Just Above Sunset
November 7, 2004 - Bush as Robespierre?

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Digby on Kerry –


He's not a crook, he's not lazy, he's not stupid. He's very accomplished, he's highly experienced and he's got good instincts. But, I'm convinced that the most important character traits in a successful President at this point in history are resilience and cunning; even if we win the election, politics are going to remain a bloodsport. The Republicans aren't going to fade away. This battle is ongoing and we must have someone who can withstand a punch and come back. It is going to be very, very difficult to govern. I think Kerry is running not because he's "electable," but because he's one of the few Democrats of his generation who has spent his life preparing to govern in the face of a radical political opposition. The job is not for the fainthearted...


Yeah, who would want that job?

Juan Cole (University of Michigan Middle East expert) does the French thing


The decision between Bush and Kerry will shape the world Americans live in during the next four years. Even though Bush has been called the "CEO President," that isn't how he has behaved. Bush has overthrown two governments and announced the imminent demise of several others. Bush is a revolutionary in Asia, a Robespierre. At least one of Bush's revolutions is now mired in its Terror phase. What a real CEO thinks about Bush is obvious from the Paul O'Neill / Ron Suskind memoir of life on the Bush cabinet. Kerry in contrast is a statesman committed to navigating the status quo without producing unnecessary turbulence.

Since the United States is essentially a vast island, three thousand miles across and two thousand miles deep, its inhabitants often begin to think that they are unconnected to the wider world. My friend John Walbridge suggested to me that most Americans may not believe the rest of the world exists, as opposed to being something that one occasionally sees on television.

September 11 was a reminder that even the defenses of an island can be breached. It was also a signal that the old foreign policy prerogatives of the United States government, to intervene as it liked to impose its will on other regions, was no longer cost-free. In a world of increasingly powerful technology, each individual is potentially much more powerful, and this was a development that diabolical engineers in al-Qaeda saw clearly and figured out how to use.

Al-Qaeda has ambitions beyond just blowing a few things up, no matter how horribly. It is now a cadre organization, that is, it consists of a few thousand committed fanatics. But it wants to be a political party. That is the significance of Bin Laden's most recent videotape. He is posing as a champion of "freedom" in the Muslim world (mainly freedom from US hegemony, but he maintains also freedom from authoritarian and corrupt regimes in the region backed by the US). Bin Laden is making a play not just to be a cult leader but to succeed to the position of Gamal Abdul Nasser as an anti-imperialist icon in the region. Ultimately al-Qaeda would like to get control of entire states, and merge them into an Islamic superstate, a new caliphate. It is a crackpot idea that will fail, but many crackpot ideas that fail (e.g. the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia) do a great deal of damage along the way.

George W. Bush has never been able to see clearly the nature of this threat…


Ah, maybe so, but voters think otherwise.

And he goes on -


The Bush administration is full of revolutionaries. They are shaking up the world by military force. They are playing a role familiar in modern history, pioneered by Napoleon Bonaparte, of using overwhelming military superiority to establish new forms of hegemony by appealing to desires for change among neighboring publics. Bonaparte promised the Italians liberty on the French model, but in fact reduced the Italians to a series of French puppet regimes and then he looted the country. So far Bush's Iraq looks increasingly like Bonaparte's Italy in these regards.

… Kerry is not a revolutionary, unlike Bush. He recognizes that al-Qaeda is a real threat and needs to be the main focus of US security thinking. Kerry will capture or kill Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri because he will put the resources into that endeavor that Bush instead wasted in Iraq.

Kerry is worried about Iran's nuclear ambitions, but is highly unlikely to resort to military force or connive at a coup in Tehran. He will use diplomatic methods and more subtle military pressure.

Kerry will rebuild the alliance with Europe, which is crucial for fighting al-Qaeda. He will attempt to improve the US image in the Muslim world, which Bush has completely shattered. His approach to China will be measured.

So the choices are clear. Those who want a revolutionary who will risk further wars and instability, should vote for Bush. Those who want someone who will use diplomacy to manage the status quo and roll back asymmetrical threats should vote for Kerry.


Ah, but Kerry is tall and Bush is short. Bonaparte indeed.

Martin Kettle does the US history thing –

The fervour behind the push to put 'America first'
Don't underestimate the centrality of the old belief in manifest destiny
Martin Kettle, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday November 2, 2004

This sounds awfully familiar -


We are all Americans now, announced that now famous Le Monde headline after September 11 2001. Back then, more than three years ago, it felt true. But we all know the feeling is not as strong now; and we also sense that it is not George Bush alone who has made it so. Indeed, irrespective of how Americans vote over the next 24 hours, today may even be the day when the rest of us should begin to stop being Americans at all.

The Bush administration's policy of "America first" is neither some personal obsession on Bush's part nor a spasm in response to the shock of September 11. It is part of a much older, wider and very specifically American conservative sense of exceptionalism whose militancy and energy are still greatly underestimated outside America. If Bush is re-elected today, that sense will deepen and strengthen further. But even if Bush loses, this same American exceptionalism is now so strong that it will aggressively constrain any other presidency, even one that seeks to reject the approach, as Bill Clinton's did and John Kerry's would do.

The rejection of international institutions and stable alliances is a signature aspect of this militant new exceptionalism. It is inconceivable that it will be significantly reined in during a second Bush term. From the point of view of the administration and the bulk of its Republican supporters, however, this unilateralism is merely one aspect of a distinctive worldview which has little parallel in any other liberal democracy, and which might best be seen as a modern reincarnation of the old American preoccupation with "manifest destiny".


Yeah, we all remember that, unless we napped through ninth grade US History.

But now it’s serious -


…Bush's apparent acceptance of the view that he may be doing God's work in the White House has been much noted in this country as the campaign has wound through the autumn. But this is not some idiosyncratic hubris on the president's part. It is shared by millions of American conservative evangelical protestants, many of whom believe, along with the attorney-general John Ashcroft, that the very existence of the United States is proof of a divine purpose. In that context, the idea that America should reject ties with necessarily less blessed nations becomes existential, an exceptionalism of another order altogether.

Most Americans don't think in these terms, of course. Yet sufficiently large numbers of them do for their conviction to be massively important, especially when they are so determined and have such powerful armed forces. If you believe that God has a higher purpose for your work, then you bring a special fervour to everything that you do, whether it is re-electing the president, challenging his opponent's credentials, stopping his voters from voting, challenging their votes or - if by some cruel fate the opponent wins the election - preventing him from governing.


Ah yes, God’s work is never done.  It seems He needs His foot soldiers.
Ah well, if you click on the link you will discover the rest is an appeal to Tony Blair to get a little more European in his outlook.

And it concludes with this:


It is the centrality to American public life of this militant conservatism, more than any other single factor, which makes current British policy towards the United States so difficult to pursue productively or honourably and which has brought this country's relationship with the US to its present ebb. Tony Blair's policy has been entirely consistent - to stick fast to America under all circumstances. It will clearly remain his policy whether Bush wins or Kerry.

But it shouldn't. It would be a more defensible policy if American parties were like European parties - but they are not, with the consequence that the policy becomes a hostage to the Republican right when the Republicans are in power and is constrained by them when the Democrats are in the White House. The invasion of Iraq, in this context, is more an example of British marginality than a good or a bad policy in itself. Unless British policy adapts and changes to these realities, it is doomed to be replayed over Iran or Cuba or whatever other adventure becomes the conservative right's next test of God's higher purpose.


Kettle suggests Blair should be thinking in “a more informed way about the foreignness of America.” And that means…


… growing up and growing away process that need not and most certainly should not mean becoming anti-American. But unless and until we do it, unless we see that our centre of gravity in the 21st century should be as part of an alliance of liberal European states, we are fated to fall between America and Europe, not to be a bridge between them. It is a challenge to Blair, to whoever succeeds him, and to our very sense of ourselves.


The Brits don’t want to become Americans?


But everyone wants to be like us!


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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