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Friday, January 09, 2004

How to Position Myself?

Obviously I'm making no secret of the fact that I'm trying to decide what I think about the candidates in the coming US presidential elections. I think the issue of who is there in the White House from the end of 2004 onwards is an important question. Possibly one of the most important questions facing all of us. Not simply because the United States is a giant superpower, that has long been true. Rather I think it is important because we are going to be facing a set of relatively unique, and certainly novel problems on the global level, and we all need a US president who is focused on those problems, open to dialogue, and capable of gaining the confidence of the rest of the world. Now more than ever we need a coalition of the willing as we try to get to terms with a whole slew of problems which can really only be confronted on a global level: the nation state has, as it were, seen better days. Now given the global rebalancing which I think is taking place, by the time we get to 2008 I don't think the US will still be quite the exclusive super power it was in the late 1990's. The relation of forces is changing, and this can either be done the easy way, or the hard way. If it is done the hard way we might all have a lot to lose, both in the US itself, and in Europe, in China, in India, in Africa wherever.

Now casting around I've been struck by two candidates Clark and Dean: they are obviously both Democrats for the simple reason that we don't have an alterantive on the Republic side, the candidate will be George Bush, and it is the way that Bush has conducted himself internationally which makes me think we need a new US president in the first place. Probably my intellectual leanings are much more in the direction of the democrats, I mean I've had problems swallowing Nixon, I've had problems swallowing Reagan, and now I've got problems stomaching Bush: Harlod MacMillan and Edward Heath were never like this, to cite two more or less right of centre UK politicians who I have had a deal of respect for. Margaret Thatcher seems much nearer the type, but this is precisely the point: I found her bullying manner thoroughly repugnant, I will never forgive her for sinking the Belgrano, and I didn't notice her anti-terrorism hard line stance bringing any real progress in the North of Ireland.

So I wouldn't object in principle to a moderate, dialogue oriented, non-nationalistic republican US presidential candidate: it's just that there isn't one. I think if Colin Powell were standing a lot of us here in Europe would be right behind him. Indeed in my innocence and naievety I had hoped that Bush might have turned out to be something different. I mean 8 years of having the Democrats in power and it was time for a change. Any democracy needs this type of change, and I think in the end the interests of democracy should override the interests of party. But how wrong I was. Of course back then I hadn't heard the term 'neo-con', and why should I have, it's not really my area of interest. In fact it's my ability to get things so wrong here that leads me to try and stick to economic (and related) commentating: I may still get things wrong, but I've a lot more confidence in the validity of what I am saying. I think I have got something useful to say about economics, when it comes to politics I'm never entirely clear.

Take the Iraq war: those who were reading me back then will have noticed I kept my mouth meticulously shut. That wasn't because I didn't have opinions, but simply because I didn't have sufficient confidence in my opinions to voice them too loudly, and I didn't want what I am saying about demography, about which I am a damn sight more clear, to be tainted with my other more questionable 'opinions'. So it was only after the war that you probably realised I had reluctantly supported it. Only when I started in fact to make my own form of 'self criticism' for having got it wrong, or at least for having committed the error of allowing myself to accept Tony Blair's word at face value.

I mean I accepted that there may well have been non-conventional weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and if that were the case, then I certainly didn't want to stand by and see one of our major cities simply taken off the map, so I felt we had no real alternative. Now I know that the intelligence was probably faulty (also I feel we were all probably sent up the gum tree by the Mohammed Attah/Prague connection, which it now appears may well have been a 'plant'). One of the factors we should probably all have taken much more into account was the immediate interest of certain key Iraqi exiles in provoking an invasion. Still, these are hard calls, and I am sure as hell glad that it is not my responsibility normally to make them. Which is why we need politicians - of whatever party - that we can respect and have confidence in. Which brings me back of course to the WMD's and how we decided to go into Iraq. If I had been told at the time that this was to take democracy at bayonett point (Napoleonic style) to the Iraquis I would never have agreed (more of this in a leter post).

So this brings me back to where I started: Dean and Clark. I have nothing whatsover against Clark, indeed in some ways having an ex-soldier in the White House might be just what is needed to help relax the atmosphere inside the US. But Dean is making more of an impression on me at the moment. All I new about Dean previously was that he favoured gay marriages (which is definitely a plus - oh yes, this may only appear a minor point in internal US politics, but it isn't at all: I don't see how a President who has any kind of second thoughts on the issue of condoms can hope to lead a campaign against AIDS in Africa, and this topic should be right at the top of the agenda for anyone who wants to consider themself any kind of widely respected world leader), and that he had been consistenly against the Iraq war.

On top of these facts people have tried to pour a whole lot of opinions, normally seeing what they wanted to see, depending on their perspective. Maybe the most damaging thing I've heard said is that he was flirting with protectionism: and maybe he was. But if you think about it for two seconds he really can't go down that road: if he wants a return to multilateralism and he wants to rebuild the bridges with America's real allies and reduce the fear in those like China who are not allies, but may not want to be enemies, then you just can't go down the protectionist road, that should be obvious.

In recent days our image of Dean seems to be changing. What we are seeing is a much more centrist Dean, more of a Jimmy Carter than a George McGoven (in fact I think I first read the comparison with Carter in the Economist months ago, which kinda puts in perspective the silly idea that the Economist is an apologist for the Bush administration). Now I know all this is image construction, but isn't that what politics is all about at the end of the day? I don't know whether the content of this article I am posting below is fair and balanced: I certainly hope it is. I cannot guarantee for you that Dean is the "bipartisan, Cold War, leader-of-the-free-world policy Americans know and remember", but again, I certainly hope so.

Dean and the world: the nonradical candidate

Howard Dean has won the hearts of Democratic liberals by opposing the war in Iraq and by slamming his Washington, D.C., rivals as compromisers. It is a fine strategy for the man from Montpelier, Vt., the smallest state capital in America, but it does not mean what many of his followers seem to think.

Dean is not a peace candidate in the George McGovern mold. In 1972, McGovern's stand against the Vietnam War signaled an attitude about foreign intervention generally. In Dean's case, it does not. He supported the first Gulf War and the interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

In foreign policy, Dean compares himself to Harry Truman, the president who authorized the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan and who sent troops to South Korea without a declaration of war. Those are not the things he cites about Truman, of course, but they are part of the Truman toughness.

Consider, also, Dean's advisers. Advisers are important; in 2000, the foreign policy of George W. Bush could be discerned more from his advisers than from Bush, who (like Dean today) had no experience. Dean recently appointed a group of 14 advisers on foreign policy. One, Clyde Prestowitz, worked for Ronald Reagan, and another, Adm. Stansfield Turner, was CIA director under Jimmy Carter. Four are retired generals. Most of the rest are former civilian officials from the Clinton administration.

Dean's identity as the against-the-Iraq-war candidate energizes the Democratic base. It may even keep Ralph Nader at bay as a third-party candidate. It also pleases Bush, because against a flatly anti-war candidate, Bush wins in the latest polling.

But Dean is not Dennis Kucinich, and the Democrats, as James Traub of The New York Times writes, "are not really a peace party."

The real Dean, judging by his prepared speeches rather than his oral flubs, offers something much more like the bipartisan, Cold War, leader-of-the-free-world policy Americans know and remember.

Whether that is the best policy for the post-9-11 world is another question. But at least let us stop pretending that in foreign policy, Dean is something radical. He is not.

Update: the other economist for Dean - Lerxst - has an equally interesting piece about Dean the centrist:

One of the things that I haven't quite figured out is why many of the ex-Clintonites and DLC types are so sure that Dean will be easy to tar by Repubs as an out of the mainstream left-winger, when pretty much his whole record shows him to be more mainstream than the rest of the field. As Dean puts it in a front page Wall Street Journal article:

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