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Kerry and the Middle East

WASHINGTON, 1 August 2004 — During John Kerry’s speech accepting his party’s nomination at the Democrat’s National Convention in Boston, he spent a great deal of time defining himself by the four months he spent in Vietnam 30 years ago. Old comrades were trotted out, old war stories were told, old pictures shown as evidence of his fitness to be Commander in Chief of the US military.

Kerry spoke only three sentences regarding the 20 years he spent in the US Senate and did not mention his consistent pattern of voting to remain unengaged internationally.

The majority of John Kerry’s speech dealt with domestic issues. His stated foreign policy objective consists of rebuilding America’s relationships with her traditional Western allies. This he believes will provide greater security for Americans from Al-Qaeda and like-minded jihadiis.

Kerry did not mention the Middle East at all, except on US reliance on the region for its energy needs. Kerry stated he prefers to rely on “ingenuity and innovation”? During the hour-long speech, neither “ Israel” nor “ Palestine” escaped from his lips while words were plentiful about domestic environmental concerns, tax issues, health care and educational opportunities.

On some issues America is a firmly divided nation. As Bill Clinton noted at the Convention, “Democrats and Republicans have very different and deeply held ideas about what choices we should make. They’re rooted in fundamentally different views.” There is no issue that demonstrates this fissure more clearly than Iraq — a national Rorschach test.

Many of the convention delegates sported green stickers saying “ the Occupation of Iraq.” The American anti-war movement and many Kerry supporters see the invasion of Iraq as a fiasco, a personal financial burden, and a national embarrassment. They believe it has created terrorists. Kerry’s seeming opposition to President Bush’s Iraq policy has drawn many supporters to his camp, although Kerry voted for the Senate resolution authorizing unilateral military force. Kerry later voted against the 87 billion funding that military force. Now he supports a continued military presence.

It is difficult to discern Kerry’s thinking on the validity of the war, and more importantly, his plans and goals going forward. The New York Times notes in an editorial: “Kerry’s history on the critical Iraq issue has been impossibly opaque.” Kerry has alternately said he would “do whatever it takes” and he would withdraw US forces as soon as Iraq was stable. “I don’t think we should be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them here,” Kerry states in one of his most frequently run TV advertisements.

In his speech in Boston, Kerry said he knows what to do in Iraq —share the military and financial burden internationally. This will be possible he believes once he restores Western alliances and respect for the US . Opening the convention, former President Jimmy Carter stated, “The dominant international challenge is to restore the greatness of America.”

Republicans see the greatest challenge elsewhere. Vice President Cheney articulates their vision that “the enemy America faces today is every bit as intent on defeating us as were the Axis powers were in World War II or as the Soviet Union in the Cold War.” This view holds that the goal of the jihad is not to change US foreign policy but to destroy the US itself in a quest to establish a global caliphate. The 3/11 massacre in Spain they see as part of a larger effort to reclaim Al-Andalus. Republicans believe Al-Qaeda terrorists understand better than Democrats the historic stakes in Iraq and the major blow that would be dealt to their ideology by a self-governing Iraq.

Republicans, contrary to the prevailing international view, are not comprised of a cabal of neocons, Evangelicals, Zionists, oil barons and warmongers. Rather a portion of Bush’s base consists of ex-Democrat voters, prior liberals and other middle Americans disgusted with the Democrats reaction to the challenges America faces from radical Islamists.

Many Bush supporters disagree strongly with President Bush’s domestic policies and are extremely disheartened by chaos of the reconstruction of Iraq. Cringing at the president’s handling of the Greater Middle East Initiative, they agree on its goals of reform, economic development, greater literacy, and individual rights in the Middle East.

John Kerry offers these voters little global vision beyond restoring alliances in Europe.

The emphasis on the participation of the militarily weak and overtly hostile French and Germans in Iraq has little logic to the Republicans who see in the Democrats a Eurocentric view that dismisses the sacrifice of the Poles, El Salvadorans, Mongolians, thirty other nations and, most importantly, the valiant Iraqis.

Today’s Republicans see an Islamic democracy in the heart of the Middle East as the linchpin of American security that may forestall generations of terrorists. They believe in the domino theory — a strategy that relies on the hope of democracy, presented in a region of autocrats, to spread over borders and from heart to heart. This pattern of human behavior, they say, has demonstrated its strength and consistency over time in Latin America , Eastern Europe and South East Asia. For these Republicans, to paraphrase James Carville, “It’s the war, stupid.” Many Americans, hopeful and committed to success in both Afghanistan and Iraq , are unsure if Kerry shares their determination.

Those around the world who were hoping for a coherent Middle East policy from John Kerry have had their hopes dashed. Many in America are disappointed that the Democrats have not learned the lesson of 9/11, that the Middle East does affect American children mightily. As Americans, Muslims and innocents everywhere are endangered by radical Islamists, as nations globally are threatened, John Kerry’s mantra of “Stronger at Home, Respected in the World” offers little substance. And the question remains, is “Anybody But Bush” the best choice for the American electorate?

(Jane Novak is a columnist and a student of international relations.)

Arab News

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