Monday, March 08, 2004

Can Kerry carry the weight of the Presidency?

Bush falls flat on foreign policy

Despite my long time criticisms of President Bush, this does not mean by any means that the oldman has complete confidence in the Democrats. On one hand, President Bush may have substantially worsened the American national security posture after 911 by over-reaching. Clearly this is a man who can't manage a lemonade stand much less a superpower. The oldman's evidence? When he was owner of the Rangers baseball team, Bush traded Sammy Sosa for Harold Baines. Who is Harold Baines one asks? That one has to ask is the whole point. Now that's he's running the most powerful nation in the recorded history of mankind, Bush has brought his less than brilliant managerial style to overstretching the American military (MSNBC).

"No matter who wins, the same reality will confront the next president in 2005 -- that we are severely overstretched and have to make a number of choices: whether to stop taking on new commitments, and if necessary discard some, or to increase the size of military forces and dramatically increase the defense budget," said Geoffrey Kemp, a National Security Council staff member during the Reagan administration who is now at the Nixon Center.

"This sort of notion that we are omnipotent and at a unipolar moment that allows us to knock off regimes we don't like, it's an idea whose time has passed," Kemp said.

Then Kerry trips up and falls on top of him...

On the other hand perhaps it's reading too many Mickey Kaus reports on Slate ranting about how contradictory Kerry's policies are or how Kerry K.O.'ed Dean, but Kerry doesn't exactly have my confidence either though I doubt he would engage in such a forward invasion posture. Then again Kerry did say that he would have chosen as President to send in troops to prop up Aristide in Haiti (NYT).

"I would have been prepared to send troops immediately, period," Mr. Kerry said on Friday, expressing astonishment that President Bush, who talks of supporting democratically elected leaders, withheld any aid and then helped spirit Mr. Aristide into exile after saying the United States could not protect him.

"Look, Aristide was no picnic, and did a lot of things wrong," Mr. Kerry said. But Washington "had understandings in the region about the right of a democratic regime to ask for help. And we contravened all of that. I think it's a terrible message to the region, democracies, and it's shortsighted."

Saying that Aristide of Haiti is an elected leader is like saying Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is an elected leader. Mugabe did win the last election. However, the election was probably fixed. These sorts of phony democracies are common in nations where democracies are introduced without prior enabling socioeconomic development (Oldman1787).

Propping up Aristide would have been the absolutely wrong thing to do. Powell made this mistake by trying to broker an agreement with the Aristide opposition where Aristide stayed in power. They refused flatly, and the United States and Powell lost (even more) precious credibity. Of course, the way that the Bush43 Administration mismanaged and fumbled the issue after that isn't confidence building either.

“The Americans are only here to protect those who helped oust Aristide,” said Ednar Ducoste, 23, an Aristide supporter. “If we had guns, we would be fighting against them right now.”

On Sunday Aristide released a statement through government officials in the Central African Republic, where he is in exile, saying he was “well looked-after” by his hosts and would personally address reporters at an unspecified time. Aristide has said the United States forced him from power, something U.S. officials deny.


It's amazing how the Bush Administration is capable of creating anti-American sentiment around the world. This time however, they cooperated with France in order to do so. So what should they have done? It's a matter of too hot and too cold. Sufficient coordination with allies is needed along with sufficient application of force. It's this chewing bubble gum and walking at the same time thing that the Bush Administration doesn't have down yet. If they did force Aristide from power, they should get him to shut the hell up and tell his followers to stand down. If they didn't force him from power, they should get him to shut the hell up and tell his followers to stand down. A precondition of most exile agreements is that the fleeing politician stop meddling in affairs of his original country. The United States could easily pressure Aristide with a threat to his sanctuary status to help calm things down.

Apparently this hasn't occurred to the bright lights up there at State and the National Security Council. This thing has been mishandled from the start. Aristide's time was done. Without any international or American encouragement, the opposing forces would have edged him out. Kerry's idea of propping him up was bunk. However, the Bush Administration should have been riding herd on the opposition and brokered a transition to a new intermediate regime which would have restored peace and stability rather than leaving pro and anti-Aristide militias running about with American Marines caught in between.

Aristide should have been forced to bless this arrangement and swallow the bitter pill as a precondition of his exile. A Haitian high judge has been sworn in as a nominal leader, but the rebel forces are undisciplined and haven't had the law laid down for them. They should have been told under threat of force and international sanction that they will only be transitional figures underneath the political direction of the Aristide opposition coalition and the transitional government, conducted under international supervision.

Powell and Rice really let this get away from them. Sometimes it is necessary to knock heads together and force people to be reasonable and play nice. Sometimes people just won't agree to be reasonable and play by the rules unless it is forcibly impressed upon them that pulling stunts will not be tolerated. The rule however is that force is to be used as a diplomacy and strategy amplifier. The coercive threat of force, the so-called iron fist within the velvet glove, is what makes the soft touch of negotiations firm enough to take hold. Naked force arouses resentment and used too often expends precious resources. Diplomacy without coercive economic and security measures as a stick to balance the carrot breeds anarchy and contempt for law and order. One could argue that Democrats and Republicans represent two incompetent extremes in the capacity to use force deftly in conjunction with cooperation in order to achieve useful ends. If this is the best that either can offer, then a pox on both their houses!


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