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Kerry would be the political equivalent of a cup of tea and a lie down

By Stephen Barton - posted Wednesday, 10 November 2004

The Duke of Wellington famously said of democracy, “I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance”. It’s a nice line, and I suspect there are some at the offices of The Guardian, New York Times or Sydney Morning Herald in the wake of Bush’s (and Howard’s) election who might agree.

The Washington Times recently recorded details of a study by the Centre for Media and Public Affairs, which found that 77 per cent of press reports about John Kerry were positive, compared with 34 per cent for George W Bush. The Director of the non-partisan research group went on to say, “It’s not just that John Kerry has gotten better press than President Bush before this election, he’s gotten better press than anyone else since 1980s”. (Those that see Fox News as a force for Rupert Murdoch and Karl Rove inspired evil might be better served seeing it as an isolated - albeit high rating - voice in the wilderness.)

It’s not just American media. The Spectator has become decidedly anti-Bush of late, its columns, with the exception of those by Mark Steyn, might have come from The Guardian. The Economist, once a bastion of good sense and reason, told its readers, “With a heavy heart, we think American readers should vote for John Kerry”. The Economist called it the choice between “incompetence and incoherence” and they backed incoherence. The Anglo-American conservative Andrew Sullivan also turned against Bush.


Sullivan’s arguments were based on Bush’s big government interventionism and the management of post-war Iraq. Sullivan’s sexuality undoubtedly plays a role in his opposition to Bush, he is uncomfortable with the religious right and is disappointed in Bush’s opposition to same sex marriages. Leaving aside fiscal concerns and sexual politics, the notion of mistakes is perhaps the most interesting.

There is no doubt that mistakes have been made. A brilliantly planned and executed invasion has been followed by an ad hoc, at times ramshackle, occupation. But should we be surprised that some mistakes have been made? The Allies spent the best part of 4 years making mistakes in the Second World War - and even in ’45 they continued to blunder for good measure. In the First World War all the Allies ever seemed to do was make mistakes. The point is, in war, the side that makes the least mistakes wins - and so far the United States has made the least. 

Surprisingly for people who’d usually argue that the state can’t do anything right, some conservatives have taken the Administration’s mistakes and setbacks to heart. All is lost, they moan, and not a few turned against Bush and advocated a quiet life under Kerry. It is the political equivalent of a cup of tea and a lie down.

Of course on one level we shouldn’t be surprised. The War on Terror and the War on Iraq owe much to the Wilsonian tradition in foreign policy and conservatives are often rightly suspicious of such idealism. Some conservatives, faint-hearted souls that they are, can live with some levels of corruption (see UN Oil-for-Food programme) and oppression (see Saddam Hussein) in the interests of stability. Sometimes this is a valid argument, but not now.

For all the criticism of Bush, he remained the only Presidential candidate who truly understood the ramifications of September 11. Supporters of Bush, indeed Bush himself, refer to a dividing line between September 10, 2001 and September 11, 2001. Your politics can be explained by which side of that dividing line you sit: Kerry and the Democrats are September 10, Bush is September 11. Many of Bush’s critics, both conservative and liberal, are September 10 people.

John O’Sullivan in The New Criterion identified four broad concepts in the Bush Administration’s foreign policy that have evolved since September 11. The first is pre-emption, a long established principle in international law. Where possible the US would seek the authorisation of the UN Security Council for its actions, as it did in Afghanistan and attempted to do in Iraq. However, when this fails the United States would use the Coalition of the Willing, as it used in Kosovo and later Iraq. Finally, and this is the most important, it involves “the long-term strategy of encouraging Arab and Muslim democracy.”


The encouragement of democracy is more than Wilsonian or Gladstonian idealism. It is a question of future stability, not only for the Middle East but the wider international community.

Preventing another mass terrorist atrocity depends not only on destroying terrorist networks and the regimes that harbour them, but also on destroying the conditions that create them. To paraphrase Tony Blair: tough on terrorism and tough on the causes of terrorism.

The leftish September 10 crowd frequently cite poverty as the cause of terrorism, the divide between the global north and global south. Extending this argument to extremes, Arhundti Roy recently claimed the occupation of Iraq is designed to serve the interest of Halliburton, Shell, Mobil, Nestle, Pepsi, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Toys R Us. Roy continued, “It is mendacious to make moral distinction between the unspeakable brutality of terrorism and the indiscriminate carnage of war and occupation”. Get the subtext here? Al-Qaeda is Halliburton in fancy dress. Say what you want about Dick Cheney, but I don’t think he was severing heads “al-Zarqawi-style” around the office when he was a CEO.

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About the Author

Stephen Barton teaches politics at Edith Cowan University and has been a political staffer at both a state and federal level. The views expressed here are his own.

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