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If one therefore accepts the proposition that modernity and democratic reform offer the lone remedy for the Middle East’s “troubled age” — and John Kerry clearly does not — it stands to reason that the Bush administration has come the closest to bringing it about. Consider the evidence: Afghanistan, with its newly elected democratic government, is currently enjoying an investment boom; Egypt has been forced to heed calls for reform; Saudi Arabia is sluggishly edging toward municipal elections; troubled Iraq is hobbling toward representative government; even Palestinian Arabs have come around to the view that they deserve better for leadership than a bloated kleptocracy.
Thus, it is no exaggeration to suggest that a rejection of the Bush administration will be seen as an abandonment of the foreign policy that made this reform possible — a policy informed by a belief that American national security is directly linked to Middle Eastern reform, a faith in the power of military action, and a determination to act on both however strident the objections of conciliation-minded European powers. Anyone who believes otherwise presumably believes that Walter Mondale’s call, 20 years ago, for “summit conferences with the Soviet Union,” sent shivers down the spines of communist hardliners.
TO POINT ALL THIS OUT is not to deny the obvious: namely that, in Iraq, this policy has been poorly executed. Anyone who read last week’s disheartening report in the New York Times would see that a great many of our current difficulties could have been avoided had more troops been made available to conduct patrols and gather vital intelligence in hotbeds of insurgency like Fallujah. Because they were not, our forces today are facing a mounting insurgency that, according to some experts, numbers 15,000 Iraqis, hundreds of foreign terrorists, and a potential support network of tens of thousands of Iraqis.
John Kerry would appear to be well placed to criticize this grave state of affairs. Except that his ceaseless fence-straddling on the war has stripped him of all credibility. More worryingly, Kerry’s manifestly absurd claim that Iraq is a diversion from the fight against Islamic terrorism — this despite the murderous campaign being waged by Saddam-favorite Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his jihadist cohorts — gives no indication that he will devote the necessary resources to foster a stable, representative government in Iraq. Or, for that matter, that he sees this as an indispensable outcome. Yes, Kerry occasionally pays lip service to the idea of democratic reform in the Middle East. But the strength of his conviction is revealed most notably by its absence. In the final analysis, it is this that disqualifies Kerry from the presidency.
They who build on ideas, wrote Emerson, build for eternity. Whatever the failures of his first term, Bush has sought to build on ideas. Kerry, for his part, has disclaimed those ideas. That’s his prerogative. Unfortunately, he has offered no credible alternative for repulsing the threat of Islamist terrorism. On the contrary, Kerry aims to resurrect the discredited ideas of the '90s, ideas that New Yorkers like myself had hoped went up in the smoke of a felled World Trade Center. Ultimately, if there is any virtue in Kerry’s foreign policy atavism, it is this: more than any one argument ever could, it makes clear that George W. Bush deserves a second term.
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