Thursday, October 21, 2004

Swinging Baynonim's vote

Baynonim professes to be a swing voter (I said they still existed!), disillusioned with Bush but not sold on Kerry: "Even though I think Bush has been an atrocious president, I can't ignore that Kerry is an atrocious candidate." He asks his readers, "Why does either candidate deserve my vote?"

Now, I might not be the best one to advise him. I became a Republican my freshman year in college and my vote hasn't swung once since. I'm conservative on most social and economic issues, with some libertarian leanings. To emphasize the point: I voted for Bush Sr. in 1992, after the bustup with Shamir and the infamous Baker remark.

While I have my criticisms of Bush, they do not overlap with Baynonim's, and I certainly don't consider him "an atrocious president". Many of my reasons for supporting the president would likely be his reasons for opposing him. So it's not clear how much persuasive power I can have here.

But at least one argument - in my mind, the overriding issue in this election - may be sufficiently compelling on its own.

In normal circumstances, Americans should choose their president solely on the basis of the candidates' abilities and policies. The relevant question would be, "Who can better lead the country for the next four years?" Unfortunately, this time even asking that question may be a luxury.

In invading Iraq, Bush took a major political risk - the biggest political risk I can remember undertaken deliberately by any president in my lifetime. He embarked on a major war motivated in part by an idealistic vision of transforming the Middle East, knowing full well that he would be judged largely on its outcome a year and a half later. It's still premature to judge that outcome fairly, but such is the US political calendar.

At the same time, the fate of US leadership and prestige around the world is now deeply tied to the success of this project, whether one supported it or not.

If Bush loses this election, the Arab and Muslim worlds (and probably, but less significantly, much of Europe) will see that as signifying their inevitable ultimate triumph over America. Regardless of what Kerry's policies would be as president, or how tough he would be in fighting terrorism - needless to say, I have my doubts - regardless of that, the very fact of Bush's defeat would be seen as a form of divine retribution for his daring to invade and occupy an Arab Muslim nation.

Just as his father's electoral defeat was seen by the Arabs - without much reason, but that's not the issue - as a victory for Saddam and Arab nationalism, all the more so would the son's defeat after deposing Saddam and the Taliban. It would be viewed, however wrongly, as a defeat for the great superpower and its war on terrorism.

For twelve years under UN sanctions, Saddam was a symbol for Arab and Muslim radicals the world over. He defied the world's greatest power and lived to tell the tale. One of the most important achievements of the Iraq war was putting and end to that situation. If it was also interpreted by many as an attempt to redeem his father's honor, all the better; such motives are respected in Arab society. If America is to have any hope of prevailing against Muslim terror, it has to steadfastly demonstrate that you can't defy the US with impunity.

If Bush loses this election, it would furthermore reinforce the message - already sent loudly by Vietnam - that the US cannot be expected to finish what it starts overseas. That any band of locals can outlast the invading imperialists, who will eventually get fed up and return with their tails between their legs, booting out their own leader (like the Spanish did). This would just confirm what Osama bin Laden has been arguing for years, and probably give al-Qaeda a massive shot in the arm the world over.

Even Vladimir Putin, hardly a steadfast US ally, recently said as much: "International terrorism has as its goal to prevent the election of President Bush to a second term. If they achieve that goal, then that will give international terrorism a new impulse and extra power."

If Kerry wins, expect dancing in the streets in Arab capitals, triumphant bravado from Islamic radicals, and floods of support for Iraqi rebels by the many locals who will expect - rightly or not - the US to cut and run. It's always safer to be on the winning side, especially when it has bombs. Kerry can't "win the peace" in Iraq, since the moment he's elected the situation will deteriorate drastically due to expectations of American perfidy.

It sounds antidemocratic to call for Bush's reelection based on the perceptions of thugs, terrorists and their sympathizers and compatriots. I confess it's not an enviable situation. But I greatly fear the global consequences of a Bush defeat.

If you detest Bush's domestic agenda, this is the time to split your vote. Vote Bush for president; cast your domestic policy votes for Congress. But Bush staked American prestige on this war, and if he falls, so will America. Like it or not.


Anonymous said...

interesting that your main reason to reelect the prez is how damaging a kerry win would be in the eyes of world opinion.if we would have worried about that opinion a little sooner we would not be in this mess.

Zman Biur said...


You are distorting my words. I couldn't care less about "the eyes of world opinion" - actually, I don't think there is such a thing. I am very concerned, though, about deterrence against our enemies, which would be undermined by deposing the leader who took them on.

Of course, if the US had cared about "world opinion" as you suggest, Clinton wouldn't have gone to war against Serbia - and the United States would never back Israel.