension of aid in the fall of 1991 - even though that suspension came after it emerged that Israel was using US aid intended to help in the resettlement of refugees in Israel to free up funds for construction of additional settlements in the West Bank, settlements which were and are in violation of international law.
- He promises to veto any "anti-Israel/anti-Zionist resolutions" in the UN Security Council, thus equating Israel with Zionism, something which even a fair number of Israelis don't do, but the Israeli right wing does.

In fact, he prides himself on not pressing Israel to do anything Israel doesn't want to do; rather, he says, "Israel’s cause must be America’s cause" while suggesting that "anti-Semitism [is] often masked in anti-Israel rhetoric."

What this adds up to is that on Israel and the Palestinians, Kerry has, as I've said before, staked out a position that is actually to the right of George Bush. He offers no cause to believe in a change in US policy - and thus, to the extent Brzezinski is right, no cause to believe in either security or stability in the Middle East and no cause to believe he has any clue what it will take to reduce terrorism to the "nuisance" he wants to make it.

We are so very, very screwed.

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