Moving beyond opposition

In any presidential contest between two candidates there are essentially six ways in which each ballot can be cast. In the current election, this means you can vote in one of the following ways.

  • Vote for Obama because of who he is and what you hope he will do.
  • Vote for McCain because of who he is and what you hope he will do.
  • Vote for Obama because of who he is and what you hope he will do and because of who McCain is and what you fear he will do.
  • Vote for McCain because of who he is and what you hope he will do and because of who Obama is and what you fear he will do.
  • Vote for Obama for the simple reason that you do not want McCain to become president.
  • Vote for McCain for the simple reason that you do not want Obama to become president.

Just suppose that having received their party’s nomination, each candidate had declared: “If you genuinely want me to become president, I want your vote, but if you have any other reason for voting for me, don’t vote.”

Under such terms, John McCain might as well have withdrawn from the race in early September.

On the other side, the idea that support for Obama has been driven above all by antipathy for George Bush has been greatly overstated. Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul each made as strong a claim as did Obama for having opposed Bush, yet neither won a fraction of the support.

When 100,000 people have showed up for an Obama rally, they have been drawn by attraction, not reaction. This is what distinguishes the strength of Obama’s candidacy in 2008 from the weakness of John Kerry’s in 2004.

Whereas a McCain victory hinges on the McCain-Palin campaign’s ability to fuel and harness fear of and opposition to Obama, an Obama victory will reflect the depth of his support more than the breadth of opposition to John McCain or Sarah Palin.

This then is what will mark the end of the Bush era: the end of the notion that victory depends on destroying ones opponents; that we can move beyond defining who we are in terms of what we oppose.

The next president and the Global War on Terror

A week ago, I had a long conversation with a four-star U.S. military officer who, until his recent retirement, had played a central role in directing the global war on terror. I asked him: what exactly is the strategy that guides the Bush administration’s conduct of this war? His dismaying, if not exactly surprising, answer: there is none.

President Bush will bequeath to his successor the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone. To defense contractors, lobbyists, think-tankers, ambitious military officers, the hosts of Sunday morning talk shows, and the Douglas Feith-like creatures who maneuver to become players in the ultimate power game, the Global War on Terror is a boon, an enterprise redolent with opportunity and promising to extend decades into the future.

Yet, to a considerable extent, that very enterprise has become a fiction, a gimmicky phrase employed to lend an appearance of cohesion to a panoply of activities that, in reality, are contradictory, counterproductive, or at the very least beside the point. In this sense, the global war on terror relates to terrorism precisely as the war on drugs relates to drug abuse and dependence: declaring a state of permanent “war” sustains the pretense of actually dealing with a serious problem, even as policymakers pay lip-service to the problem’s actual sources. The war on drugs is a very expensive fraud. So, too, is the Global War on Terror. [continued…]

Petraeus wants to go to Syria; Bush administration says no

A pparently Gen. David Petraeus does not agree with the Bush administration that the road to Damascus is a dead end.

ABC News has learned, Petraeus proposed visiting Syria shortly after taking over as the top U.S. commander for the Middle East.

The idea was swiftly rejected by Bush administration officials at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon.

Petraeus, who becomes the commander of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) Friday, had hoped to meet in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Petraeus proposed the trip, and senior officials objected, before the covert U.S. strike earlier this week on a target inside Syria’s border with Iraq.

Officials familiar with Petraeus’ thinking on the subject say he wants to engage Syria in part because he believes that U.S. diplomacy can be used to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran. He plans to continue pushing the idea. [continued…]

High risk, limited payoff

The Oct. 26 air raid in which U.S. special-operations pilots flew two dozen Black Hawk helicopters across Iraq’s border and killed eight people on Syrian territory marks a new phase in the Bush administration’s war on terror—a phase rife with limited payoffs and astonishingly high risks.

U.S. officials say the cross-border attack was aimed at, and killed, a high-level al-Qaida agent known as Abu Ghadiyah, who has long been smuggling jihadists and arms into western Iraq.

However, Syrian officials say the strikes killed civilians, including a woman and children. They filed a complaint with the U. N. Security Council, closed down the American School in Damascus, and canceled their participation in the upcoming regional conference on Iraqi security.

Even the Iraqi government has joined the Syrians in condemning the airstrikes and is now insisting that a new Status of Forces Agreement—the treaty that permits U.S. troops to remain in Iraq—must include a clause forbidding those troops from using Iraq as a base for attacking other countries. [continued…]

A last push to deregulate

The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

Those and other regulations would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining. [continued…]

Scandal of six held in Guantanamo even after Bush plot claim is dropped

In the dying days of the Bush administration, yet another presidential claim in the “war on terror” has been proved false by the withdrawal of the main charge against six Algerians held without trial for nearly seven years at Guantanamo prison camp.

George Bush’s assertion in his 2002 State of the Union address – the same speech in which he wrongly claimed that Saddam Hussein had tried to import aluminium tubes from Niger – was that “our soldiers, working with the Bosnian government, seized terrorists who were plotting to bomb our embassy [in Sarajevo].” Not only has the US government withdrawn that charge against the six Algerians, all of whom had taken citizenship or residence in Bosnia, but lawyers defending the Arabs – who had already been acquitted of such a plot in a Sarajevo court – have found that the US threatened to pull its troops out of the Nato peacekeeping force in Bosnia if the men were not handed over. According to testimony presented by the Bosnian Prime Minister, Alija Behman, the deputy US ambassador to Bosnia in 2001, Christopher Hoh, told him that if he did not hand the men to the Americans, “then let God protect Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

That such a threat should be made – and the international High Representative to Bosnia at the time, Wolfgang Petritsch, has also told lawyers it was – shows for the first time just how ruthless and unprincipled US foreign policy had become in Mr Bush’s “war on terror”. By withdrawing their military and diplomatic support for the Bosnian peace process, the Americans would have backed out of the Dayton accord which they themselves had negotiated. Then the Bosnian government would have lost its legitimacy and the country might have collapsed back into a civil war which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians and involved mass rape as well as massacre. The people of Bosnia might then have endured “terror” on a scale far greater than the attacks of al-Qa’ida against the United States. [continued…]

The co-president at work

When George W. Bush testified before the 9/11 Commission, Dick Cheney was with him in the Oval Office. What was said there remains a secret, but throughout the double session, it appears, Cheney deferred to Bush. Aides to the President afterward explained that the two men had to sit together for people to see how fully Bush was in control. A likelier motive was the obvious one: they had long exercised joint command but neither knew exactly how much the other knew, or what the other would say in response to particular questions. Bush also brought Cheney for the reason that a witness under oath before a congressional committee may bring along his lawyer. He could not risk an answer that his adviser might prefer to correct. Yet Bush would scarcely have changed the public understanding of their relationship had he sent in Cheney alone. “When you’re talking to Dick Cheney,” the President said in 2003, “you’re talking to me.”

The shallowest charge against Cheney is that he somehow inserted himself into the vice-presidency by heading the team that examined other candidates for the job. He used the position deviously, so the story goes, to sell himself to the susceptible younger Bush. The truth is both simpler and more strange. Since 1999, Cheney had been one of a group of political tutors of Bush, including Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz; in this company, Bush found Cheney especially congenial—not least his way of asserting his influence without ever stealing a scene. Bush, too, resembled Cheney in preferring to let others speak, but he lacked the mind and patience for discussions: virtues that Cheney possessed in abundance.
New York Review Books Children

As early as March 2000, Bush asked him whether he would consider taking the second slot. Cheney at first said no. Later, he agreed to serve as Bush’s inspector of the qualifications of others; his lieutenants were David Addington and his daughter Liz. Some way into that work, Bush asked Cheney again, and this time he said yes. The understanding was concluded before any of the lesser candidates were interviewed. It was perhaps the first public deception that they worked at together: a lie of omission—and a trespass against probity—to give an air of legitimacy to the search for a nominee. But their concurrence in the stratagem, and the way each saw the other hold to its terms, signaled an equality in manipulation as no formal contract could have done. It is hardly likely that an exchange of words was necessary. [continued…]

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2 thoughts on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITORIAL: October 31

  1. Carl

    “This then is what will mark the end of the Bush era: the end of the notion that victory depends on destroying ones opponents; that we can move beyond defining who we are in terms of what we oppose.” No, it means it’s hard for a member of the incumbent party to win an election during an economic collapse. McCain was closing the gap until the credit crisis hit — a truly astonishing fact considering the Republican record of the past 8 years. Tearing down your opponent is still a very effective campaign strategy — as opposed to governing strategy — and Democratic attempts to be post-partisan is simply unilateral disarmament. Clinton, Gore, and Dukakis were all moderates. Look what happened to them.

  2. Paul Woodward

    In talking about the end of the notion that victory depends on destroying ones opponents, I was really alluding to something broader than campaign strategy. Seven years of war have been conducted in the spirit that the enemy can be crushed. Now, while everyone’s attention is wrapped up in the election, the administration is quietly conceding that it’s time to talk to the Taliban. Likewise, Israel reconciled itself to the idea that an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas was worth supporting. The point is that dealing with ones opponents is not a binary choice between vanquishing or being vanquished. Compromise is not capitulation, while those who self-righteously hold on to the notion that they are resolutely uncompromising invariably do so from the safe refuge of having little or no power.

    I’m not sure that McCain’s success in closing the gap before reality intruded said as much about the effectiveness of tearing down ones opponent as it did about the short-lived boost from picking a photogenic running mate.

    Thanks to George Soros’ intervention in engineering an economic crisis — I jest of course, but it’s one of the more entertaining conspiracy theories — we will never know whether absent the said crisis the Obama campaign would have figured out how to deal with Palin.

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