Sunday, October 31, 2004


By William Fisher

The popular image of Russia in the West these days is of a land of post-Soviet oligarchs, oil company billionaires languishing in jail, President Putin ruthlessly centralizing his power by replacing provincial governors, civil liberties being abused, and of course of the 10-year war in Chechnya with the resulting unthinkable murder of hundreds of Beslan children.

But there are other, more hopeful, crosscurrents in this vast and complicated country. One is a realization by Russia’s entrepreneurs that they must unite to reduce the endemic corruption that has impeded the development of small businesses in Russia since the fall of the USSR.

This new grassroots movement is being led by the Association of Entrepreneurs for Honest Business. Its mission is to unite and educate entrepreneurs across Russia, raise public awareness of the costs of corruption, draft anti-corruption legislation, engage power structures, and force changes in the business environment by running for and getting elected to public office.

This effort is an offshoot of the Productivity Enhancement Program (PEP), the private not-for-profit brainchild of an indefatigable San Francisco grandmother, Sharon Tennison. Tennison founded the Center for Citizen Initiatives (CCI) in 1983 in an attempt to break through barriers between the two superpowers. When the USSR imploded, she continued creating programs like PEP to help democratize Russia.

PEP is an out-of-country business management training program, adapted from the historic Marshall Plan's "Productivity Tours" which brought 24,000 foreigners to US plants after WWII. To date, the PEP program has exposed some 4,000 non-English speaking Russians to the “how to” of American management in more than 10,000 American companies in 500 US cities in 45 states. Another thousand English-speaking Russian entrepreneurs trained in CCI’s Economic Development Program (EDP) from 1989 to 1997. The US has used the EDP model in other former states of the USSR.

CCI’s 5,000 alumni form the nucleus of the new Association of Entrepreneurs for Honest Business – an effort several years in the making. Tennison says: “I've been obsessed with bribe-taking from Russia’s grassroots businesses, because it is suffocating the normal development of small business. Small business owners bemoan this plague endlessly, but have felt totally helpless to address it openly, since their businesses could be shut down overnight by local authorities.”

She adds, “It’s been every Russian entrepreneur for themselves, unlike in other countries with different histories. Complicating the situation is the fact that there is no history of uniting for effecting change in Russia. Those who tried in the past paid for it in the gulags or with their lives. A second complication is that during those times, Russians developed deep fear of one another, not knowing if their next-door neighbor would inform on them. This lack of trust among Russian citizens, combined with their lack of experience with uniting, casts a long shadow into Russia’s Business Life Today”

Transparency International, a highly respected non-governmental organization, reported that in 2002 companies in Russia were more likely to pay bribes to officials than in any other emerging market country in the world. According to Russian entrepreneurs, last year corruption cost businesses US$ 36 billion, or between 10 and 12% of gross domestic product. Bribes made up about 10 percent of the cost of all business transactions in Russia. Individuals paid about $2.8 billion in bribes, generally in order to procure "free" government services such as health care or access to education. The Moscow Times says small business disproportionately bears the brunt of red tape and corrupt officialdom. For big business, the paper says, “corruption may be an irritant, but for (small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) it´s a matter of life or death.”

But now, Tennison says, “The years of fearful compliance with forces beyond their control have begun to give way to a modicum of hope. Russia’s small business owners say they can ‘feel the wind blowing from the top’’. President Putin, whom most of them trust, has come out on their side, warning bureaucrats that corruption can’t coexist with a healthy economy and if they don’t change, then change will come from above.”

Earlier this year, CCI arranged for 100 of its 5,000 alumni to study the world’s experience in reducing corruption. In Washington DC, they held 55 meetings with the world’s experts in this field. Thirteen Embassies of countries with the best anti-corruption records trained the Russians, and international agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided methodologies successfully used by other countries.

The alumni’s ‘Recommendations to President’ were delivered to Putin’s Economic Advisor, Andre Illarionov, in the Kremlin. Illaronov spent 2.5 hours with these regional entrepreneurs and assured them he would discuss their 33 recommendations with the President. Then he urged them to go back to their regions, unite, create a bold website and use their voices to enlist other entrepreneurs in their struggle.

Bolstered by this high-level moral support, the CCI alumni returned to their regions, organized press conferences with local journalists, held roundtables with district and regional officials, and began the work of uniting themselves locally. In June they convened a second brainstorm to determine their nationwide work, and on September 25, had their Bylaws ready to legalize and register as a new non-commercial association.

The director of the new association is Nonna Barkhatova, a woman who founded and operates a successful small business development center in Novosibirsk, and is the city's best-known supporter of small business development. The new Chair of the Board is Andrei Davidovich, an entrepreneur who built a marketing company from scratch, and now has affiliates in several Russian cities. Tennison describes him as “a highly respected entrepreneur who advocates refusing to pay bribes in all circumstances. Just say NO, is his watchword”, she says. The new association is buttressed by several strong supporters, including John Pepper, recently retired CEO of Procter & Gamble, who is the Honorary Co-chair of the Association.

The Association’s immediate next steps are: creating public awareness, drafting legislation, engaging local officials on these issues, spearheading a national membership campaign, and lobbying all levels of officialdom for change

Tennison is optimistic about the association’s future. “These dynamic young entrepreneurs have trained in business sectors throughout the US, and have seen for themselves the market advantages of uniting for change. Now they are adapting it to Russia’s environment. An uphill climb is ahead, but this association is already a movement in motion. Its volunteers are unstoppable,” she says.

The value of volunteers is underscored by Dr. Jack N. Behrman, emeritus professor of International Business and Ethics at the University of North Carolina School of Business -- and founder and former Chairman of the volunteer MBA Enterprise Corps. Behrman says his studies “show that volunteer action is one of the most effective means of curtailing corruption in both government and business.” Volunteer action “demonstrates that there is grass-roots concern and that the damage is pervasive. Countries where corruption is rife remain on the lower rungs of development, and begin to progress to the degree that they curtail or eliminate it.”

A study by Marek Hessel and Ken Murphy for Transparency International concludes: “Corruption frequently ‘works’ only for those who receive bribes... Corruption breeds on itself: it gives the bureaucrats powerful incentives not only to keep inefficient rules in place (so that they can take more bribes and pass them about the office) but to multiply such rules.”

The new association hopes to turn the tide.

Friday, October 29, 2004

After Arafat, Upheaval

By David Ignatius
Washington Post
Friday, October 29

For more than 30 years, Yasser Arafat has symbolized the Age of Immobilism in Arab politics. The goal of leaders from Rabat to Baghdad was survival, and whatever their nominal ideology, their real object was to maintain the status quo. And until Sept. 11, the United States -- as adept as the Arabs at status-quo politics -- fit right in.

This week's news that Arafat is seriously ill is a reminder that Arabs are entering a new era. The icebergs that have frozen Arab political life are breaking up. That melting of the status quo may sound liberating, but a turbulent passage lies ahead. Even Arafat, for all his iconic status as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, hasn't been able to cope with the forces of change.

I first interviewed Arafat in 1981 at his headquarters in Beirut. He arrived after 1 a.m., as was his habit, surrounded by gun-toting aides. Looking back, what's striking is how much of the conversation could have taken place this year. Arafat had spent that day juggling political pressures from different Arab regimes; he talked with me about peace plans, but always with caveats; he sought to woo U.S. support, rather than negotiate openly with Israel. "We are not the red Indians," he told me, using a phrase he has probably repeated a thousand times since.

Summarizing that interview, I wrote that Arafat had learned an unfortunate lesson: "It is much easier to stand still than to try to move forward." That could be the epitaph for a whole generation of Arab leaders. With the connivance of the United States, and with the permanent excuse of the Arab-Israeli conflict, they clung to the status quo year after year, decade after decade.

America's invasion of Iraq shattered the status quo -- toppling Saddam Hussein, the cruelest symbol of the Age of Immobilism. The Bush administration had concluded that the status quo was deadly -- for Americans and Israelis, and most of all for the Arab people. The idea was to open the door to what I described optimistically in my prewar columns as "the Arab future."

The past 20 months have been a painful education in how violent and unpredictable those forces of change can be. But the turmoil sweeping Iraq is driven by forces much deeper and more powerful than a hatred of America. We have become an object of that rage for change, but we didn't create it. Nor should we necessarily want to stop it.

Hussein, like Arafat, was a cap on a bottle that was ready to explode. Because the United States chose to pry it off in Iraq, it has gotten caught by the percussion. President Bush's decision to force open the bottle may prove as unwise as kicking over a bee's nest. But Sept. 11 showed that the violence of the Islamic world was coming to America anyway.

What will follow the politics of immobilism? The only certainty is that it will be messy. The Arab world is in a period of revolutionary turmoil; the best analogy I've heard recently is to 1848 -- the year that Europe was swept by a vortex of revolution and rage. The anarchy was contained, mostly from a distance, by the leading status-quo power of the time, Britain. But what really stabilized Europe was that revolutionary France, the nation that had set the turmoil in motion, gradually came of age and became a status-quo power itself.

That may be the best we can hope for in the Arab world: It is finally living its own history. The process of change will be violent and will almost certainly be accompanied by a virulent anti-Americanism. The United States, unfortunately, will remain a target for decades. But if America and its allies are sensible, the Muslim world could evolve as 19th-century Europe did, toward modern and democratic nations.

Americans will vote Tuesday as if their decisions could alter this violent history. It's an important election, to be sure, because it could determine whether the United States struggles alone to contain the Islamic volcano or does so in concert with its European allies. But it's a mistake to think that either candidate can change the forces that are loose in the Islamic world. We are on the roller coaster of history now; there's no easy exit.

Arafat has been a symbolic figure of the era that is passing, because he managed to stay so long on the lip of the volcano. But even he could not contain the eruption. It's coming, and the job for wise leaders is to channel the flow and avoid getting burned.

Friday, October 22, 2004


The article below was written by an old friend and colleague, Jack N. Behrman. Dr. Behrman served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Domestic and International Business during the Kennedy Administration. He is Luther Hodges Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina Business School, and the author of more than a score of books and articles.

By Jack N. Behrman

A sage once said: "Be careful who you choose for your enemy, for you will become like them." George W. Bush has almost completely copied the very aspects of the "Axis of Evil" that he has most forcefully criticized and asserted that he would eradicate. The list includes at a minimum the following orientations, actions, and policies:

Bush has sought to extend the influence and control of the U.S. into and over foreign countries -- just as he has criticized others for seeking to impose their will abroad.

For example, criticism of Putin in Chechnya.

As Emperors have in the past, he brooks no criticism, avers that he is following God's will, states that he makes decisions by "instinct", and demands complete and unfailing loyalty from all--"if you are not with me, you are against me"; "criticism is unpatriotic".

His Administration is the most secretive and undemocratic of any in the history of the country -- while he criticizes the lack of public information in other countries.

He has protected his "cronies" and "loyal followers" from oversight and prosecution and extended benefits and favors to them directly and indirectly --while criticizing other national leaders for doing the same.

His policies are the most divisive we have seen in the past century -- setting rich against the poor and middle class, the "have mores" against the "have less or none", and religious (fundamentalists) against the moderates and secularists.

He has injected religious "faith" into politics and government policy, while demanding that the religious leaders abroad accept "democracy".

He has, despite his criticism of others, sought to change the culture of peoples by force -- as did Stalin, Mao, and Saddam -- and worse, in foreign countries, where his leadership (authority) has no legitimacy.

He has followed the Dictators of the past (and present) in becoming arrogant, repressive, and protective of corruption. These qualities brought down the Shah of Iran; Iranians averred that they could accept two but not all three.

He has relaxed environmental and business regulation through little funding support while claiming to be in favor of environmental protection.

He has permitted those who countenanced torture of prisoners -- acts which he has criticized in the "Axis of Evil" -- to remain in office while urging Human Rights worldwide.

He has weakened the value of the dollar by extensive borrowing and permitting vast expansion of credit in the country -- similar to Russia, Mexico, and Argentina, which he has criticized.

He manipulated the past presidential election and is seeking to do the same by various means in the present election -- similar to the tactics criticized as undemocratic and fraudulent in other countries.

He has isolated himself and his Administration--as Castro, Mao, Kim Il-jung, Stalin (et al) have done--from traditional allies and become a pariah in intergovernmental organizations.

He has practiced deception by claiming to offer "compassionate conservatism" and to heal the divisions in the country while doing the opposite.

He has claimed to be supportive of the aged but has provided bonanzas to the pharmaceutical industry while letting the cost of health assistance rise and coverage fall.

He has sought to cow the media and the Congress -- as in Russia, China, and other authoritarian governments -- again insisting on unthinking loyalty to his positions, rejecting and silencing critical assessments by others.

He claims to be seeking freedom for others while damping it in the U.S., expecting citizens to be non-critical. Yet, as another sage said: "The only thing that freedom-loving people have to do to lose their freedom is to keep silent." The U.S. is losing its freedom rapidly as Bush seeks to run over and silence criticism at home and abroad.

Saturday, October 16, 2004


Jeff Merriam is a friend and a fellow international development professional. He sends a daily e-letter to a group of his friends. This is what he wrote on the subject of WMDs.

By Jeff Merriam

Did anyone watch the debate? Score another win for the challenger. It’s nice to know that the president is not worried about Osama; that would explain why he concentrated his efforts in fighting terrorism in a country that had no terrorist ties to Osama. Clarity on that topic proves less than reassuring.

So let’s ask the hypothetical question, just to expand our minds and sensibilities, what if Bush had continued to track Osama using the full power of our military? Let’s say we had 100,000 troops in Wazieristan and Afghanistan combing through every cave complex and cattle yard. Would the junior Senator from the great state of Minnesota being telling his staff to stay away from Capital Hill between now and the election? Would we have caught the slime ball? Maybe not, but I bet you that people would be feeling a hell of lot more faith in the whole homeland security apparatus. I’ll bet Al Quaeda would be considerably less organized. I bet Bush would look better in the polls.

And what if, just what if there had been weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Let’s just say we found big juicy missiles full of bio-toxins and an active nuclear program. What if the idiots in the White House actually knew what they were talking about on that score? Would the still blow the occupation with their arrogance? Would they get and destroy all the WMD before the bad guys found a way to use it against our troops or Israel? Think about it, if the Iraqis had WMD wouldn’t they have used them? Wouldn’t more American kids be dead and dying than the horrible numbers we have now?

There were caches of conventional arms found all over Iraq by our troops, but they were so busy racing to Baghdad to get the bad guys that they failed to destroy those caches. Now the bad guys are using those left behind rocket launchers and AK-47s. Can you imagine what a mess the region might be if there really were WMD? Think about Israel getting hit by nerve gas and maybe a small nuclear device in central Tel Aviv? Would our attack tactics have been different? Would we have stopped and destroyed the WMD before we moved on?

What difference would finding WMD meant to the occupation and post war mess? Little or no difference at all. Bush would be vindicated for his attack, but the administration still totally blew the occupation, and, by the way continues to blow it. I think the major difference is that the insurgents would have some nasty weapons that they do not now have. Numbers of deaths from car and suicide bombing would be in the hundreds and not in the tens. In other words, even if Bush was right about WMD we would be up to our neck in dead bodies. I don’t even think Bush would have the time to smugly tell the world, “You see, I told you Iraq was a threat.” He would have to add, “Heck it still is.” Think about it: what if the insurgents had missiles that could travel 1000 miles. They would be falling on Haifa, Rijad, Adana, and who knows where else.

Now the super leap in logic: what would happen if the neo-conservatives actually listened to the people that new piddly-squat about the Middle East and a) put in enough troops, b) put together a sufficient international coalition, c) recognized the need for nation building and made plans to do it, d) did not make Sadr into a martyr, e) retained the good offices of civil servants and members of the military to help run the country and maintain the peace, and f) put Chalabi behind bars where he belongs? What are the chances that someone would have gotten all of these things right you ask? Actually very high, because a number of people suggested these elements be included in the strategy. But that doesn’t answer the question. Assume also that they actually understood what they were doing. Would there still be an insurgency? Yes, there would, but it would be considerably smaller and less effective. It would probably be contained in Baghdad and Fuluja and the acts would have a frequency of a couple a week instead of five to ten a day.

What if instead of an American force there had been a legitimate multi-national, UN sanctioned peacekeeping force on the ground headed by the US? Would we need as many troops? Would frustrated unemployed youth see the US as the big invader, or would they recognize the multinational force as a liberator? I suspect they would resent anyone that came in to “keep the peace.”

So what exactly does all this mean? It means the fundamental mistake in this whole situation was going to war in the first place. Had there been weapons of mass destruction, the casualty levels would be ten fold what they are now. Had there been an international coalition, there still would have been some form of insurgency. The resentment in the Muslim world towards the US and the West would be only marginally less pronounced. Bottom line: this was a stupid war from day one. Even if everything were done right we still would be in the midst of a quagmire. That the Bush Administration bollixed the situation so badly can only be judged the carnage that rains down on the country every day.

We should have stuck around Afghanistan and found the bad guys there. The world supported us in doing that. Instead we have a possible Code Orange, or even Code Red time up for us in the next week or so because of the elections correlating with the Bush Administrations poor record on both homeland security (look at the budget numbers) and fight against international terrorism. What if we caught Osama? I suspect that it wouldn’t bring Al Quaeda toppling down, and I would be willing to bet cash money that there would be reprisals during the first couple of weeks until the system either created a new leader or simply petered out. But we don’t know because we shifted resources to a pet project of a bunch of arrogant, poorly informed, misguided, partisan, true believers.

Why did we go into Iraq? What the hell motivated such a stupid departure from the actual war on terrorism? If the presence of WMD would have just made the situation worse, what the hell were we thinking?

That’s right Dude, I got to thinking. Why should we settle for a measly 20,000 when we can have the whole million?

It comes back to Bush’s fervent belief that God, of all entities, put him on earth for a purpose and that purpose was to make the Middle East democratic. God did put Bush on this earth for a purpose, in fact there were two purposes; first, to take the mantle of the worst US President from the shoulders of Millard Fillmore, and second, to get John Kerry elected.


Bush's Re-Election Would Doom Moderate Republicans

The article below was written by Michael Cudahy ( Mr. Cudahy is a political writer and analyst from Massachusetts. He was a former national campaign staff member for President George H.W. Bush, Executive Director for Elliot Richardson's Committee for Responsible Government, and National Communications Director for the Republican Coalition for Choice. His article is reproduced with his permission.

By Michael Cudahy

If President George W. Bush is reelected, the direction of the Republican Party is likely to undergo a massive and fundamental shift. Long-held principles of liberty, integrity and respect for human rights -- established by Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower -- could be relegated to the pages of history books.

Should the president win reelection we could see national identity cards, a continuation of irresponsible fiscal policies, and a foreign policy that rejects a decades long respect for multilateralism. These are positions that have defined the party for the better part of the 20th century and are deserving of this president’s consideration.

Ironically, the decision rests in the hands of the centrist or “moderate” wing of the Republican Party -- the very people whose values will be devalued if this administration is permitted another four years in office. Representing only 18-20% of registered Republicans nationwide, they are in a position to supply Democrat John Kerry with the 3-5% points he needs to win an extremely close presidential election.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush mesmerized many of his party’s centrist members with talk of “compassionate conservatism,” and a desire for bipartisanship cooperation.

“President Bush’s rhetoric during the 2000 campaign held the promise for a significant change of direction,” said Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI). “There was a strong bipartisan desire for mutual respect and cooperation -- for the good of the country. We were exhausted by the bitter partisan infighting, but this administration’s behavior has only made the problem worse.”

“We are seeing policy initiatives that are diametrically opposed to the promises we heard four years ago,” Chafee says. “The president is advancing an extreme agenda that rejects everything from worldwide environmental cooperation to the banning of access to abortions for service members overseas."

“Moderates were in a position to provide significant assistance to this president,” says Chafee. "Sadly, he chose a different direction."

The question that needs to be addressed is the commitment and courage of rank and file Republican centrists. Are they prepared to overthrow the neo-conservative Republicans that betrayed President George H.W. Bush in 1992, or has their will been broken by the strong-arm tactics of the last 12 years?

“The problem with moderates,” says Ann Stone Chairman of Republicans for Choice, “is that they are so moderate, so civil, and generally so silent. Nonetheless,” Stone says, “only 38% of her membership will be supporting President Bush.”

In talking with Republican activists who have consistently supported moderate positions for decades, I discovered that none were willing to speak on the record. To a person they are intimidated by the extremely personal and well organized attacks by members of the Bush administration’s political operation.

"When I talk anecdotally to moderate Republicans, it's very hard to find one who is going to vote for Bush,” said John Zogby, president and CEO of the polling firm Zogby International, in an interview with "On the other hand, it's not showing up in our polling." In fact, Zogby's latest polls show 87 percent of Republicans backing Bush. "I'm just watching and waiting and saying to myself maybe there's something going on here, because I'm hearing it."

Consequently, it is hard to understand why respected and visible moderate Republican leaders like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator John McCain, and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani went to such lengths at the Republican Convention in New York to provide President Bush with important political cover. It is particularly difficult to understand when this administration has done virtually nothing to support their concerns.

While some political analysts suggest it is a strategy to reestablish influence for the centrist Republican agenda, other observers question whether the benefits will be worth the price.

“A second Bush term would be a disaster for American women,” said, Evelyn Becker Deputy Communications Director at NARAL. “We would see an effort to pack the U.S. Supreme Court with ultraconservative justices in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, as well as continued and aggressive legislative moves to limit women’s access to birth control, proper family planning and health care services,” she said.

The November election will also decide other major legislative battles critical to party moderates. We are certain to see the Bush administration set new standards in partisan politics. This extreme behavior could precipitate a serious economic crisis, as a result of irresponsible tax policies and out of control government spending, while threatening the American tradition of free speech with measures such as the USA Patriot Act.

We will find out in a few short weeks whether Republican moderates can be bought off by the occasional bone and a seat at the children’s table, or whether they will regain their voice and become major players in setting the party’s political agenda for future generations.


By William Fisher

Margaret Carlson of TIME magazine, who describes herself as “a product of the (Catholic) School of the Good Shepherd outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania”, writes in the Los Angeles Times that she finds it “jarring” that “the word ‘lesbian’ still leaps out in the middle of a presidential debate.”

It may be “jarring” to Ms. Carlson, but the more important point is that it is totally irrelevant to one’s choice for president.

Meanwhile, an editorial in the Raleigh (North Carolina) News and Observer congratulates Messrs. Bush and Kerry for giving the American people “a series of informative and energetic dialogues”. The paper concludes that “if all Americans were to case their votes for president based on what they had an opportunity to learn in the three presidential debates, that final choice would represent the consensus of an educated, enlightened electorate – something that would be healthy, indeed.”

Allow me to demur. The exquisitely negotiated minuet as to format and ground rules for these debates virtually guaranteed the triumph of sound bites over substance. These ensured that voters would never hear enough about any single issue to be even minimally informed.

Worse, in two of the three debates, the questions put to the candidates were written by the debate moderators. In the middle debate, the so-called Town Hall format, voters submitted the questions and the moderators selected which ones to ask.

So, while we now know what the moderators think is important, the debates and the debaters remained silent on some of the most important issues facing the US. One such issue is the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, only briefly mentioned in passing; a second is Abu Ghraib and related prisoner abuses issues – not mentioned at all; a third is reform of our intelligence community, counter-terrorism policy, homeland security and the impact of these issues on American civil liberties.

John Kerry well knows – and has said so on other occasions – that the road to peace in the Middle East runs not through Baghdad but through Jerusalem. It can only be viewed as a lesson in Pandering 101 that he never mentioned – and the president never had to defend -- his outrageous and unproductive positions on this issue. The President needed to be held accountable for abdicating responsibility for addressing this issue with energy, consistency and imagination, and personal involvement. And candidate Kerry failed to do so.

Mr. Kerry also failed to mention the prisoner abuse scandal and the role it has played in the collapse of American credibility around the world. He knows that, contrary to the President’s unconscionable spin on this issue, these bestial acts were far from the work of ‘a few bad apples’. He knows that the CIA is being investigated for, as a Washington Post editorial put it, “introducing abusive interrogation techniques into Iraq and illegally hiding prisoners from the International Red Cross.” He knows that a major Pentagon investigation of how US interrogation policies spread through Afghanistan and Iraq was to be released by the end of September, but has yet to appear. And he knows that a panel appointed by the Pentagon found responsibility for prisoner abuse at senior levels of the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the White House, and that no one in the Bush Administration has yet been held accountable.

In the final debate, Mr. Kerry excoriated the president for failing to inspect 95% of the millions of freight containers that enter US ports each year, and for inspecting airline luggage but not airfreight. But he left unaddressed the issues of a gigantic, under-funded mega-bureaucracy known as the Department of Homeland Security; an intelligence community whose long-overdue reform was initially opposed by the president; a Justice Department that took 5,000 people into custody and convicted no one; and a truly sinister piece of legislation passed by the House of Representatives that would facilitate even more secretive detentions and deportations – including deportations of asylum-seekers to countries where they would likely face torture. If less draconian and more effective legislation is to emerge, the thanks will go not to Senator Kerry, or to the president, but to the 9/11 Commission and to the boundless energy and determination of the 9/11 survivors’ families.

That the candidates shared the same stage was good. That what we saw and heard could be called ‘debates’ is arguable. That the result was likely to produce anything like “an educated, enlightened electorate” is delusional.

Monday, October 11, 2004

FROM PROF. JUAN COLE: Bombs in Taba, Multan, Baghdad Signal Failure of War on Terror

The article below appeared on Prof. Juan Cole's website ( Friday, October 8, 2004. It is reproduced here with Prof. Cole's permission.

Three major bombs went off between the Nile and the Indus rivers on Thursday. Do they have anything in common, and what do they tell us about the world that Bush has made?

In Baghdad, guerrillas fired Katyusha rockets into the Sheraton Hotel, frequented by foreign contractors. They don't appear to have killed anyone, but we may be assured that they succeeded in their aim of scaring at least some of the contractors away from investing in the new Iraq.

In Multan, a Pakistani city in southern Punjab with a rich Shiite heritage, an unknown group attacked a gathering of radical Sunni Muslims early on Thursday with a car bomb, killing 40 and wounding dozens. The group, Millat-i Islamiyyah, had been known as the Sipah-i Sahabah or The Army of the Prophet's Companions of the Prophet. It was commemorating the death of its leader, Maulana Azam Tariq. The Army of the Prophet's Companions originated as an anti-Shiite organization in Jhang Siyal, an area of northern Punjab long dominated by wealthy Shiite landowners, often from Sufi lineages, but which Azam took over. It developed a death squad arm and assassinated Shiites. It allied with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and received training in al-Qaeda terror camps. Yet Maulana Tariq Azam, although briefly arrested, had been allowed by military dictator Pervez Musharraf to sit in the Pakistani parliament until Azam's assassination last year.

The bombing in Multan almost certainly comes in revenge for the explosion at a Shiite mosque in Sialkot only a few days earlier, and signals that the long-running conflict between radical Sunni Muslim groups with al-Qaeda ties and radical Shiite groups aligned with Tehran is heating up.

At the Egyptian resort town of Taba, car bombs collapsed ten floors of the Hilton Hotel, as well as hitting less upscale backpacker resorts. They killed at least 35 and wounded at least 160. (Unfortunately, the toll is likely to rise as bodies are pulled from rubble). A spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization said that the bombings were not the work of Palestinian organizations, which where committed to waging their struggle in Palestine rather than abroad. Israeli officials speculated that the attacks were the work of al-Qaeda. The organization's number two man had called recently in a videotape for those countries to be punished, that supported Israel, and Egypt has long been blamed in this regard.

The bombings at Taba almost certainly came in response to Israeli military actions in Gaza, which targeted militants who had fired many rockets into Israel but killed many civilians. The UN Security Council was unanimous in condemning the indiscriminate Israeli attacks, except for the US, which vetoed a resolution supported by virtually all the other countries in the world.

If we analyze these violent, destabilizing attacks, one thing becomes abundantly clear: The Bush administration is losing the war on terror. If, 3 years after September 11, Ayman al-Zawahiri can arrange for al-Qaeda to blow up yet another building, this time in Egypt, killing scores, that is a sign of failure. If an al-Qaeda-aligned group like the Army of the Prophet's Companions is permitted by the Pakistani state to gather freely in Multan, to blow up Shiite mosques, and to incur a violent Shiite counter-strike, that is a sign of failure. If radical Sunni groups, or ex-Baathists aligned with them, are able at will to fire Katyusha rockets into the Baghdad Sheraton at a time when the US has militarily occupied Iraq, that is a sign of failure.

By taking his eye off the ball and failing to finish the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bush perpetuated dangerous instability in South Asia. By giving in to the Likud Party's aggressive settlement of the West Bank and encroachment on Palestinians there, which end any chance of a Palestinian state ever being established--and by failing to pursue a just peace that would bestow security on both Israelis and Palestinians-- Bush perpetuated dangerous instability and virulent anti-Americanism in the Mideast. By creating a failed state in Iraq, and mismanaging the aftermath of the war so as to allow the rise of an audacious guerrilla war there, Bush perpetuated dangerous instability in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. All three bombings on Thursday spoke eloquently of the Bush administration's failure to create a safer world with less terrorism.

The Bush administration announced a "war on terror" in fall of 2001, but it has never been clear what exactly a war on terror was. Terror is not itself a concrete enemy. It is a tactic. As horrible as the tactic of inflicting deliberate harm on noncombatants is, it has been widely used in world history in all sorts of struggles. Warring on a tactic is a meaningless phrase.

The actual wars fought by the Bush administration have only been two. The first was against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, with mixed results. The Taliban regime was overthrown, but Afghanistan was not substantially rebuilt and remains unstable. The top leadership of al-Qaeda escaped capture and has continued to encourage terrorist actions. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two man in the organization, is said to have suggested the bombings in Istanbul last winter, and is probably behind Taba.

The second was against the Baath regime in Iraq. It was not a purveyor of anti-American international terrorism and was so weak and ramshackle as to pose no conceivable threat to the United States. That war was won handily, but the subsequent guerrilla war and political struggle continues and appears to be growing in scope and influence. Bush opened the floodgates to terrorism in Iraq.

This is a poor record for Bush to run on. Half of Afghanistan's gross national product derives from opium sales, creating the threat of major narco-terrorism. The Taliban are resurgent in some Pushtun areas of the south. The Afghan vice president was nearly assassinated earlier this week. National parliamentary elections were postponed nearly a year and only a presidential election is being held on Saturday.

Usamah Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are at large, along with several other important leaders. Worse, al-Qaeda has morphed into a headless set of asymmetrical terrorist organizations, such as the Fizazi group based at al-Quds mosque in Tangiers, which hit both Casablanca and Madrid.

The Bush administration thinks the problem is rogue states. But the real problem is radical terrorist groups. Bush has done all too little about the latter. Most of the al-Qaeda officials captured have been taken by the Pakistani military, so that this vital task has actually been outsourced. But where the Pakistani military wants to coddle an al-Qaeda-linked group, like the Army of the Prophet's Companions, it does, and Bush seems too weak to stop it. Bush and Cheney want now to overthrow Syria and Iran, pushing them into the sort of instability we have seen in Iraq.

If you were a company that brought in terror consultants to work on this problem, and after 3 years you saw the sort of results we saw on Thursday, would you really rehire them?

Saturday, October 09, 2004


By William Fisher

As one key provision of the USA Patriot Act -- a central plank of the Bush Administration's war on terror -- was being ruled unconstitutional, the US House of Representatives was using the reform of the country’s intelligence community as a vehicle for enacting parts of Patriot Act II “by stealth”.

Intelligence reform was a principal recommendation of the so-called 9/11 Commission, and the Senate last week passed bipartisan legislation that closely followed the Commission’s recommendations. But the House version added a number of new provisions that critics say are actually elements of a ‘Patriot II’ proposal. Many observers feel the House and Senate versions of the intelligence reform legislation are too far apart to be reconciled by a House-Senate conference committee.

For example, the House bill includes an amendment to allow the government to detain foreign terror suspects and deport them to countries known to practice detainee torture once the State Department had received assurances that they would not be harmed by those countries.

Representative John Hostettler, Republican of Indiana, author of the amendment, said his measure would “protect the American people from dangerous aliens while continuing our nation's proud history of providing refuge for the innocent." But a fellow Republican, Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, said the bill would "erect a number of brand-new barriers to asylum claims" and would result in "bona fide refugees being returned to their persecutors."

Human Rights Watch, a Washington-based advocacy group, said it believes that many aspects of the House legislation “raise serious human rights concerns.” The measure “undercuts US commitments to vulnerable populations, and it does so disingenuously by dressing up its proposals in the language of terrorism, when in fact many of its provisions have nothing to do with terrorism. Instead, the bill will put populations of immigrants, such as refugees and persons without any links to terrorism, at risk of serious abuse.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also expressed alarm regarding the amendments that “create 23 new federal death penalties and to amend the deportation provisions of the Patriot Act…” These amendments “additionally detract from the findings of the 9/11 Commission and expand Patriot Act powers and further scapegoat immigrants.”

Other human rights advocates such as Human Rights First said the deportation provision “contradicts pledges President Bush made after the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal erupted this spring that the United States would stand behind the U.N. Convention Against Torture.” They say it could result in the torture of hundreds of people now held in the United States who could be sent to such countries as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan and Pakistan, all of which have dubious human rights records.

The House deportation provision would in effect provide statutory authority to a practice already widely used by such agencies as the CIA. Known as ‘extreme rendition’, it involves turning people in CIA custody over to countries whose prisons are known to engage in torture. At present, such acts of ‘extreme rendition’ are carried out under the authority of a Presidential order, known as a ‘finding’. The last such order was signed by President Bill Clinton. The CIA claims it receives assurances from the receiving countries that prisoners will not be abused.

Since the September 11th 2001 attacks, the CIA’s use of this and related practices has become far more widespread, according to CIA testimony before Congress. As reported by ‘The Washington Post’, former CIA Director George J. Tenet, testifying earlier this year before the commission investigating the September 11th attacks, said the agency participated in more than 70 renditions in the years before the attacks. In 1999 and 2000 alone, the ‘Post’ said, “the CIA and FBI participated in two dozen renditions.”

A number of those deported allege they were tortured while in detention in other countries and are now suing the US government.

For example, a Canadian computer engineer, Maher Arar, was taken into custody at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport after arriving on a flight from Tunisia. He was deported to Syria, the country of his birth, and charges he was tortured for the ten months he was imprisoned there. He is suing the US Government, and the Canadian Government has also launched an inquiry. The US Department of Justice claims his deportation was legal and justified. However, he was never charged with any crime, either in the US or in Syria.

In another similar CIA action, the CIA and Swedish security forces allegedly kidnapped two Egyptian nationals who were seeking asylum in Sweden, flew them in a CIA-chartered aircraft back to Egypt, where they were imprisoned and say they were tortured. One man was released without charge after almost a year in detention; the second was tried by an Egyptian military court and sentenced to 25 years in prison. The ‘rendition’ charge, made by a program on Swedish television, is being investigated by the Swedish Government.

The House debate took place soon after a Federal judge struck down one of the key provisions of the USA Patriot Act – the legal centerpiece of the Bush Administration’s war on terror. US District Judge Victor Marreo ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which challenged the power the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to use the Act to demand confidential financial records from companies without court approval as part of terrorism investigations. The ACLU brought the suit against the Government in cooperation with its New York City affiliate.

The ruling, the first to reject any of the new surveillance powers authorized by the Patriot Act, struck down Section 505 of the law on grounds that it violates free speech rights under the First Amendment to the US Constitution, as well as the right to be free from unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment. The Patriot Act also bars companies and other recipients of subpoenas from revealing that they received the FBI demand for records. Judge Marreo held that this permanent ban was a violation of free speech rights.

"Today’s ruling is a wholesale refutation of excessive government secrecy and unchecked executive power," said ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer. "As this decision suggests, certain provisions of the Patriot Act should never have been enacted in the first place."

The ruling was the second blow to the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies. In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that terror suspects being held in U.S. facilities like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a right to use the American judicial system to challenge their confinement. That ruling was a defeat for the president's assertion of sweeping powers to hold ‘enemy combatants’ indefinitely after the September 11th 2001 attacks.

However, it is well known the Justice Department wants to expand the powers it gained under the original Patriot Act, which was passed with little debate in the chaotic days following the 9/11 attacks.

The 2001 Patriot Act gave the government authority to monitor phones or computers used by a suspect or target of a special Justice Department warrant; increased information sharing between domestic law enforcement and intelligence; allowed evidence gathered during espionage wiretaps to be used in criminal prosecutions; allowed the detention of non-citizens for seven days without formal charges; and broadened domestic terrorism to include attempting to change the "policy of the government by intimidation or coercion."

Patriot Act II, known as the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, has never been introduced in the Congress. However, a leaked Justice Department draft seeks further expansion of surveillance and prosecutorial powers, including secret arrests and detentions, and increased power to issue top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrants to include US citizens suspected of terrorist activities.

After September 11th, the Justice Department adapted the government's power to detain before trial material witnesses to a crime in order to hold hundreds of Muslims for extended periods without charges, although few ultimately faced prosecution over anything more serious than immigration violations.

One of these was a Portland, Oregon, lawyer, Brian Mayfield, 38, a Muslim-American, who was jailed for several weeks as a material witness because the FBI erroneously said his fingerprint was found on a backpack used by terrorists in the Madrid train bombing. The Justice Department apologized to Mayfield, but he is now suing them.


By William Fisher

American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons is published by University of California Press, Berkeley 94704, California, USA, 2004. (

"Long before Abu Ghraib, and even before September 11, detainees in America's immigration prisons were being stripped, beaten, and sexually abused.”

This is the view of author Mark Dow, whose book ‘American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons’ paints a chilling picture of the highly secretive prison system run by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). CIS was formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and is now part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Dow, a journalist and former teacher at the INS detention center in Miami, has spent years interviewing inmates, guards, and officials at that and the many other INS/CIS detention centers. He charges that detainees “are being routinely deprived of the most basic civil rights.”

He writes, “In its new home at the DHS, “The secretive immigration prison world is likely to be pulled even further from public scrutiny.” He adds: “That high levels of government are aware of the situation is clear. FBI whistle-blower agent Colleen Rowley expressed concern over the pressure from FBI offices to round up Arabs in order to fill the detention centers.”

Dow cites a newsletter from the Justice Department: “An alien's constitutional status in this country might be something that the government can use when an alien detainee challenges his or her treatment in detention.“ He says he finds this “astonishing, and disturbing, because it tells me that high-ranking Justice Department officials know about the treatment of these detainees, but instead of trying to do something about the conditions, they're looking for a way to justify those conditions.”

Since September 11, US immigration policy has become far more stringent, targeting Arab, Muslim, and South Asian foreign nationals. “Attorney General John Ashcroft has repeatedly used the term ‘terrorist’ to describe detainees, “when he was certainly in a position to know that they were not terrorists.”

In fact, Dow writes, most had overstayed their visas, which could get them deported, but which is not a crime. Immigration law is not part of the US criminal justice system – which gives the INS virtually unlimited scope to hold people indefinitely, without charge, without access to attorneys, and without public disclosure.

Dow’s book describes a chamber of horrors that followed the 9/11 tragedy and the sweeping round-up of Arabs and Muslims.

Egyptian detainees held in Alabama go on a hunger strike. A Palestinian is transferred from jail to jail to keep him from contacting the media. He is told by INS officials that a condition of his release is that he cannot speak to the media about his case. If he does, they will lock him up again. An Egyptian man is confined for two months before being allowed to call a lawyer. He is given no soap or towels for a week and meanwhile interrogated. He says correctional officers stomped on his bare feet.

A Pakistani in the import export business overstays his five-year renewable visa. Three weeks after 9/11, 25 FBI agents come to his home. With minimal investigation, Dow writes, the ‘case’ evaporated”. His most serious breach of the law was altering the no-work line of his Social Security card.

When the FBI finishes interviewing him, he is told, “We have no problem with you. Now it’s up to the INS if they want to take you or not.” The INS arrests him. They tell his wife she could expect a call from him in four to six hours, and that he would probably be freed on bail and might even get a ‘Green Card’. Bail was never set. Instead, Dow writes: “For the first two months, (he) was moved each week to a new cell, handcuffed and shackled to be moved those few feet. After three weeks, he was allowed to make his first legal phone call. He was kept inside his cell for 24 hours day.” Then he was transferred first to Manhattan and then to Brooklyn. When he arrived in Brooklyn, Dow alleges, ‘seven or eight correctional officers threw him out of the van, dragged him across the floor, and then threw him against a wall…with their full power.” He was injured.

He was charged with altering his social security card, pled guilty and was sentenced to time served. He was deported back to Pakistan in mid-April, 2002, after four months and two days in custody, during which he was denied access to legal help and to his family for weeks.

Dow concludes: The Bush Administration has “exploited our national trauma to extend law enforcement authority, as the long-standing biases within the Justice Department against Muslims and Arabs became politically correct.” None of this, he adds, “has anything to do with immigration…It's simply the result of excessive authority and an obsession with secrecy.”

“Today, the immigration agency holds some 23,000 people in detention on a given day and detains about 200,000 annually. The prisoners are held in the INS’s service processing centers; in local jails; in facilities owned and operated by private companies…and in Bureau of Prisons facilities, including federal penitentiaries. Wherever they are held, INS prisoners are ‘administrative detainees’; they are not serving a sentence…Immigration detainees can be held for days, months, or years…Detainees who came (to the US) from Cuba during the 1980 ‘Mariel boatlift’ are still in detention, despite a US Supreme Court against indefinite detention.” The reason given by INS is that Cuba has refused to take them back.

“Local politicians and business entrepreneurs have taken full advantage of the revenue possibilities in immigration detention”, Dow writes. ”The Federal Government paid New York County $45.00 per detainees per day, although it only cost the prison $24.37 to maintain each prisoner.”

“When detentions increased following the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, private prison profiteers saw another opportunity. The Chairman of the Houston-based Cornell Companies spoke candidly in a conference call with other investors: ‘It can only be good…with the focus on people that are illegal and also from Middle Eastern descent…In the US there are over 900,000 undocumented individuals from Middle Eastern descent…That’s half of our entire prison population…The Federal business is the best business for us…and the events of September 11 (are) increasing that level of business…”

Almost as disturbing is the veil of secrecy surrounding the detention centers, Dow writes. In his investigations, he says he was often prevented from interviewing prisoners, accessing medical records, and looking at immigration guidelines. Dow also found that “INS answers to no one. It eschews formal regulations. There are no monitors or independent watchdogs. Most of what we know about these prisons comes from a handful of journalists, working tirelessly to make public what the INS tries to hide."

Dow adds: “This effort to operate outside the bounds of enforceable law is no accident…“ Attorney General Ashcroft has “likened his new policy of preventative detention to Robert Kennedy’s crackdown on the Mafia, when arrests were made for ‘spitting on the sidewalk’ in order to prevent more serious crimes.”


Thursday, October 07, 2004

Open Letter to President George W. Bush

The letter below was signed by 169 tenured and emeriti professors at U.S. business schools, and delivered to the White House on October 6.

October 4, 2004

Dear Mr. President:

As professors of economics and business, we are concerned that U.S. economic policy has taken a dangerous turn under your stewardship. Nearly every major economic indicator has deteriorated since you took office in January 2001. Real GDP growth during your term is the lowest of any presidential term in recent memory. Total non-farm employment has contracted and the unemployment rate has increased. Bankruptcies are up sharply, as is our dependence on foreign capital to finance an exploding current account deficit. All three major stock indexes are lower now than at the time of your inauguration. The percentage of Americans in poverty has increased, real median income has declined, and income inequality has grown.

The data make clear that your policy of slashing taxes – primarily for those at the upper reaches of the income distribution – has not worked. The fiscal reversal that has taken place under your leadership is so extreme that it would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. The federal budget surplus of over $200 billion that we enjoyed in the year 2000 has disappeared, and we are now facing a massive annual deficit of over $400 billion. In fact, if transfers from the Social Security trust fund are excluded, the federal deficit is even worse – well in excess of a half a trillion dollars this year alone. Although some members of your administration have suggested that the mountain of new debt accumulated on your watch is mainly the consequence of 9-11 and the war on terror, budget experts know that this is simply false. Your economic policies have played a significant role in driving this fiscal collapse. And the economic proposals you have suggested for a potential second term – from diverting Social Security contributions into private accounts to making the recent tax cuts permanent – only promise to exacerbate the crisis by further narrowing the federal revenue base.

These sorts of deficits crowd out private investment and are politically addictive. They also place a heavy burden on monetary policy – and create additional pressure for higher interest rates – by stoking inflationary expectations. If your economic advisers are telling you that these deficits can be defeated through further reductions in tax rates, then you need new advisers. More robust economic growth could certainly help, but nearly every one of your administration’s economic forecasts – both before and after 9-11 – has proved overly optimistic. Expenditure cuts could be part of the answer, but your record so far has been one of increasing expenditures, not reducing them.

What is called for, we believe, is a dramatic reorientation of fiscal policy, including substantial reversals of your tax policy. Running a budget deficit in response to a short bout of recession is one thing. But running large structural deficits over a long period is something else entirely. We therefore urge you to consider the fiscal realities we now face and the substantial burden they are placing on our economy.

We also urge you to consider the distributional consequences of your policies. Under your administration, the income gap between the most affluent Americans and everyone else has widened. Although the latest data reveal that real household incomes have dropped across the board since you took office, low and middle income households have experienced steeper declines than upper income households. To be sure, the general phenomenon of mounting inequality preceded your administration, but it has continued (and, by some accounts, intensified) over the past three and a half years.
Some degree of inequality is inherent in any free market economy, creating positive incentives for economic and technological advancement. But when inequality becomes extreme, it can be socially corrosive and economically dysfunctional. Problems of this sort are visible throughout much of the developing world. At the moment, the most commonly accepted measure of inequality – the so-called Gini coefficient – is far higher in the United States than in any other developed country and is continuing to move upward. We don’t know where the breakpoint is for the U.S., but we would rather not find out. With all due respect, we believe your tax policy has exacerbated the problem of inequality in the United States, which has worrisome implications for the economy as a whole. We very much hope you will take this threat to our nation into account as you consider new fiscal approaches to address the nation’s most pressing economic problems.

Sensible and farsighted economic management requires true discipline, compassion, and courage – not just slogans. Given the tenuous state of the American economy, we believe that the time for an honest assessment of the problem and for genuine corrective action is now. Ignoring the fiscal crisis that has taken hold during your presidency may seem politically appealing in the short run, but we fear it could ultimately prove disastrous. From a policy standpoint, the clear message is that more of the same won’t work. The warning signs are already visible, and it is incumbent upon all of us to pay attention.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


The following article was written by Rami G. Khoury, Executive Editor of The Daily Star newspaper in Beirut. It appeared in the Jordan Times October 5.

American common sense on Iraq Rears its Head

A series of recent developments in Iraq and the United States has suddenly propelled the war in Iraq into a more prominent place within the current American presidential election. The likely impact of this trend, as the situation appears today, would be to improve the prospects of the Democratic candidate John Kerry and weaken the position of President George W. Bush, in relative terms. More importantly, it signals the awakening of a slumbering giant — the common sense of ordinary Americans who resent being taken for a ride.

The reasons for the greater prominence of the Iraq war in the minds of the American electorate revolve around both Kerry's recent performance and events on the ground in Iraq. The former include such factors as Kerry's going on the attack against Bush on the issue of the president's handling of the whole Iraq matter, and particularly making of this a litmus test of the president's judgement and character. This reversed the trend of the previous month, when Bush's attacks succeeded in making Kerry's conduct in the Vietnam war three decades ago the big issue of the moment. Kerry has also prompted many Americans to associate the $200 billion Bush spent on the Iraq war with massive amounts of money that otherwise could have been spent on domestic American needs, including healthcare and education.

The ongoing change in Iraq's place in the presidential election has also reflected the continued deaths of American soldiers almost on a daily basis, and the large-scale assaults by thousands of American troops in places like Samarra. Scenes of daily car bombings that kill scores of Iraqis, along with the recent beheadings of two kidnapped Americans in Iraq, serve to raise new questions about the effectiveness of Washington's Iraq policy among segments of American society.

All of this was accentuated by the first of the three presidential debates last Thursday, which focused on foreign policy issues. Opinion polls released in the past few days indicate that the American public generally saw Kerry as having done a better job in the debate than Bush. The cumulative evidence suggests that more and more Americans are questioning whether their country's military involvement in Iraq is sustainable in the long run, given the rising tide of anti-American attacks in Iraq and the more focused political attacks against Bush at home on the issue of his handling of the war and its aftermath.

My impression during a visit to the US this week and discussions with Americans who closely follow foreign policy issues is that Bush's vulnerabilities on the Iraq war issue are finally becoming more obvious — given the politically deadly combination of the rising tide of violence in Iraq, continuing American deaths and major spending costs there, and a Democratic presidential contender who has finally figured out how to attack the president on this issue.

Iraq on its own is not a big enough issue in the eyes of the average American to cause a majority to vote for Kerry or against Bush. But as the pivot of a series of issues that do impact on the lives of ordinary Americans — economic prospects, the moral character of their president, widespread perceptions of continuing security threats and their nation's derision throughout most of the world — the American adventure in Iraq looms more important in the presidential race than it did at any point during the past year.

The sad aspect of all this, though, is how thin and superficial is the foreign policy debate in the US generally. The president and his political advisers have consistently played on the fears and aftershocks of Sept. 11 among the American public, and they have painted a dramatic but false picture of the world and America's place in it. For the past three years, ordinary Americans who were shocked and bewildered by the attack against them on Sept. 11 have dealt with their very normal concerns largely by accepting both the analytical and emotional approaches that Bush has offered them: the world has changed forever, dangerous and evil people plot widely to attack the US and undermine freedom and Western civilisation, and the only way to stop this is to go on the offensive and fight the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of in New Jersey and Oklahoma.

The events of the past two weeks, with Kerry pulling even with Bush again in the opinion polls of likely voters, suggest that the Bush strategy of playing on the fears of ordinary Americans at home and waging war abroad is being questioned with some seriousness for the first time since Sept. 11. With a month to go before the presidential election, other factors will come into play and determine the winner. In the short run, though, something constructive may be taking place inside the United States, and it is a joy to watch: ordinary citizens are asking more probing questions about the true reasons for, and the full costs and consequences of, their country's policy in Iraq. A democratic system that showed its flaws when it allowed emotionalism to dominate reason and reality in recent years now seems to be trying to redress the balance.

The common sense of the American people is a mighty force, and usually a benevolent one. It is a force that usually seeks to do good when the real choice between good and bad is on the table and clear — as may be happening, at last, this month.

The Differences Between Bush And Kerry On Iraq -Then & Now

The article below originally appeared on an interesting website called News Informant. It is reproduced here with permission of the author.

By Bernard Perlstein

“Who won the debate?” ask the pundits, the campaigns and even most of the public. Neither debater appeared to make any gaffes, Kerry “discussed” rather than “lectured,” and Bush seemed to know more specifics than people expected. Both sides even seemed gracious. For those who see the debate as entertainment -- or even an entertainment contest, along the lines of the show “Last Comic Standing” -- the debate was a failure. Never mind the fact that the debate is supposed to enlighten the public, so that it can make an educated decision, based upon policy.

Yet the debate -- partly thanks to the questions of thoughtful moderator Jim Lehrer, anchor of PBS’ Jim Lehrer News Hour -- served the useful purpose of elucidating the differences on foreign policy between the two major candidates for president in 2004. Each candidate performed the service, in that respect, of articulating his position, especially concentrating on the Iraqi war. Unfortunately, due to various time constraints -- and perhaps some momentary lapses to which no debater is immune -- not all of the reasoning behind the positions could be summarized. What is missing from the media followup was an attempt to present and discuss these positions in a way that people could fully comprehend the debaters’ stances, in order to judge for themselves.

Background To The Iraq Debate

The differences between the two candidates as to whether the Iraq war was a “mistake”, as claimed by John Kerry, depends upon one’s views in assessing the dangers of various types of terrorist attacks; in approaches to managing U.S. allies; and in the evaluation of America’s diverse set of adversaries. Each one’s assessment of the terror risk from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq two years ago was based upon knowledge available at that time, which was certainly much less than that now. Even then the position differences were considerably more nuanced than typically acknowledged. And the differences going forward are even less. Nevertheless, these differences are significant, with important strategic implications for how the U.S. will engage in what is likely to be a rather lengthy war on terror.

Even A Superpower Has Limitations

Both men understood, based upon the intelligence available prior to the war in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein was a threat. The crucial difference lies with respect to the threat of Saddam relative to other terrorist threats. Aside from the threat of additional attacks by stateless terrorist groups several foreign countries -- alone, or, more importantly, in conjunction with terrorist groups sympathetic to Osama bin Laden -- were believed to pose an immediate threat. These were the three extremist regimes believed to be close to possessing nuclear weapons -- Iraq, Iran and North Korea -- that President Bush termed “the axis of evil.” In a perfect world, the public would want the government to eliminate every one of these threats immediately. However, that is just not possible.

In World War II, another life-or-death war, the Western Allies -- primarily, the U.S. and the U.K. -- did not establish a second European front against Germany until 1944. There were many reasons why the Western Allies waited so long, much to the chagrin of the embattled Soviet Union. However, one reason, in particular, was that the Allies did not have sufficient logistical capabilities for a successful landing in France. An earlier invasion, frequently discussed by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, was dismissed by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, because the latter believed that it would be a dismal failure. Thus, the U.S. waited 2 ½ years, after entering the war, before embarking on the campaign that, along with Soviet advances in the East, led most expeditiously to victory. The reason was that, much as Roosevelt would have liked to end the war earlier and with fewer casualties, the Allies were not logistically prepared.

Today, the U.S. is the world’s biggest economic power, and by far the mightiest military power, and is, therefore, designated the only superpower on the planet. Yet, even this superpower does not have an unlimited amount of money, matériel and military personnel. The United States must therefore wisely which threats to address, when and how. Despite this, the primary distinction that Kerry drew, at the time of the Bush administration’s commencement of the Iraq war, was “how.”

How Did Bush & Kerry Differ At The Start?

The two candidates have had many strategic differences with regard to the threats of terrorism and how to address them. The critical differences, however, can be reduced to two issues -- diplomacy and Afghanistan. Kerry says that he has issues not with that we went to war in Iraq, but, instead, how we went to war, meaning how the U.S. failed, diplomatically, to win international support. The Bush administration, meanwhile, says that it had exhausted diplomatic measures. And the differences with regard to Afghanistan form the crux of the estimation of relative threats by the two camps. U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in 2002 had quickly displaced the Taliban government that had supported Osama bin Laden, and now U.S. forces, as well as those of NATO allies, remain there. But Kerry sees, in Afghanistan, an incomplete mission against the most important threat of all, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

Bush And The Threat From Saddam’s Iraq

To comprehend the different conclusions of Bush and Kerry with respect to Iraq, in late 2002 and early 2003, it is important to understand how the Bush administration viewed the threat of Saddam Hussein in light of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Although there was no conclusive proof -- as there often is not, with respect to intelligence about secretive regimes -- according to the best intelligence available at that time, Iraq had ongoing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. Moreover, it appeared that Iraq either already had nuclear capability, or was going to have that capability within a short period of time.

The ability for Iraq to damage the United States with WMD, through military means, is easy to question. Iraqi missiles would not have had the capability to reach the U.S. However, the greatest concern was about terrorist attacks, more deadly than the airplanes deployed on Sept. 11, using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. True, a nuclear device, if crudely exploded on the ground of -- let’s say -- a major city would not have the explosive power of a nuclear bomb delivered by plane or missile. But the device would release enormous amounts of radiation and, in a populous area, could threaten thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lives.

And Iraq had a notorious leader, in Saddam Hussein. Hussein had shown the willingness to use “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD), using chemical weapons against Iran once he began to lose the Iran-Iraq War -- which he had started -- in the early 1980s, and later, even within Iraq, against the rebellious Kurds. (It must be noted that one or more high-ranking Bush administration officials, in the administration of then-President Ronald Reagan, had been slow to condemn Hussein’s use of these weapons during the Iran-Iraq war, at a time when Iran was considered a more immediate threat to U.S. interests. But that subject is too much of a digression from the current analysis.) And Saddam certainly hated the United States for the Gulf War, and the subsequent “no-fly” zones, economic sanctions and weapons inspections.

Although Saddam was unlikely to have been involved with the 9/11 attacks and probably had little connection to al-Qaeda, Saddam made his feelings about those attacks abundantly clear. An article in the leading Iraqi newspaper hailed those attacks on the U.S. Perhaps more significantly, the article did not so much discuss any political goals behind, or the long-term effectiveness of, the attacks. Instead, it showed admirations, as only a sociopath of Hussein’s ilk would, for the amount of destruction caused. Was it then so far-fetched to assume that Saddam, if he possessed WMD, would be willing to now carry out such attacks?

The administration had evidence of contact between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Evidence of actual connections to al-Qaeda was admittedly weak. However, given a common enemy, it was easy to believe that Saddam would be willing to provide WMD to al-Qaeda for the latter to use in a terrorist attack. Not only was there sufficient evidence of Saddam’s willingness to engage in such activity, if he had such weapons, but being allowed to outsource the execution to al-Qaeda might also lend him the ability to deny his involvement.

In addition to these reasons, many senior officials in the Bush administration believed that there would be several benefits in ending Saddam’s rule. Saddam was such a cruel dictator, the Iraqi people, it was believed, could see the United States only as liberators. In fact, several administration officials believed that, in ending Saddam’s regime, the U.S. could regain favor with many Iraqi groups – including Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north -- which had scorned the U.S. for failing to assist them in uprisings that occurred just at the end of the Gulf War.

Yet the hopes of administration officials went farther. They hoped that the U.S., being seen as a liberator, would be able to lead the Iraqi people to form a “free” society, with some protection for individual liberties, as well as an elected government. This new, “democratic” Iraq, they believed could be a beacon to the people of other Arab and Muslim countries. The larger hope, then, was for the democratization of Iraq to lead to a democratic and more stable Middle East, which would free itself from the influence of Islamic extremists, such as al-Qaeda.

Much of this argument, on a broader scale, has been made in a book titled An End To Evil, by David Frum and Richard Perle. The latter was, at the time, head of the Policy Defense Board, an influential government institute of U.S. foreign policy thought leaders, who advise the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Kerry’s Assessment Of The Iraqi Threat

A noted chess grandmaster wrote a book about how grandmasters think. In summary, the grandmaster looks at both opportunities and threats on a chessboard, and evaluates each potential move to determine both how it will strengthen and how it will weaken his current position.

Kerry agreed that Saddam’s Iraq was a threat, or at least a potential threat. That is why, according to Kerry, he voted for a Senate resolution to give the president the authority to engage in war, if he deemed it necessary. Nevertheless, voting to give him the authority is not the same as voting for war. Kerry believed that there was credible evidence that Saddam might have nuclear weapons, but that, also, is not the same as certainty. More importantly, he felt that war should be the last resort, because Kerry and others, unlike most members of the Bush administration, worried more about the consequences of a war.

Modern Iraq was not historically a nation, but the 20th century creation of the British Empire, in the period following the First World War, from three provinces of the former Ottoman Empire. Two of the former provinces were predominantly Arab, ethnically. In the third, in the oil regions of the north, the Muslim, albeit non-Arab, Kurds, who continue to dream of a united Kurdistan, form the majority. In any case, even the two former southern provinces are divided. The southern-most former province is predominantly Shiite Muslim. The religion of the former middle province is majority Sunni Muslim, and the Sunnis had a larger share in the professional and governing classes dating back to the Ottomans, but also under the Saddam’s Baathist Party, which was largely Sunni.

Modern Iraq, then, was seen as a powder keg, at least as much as the European Balkans (the former Yugoslavia). In fact, as Kerry accurately mentioned in the debate, the current President’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, wrote several years ago that, one of the main reasons for not entering Iraq and dethroning Hussein at the end of the Gulf War, was the fear of what would happen afterwards. Bush père feared the possibility of a bloody civil war, division and destabilization in Iraq, potentially resulting in a Shiite theocracy, such as followed the Shah in Iran, that would also be a sworn enemy of the United States. Most international leaders were skeptical, to say the least, of post-Saddam Iraq’s adhering to a democratic form of government.

Several Bush administration officials cited Germany and Japan after World War II as successful examples in building democracies. But in Germany, as in the rest of Europe, the ideas behind modern democracies had been spread over several centuries. Japan, admittedly, had a very different history, but it still had a modern economic infrastructure and high levels of education. Culturally, it had a high acceptance of modern ideas. Perhaps more significantly, while Germany and Japan may have been humiliated in defeat, these countries were still international powers, so there was no lingering legacy of historical humiliation. The Arab world, including Iraq, had suffered the dominance of the Ottoman Empire for many centuries, only for it to be followed by both political and economic domination by non-Muslim Europe and by the United States.

Another concern about an Iraq war was that evidence of Saddam’s possession of WMD was far from abundant. Middle East leaders, who despised Hussein, nonetheless were concerned that any U.S.-led military interdiction in Iraq would be seen as an invasion, and even an attempt at an oil grab. They believed that, not only would their own people -- who did not have as direct an experience with Saddam -- but also the Iraqi people, would see the U.S. as an outside occupying force.

And, especially if Saddam did not have the weapons capability feared, Saddam might not be the highest risk. The Iraqi military had been in decline because of the loss in the Gulf War and the subsequent sanctions. Although Saddam constantly thumbed his nose at the no-fly zones, the U.S. constantly patrolled and even shot down Iraqi planes in these areas. Saddam was still limited in many ways. At the same time, Iraq was a “stable” and secular regime, with little fundamentalist influence and in which Saddam would not allow any alternative political group, including al-Qaeda, to base itself.

On the other hand, Kerry worried that, far from creating a more stable Middle East, a war in Iraq might cause such instability there that Islamic extremists could prosper and could then recruit larger numbers of people willing to carry out suicide attacks in America and elsewhere. In other words, Kerry’s concern -- especially if Saddam did not, in fact, have the weapons capability -- was that a destabilized Iraq, could be even more of a threat. Islamic extremist groups might be able to turn Iraq into yet another base, and might even attract more members to its anti-American cause. And the destruction of Saddam would also not eliminate the possibility for a post-Saddam theocratic regime that would still hate the U.S., develop WMD and even directly support al-Qaeda-style terror.

Bush & Kerry And Diplomacy

The Bush administration, as we have seen, saw Saddam’s Iraq not only as a credible, and the worst, threat, but also as an immediate one. In the post-9/11 world, most Bush foreign policy analysts felt that the U.S. could not take the risk of another -- and worse -- terrorist attack. If they were not completely certain that Saddam already had the WMD or the connections with al-Qaeda, they believed it would be imprudent to wait until they were proved right. Besides, they were certain that Saddam would eventually become capable of, and willing to, supply America’s nemesis, al-Qaeda. The administration therefore began to prepare the U.S. public -- and to some extent, the world -- for a U.S. pre-emptive war against Saddam’s Iraq.

In the meantime, the Bush administration did decide to try the UN Security Council one last time. Bush recognized that worldwide support -- both materiel and moral -- for a move against Hussein would be, in the long term, beneficial for U.S. efforts in Iraq and elsewhere, in the war on terror. The Security Council provided stronger support for weapons inspections than it had in years, and its strongest provisions yet. Saddam, in typical response, yielded to some inspections while reneging on some points. However, by early 2003 the Bush administration was concerned about waiting any longer, and went to the Security Council for a war resolution. This, the Security Council was not ready to provide. The Bush administration then decided that it would go ahead with this pre-emptive war, without official sanction from the UN body.

Here is where Bush & Kerry parted ways, so to speak. The Bush administration felt the need to depose Saddam and disarm Iraq immediately. If the administration waited past March or April to commence a planned assault on Iraq, it would have to have been delayed through the summer, due to the intense Iraqi desert heat -- upwards of 120 degrees (F). Yet the administration was not willing to grant a delay of at least six months. Thus, the administration went to war quickly, without the support of the Security Council that it had already agreed to solicit. This decision angered many in the international community, not only for explicitly going beyond a Security Council resolution, but also for, many believed, trying to manipulate Council members. The U.S. was willing to work with the UN Security Council when the body supported the U.S., they felt, but simply ignore the body when it would not.

Kerry, apparently, was mindful of the international community. In the first place, Kerry had hoped that further dithering by Saddam, as well as possible additional evidence of WMD, would unite the international community against him. Under UN auspices, a war with Iraq would be less likely to be seen in the Arab world as a U.S. invasion. The international community would also help the U.S. by providing much-needed troops and material. Believing that the war on terror is partly a propaganda war for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, an intervention by a U.S.-led force, backed only by its closest allies, would push many Arabs and Muslims, Kerry felt, to the side of Osama. And it would leave the U.S. to expend more of its money and men in a war with Iraq.

What concerned Kerry even more was that the post-war situation would be even riskier, without international support. Iraqi people who saw the U.S. as occupiers would not rush to support any governing ideas represented by it. The lack of international support for rebuilding Iraq, which was impoverished under the sanction-ridden Saddam regime, would mean a less stable post-war Iraq politically. And Kerry believed, even before the war, that a fractious Iraq would require an extended period of international peacekeeping, if it were to avoid disintegrating entirely into chaos and civil war. Of course, it is not clear if, or how soon, the international community could have been won to this position. But the very fact of renewed inspections gave some optimism.

And the inspections might reveal even more. If the inspectors found more, and more credible, evidence of WMD, the U.S. could bolster its case for going to war, and could possibly win more allies and more international support, even if it did not gain an actual Security Council resolution to back the war. The same would be true if Saddam continued to obstruct the newly vigorous attempt at inspections. On the other hand, there would be other, equally important, implications if properly executed inspections showed that Saddam did not possess WMD.

Here was another significant point of departure for the Bush administration. The administration feared that Saddam might be able to fool weapons inspectors, or at least that the process of finding them would be too long. Afraid that the inspections process might fail, administration officials trusted its existing intelligence reports. Intelligence that appeared to confirm the existence of WMD might have been somewhat sketchy, but it was drawn from numerous sources. These included not only the exiled leader of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi, then popular with the U.S. Defense Department, but also Russia, a strong opponent of U.S. intervention in Iraq.

However, it was possible that inspections might actually show that Saddam was still far from obtaining the WMD that he clearly desired. This was significant for two reasons. It would make Iraq less of an immediate threat, allowing for more consultation with the UN and time to prepare for both an intervention and a post-Saddam Iraq. It would allow for a greater focus directly on al-Qaeda, and on Afghanistan, where Taliban and al-Qaeda still exist, although with much less political support and strength. Furthermore, if Saddam had, indeed, not been able to acquire WMD as yet, it might imply that the post-Gulf War military and economic limitations had worked. Thus, further inspections might have contradicted the impression that Saddam’s Iraq was a current threat, or even one of the greater threats in the near future.

Current Differences Over Iraq

Hindsight is 20-20, but the question many people will ask was whether the odds of a Saddam Hussein-backed terrorist attack were more than 50-50. Certainly, Bush argues, whatever the odds, the removal of Saddam pre-empted a potential threat. Kerry, however, appears to make two distinct counter-arguments with respect to Iraq. The first is that the Bush administration’s appraisals of the Iraqi threat, as well as its estimation of post-Saddam challenges, turned out to be wrong. Therefore the Bush administration should admit that mistakes were made. The second is based upon Kerry’s fundamentally different approach to America’s friends and foes.

Differences Over Dealing With Enemies

Bush made several telling remarks in the debate with respect to America’s enemies. Bush several times referred to himself as “steadfast” and said that, “When I say something [the rest of the world] knows I mean it.” Both political supporters and adversaries would agree that he has been remarkably consistent in his Iraqi policy, though adversaries might remind him of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Emerson, of course was not a political philosopher, but the politically savvy Machiavelli might have advised the President that being militarily steadfast may be convincing to your enemies when it is clear that you are winning. Otherwise, the politically astute must resort to additional means.

Libya is a positive example for the Bush administration. Within the first weeks of the Iraqi war, Libya’s own notorious leader, Muammar Qaddafi, announced that he would meet all international demands concerning his nuclear program and former involvement with terrorism. The timing of Qaddafi’s decision was more than a coincidence, and probably was a response to the U.S.-initiated war against Saddam. Still, it should be noted that Qaddafi had been moving in the direction of international cooperation for a decade or more. The announcement in 2003 was just the final step.

North Korea, in contrast, went ballistic (pun intended) after the U.S. intervened in Iraq. This country, led by a leader, Kim Jong-il, who is perhaps even less rational than Hussein, has announced that it now possesses nuclear weapons capabilities. Kim Jong-il. leads a country with probably the least amount of freedom of communication in the world. His people, who are not allowed to read any outside sources of information, believe that their nation is the economically soundest (it is actually one of the poorest), and are told that the U.S. is the equivalent of Nazi Germany. North Korea is seen by most independent analysts as the nation that is the greatest threat to U.S. security. And, unlike Saddam’s Iraq, Kim’s North Korea would not be so simple for the U.S. military to invade.

Iran’s recent refusal to cooperate with the international community over its nuclear program is potentially another result of the current Iraq war. Although Iran claims that its program is not intended to build nuclear weapons, there is evidence now that Iran has an advanced program for the development of weapons-grade uranium. Iran also would have been more difficult militarily than Saddam’s Iraq was in 2003. However, the investment of so much U.S. military in Iraq also makes it harder for the U.S. to pose a credible threat to Iran, if it simply continues on its path.

Another critical Bush comment came in response to Kerry’s assertion that foreign troops -- believed to be predominantly Islamic extremists -- keep pouring over the Iraqi border into the country. Implicitly admitting this, Bush replied, Of course, our enemies are trying their hardest to beat us. Yes, the U.S. has a lot of opposition in Iraq. This ranges from the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Islamic extremist close to al-Qaeda, to a variety of former Baathist Sunnis and those who follow the radical Shiite Moqtada Sadr. Yet the current administration needs to be careful about lumping all of them together.

Groups like al-Qaeda or Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad want to kill Americans, whether in the Middle East or in the U.S., in order to instigate a worldwide war of Muslims against the West. Many of the others simply want the U.S. to leave Iraq. They would not be particularly interested in fighting Americans, if America was no longer involved in Iraq. And they probably have less interest in executing those attacks on American soil. Treating them as a single entity runs the risk of creating the self-fulfilling prophecy of uniting them either temporarily, or perhaps even on a long-term basis.

Kerry, although understanding the danger of the former Baathists or Shiite radicals, differs tactically from Bush in proposing more troops to close the borders. Implicitly, he shows more concern about the foreign forces -- more likely to be al-Qaeda sympathizers -- than he does about some of Iraq’s domestic opponents to the new interim government of Iyad Allawi. It is a subtle difference, and it is not certain that Kerry, if elected, would be able to obtain more troops for this effort. This is made more critical, in light of Kerry’s concern about the lack of completion of the Afghanistan war. The latter also would require more troops. But this would likely require more assistance from U.S. allies. Kerry asserts that he can obtain support from more allies. This would result, he states, from his differences from the Bush administration, with respect to our allies.

Differences In Dealing With Allies

Kerry wants to rely more on relationships with allies. Kerry feels that he will be able to accomplish this, in cases where Bush has been unsuccessful, because the Bush administration has been ungracious in dealing with America’s allies. The Bush administration would deny that its treatment of allies has been a significant factor in not gaining the cooperation of allies. It is far from certain, for example, that any U.S. leader would be able to convince other powerful allies, such as Germany and France, to commit troops to Iraq. In any case, whoever is right, this -- in itself -- is not a strategic difference between the two candidates.

The strategic difference is that the Bush administration believes that member nations of NATO, the European Union and the UN will often obstruct U.S. efforts in the war on terror. Bush asserted in the debate that giving the UN a “veto” over U.S. military policy would hamper the ability of the U.S. to eliminate dangerous regimes and terrorist organizations worldwide.

Kerry clearly asserted in the debate that he would never grant the UN a veto. But he takes a more optimistic view of how, by fostering a more positive relationship with U.S. allies and the UN, the U.S. may get greater international support. In essence, his position is in line with the Rolling Stones song, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” The significant departure for Kerry is that he believes that international support for the U.S. is not just helpful, but even necessary, to win its eventual victory in the war on terror.

Differences Concerning Leadership

The Bush campaign has frequently referred to Kerry as a “flip-flopper,” and contrasts this with the President, who has been “steadfast.” Bush, in the first debate, alluded to the same trait, saying, “The only consistent [sic] about my opponent's position is that he's been inconsistent.” But Kerry appeared to defend his position, as consistent, in the following way: he thought that Saddam Hussein was a threat, but that it was a mistake to go to war without exhausting the diplomatic possibilities.

But Bush several times criticized Kerry’s stated position and commented, “[I]f I were to ever say, ‘This is the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place,’ the troops would wonder, how can I follow this guy?” Kerry, in his own his behalf, criticized the President’s certainty by remarking, “You can be certain and be wrong.” Although some of this reeks of rhetorical flourish, there does appear to be a difference in leadership philosophy.

Bush seems to believe that a leader must guard against admitting mistakes, because it will make him or her seem less of a leader. Most people do not confess mistakes if they do not have to, and it may be tactically better than confessing to mistakes that do not directly affect people. But when mistakes become clear to others, it may make a leader look more foolish to avoid acknowledging them. Kerry appears to be saying that it is better to acknowledge an honest error by, at minimum, correcting your position, if not transparently confessing the error.

On the other hand, it certainly is true that there are positive and negative ways to admit mistakes. If Kerry were actually to say that the war was a mistake, it would be hard to get either the public or our U.S. allies to commit to it, however, Kerry believes the war should be conducted. But that is not how he says that he would approach the soldiers and world leaders. And, as for the latter, he believes that they may actually be more receptive to the message that, regardless of their differences over the initiation of the war, Iraq and the rest of the world will now be a better place if they back U.S. efforts at rebuilding the country.

Deciding On A Candidate

The candidates will have two more debates in the next few weeks. The domestic issues addressed in those debates will be important to most voters. However, with the war on terror on most people’s minds, foreign policy is perhaps more important in this election than at any other time in the past thirty or more years. These television debates can easily tell us which candidate is taller, warmer, more assured, more interesting, more articulate or more telegenic. But they cannot telegraph whose policies are better. A voter can only determine that based upon each candidate’s responses. That is what debates are supposed to be for. And it helps to have a news media help individuals better comprehend the candidates’ statements.

Otherwise, people will not be electing the best candidate for U.S. President, but, instead, the best candidate for the heavyweight championship.