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The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria
Polyarchy by Robert Dahl
The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen
Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck
What to do about Africa. Now that we've dealt with Iraq, our stategic interest of the moment, our attention seems to have wandered away from the business of freeing people from tyranny and oppression. While no weapons of mass destruction have been, or it seems now, will be found in Iraq, the Bush administration is changing its tune and now insists that, "we've liberated a people, isn't that enough?" Well yes, personally I think it probably is enough. But the liberation of Iraq was not the stated goal of the administration. Cheney repeatedly made statements to the effect that if New York was a mushroom cloud tomorrow, he wouldn't be surprised. He was the one who insisted that the false African uranium intelligence be included in Bush's State of the Union report, even though he and virtually every intelligence agency knew it to be a fake. There's some real explaining that needs to go on from this administration.
If the war was about liberating a people, then I'm all with you. Except that's not what the reasoning was. If the war was about weapons of mass destruction, then show me the weapons! If the weapons ran across the border to Syria or elsewhere, how did the war make us any safer? I supported the war based on the humanitarian grounds and I went with the weapons reasoning because all indications were that there was something there to be had. Even Tony Blair thought so. And if there's anything Third Way liberals like me love, it's Tony Blair.
Blair seems to have adopted a very well reasoned policy for intervention in the course of this Iraq business. It goes like this:
"What amazes me is how happy people are for Saddam to stay. They ask why we don't get rid of Mugabe, why not the Burmese lot. Yes, let's get rid of them all. I don't because I can't, but when you can, you should." (via Andrew Sullivan)
Blair saw the weakness of Saddam at this point in time as a justification for urgent action. In fact, from that statement, it would seem that he would base his support for an intervention on the ability of his supremely wealthy and powerful nation to effectively get the job done and make the lives of people better.
Britain has shown this willingness to truly better the world in its intervention in Sierra Leone two years ago which turned a nation on the verge of genocide into a nation of functioning democracy. What benefit did Britain gain from this? Well for one it corrected an imperialist wrong that had been perpetrated on the country years ago. But also, it showed the beneficence of British intentions. It showed that there need not be oil in the ground to make a humanitarian mission worthwhile.
That seems to be a line of reasoning entirely lost on those in the Bush administration when it comes to anything Africa - in this case the speaker is the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and the subject is the Congo:
''Our view is that fundamentally no amount of peacekeeping forces are going to be able to resolve this situation if there isn't the political will both in the Congo and in the neighboring countries to achieve a satisfactory political outcome. The Congo is just too large a country to be able to hope or think that a large foreign intervention can make that much of a difference over the long-term."
As WebKafe writes, "I don't claim to know enough about the intricacies of the situation in the Congo, but it appears on the face that this kind of stance is cover talk for "we have no compelling national interest in the Congo."
This is what makes the Bush administration line about freeing the Iraqi people come off as purely after-the-fact spin. I don't buy the fact that there's nothing we can do because the Congo is "just too large." Yes, the Congo is the size of Alaska, but when has geography limited the reach of our military? And with a country like this one, it's a situation where we wouldn't be alone in our efforts. As the world's strongest power, we owe it to others to act for their betterment as well.
I don't buy the argument that I recently heard from one of my good friends that we shouldn't go into Africa because we would just mess it up more. I think that argument fails to recognize the differences between imperialism and humanitarianism. We owe it to the Congo to stop the multi-national civil war (does that make sense?) that has been raging. We owe it to Liberia to step in and stop their decent into chaos. And we owe it to the people of Zimbabwe to do what we can to encourage an end to the rule of Robert Mugabe.
America shouldn't be seen as only having an interest in stopping oppression when it can also liberate oil pipelines. I don't think it does, but sometimes I wonder if I'm just too optimistic. This is the time for America to prove that its ambitions are not for an empire, but for peace between peoples. Let's subscribe to the Blair Doctrine: if we can make the world better, we should.
I've given the poll about which Democratic contender would have the best shot at shipping Bush back to Crawford a week now and with a mere 18 votes, I'm a little disappointed. However, it's about what I expected. Nevertheless, I feel as if even with such a tiny voting block, the results still reflect reality to a strong degree.
1) On top is Dick Gephardt. His strong support for the Iraqi war resolution gave him a mighty hand in stating his national security credentials, or at least in the eyes of the herd mentality that so often grips the American public. He is one of the few candidates who can adequately stand toe to toe on national security with the President. He even goes further, which wouldn't take much to match on the President's part by the way, by calling for greater funding for port security and for a beefing up of the new bureaucratic toy of the administration, the Department of Homeland Security.
On domestic issues Gephardt is leading the pack with his solid healthcare plan - one that is both feasible and comprehensive. No doubt voters will be looking for someone who has proven experience as a leader, not just a fresh face as they demonstrated in 2000. If elections have reduced down to a common denominator of personability and similarity to the average American, the voter need only compare the history of Gephardt and Bush.
The President was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and was brought up under a political umbrella. Unfortunately he failed to embrace the privilege of his up-bringing and succumbed to the dead-end lifestyle of cocaine, alcohol and "gentlemen's 'C's," only to miraculously find himself again at the age of 40, at which point he began his political career. Did I mention he traded Sammy Sosa?
Now look at Gephardt. He was the son of a union milkman and a poorly paid nurse. Neither of his parents finished high school. He went to public schools and made it to college not as a legacy student, but through the generosity of loans from his southern baptist church and other local supporters. He went on to law school and began practicing law until, in 1976, he decided to run for Congress. He's been there ever since, and has been a congressional leader for 12 years.
If Americans want experience and someone to relate to, Gephardt is their man. Plus he's from the dead center of the country. That will be a big help in areas that Democrats traditionally do less well.
2) Next in the poll came John Kerry. His tours in Vietnam, while not on their own national security credentials, certainly make him an extremely formidable foe for Bush. His waffling on all issues pertaining to Iraq though, has somewhat weakened his standing as a capable foreign policy guru.
On the domestic front, much like Gephardt, Kerry has outlined a broad healthcare plan - though not nearly as ambitious. His plan focuses on children, which would no doubt help in it's passage, were he elected, but would still leave a large swath of America uninsured. Nevertheless, it would be an improvement on the current situation and likely the future situation, given Bush with a lame duck term.
As far as up-bringing and likeness to the average voter goes, Kerry doesn't bring much to the table. Both Kerry and Bush are members of the ultra-secret, elitist fraternity-like club at Yale called The Skulls. It's made up of the wealthiest, future CEO's, judges and politicians in the country who attended Yale. Furthermore, Kerry's wife is worth something like a gazillion dollars. Kerry's public persona reeks of elitist New England Liberal, and well, that's what he is. No doubt Kerry would do just fine against Bush and it would be a close race, but in the end Kerry doesn't strike me as America's best friend the way Bush (mistakenly) seems to strike the fancy of middle America.
3) Howard Dean placed third in this very unscientific poll, which makes me wonder if people misinterpreted the question as, "Who do you like the most?" There certainly is a good portion of Democrats who think Dean is their savior. I just don't see it. The only way, in my mind, that Dean could win the presidency would be if America got so fed up with the harmful policies of Bush that they reached for the most opposite candidate possible. America would have to desire something of a newfound confidence in their personal security under a governor with no foreign policy experience, and with statements on his record that do not fit well with the roll of commander-in-chief. In short, for Dean to beat Bush, America will have to dramatically change it's "follow" mentality when it hears the Bush administration utter its latest excuse for the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. America will have to look up and see that it is not being led up the mountain, but off the cliff. If it does this, Dean will win. I think I've outlined Dean's weaknesses and strengths, but for me to be wrong, the electorate will have to do some somersaults.
4) John Edwards and Joe Lieberman tied for what amounts to last place, considering no one views Bob Graham as a viable competitor against Bush. These two actually should be higher, but their failings in the early primary season have cast some doubts on their abilities to do much of anything. Early on Edwards was proclaimed as the most feared candidate by those in the White House. No doubt they saw another young southern Democrat running for President in a year filled with candidates and it rehashed those nightmares they had been having since 1992. I think they are probably right about this fear though. Edwards has the ability and the flexibility, thanks to his painfully short public service resume, to form himself into the candidate that America wants. He has a vast possibility for potential; he has yet to demonstrate this yet, but if he ever hits his stride, he could be dangerous to Bush.
Joe Lieberman on the other hand, is nearly everything that Edwards is not. He starts much higher in terms of credibility, record and gravitas, but his potential for dramatic spurts of support seems to be limited to a small range of percentage points. Lieberman has everything a president needs to be an effective and well balanced leader, but lacks the much different qualities that are required of a candidate to get elected. Both of these men would probably do just fine against Bush, but unfortunately both would probably come up short, barring an explosive boost for Edwards.
So where does this leave us? Each candidate seems to represent a portion of what a Democratic candidate needs to be at this moment. The populist appeal and leadership qualities of Gephardt, the war heroics and prestige of John Kerry, the firebrand freshness and New England liberalism of Howard Dean, the southern attraction and rags to riches stories of John Edwards, and the respectability and devotion embodied in Joe Lieberman. Unfortunately Democrats can't be so picky.
If we want to win we need to pick a leader who can beat Bush where he's supposedly strong (apparently national security), and simply out-do him where he's weak (seemingly everywhere). In theory it shouldn't take much, but in reality only the most prepared candidate will have a shot at dethroning Bush. Let's pick a good one.
I'm no fan of Howard Dean, but my disdain isn't too deep for the good doctor either. He brings with him a freshness that Washington could really use. He's made a legitimate call for "Democrats to be Democrats again," and no doubt he's right that the party could use a jolt of electricity from the Left. He would be a great candidate for the party and I'm sure would be a fine leader.
But not now.
In today's world Dean is just too new. In an age of lurking terrorist threats and uncertainty about what's next - even at the highest levels - the last thing America will want is a renegade governor from Vermont. The country will flock to the candidate who has proven himself in the past as someone who can lead, someone who can point to a moment in the distant past and be able to say, "I've done this before," - and Vermont state politics hardly qualify. America, no doubt, will choose the leader who they feel safest with. I don't know about you, but a man who publicly states that he doesn't necessarily believe that America will always be the strongest military power in the world doesn't exactly make me sleep sounder.
Furthermore, Dean's credentials are successes in a bubble. Yes, Dean got the first civil unions law in the country passed under his watch as governor, but that doesn't negate the positions of his opponents. While he was busy making Vermont into a Liberal utopia, his opponents were struggling on the national level for the very same issues. The fact that Dick Gephardt or John Kerry haven't gotten a federal civil unions law passed doesn't make them homophobic or blind to gay and lesbian causes, it simply means they have encountered the conservative opposition that I'm guessing is quite lacking in Burlington.
Dean can point to the fact that Vermont has guaranteed health coverage for children under 18, but things like that are far easier to accomplish in a state so Liberal that it has elected a man who holds Socialist ideals as his badge of honor in representing Vermont in the House of Representatives (who thought Dean wasn't Liberal enough and therefore endorsed Kucinich!). Lieberman and Edwards would be foolish to push for such broad coverage on the national level, for the opposition to that kind of reform actually exists.
If the good doctor manages to pull off an upset and somehow win the party nomination, I'll vote for him. But I'll do so knowing that my vote will be in vain and that it will only allow for four more years of Bush. Only this time Bush won't have to answer to anyone. Flat taxes, nuclear war with North Korea and an end to Medicare. Yikes.
If you're an idealist, go ahead, vote for Dean. Or better yet, vote for the Green Party candidate as the perfectly placed heckler behind Dean at his announcement rally yesterday urged. But if you're hoping for a better America, hope realistically. The only way to ensure an end to civil liberty abuses, environmental destruction, under-funded port security and roughshot diplomacy is to get an electable Democrat into office. Dean will not get us there.
Dream about him now, but when your primary rolls around, give a winner a chance.