Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The candidates compare philosophies

People say that there's nothing of substance in the election, that it's all about dirty tricks and 30-year-old biographies. Well, there's that. (I've noticed that the definition of "dirty tricks" depends on which side you're rooting for. But that's not what this is about.)

In the past couple of days, there has been some actual debate about more than the direction of the next four years--about the overall philosophy of government and foreign policy. Bush's speech to the United Nations today and Kerry's speech on foreign policy at New York University yesterday form a sort of first debate, with planned texts instead of extemporaneous reactions--what the candidates want to say, not what they stumble into on the spot. (There's a place for the other kind of debate, too, but this is a good one.)

Kerry says: "Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: we have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

Bush says: "For too long, many nations, including my own, tolerated, even excused, oppression in the Middle East in the name of stability. Oppression became common, but stability never arrived."

Kerry says: "The President's policy in Iraq precipitated the very problem he said he was trying to prevent. Secretary of State Powell admits that Iraq was not a magnet for international terrorists before the war.  Now it is, and they are operating against our troops."

Bush says: "A democratic Iraq has ruthless enemies, because terrorists know the stakes in that country. They know that a free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will be a decisive blow against their ambitions for that region. So a terrorists group associated with al Qaeda is now one of the main groups killing the innocent in Iraq today -- conducting a campaign of bombings against civilians, and the beheadings of bound men. Coalition forces now serving in Iraq are confronting the terrorists and foreign fighters, so peaceful nations around the world will never have to face them within our own borders."

Kerry says:
We need to turn the page and make a fresh start in Iraq.

First, the President has to get the promised international support so our men and women in uniform don't have to go it alone.  It is late; the President must respond by moving this week to gain and regain international support.

Last spring, after too many months of resistance and delay, the President finally went back to the U.N. which passed Resolution 1546.  It was the right thing to do -- but it was late.

That resolution calls on U.N. members to help in Iraq by providing troops… trainers for Iraq's security forces… a special brigade to protect the U.N. mission… more financial assistance… and real debt relief. 

Three months later, not a single country has answered that call.  And the president acts as if it doesn't matter.

And of the $13 billion previously pledged to Iraq by other countries, only $1.2 billion has been delivered.

Kerry's blast against Bush turns into an indictment of the United Nations. It can pass a resolution, but it can't deliver on action. Bush presented the case in a more hopeful light, maybe because he was talking to the United Nations:
Let history also record that our generation of leaders followed through on these ideals, even in adversity. Let history show that in a decisive decade, members of the United Nations did not grow weary in our duties, or waver in meeting them. I'm confident that this young century will be liberty's century. I believe we will rise to this moment, because I know the character of so many nations and leaders represented here today. And I have faith in the transforming power of freedom.

Kerry says: "[B]illions of people around the world yearning for a better life are open to America's ideals. We must reach them." He never specifies those ideas; he only continues in the next sentence to say, "To win, America must be strong.  And America must be smart." I hope strength and smarts aren't the best America has to offer.

Bush says:
Because we believe in human dignity, peaceful nations must stand for the advance of democracy. No other system of government has done more to protect minorities, to secure the rights of labor, to raise the status of women, or to channel human energy to the pursuits of peace. We've witnessed the rise of democratic governments in predominantly Hindu and Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian cultures. Democratic institutions have taken root in modern societies, and in traditional societies. When it comes to the desire for liberty and justice, there is no clash of civilizations. People everywhere are capable of freedom, and worthy of freedom.

Finding the full promise of representative government takes time, as America has found in two centuries of debate and struggle. Nor is there any -- only one form of representative government -- because democracies, by definition, take on the unique character of the peoples that create them. Yet this much we know with certainty: The desire for freedom resides in every human heart. And that desire cannot be contained forever by prison walls, or martial laws, or secret police. Over time, and across the Earth, freedom will find a way.

James Ridgeway at the Village Voice characterized Bush's speech as "the same old, same old." Even Seraphim Danckaert, an Orthoblogger I respect, sneers that "everything is going just fine in Iraq, and we better be pretty thankful that our Republican president is embarking on a Wilsonian crusade to make the world safe for democracy (Wilson, by the way, is probably my third least-favorite President)." Thus, because Bush has been called "Wilsonian," his vision is suspect. There is, however, a difference between making the world safe for democracy and making it safer through democracy. (Free nations by and large handle conflicts by renaming foods and not buying each other's goods; the bloodiest conflicts of the past 100 years or so have all involved one or more oppressive governments. I could speculate why, but it wouldn't be of much value.)

Kerry says:
The greatest threat we face is the possibility Al Qaeda or other terrorists will get their hands on a nuclear weapon.  

To prevent that from happening, we must call on the totality of America's strength. Strong alliances, to help us stop the world's most lethal weapons from falling into the most dangerous hands. A powerful military, transformed to meet the new threats of terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And all of America's power -- our diplomacy, our intelligence system, our economic power, the appeal of our values -- each of which is critical to making America more secure and preventing a new generation of terrorists from emerging.

Bush says:
The Afghan people are showing extraordinary courage under difficult conditions. They're fighting to defend their nation from Taliban holdouts, and helping to strike against the terrorists killers. They're reviving their economy. They've adopted a constitution that protects the rights of all, while honoring their nation's most cherished traditions. More than 10 million Afghan citizens -- over 4 million of them women -- are now registered to vote in next month's presidential election. To any who still would question whether Muslim societies can be democratic societies, the Afghan people are giving their answer.

Call me crazy, call me a dreamer, call me "Wilsonian" if you must, but like Bush, I think even the brown people of the world are capable of livving in freedom. If it must come to a choice between chaos and the stability given by Saddam and his boys, I'll pick chaos. I believe that human beings are fallen, but I also believe that they are capable of governing themselves, even allowing for quirky experiments like Las Vegas, Nev., and Berkeley, Calif.

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