Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Iraq and the 2004 Elections: Reality Check

John Vinocur is back in fine form, writing about "an increasingly obvious reality: Whatever the heat of the presidential election campaign, in terms of U.S. realpolitik, Iraq has become a basically consensual issue. There is no get-out-now or get-out-soon candidate available to Republican or Democratic voters; both parties acknowledge the necessity of long-haul U.S. engagement in Iraq; their minimal and shared aim is to re-establish some kind of palpable stability there." When are France's mainstream newspapers going to start taking notice?
Joseph Biden, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's senior Democrat, described America's two overriding security challenges this way last week: "Win the death-struggle between freedom and radical fundamentalism, and keep the world's most dangerous weapons away from the world's most dangerous people."

…This is not to say that the who's-fault game is over or could be. But if Iraq's National Security is the essential election issue, then at the heart of things the two candidates track each other, mission accomplished speeches on aircraft carriers or pledges to cozen Europe into joining the Yanks in combat canceling one another out as dopey rhetoric.

Something rather significant enters here. For a country endlessly, and sometimes recklessly, described as polarized or divided, there really is ecumenical ground on Iraq.

…A country polarized and divided? The question went to a European whose days in Washington involve making nontheoretical, dispassionate judgments on America for the home office.

For him, a polarized-and-divided characterization of the United States would be an easy shot, because it points to the supposed destructiveness of the George W. Bush presidency, an idea with strong appeal in Europe, and suggests that half the Americans, in a sudden burst of peasant wisdom for some, have finally caught on to the fool.

But the dispassionate emissary found the United States "assembled in a common front" on foreign policy and Iraq. Where America was divided, he said, was in issues like abortion, gay marriage, gun control, etc.

…Gallup, meanwhile, said that over the last weeks voters moved from a standoff on whether it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq to a 57-38 percent margin justifying their dispatch.

(This, you realize, is another poll we won't be reading much about in Europa.)
Frances Burwell, who directs the Transatlantic Relations program at the nonpartisan Atlantic Council here, says she often encounters European visitors who get the Iraq equation in U.S. politics wrong.

"Europeans ask, when is the administration going to accept its failure in Iraq? I don't think that's accepted as fact either by the administration or the body politic. A lot of people who support the Democrats don't regard Iraq as a failure. There's a risk of failure, of course. But to accept it?"

…If America, someplace, seethes about finishing the job in Iraq, it all the same has produced two candidates for president whose message is, plus or minus continuous recalibration: we will soldier on.

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