Tuesday, October 19, 2004

1984 and 2004 

Drawing parallels to the wars on terror and in Iraq has become something of a cottage industry among historians and pundits, with Vietnam being the opponents' preferred analogy, while the more hawkish commentators would rather make comparisons with the Cold War.

In a similar vein, Dr Judith Apter Klinghoffer, senior associate scholar at the Political Science department at Rutgers University, speculates in her recent article
"What If America Had Elected Walter Mondale in 1984?" Dr Klinghoffer's conclusion is clear:

"By reelecting Reagan, the American people proved that they were willing to pay the price needed to achieve victory and in so doing they enhanced immensely President Reagan's bargaining power. Consequently, when Reagan refused to negotiate away the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Soviet leadership, elite and people confounded the experts and decided not to make the sacrifices needed to keep up with the Americans in yet another costly arms race.

"Similarly, a Bush victory coming as it will in the wake of the Howard victory in Australia is bound to send a powerful message not only to the Islamists but also to our real and nominal Muslim allies that they better join the anti-Islamist fight and take the American demand for reform seriously. A Bush defeat is bound to send the opposite signal. Even if Kerry would like to prosecute the war on terror in Iraq and elsewhere, he would have to overcome the worldwide perception that the electorate has repudiated not only Bush but his forceful policy. In other words, much of the hard work and sacrifices made by the American people in the past three years would be wasted. This may not be fair, but it is nonetheless true and I suspect the American people know it."
Indeed, it might not be fair, but life often isn't, as we on the right side of politics never tire of reminding everyone. This really the crux of the matter: those who have been around for a while know that in politics perceptions matter more than reality. The reality might be that John Kerry is indeed genuinely committed to tough anti-terror foreign policy, the sort of "Bush's commitment without Bush's mistakes" approach. Personally, nothing that Kerry has said or done regarding his attitude and plans convinces me that this is how it will work out in practice should he be successful on November 2 - but me personal views are irrelevant here.

What counts is that the great majority of those Americans who are backing Kerry are doing so not because they want him to do a better job than Bush at what Bush is now doing; they are backing him because they want him to do a different job to what Bush is now doing. More importantly, from the international point of view, the overwhelming majority (if the recent opinion polls are anything to go by) of people and the elites overseas also want Kerry in the White House not because they think there will be little difference between him and Bush, but precisely because they think that the Kerry Administration will pursue a radically different foreign policy than its predecessor.

It might not be fair, but that doesn't make it any less true.


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