Tuesday, October 19, 2004

# Posted 12:41 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MAKING THE DECISION: There are a precious few of us left who still haven't decided to whom we'll be giving our votes. But Greg Djerejian has decided. His lengthy commentary demonstrates that one can be profoundly aware of how grave the situation is in Iraq -- and of how much the Bush administration had contributed to that gravity -- yet still believe that Bush is better prepared than Kerry to handle the crisis.

In contrast, Daniel Drezner demonstrates that one can be profoundly troubled by Kerry's naive faith in multilateral diplomacy, yet still believe that he can wage our war on terror more effectively than George W. Bush. Thus, Dan now estimates that there is a 70% likelihood that he will be voting for Kerry.

So where do I stand in all of this? Yesterday afternoon, while waiting for the 4:50 PM showing of Team America to start, I told a couple of my liberal friends from UVA Law that there was a 60% chance I'd vote for Kerry. Concerned, one of them said to me, "Don't think, man, just vote for Kerry."

I responded: "Don't think? I thought that was your problem with Bush."

When I got home from the theater, I began to ask myself what could persuade me to vote for Bush if I'm already leaning toward Kerry and there are only twelve or so days left before the election. I still don't have an answer to that question, which means that the probability I will vote for Kerry is actually much higher than 60%.

They say that undecideds break for the challenger. Am I falling into that typical pattern of behavior? If I were confident enough in Bush to want him back in office, I should have recognized that long ago. Thus, the question becomes: Am I so afraid of what Kerry might accomplish as President that I prefer to have Bush remain in office?

In contrast to Dan & Greg, my most profound concern about Kerry is his naivete with regard to multilateral diplomacy. Rather, it is his total resistance to making about any positive statement about the importance of ensuring a democratic outcome in Iraq. Even though things are not going well on the ground, I believe that a true opportunity for democratization still exists. But that opportunity will amount to nothing in the absence of an all-out American effort to take advantage of it.

Like Greg, I am well aware of how the implementation of Bush's plans has not lived up to his soaring rhetoric. And like Dan, I believe that the heart of the problem is the closed-mindedness that prevents the Bush administration from adapting in response to its own failures.

Yet if I expect the Kerry administration to be more competent, shouldn't I expect it to be more competent at achieving precisely the objective I opppose, i.e. the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq before there is a democratic order in place?

My answer to that question is 'no'. Ironically, I believe that it is Bush's uncompromising commitment to promoting democracy in Iraq and throughout the Middle East that will tie Kerry's hands.

In a more abstract sense, I also believe that the values embedded in American political culture will limit Kerry's options. When America occupies a foreign nation, it cannot withdraw before establishing some semblance of a democratic order.

Sadly, most of our occupations have left behind only a democratic facade that crumbled shortly after the last troops came home. Often, the weankess of that facade reflected the United States' prioritization of withdrawal over democratic reform.

Yet it is extremely rare for the United States to become as invested in an occupation as it is now in Iraq. It was much simpler to pull a few thousand troops out of Haiti, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, as we did in the 1920s and 1930s. While the conditions on the ground in Iraq may not resemble those of postwar Germany or postwar Japan, the commitment of American prestige and centrality of American interests is similar.

Finally, I believe there is an ethical core to Kerry's foreign policy that can be put into the service of democratization. In the 1980s, Kerry's concern for human rights led him to denounce Reagan's support for anti-Communist rebels in Nicaragua known as 'contras'.

Like his fellow Democrats, Kerry failed to recognize that the price of abandoning the contras was the destruction of any hope for democratic reform in Nicaragua. On a fundamental level, liberal Democrats opposed American intervention in other nations' domestic affairs, even if those nations were being held hostage by Communists.

This broad commitment to anti-interventionism on the left is the legacy of the Vietnam war. I believe that this same anti-interventionism led Kerry to oppose the first Gulf War as well as (to some degree) the second.

But the choice America's faces in Iraq is not one of intervention. We are already there. Our soldiers are already dying. Some might suggest that Kerry would rather save the lives of a few hundreds thane he would ensure the success of Iraq's transition.

I disagree. I believe that Kerry recognizes the danger of withdrawing from Iraq before it is stabilized. And I don't believe that Kerry could accept (let alone achieve) a process of stabilization that isn't democratic.

This doesn't mean that I expect Kerry to consistently make the right decisions about democracy in Iraq. In fact, I fully expect there to be a major struggle within the Democratic Party to define Kerry's agenda should he become President. I will simply do my best to play my small part in that struggle and to persuade as many Democrats as I can that democracy is the answer for Iraq.

Ultimately, I recognize that the arguments made above reflect a considerable degree of speculation about Kerry's motives. Thus, I will not hold it against anyone if they vote for Bush because their subjective assessment of the candidates' motives is different from my own.

Moreover, I do not believe that it is possible to make a decision in this election that doesn't rest on a considerable degree of speculation. In our political system, as in most, running for office entails strategic position-hiding as much as it does strategic position-taking.

Perhaps something will happen in these last few days that will change my perceptions of the candidates. If not, I will be voting for John Kerry.
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