Tuesday, July 19, 2005

He told you so.

John Kerry won't say it, but I'll say it for him.

New York Times Magazine, October 10, 2004:
    ...But when you listen carefully to what Bush and Kerry say, it becomes clear that the differences between them are more profound than the matter of who can be more effective in achieving the same ends. Bush casts the war on terror as a vast struggle that is likely to go on indefinitely, or at least as long as radical Islam commands fealty in regions of the world. In a rare moment of either candor or carelessness, or perhaps both, Bush told Matt Lauer on the "Today" show in August that he didn't think the United States could actually triumph in the war on terror in the foreseeable future. "I don't think you can win it," he said - a statement that he and his aides tried to disown but that had the ring of sincerity to it. He and other members of his administration have said that Americans should expect to be attacked again, and that the constant shadow of danger that hangs over major cities like New York and Washington is the cost of freedom. In his rhetoric, Bush suggests that terrorism for this generation of Americans is and should be an overwhelming and frightening reality.

    When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance," Kerry said. "As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life."

    This analogy struck me as remarkable, if only because it seemed to throw down a big orange marker between Kerry's philosophy and the president's. Kerry, a former prosecutor, was suggesting that the war, if one could call it that, was, if not winnable, then at least controllable. If mobsters could be chased into the back rooms of seedy clubs, then so, too, could terrorists be sent scurrying for their lives into remote caves where they wouldn't harm us. Bush had continually cast himself as the optimist in the race, asserting that he alone saw the liberating potential of American might, and yet his dark vision of unending war suddenly seemed far less hopeful than Kerry's notion that all of this horror - planes flying into buildings, anxiety about suicide bombers and chemicals in the subway - could somehow be made to recede until it was barely in our thoughts.
Bruce Hoffman, in today's Salon:
    So has the war in Iraq in fact made things worse in the global battle against terrorism?

    If it's made things worse, it's because it has not addressed what I think is the fundamental challenge we face in responding to terrorism: breaking the cycle of recruitment and regeneration that sustains terrorist organizations. They've been very quick and adept in seizing upon Iraq as a highly effective means to generate new recruits and sources of support. I'm not necessarily making a statement about whether the war was right or wrong, or whether or not we should stay in Iraq -- but this is a reality that we do have to accept and deal with. We have to find a way to counter that propaganda and hatred, to take away that weapon from the enemy.

    To date, there hasn't been much evidence that the Bush administration shares that view.

    I think there is some reassessment of the war on terrorism going on in Washington now. There is some talk of shifting the paradigm to a struggle against "violent extremism," which would get away from the war vernacular and would address much more effectively the problem of terrorist recruitment and support. It accepts that you have to deal with root causes, that you have to have a very robust public diplomacy and information campaign, and that you have to work equally as hard with nonmilitary means as with them.

    When you've got a "war on terrorism," it implies that the reliance is on military force, and I think some in Washington are starting to recognize that. Important as that aspect is, it has to be complemented by harnessing American power in nonviolent ways as well. It's what we did in the Cold War.
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