Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MORE WARS?....In explaining why he's going to vote for John Kerry even though he thinks Kerry is insufficiently hawkish and insufficiently dedicated to democracy promotion, OxBlog's Josh Chafetz makes an underappreciated point:

I can envision a situation in which I think the United States ought to take military action and in which President Bush would agree, whereas President Kerry, because of his inordinate faith in the legitimizing power of international institutions, might not. But, first, let me note that, in any situation in which military force is clearly called for (e.g., another attack, leading to another Afghanistan), I have complete confidence that Kerry will make the right call. But what about another close call where I think we ought to send troops? It's true, Kerry might not make my preferred decision. But I am also convinced that Bush even a reelected Bush would lack the political capital to send American troops into battle again in a close call. In other words, in the primary situation in which Bush's advantage in grand strategy would be an issue, I don't think Bush would be able to put his preferred policy in place, anyway.

He's right. Because of the political capital deficit that Josh cites as well as practical problems related to military overstretch, there just isn't going to be a preventive war in the next four years. If a nuke goes off in downtown Atlanta, we'll do what we have to do, but in any kind of close call neither Bush nor Kerry will go to war.

But if that's the case, what's the hawkish foreign policy argument for voting for Bush? Democracy promotion? Bush may talk about democracy more than Kerry, but given his sanguine acceptance of an Islamic theocracy in Iraq, it's hard to believe he really takes it all that seriously. That leaves only a few pretty arcane issues on the table, like bilateral vs. multilateral talks with the North Koreans or the exact structure of possible sanctions against Iran. Those are hardly election deal breakers.

In fact, once you accept that additional large-scale military action is off the table except in extreme cases, the most relevant question, even for hawks, is simple: who's best able to handle the diplomatic, educational, and multilateral foreign policy tasks that are likely to be the highlights of the next four years no matter who wins? Even his supporters acknowledge that these aren't George Bush's strong points, and I think Spencer Ackerman has made a pretty compelling case that they are Kerry's and that Kerry can succeed at a lot of these critical tasks where Bush simply can't. Andrew Sullivan provides a pretty good example here.

For hawks, the best argument in favor of Kerry is that the Iraq war is a done deal, and there isn't likely to be a followup. So even if Bush was the right bull in a china shop for the past four years, is he also the best guy to put the china shop back together over the next four? Probably not.

POSTSCRIPT: As an aside, it's worth asking if another war is really as unlikely as I'm making it out to be. In fact, I don't consider it farfetched to suppose that Bush and his team will do their best to gin up a foreign policy crisis of some kind in order to justify further military action in a second term. However, (a) I don't think such an effort would succeed, and (b) you'd have to be a stone mega-hawk to consider that a reason to vote for him anyway, wouldn't you?

UPDATE: Atrios suggests that "gin up" isn't quite the right verb.....

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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