Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Krauthammer, Safire, Brzezinski and Michigan

It strikes me as deeply disingenuous to hear the Bush/Cheney campaign accusing Kerry of running on a message of fear. I would say I am surprised by this line of attack, except nothing in the political realm surprises me these days, especially the willingness of Karl Rove to accuse his adversaries of manifesting his own campaign's deepest pathologies. According to Rove, Kerry's warnings about the very real goals of the conservative leadership to undermine Social Security and Medicare are nothing but rank scaremongering. If you don't believe Kerry is on to something, read this.

Regardless, even if Rove is to be believed (a concept that should give most objective readers a pause), does the Bush/Cheney campaign really have standing to level such a charge? This is the campaign that is almost exclusively fear-based. If you vote for Kerry, al-Qaeda will attack us again, Vice President Cheney famously warned the American people. Al-Qaeda wants Kerry to win, echoed Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, despite evidence suggesting the opposite is true. In the most recent GOP TV ad, the viewer is served a healthy dose of fear in the form of a menacing wolfpack (a metaphor for terrorists) nipping at the borders of America, just waiting for Kerry to win in November.

And that's just the terrorism angle. They have also spared no scare-tactic on the domestic front. Kerry will tax us all into poverty, the line goes. He will ruin health care by creating a buy in system similar to the one that the members of Congress currently enjoy (funny, don't remember any of them refusing their plan on those grounds). His repeal of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans will lead to a loss of jobs and cause the economy to falter (funny, seemed like Bush's policies were accomplishing that). And the list goes on.

In Friday's column in the Washington Post,
Charles Krauthammer touched on a new fear nerve: Israel. Here is the relevant excerpt from Krauthammer's latest edition of doom and gloom foreboding:
[Kerry] really does want to end America's isolation. And he has an idea how to do it. For understandable reasons, however, he will not explain how on the eve of an election.

Think about it: What do the Europeans and the Arab states endlessly rail about in the Middle East? What (outside of Iraq) is the area of most friction with U.S. policy? What single issue most isolates America from the overwhelming majority of countries at the United Nations?

The answer is obvious: Israel.

In what currency, therefore, would we pay the rest of the world in exchange for their support in places such as Iraq? The answer is obvious: giving in to them on Israel.
Krauthammer is suggesting that Kerry intends to present Israel's head on a platter to European and Arab nations in order to mend fences with our erstwhile allies and garner broader support for the continuing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This claim by Krauthammer is beyond ridiculous, but just to clue you in on the level of hysteria on his part, here is how he parses Sandy Berger's recent comments on a return to the peace process:
Do not be fooled by the euphemism "peace process." We know what "peace process" meant during the eight years Berger served in the Clinton White House...
I don't remember the Clinton peace process being a sell out of Israel. The effort failed but it was a noble one, and one that, if successful, would have gone a great distance in assuring the safety, security, and longevity of the state of Israel. To me, the term "peace process," especially as used in the Clinton White House, is a good thing. I won't waste any more time on Krauthammer's column, but if you want to read further, Publius at Legal Fiction has a pretty thorough take-down of the Washington Post's resident neoconservative.

At first I dismissed Krauthammer's rant as an isolated incident of last minute scaremongering in order to rile up certain segments of the Jewish American vote. But then, via
Praktike's Place, I noticed that this meme was being repeated elsewhere.

New York Times columnist
William Safire broached the neo-con/paleo-con divide by penning his own cautionary tale for Jewish American voters. Here is Safire's take:
You have to give credit to Arab-Americans, and to the overlapping category of American Muslims, for knowing what side they are on in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and for voting for those they believe would address their concerns.

Four years ago, they voted almost two to one for George W. Bush, thinking he would act like his father. Today, according to the Zogby poll, American Muslim voters are going 10 to 1 in the opposite political direction - for John Kerry over Bush. Not only do they see Bush's Patriot Act as discriminatory, most of these Americans dislike the president's unwavering support of Israel - including his backing of Ariel Sharon's security fence and the diplomatic isolation of Yasir Arafat....

Kerry can legitimately point to dozens of pro-Israel votes. But the essence of his foreign policy - to rely on alliances with France, Germany, Russia and the U.N. to combat terror and enforce the peace - requires accommodation with the central demand of these Arab-influenced entities to lean heavily on Israel to make the very concessions Kerry now says he's against. No Kerry heat on Israel, no grand new global alliance.
In yet another display of coordination amongst the notoriously well disciplined right wing punditry and political class, more voices joined the choir seeking to use Kerry's support amongst Muslim and Arab Americans as a means to scare Jewish American voters, and again, to cast doubt on Kerry's intentions vis a vis Israel. This item was picked up in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew Brooks is also rallying Jews for Bush - noting that Kerry has the support of Arab and Muslim groups.

"You can judge political candidates by who their friends are," he said.
Do not think me crazy when I say that this latest round of attacks on Kerry is actually a cause for optimism for Kerry supporters. It signifies the fact that the Bush/Cheney campaign has all but abandoned its efforts to court Muslim and Arab American voters, a crucial voting bloc in many swing states which Bush carried, as Safire pointed out, by nearly a 2 to 1 margin in 2000. If they are really leaning toward Kerry, even by less than the 10 to 1 mark that Safire claims, this represents a very significant gain for Kerry in some of the most important states in this election. Arab/Muslim Americans make up a substantial minority first and foremost in Michigan, but also in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio. They very well could spell the margin of victory for Kerry in at least three of those states.

The Bush/Cheney rhetoric of fear on this issue is also an attempt by the Bush team to shore up support in states like Florida and New Jersey that have large Jewish American minorities. This shift in strategy could mean that Bush/Cheney views Florida as their best chance for victory, considering the changing dynamic in places like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Again, it is an encouraging sign to see Bush/Cheney putting all of their eggs in one basket, especially because the chances of Bush/Cheney making serious inroads into the Jewish American vote are slim.

As the Haaretz article notes:
While publicly optimistic, administration officials are realistic about what they can achieve. In spite of outreach efforts, 69 percent of Jews are still expected to vote for Kerry and only 24 percent for Bush, according to an American Jewish Committee survey. This would compare with near 20 percent for Bush in 2000, but Republicans say they still hope to win more than 30 percent of the Jewish vote.
Safire himself laments:
Four years ago, candidate Bush received 20 percent of the "Jewish vote," about halfway between the low point for a Republican candidate (5 percent for Goldwater) and the high point (39 percent for Reagan). Today, it appears that Bush is getting only slightly more than the 20 percent of last time...

Despite the fact that this president has firmly backed Israel's vigorous self-defense - and time and again vetoed or denounced lopsided U.N. votes to ostracize Israel - 8 out of 10 Jewish American voters will still vote as a bloc to oust him.

...most Jewish Americans quite properly base their vote on issues like social justice, civil liberty, economic fairness and not primarily on what may be good for Israel. That's been especially true when democratic Israel, like the U.S., has had a close hawk-dove split.
But Safire pleads with Jewish Americans to put aside those other issues, and vote solely on the basis of Israel. The problem is, he conflates Israel's best interests with those of Ariel Sharon and the Likud Party. The two are not always one and the same, and in my opinion, Likud's policies have done more to make Israel less safe in the long run than before Likud took power. Jewish American voters who place the interests of Israel in a position of prominence in their voting calculus, should lean toward a candidate who understands this reality.

Exploring this concept further, I think that Krauthammer and Safire's columns are cause for optimism beyond presidential campaign watchers. If they're right, that Kerry stands a chance at making significant progress in resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict using the Clintonian model, then I think the world would benefit enormously. Mind you, I am not suggesting anything like Krauthammer's "abandonment" of Israel, and neither would Kerry. No American president would ever consider such a course of action, and with good cause.

That being said, nowhere is it written that all American presidents have to agree with every Israeli policy or action, regardless of whether it is Labor or Likud, peace overture or heavy-handed military strikes and dubiously termed "security fences." Maybe Safire and Krauthammer are right, that Kerry is paying lip service to Sharon and Likud in order to win the election, and once elected he would urge the parties to rein in their most belligerent elements and return to the negotiation table. What an opportunity that would present. Far from an abandonment of Israel, forging a lasting peace through negotiation, not militaristic and punitive solutions, is the only hope for a peaceful and fruitful Israel. Unwavering support for Likud does not always further this goal.

Like it or not, victory in the struggle to win the soul of the Muslim world from the extremists and fundamentalists like al-Qaeda and the Wahhabists, must include a dignified peace in Israel/Palestine. There is no other way. Contrary to the Bush team's most fantastical pipe dreams (spread in part by Ahmed Chalabi), the road to peace in Israel does not run through Baghdad, the road to peace in Baghdad runs through Jerusalem.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser in the Carter administration, offers the following insights in a column appearing in yesterday's
New York Times:
Both candidates have become prisoners of a worldview that fundamentally misdiagnoses the central challenge of our time. President Bush's "global war on terror" is a politically expedient slogan without real substance, serving to distort rather than define. It obscures the central fact that a civil war within Islam is pitting zealous fanatics against increasingly intimidated moderates. The undiscriminating American rhetoric and actions increase the likelihood that the moderates will eventually unite with the jihadists in outraged anger and unite the world of Islam in a head-on collision with America.
Brzezinski lays out the plan that has so raised the ire of Krauthammer and Safire:
In fact, in the Islamic world at large as well as in Europe, Mr. Bush's policy is becoming conflated in the public mind with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policy in Gaza and the West Bank. Fueled by anti-American resentments, that policy is widely caricatured as a crude reliance on power, semicolonial in its attitude, and driven by prejudice toward the Islamic world. The likely effect is that staying on course under Mr. Bush will remain a largely solitary American adventure...

To get the Europeans to act, any new administration will have to confront them with strategic options. The Europeans need to be convinced that the United States recognizes that the best way to influence the eventual outcome of the civil war within Islam is to shape an expanding Grand Alliance (as opposed to a polarizing Holy Alliance) that embraces the Middle East by taking on the region's three most inflammatory and explosive issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the mess in Iraq, and the challenge of a restless and potentially dangerous Iran.
In opposition to the admonitions of Krauthammer and Safire, Brzezinski offers an alternate interpretation, that is nothing like foresaking Israel. It looks more like a sensible first step in tackling what has been a problem that has stubbornly resisted resolution for over half a century:
While each issue is distinct and immensely complex, each affects the others. The three must be tackled simultaneously, and they can be tackled effectively only if America and Europe cooperate and engage the more moderate Muslim states.

A grand American-European strategy would have three major prongs. The first would be a joint statement by the United States and the European Union outlining the basic principles of a formula for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, with the details left to negotiations between the parties. Its key elements should include no right of return; no automatic acceptance of the 1967 lines but equivalent territorial compensation for any changes; suburban settlements on the edges of the 1967 lines incorporated into Israel, but those more than a few miles inside the West Bank vacated to make room for the resettlement of some of the Palestinian refugees; a united Jerusalem serving as the capitals of the two states; and a demilitarized Palestinian state with some international peacekeeping presence.
Nothing in that prescription for peace spells doom for Israel. I, like Safire, hope that Jewish Americans consider the safety, stability and security of Israel, in addition to the progressive social issues Safire enumerated, when they cast their ballots one week from today. If they do, I think they will understand that unconditional support for every action and policy of Ariel Sharon is not the best way to achieve those ends, and the results make Israel, America, and the rest of the world a more dangerous place.

[Update: Richard Cohen in the Washington Post offers some interesting insights that supports some of my position:

"No doubt George Bush is a true friend of Israel. But so was Bill Clinton and so would be John Kerry. This is an American political reality -- a reflection of sturdy Democratic and Republican positions, plus a national affinity for a fellow democracy. The issue is not who cares more for Israel but who can be effective in reducing the violence and bring about a peaceful solution. So far, that's not been George Bush."]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?