Boredom as Policy
Nothing could more adequately sum up the cowardice and opportunism of contemporary American politics than the ruminations of Kirsty Wark on BBC Newsnight last night. She noted that although polls showed that 95% of Democrat conventioneers were opposed to the war, Kerry could probably not endorse such a stance even if he were inclined to because South Dakota voters (for that, read the maligned "Mid-West") supported the President as a matter of instinct, principle and pride. Tom Carver even conducted several interviews appearing to confirm this assessment. America's "heartland" (the goddamned "Mid-West" again) would never accept a political message that was so darned impolite about the President.
Now, recent polls indicate that most voters would prefer troops based in Iraq to come home sooner rather than later. 40% believe that they should return in less than one year; 30% within 1-2 years. So I think we can put the myth that Americans would not be receptive to withdrawing troops from Iraq straight to bed with no supper. But why is that the only consideration? Presumably there is such a thing as political leadership - granted, as the Prime Minister will tell you, that will only take you so far. But if this were an election based on differences of principle, and not merely of comportment, then one would expect the Democrats to nominate a candidate that represents their foreign policy goals, and let the right-wingers have their war-mongering fruit-basket. Why give them the option of a more sensible war-monger? Failing that, if they cannot nominate a principled candidate whose policies they actually agree with and would like to see implemented, how about choosing another party or another candidate? Ralph Nader would be an excellent choice, and he could definitely use the support. The Anyone-But-Bush movement is based on the one consistent reflex of Democrat party activists - cowardly submission. Terrified to do anything that might in fact make a difference "because then the Right will react against us", they would sooner spend an evening listening to a windy fatso like Clinton pretending he didn't piss on every decent principle and dream of the Left while in office.
And it isn't as if trying to cream off the support of other parties (while desperately slandering more radical opponents) has proven a worthwhile strategy in the past. It didn't exactly work in 2000, it didn't work in the California recall, it didn't work in 2002, and it won't work now. By concentrating on the slender and ever-diminishing 'middle-ground', one sort of forgets the base. Two examples. First :
"So far, all we have heard from you are politically-calibrated platitudes about staying the course" in Iraq, actors Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover, both long-time Democrats, and the group United for Peace and Justice wrote to Kerry.
"Tell the people of this country the war was wrong, the occupation is a disaster, and that we can have no future as a colonial power," they wrote. "Speak up for what's right, right now."
"Kerry has one other hurdle with vets: Some are fervently antiwar, and they're ticked off that Kerry refuses to withdraw the troops from Iraq on a timetable. They're trying not to hassle Kerry about that, because the buzz phrase at this confab is that Democrats are united. But occasionally they're boiling over. Consider, for example, vet Frank Corchran, a teacher who lives in Lansdowne, the Philadelphia suburb: 'Kerry voted yes to send those kids off to die, and he won't talk about pulling them out? There are times when I despise the man, and a lot of other antiwar vets here are saying, 'We can't vote for him, we feel betrayed.' But I'll try to get a grip, because when I look at Bush and Cheney – well, those guys are just dangerous.'"
Republicans have always known how to energise their base, while Democrats only seem to know how to put theirs to sleep.
"Change in Style"
So, back to Newsnight. Kirsty Wark asks Gary Hart to explain to British viewers what makes Kerry different from Bush? Will there be a withdrawal from Iraq? Will he attack the President's war record? Good heavens, no! That would be dashed unsporting. It isn't the way one behaves and, certainly, Republicans haven't been known to criticise a sitting President just because he's a Democrat. The difference will be in that Kerry will dispense with all this talk of pre-emption. He will restore America's traditional foreign policy of seeking to implicate others in America's crimes, so that the blame can be spread around. Unfortunately, the good former Senator was talking jive. Kerry is still for pre-emption , opposing only its more extreme manifestations. Hart was himself against the war in his time, so one can only assume that he has succumbed to Anyone But Bush fever himself.
Much talk as there has been over the "charismatic" Southern populist John Edwards, I have yet to note any genuine charisma (he's handsome and that's with botox and surgery), much less any authentic populism. Further, as Stephen Zunes notes, he is even more hardline on foreign affairs than Kerry. Edwards was a fervent cheerleader for the war, going out of his way to defend Bush when the sceptical voices were elevating in number and volume. He and Kerry both support Ariel Sharon's annexations of parts of the West Bank, defended Israel when it faced criticism for directing military operations in civilian areas and even criticised President Bush when he called for Israel to desist from some of its operations in the West Bank.
Kerry's foreign policy page promises to continue apace in Iraq while Latin America enjoys the honour of having a North American Security Perimeter "to coordinate customs, immigration and law enforcement policies to better protect the region from terrorist threats". He claims in the same piece that he will "lift-up Hispanic families", presumably by making sure they never have to live with the likelihood of seeing any of their relatives from back home in the near future. As Johann Hari notes in his Indie column from a few days back, Kerry's other policies toward Latin America are less than savoury:
[M]any of us imagine that the day after Kerry's inauguration, the world will be able to lean back, release a long sigh, and dismiss the Bush years as a one-term, one-moron nightmare.
We are deluding ourselves. When it comes to one of the most poisonous planks of US foreign policy today - the destabilisation of developing countries and the attack on poor farmers, all in the name of the "War on Drugs" - Kerry may, incredibly, be even worse than Bush.
Kerry made his name as a Drug War hawk. He dedicated an entire senatorial inquiry in 1989 to denouncing the Reagan administration's softness on international drug suppliers. His principal advisor on the subject today - and the man tipped by some commentators to become his Secretary of State - is Rand Beers, who defected last year from his role as Bush's counter-terrorism advisor. Throughout the 1990s, Beers was the primary architect of the US policy of "taking the fight to the drug-growers" - launching massive chemical attacks on farmers in foreign countries in an attempt to prevent their crops ever reaching America's shores.
Sean Donohue, a US journalist who works with the Colombia Support Network, has documented the human cost. "In January 2001, I visited a government-funded yucca co-operative that was intended to help farmers find an alternative to growing coca," he explains. "The co-operative had been fumigated and the entire yucca crop [which is, of course, totally legal] had been destroyed. One woman explained she had invested everything she had in the co-op and now had no way to feed her children."
A study by Ecuador's Pontificia University discovered that people living near the sprayed areas have shown symptoms of chronic poisoning and temporary blindness since the aerial poisoning began. "There have been cases of babies born with deformities... The impact of glyphosate will be lasting, because not all of its effects are seen one day to the next," it found.
So What's New?
The one thing that will change as a result of an election, you can be sure, is that millions of deluded but well-meaning people will find deplorable US policies that much more tolerable - as they did when Clinton was in power. Robin Cook's performance on Newsnight certainly invites such a conclusion. Indeed, the real issue of this election is one's manner, one's inclusiveness, one's willingness to bend somewhat to the rest of the world's "concerns" while essentially staying the course. This message could not have been more open, or more obvious. Kerry will communicate with European powers without Bush's condescending smirk; he will reject Kyoto/ICC etc firmly but politely, but additionally seek to win over his "European allies" with some sweet talk.
But hold on a minute! Isn't this exactly what neoconservatives were calling for not so long ago? Didn't Robert Kagan write an article for Foreign Policy bemoaning the President's image, and the unnecessary way in which he pissed off allies? Didn't Oliver Kamm, the liberal imperialist for Axa investments, announce this is his only dissatisfaction with Bush? Kerry is the neocon dream. Pro-war, pro-Israel, pro-Plan Colombia. And also, not to miss the finer points, loaded.