I want to commend everyone here for having maintained such a sharp focus on the line of argument coming from both sides of the political divide.
THE COMING ELECTION
Personally, I find that the choice in November may well be a painful one. I view both candidates as basically decent men, but with limited vision in one respect or another.
I also find (I may not be alone) that the chief question haunting me, as I contemplate walking into the voting booth, is which man will be more effective at galvanizing all the democracies of the industrialized Free World into a proactive participation in every aspect of the struggle against Al Qaeda -- in financial enforcement and prevention, in vigorous intelligence, in military participation, in diplomacy, in international law enforcement.
Some whom I've read elsewhere have surmised that Continental Europe views itself today as locked in some fatal, eternal competition with the U.S., economically and strategically etc. -- where apparently what advantages the one must always(?) disadvantage the other. _IF_ that's true, the choice that U.S. voters face in November is a choice as to which candidate is better at _trumping_, through persuasion, European preoccupations of that kind.
Now, why is it so critical to inspire all other industrialized democracies around the world to see beyond such preoccupations? Because 9/11 -- IMO -- began a World War, a World War in which Al Qaeda is not just declaring war against the United States but against all industrialized, free democracies where religious freedom and even secularism can exist side by side.
Unless the man chosen for President can successfully persuade each and every industrialized democracy that they each have a dog in this fight, Al Qaeda could win this war in only a few decades, IMHO. -- At least win it in much of Europe anyway, if most of Europe continues to (effectively) pay lip service only to the gravity of this war. Continental Europe's strictly pro forma stance, without proactive and close participation of the type I've described, ensures that Europe (where much of the 9/11 planning "went down", after all, not just in Afghanistan) will only be more vulnerable to Al Qaeda than the U.S. would be, sooner rather than later.
Why should the world care about Europe? Because if too much of Europe becomes a de facto, if not literal, satellite of Al Qaeda by 2035 or so, the whole world could be back in (practically) another Cold War. And, lest anyone forget, the Cold War of the 20th century was hardly the bloodless thing its customary title implies. Thousands lost their lives between 1947 and 1989, not to mention the acute psychological cost it exacted of the world's children.
I don't necessarily view Europe's possible fate a few decades from now as a cut-and-dried "conquest" as in the Anschluss of Austria, 1938. But I do feel there may be certain state powers elsewhere in the world (probably a few in the Middle East to start with) who would be interested in exporting Al Qaeda, either financially or culturally. And apathy in Continental Europe could result in generational transformations that amount to an alarming acceptance of social intolerance driven by ultra-fundamentalist forces associated with Al Qaeda and fellow travelers with deep pockets and resources.
And, BTW, I'm not unaware of the extent to which something similar might happen in the U.S. driven by ultra-fundamentalists of some altogether different religion. Or in India, where yet another religion's fundamentalists might exert a similarly unfortunate influence.
Ironic that the founders of certain religions have introduced the most profoundly other-oriented and selfless ethics known to humanity, yet some of the most thoughtless cruelties in history have been perpetrated by those who thought they were somehow following these selfless founders!
Today, Continental Europe's _possible_ preoccupations with "besting" the U.S. in "civilian" arenas may or may not be part of the equation here, but if Al Qaeda threatens them even more directly than the U.S. ever would -- and I happen to believe it does (though, admittedly, I don't live there
President Bush may have been effective in communicating the urgency of this war. But he's also been given a chance to convey to other free nations this war's sheer global reach as well. And in that latter effort, he has not yet succeeded to the same extent as he has in conveying the sheer urgency of the challenge, IMO.
One thing that hurt Bush, again IMO, was his ready (and, I believe, sincere, though careless) acceptance of murky intelligence from both Europe and the U.N. concerning Iraq. That sidetracked the whole globe from the overriding war with Al Qaeda, ultimately bringing the war with Al Qaeda to yet another front, Iraq, where it had not even been before.
Another thing that hurt him were glib remarks from others in his Administration, like the "Old Europe" wisecrack, which only exacerbated certain tendencies of "competition-thinking" that were already simmering inside Continental Europe as it was. Whether or not one agrees with the distinction concerning "Old Europe" (and there may even be a grain of truth in it, IMO), muzzling the wiseacres in Bush's inner circle was critical at a time when we were cobbling together the most important alliance against tyranny, IMO, in over sixty years! Timing was simply ignored, and we lost our chance of firming up a truly global alliance, thanks to certain functionaries who -- candidly -- weren't mature enough to keep their mouths shut.
Yes, the fact that Saddam Hussein, though not a part of the Al Qaeda war, was still snubbing the United Nations and the entire international community remained critical. That was what made it important that he be either scrutinized more intrusively or removed altogether.
Now that it appears Saddam may not have had time to reconstitute the deadly arsenal he used on his own people after all, the return of the inspections (due entirely to Bush, no question) should probably have been allowed freer rein and more time than Washington gave it. Since the international community _did_ finally recognize that they at least had a dog in _that_ fight, their sudden proactive stance on the renewed inspections (and they may have had more direct access to whatever intelligence there was on Saddam than Washington had) should probably have been encouraged rather than ignored by a (what turned out to be) precipitate invasion.
Washington's failure to hold steady during renewed inspections was the third nail in the coffin that ultimately buried, for the time being, the world's hopes of a genuinely global effort against Al Qaeda.
When it comes to Iraq, a timely, effective, truly international, and collegially respectful, effort, from around the free world and even from inside certain countries of the Middle East as well, would _probably_, IMO, have resulted in greater stability in a Saddam-free Iraq by now than what we see today.
Moreover, over the long haul, such an effort would have strengthened the global reach of the Free World's alliance against Al Qaeda rather than weakened it. It would also have strengthened the hand of those engaged in cementing international sanctions against genocide and internationally recognized crimes generally, since Saddam _was_ an international outlaw and his removal _did_ serve as a salutary example to other tyrants elsewhere (vide Qadaffi today and his public abandonment of WMDs).
(Why the U.S. today continues to hang back from an International Court for precisely such crises is beyond me; and it might be worthwhile to expand the court's reach to cover global maniacs like Osama Bin Laden, whom many of us would dearly like to see publicly in the dock [I happened to be personally acquainted with six of the people who died in New York in the massacre on 9/11].)
Is the situation hopeless today? Not yet, IMO. It could still be that Continental Europe might yet adopt a more proactive stance in the World War with Al Qaeda despite the sidelining of that effort by the premature invasion of Iraq.
But such a proactive stance can probably only be achieved by the most strenuous fence-mending from whoever is in the White House. Could Bush really pull that off by Election Day?
Or might Bush still be vindicated and the entire NATO alliance, and then some, be fully reconstituted, thanks to a last-minute discovery of a cache of brand-new, fully weaponized and assembled WMDs ready to be implemented on 45 minutes notice after all, the way Prime Minister Blair once claimed, and composed of ingredients that are clearly of a very recent vintage?
Any such scenarios or others like it may seem far-fetched to some (BTW, I think the capture of Bin Laden would no longer cement the alliance at this stage, since the alliance would still be put off by the premature invasion of an apparently WMD-less Iraq). Ultimately, if last-minute scenarios of such a kind are far-fetched, then, blunt as this may seem, the voter may have to ruthlessly assess the effectiveness of Bush's leadership of the most important alliance since World War II (IMO) by how that alliance stands today, not how it may stand a few months from now. In making that assessment, the voter is faced with only two practical choices (IMO): Bush and Kerry.
I've taken far too long getting to this point, I realize. But I hope those with the patience to read through have now understood that, gloomy as this is, nothing, in my judgement, is more important to choosing in November than weighing the effectiveness of each candidate's leadership in the war against Al Qaeda and their (possible) state sponsors -- and in weighing the effectiveness with which either man might embolden all the democracies of the industrialized world to address, aggressively and proactively, this growing threat through an application of their strongest resources in all the many arenas, legal, military, civilian, etc., where this effort has to be waged.
I believe it important that a president be able to convey successfully a sense of urgency to all the other industrialized democracies. Much sacrifice may be needed in the coming decades, and everyone around the world will have to develop an honest and thorough understanding of just why the sacrifice is needed. The president should not talk down to anyone, IMO, nor should s/he sugar-coat the gravity of what we face, IMO.
In weighing the effectiveness of the two candidates, I'm not much happier with Kerry than I am with Bush. True, Bush conveys the proper sense of urgency in this war. Kerry, so far, has not. OTOH, Kerry hasn't shown such an unfortunate propensity for "blowing off" the rest of the industrialized Free World as Bush has, IMO. A wash?
Ultimately, each of us have to make our own personal judgement as to how sound the global effort against Al Qaeda is today. My own personal feeling is that the global effort is extremely rickety, thanks to the fissures among industrialized democracies today brought about by Bush's carelessness, IMO. Because of that, I'm taking a very hard look at Kerry right now. He may be more intelligent in certain ways than Bush is. But is he also more effective? Sometimes the two things don't go together. A measured approach may be welcome after some of the ill-considered things I imagine (IMHO) I have seen coming from Bush. But can a measured approach also encompass the sense of urgency that I feel should be intrinsic to any global coalition against Al Qaeda?
Right now, I find myself faulting Bush for not being sufficiently persuasive in rallying all the globe's industrialized democracies around pluralism and freedom against the philosophical and cultural straight jacket that Al Qaeda represents.
But I also fault Kerry for _apparently_ lacking (he may have it in his gut, just not be good at conveying it) a sense of urgency generally, even though he may be better in the long term at rallying the entire Free World against Al Qaeda.
One could simply decide that Bush has had his chance to rouse the world against this overriding threat, and he's only succeeded at antagonizing many, though bringing a small number abroad. Since I hardly view that as success, is it unwise to take a gamble on things being any different in a second Bush term? Perhaps that wouldn't be too wise. Who knows?
At the same time, I'd sure feel more comfortable with choosing Kerry (whom I admit I'm leaning slightly toward right now) if only he would be a little more willing to state head-on and state more often that the goals of Al Qaeda cripple the human spirit and are simply _wrong_, that the fight for freedom in World War II continues today at Bali, at Riyadh, at Madrid, in hallowed ground in Pennsylvania, at the Pentagon, at a gouged-out "killing field" where two towers stood....... Also, a forthright statement that the U.S. in the past has stood for freedom, religious and philosophical and political and social freedom, and that she is not so much free because she is great but great today because she has been free. That is what has made her a beacon in the past. She must rise to that level today in facing Al Qaeda. Something of that kind.
I would also want him to say flat-out that this War against Al Qaeda is the chief obligation of government today and that it is the world's fight, not just Washington's. Nothing is more important in the President's job description today than galvanizing the entire Free World around the effort to overcome Al Qaeda and its fellow travelers' joint threat to freedom of thought.
One point in the foregoing (concerning the fact that this is the _world's_ fight) _is_ something I can imagine him saying, yes. But the rest? I wonder.
(It would also be great, IMHO, if he might say that Saddam's atrocities were also the world's business, not just Washington's, and that it was therefore wrong not to wait out the inspections and ensure that any eventual invasion of Iraq would be unequivocally ratified by the entire Free World; yes, he's _almost_ said something like that, but he's never flat-out said that he regrets personally giving Bush the green light _before_ rather than _after_ the Free World climbed aboard.)
In this election, IMO, we are faced with a choice between two decent enough individuals, but neither appear to have both the inspirational capacities and the intellectual strengths of a Churchill or a Roosevelt. A shame. One candidate may incline somewhat more to the inspirational and the other more to the intellectual. But one needs both to lead the whole world freely. And, like it or not, that's precisely what the President's job description will be in the coming decades until (and unless) this war is won.
Dissatisfied as I may be in the flaws of each candidate, though, I agree with some that not voting at all is irresponsible.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
I simply feel that bringing Continental Europe on board -- and proactively so -- is key to the freedom of the world's children and all our grandchildren and great grandchildren throughout this still-young century. Whatever preoccupations some may (correctly?) perceive in Europe's attitude to any "strong" American leaders (a sense of competition rather than cooperation?), that in itself is no reason to simply ignore the serious obligations of a mutually respectful relationship altogether. That mutually respectful relationship may be all that stands between ultimate victory over Al Qaeda in the coming decades or a fatal standoff of a century or more, thanks to Europe's possibly oblivious caving in.
I'm not naive enough to think that such "competition-thinking" in Continental Europe can be wished away with the wave of a wand, nor even to think that such "competition-thinking" may not be (partially) based on a realistic assessment of current relationships(!); but considerations of self-defense on the part of Continental Europe can be awakened effectively enough to counter such "competition-thinking" _if_ the right man in the White House is talking thoughtfully and urgently and persuasively enough at the right time to all of Europe and to the entire Free World.
So, who is that man who can "talk their language"? Right now, it looks to me like it _may_ be Kerry, even though there's a very slight chance that dynamic could still shift by November.
I simply no longer feel that this war can be pursued effectively with the very few powers currently at our disposal in Iraq. Instead, all the democracies of the Free World, including all the democracies of Europe, need to be completely engaged, no exceptions, or this entire young century is lost.
Right now, all these democracies are _not_ engaged, and it is no exaggeration, IMO, to say that that stark fact is a tragedy.
Frankly, I still see a wholeheartedly engaged Europe as being key to any eventual victory over Al Qaeda. IMO, unless _all_ of Europe's democracies are 100% reconciled to the United States, I just don't see Al Qaeda as ever being overcome in any decisive way. I could be wrong in my perception. I could be right. Who knows?
This raises a number of interrelated questions:
1) Is it possible to successfully "win" the war against Al Qaeda without all of Europe proactively engaged at the same time in a way that it isn't today, and without the U.S. and Europe working together in the closest and most amicable manner?
2) Is a President who can sober up Europe and be genuinely trusted by them the only way by which such a close working relationship, a serious one, can be generated?
3) If, for the sake of argument, a wholeheartedly engaged Europe isn't key, after all, to a "victory" against Al Qaeda, what specific alternate scenario can we come up with instead by which this global threat (and I do believe it is a global one) can be overcome around the industrialized Free World?
4) If, OTOH, Continental Europe is key to "victory" after all, is there any other specific way, other than through a president whom Europe entirely trusts, by which Europe can become more enthusiastically proactive in the effort against this threat than they are today?
I know, to quote the comedian Gilda Radner, "You ask a lot of questions, Mister";-). But I'd be keenly interested in knowing how these articulate posters on both sides of the political divide might address this vexing tangle? Please take it as a compliment to the shrewd remarks already posted here by others that they helped galvanize me into exploring so many of my own concerns in such depth.
And no, I don't pretend to have any ready answers to these questions myself.
Ultimately, one essential question above all remains: _if_ Continental Europe's wholehearted engagement in the effort against Al Qaeda is indeed key to overcoming the Al Qaeda threat after all, how then can Europe be persuaded of the urgency of proactively addressing this gathering threat _before_ it grows any worse, to forestall some even more horrible atrocity down the road?
That to me remains the most urgent concern of all.
Posted by Geoff on 2004-09-02 12:56:03
Source : http://inthesetimes.com/article/979/were_not_in_lake_wobegon_anymore/