Kerry's Undeclared War


Copyright 2004 Bob Persons
October 17, 2004

Notes on "Kerry's Undeclared War" (Matt Bai, New York Times Magazine October 10, 2004).

The difference between the Bush and Kerry philosophies regarding the terrorism threat: Bush and company, carrying over cold war thinking, believe we have to fight this as a war between nations (us and those "harboring terrorists"), which we fight militarily, just as we did in Vietnam and just as we did in opposing Hitler. Kerry believes the battle is between civilizations and chaos because the terrorists are not housed in a state; defeating one harboring state does little because the terrorists will pick another place from which to operate.

Bush's philosophy may appear dominant now because people are afraid of another attack, and the sight of the military springing into action brings some comfort that the enemy will be defeated. It's harder to picture world police forces arresting terrorists as being more effective.

But Kerry has decades of experience dealing with the new global threats and developing policies regarding them. When he talks of ultimately reducing terrorism to a "nuisance," he certainly is not (as Bush would love to convince the nation) declaring they are not important. He is saying they can be brought under control to the degree that prostitution, gambling, and the mob is under control - not eradicated but not changing the fabric of life any more either.

While Kerry dwells on detailed plans, Bush presents a grand vision and so is seen by many as being the decisive, effective one.

"Kerry's view, that the 21st century will be defined by the organized world's struggle against agents of chaos and lawlessness, might be the beginning of a compelling vision. The idea that America and its allies, sharing resources and using the latest technologies, could track the movements of terrorists, seize their bank accounts and carry out targeted military strikes to eliminate them, seems more optimistic and more practical than the notion that the conventional armies of the United States will inevitably have to punish or even invade every Islamic country that might abet radicalism."

It seems to me that one flaw in Bush'a argument that establishing a successful democracy in the Middle East as an example of the good life that all Middle Easterners can have, ignores the fact that there already is a democracy there - Israel - and it is haed by the Muslim neighbors. It also ignores Turkey and Malaysia, both Muslim nations with democracies.

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