16 March 2004

Blow to Bush: Ally Rejected

'Senator Kerry has said that we should treat attacks on our nation primarily as matters of law enforcement and intelligence,' Mr. Cheney told an audience in Florence, Ky. 'He's embraced the strategy of the 1990's, which holds that when we are attacked, we ought to round up those directly responsible, put them on trial, and then call it a day.'

But such a strategy, he said, is insufficient because 'it leaves the network behind the attacks virtually untouched.' He concluded by noting that the attack in Spain 'is a reminder that there are evil people in the world, capable of any atrocity, and determined to take innocent life.'

Mr. Kerry is arguing that the administration is wildly oversimplifying his position, and he, too, would take the war to the terrorists. But he argues that he would do it in a way that preserves alliances and avoids the kind of reaction that Spanish voters expressed Sunday. 'We can only fight terror with the help of our allies,' he said in a recent interview and that means devising a strategy that keeps not only leaders like Mr. Aznar on Washington's side, but their constituencies as well.

There's an old theory that political leaders behave in office according to the way they acquire office. Classically this argues that Malcolm Fraser, who took office in a constitutional crisis, never quite felt himself a legitimate prime minister and was therefore more reticent in policy terms than he might have been otherwise. A measure of that is that the circumstances of 1975 can now never recur because Fraser successfully proposed the Senate Casual Vacancies Amendment.

I suspect George Bush conforms to this theory. No matter what you think of Bush v Gore, half a million fewer American supported Bush than Gore. Bush has responded not by reticence, but by disregarding any questions of legitimacy and advancing a radical program from tax cuts to Iraq.

That's context for the idea that the War on Terror can be fought by a coalition of governments, rather than a coalition of peoples. The Spanish people have given a resounding No. It remains to be seen if elections in other coalition countries give the same answer. Arguing that a war should (or even can) be fought by a democracy without popular consent may be good short term tactics but it seems to make a lousy long-term strategy.

No comments: