Entries from September 2004

Uncertain Trumpet

David Frum September 27th, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror,

by Anonymous (Brassey’s, 352 pp., $27.50)

This is an alarming book, but not in the way its author intended. It delivers an urgent danger signal – not about al-Qaeda, but about intelligence services staffed with analysts who think the way the author of this book thinks.

This latest attack on the Bush administration’s war policies was written anonymously by Michael Scheuer, a veteran CIA analyst who headed the Agency’s bin Laden unit in the late 1990s. His assessment of the War on Terror is grimly pessimistic: Everything the U.S. has done has been wrong. It was wrong to wait even three weeks before striking Afghanistan, wrong to try to rebuild Afghanistan afterward, wrong to try to cut the funding for terror, wrong to overthrow Saddam, wrong to crack down on radical Islamic groups in this country and worldwide.

As Scheuer sees it, the U.S. is now confronting a global Islamic insurgency under the leadership of the most charismatic and attractive Muslim leader to come along in at least a couple of hundred years. Scheuer dismisses hopeful talk about bin Laden representing only a fringe of a fringe within Islam. Bin Laden’s views, he contends, are shared “by a large percentage of the world’s Muslims across the political spectrum.” America must recognize that “much of Islam is fighting us, and more is leaning that way.”

Suppressing so widely backed an insurgency would demand slaughter on an almost unimaginable scale:

If U.S. leaders truly believed that the country is at war with bin Laden and the Islamists, they would dump the terminally adolescent bureaucrats and their threat matrix and tell the voters that war brings repeated and at times grievous defeats as well as victories, and proceed with relentless, brutal, and yes, blood-soaked offensive military actions until we have annihilated the Islamists who threaten us, or so mutilate their forces, supporting populations, and physical infrastructure that they recognize continued war-making on their part is futile.

Scheuer understandably flinches from such massive bloodletting – and indeed, he is not truly contemplating it. He deploys his tough talk only as part of the old bureaucratic trick of generating unacceptable alternatives in order to manipulate policymakers: Well, Mr. Secretary, we have worked up three options for you. Option A is total passivity. Option B is global thermonuclear war. And Option C is . . .

In Scheuer’s case, Option C turns out to be a policy of averting terrorism by figuring out what the terrorists want, and then giving it to them. Such a policy of – shall we call it “conciliation”? – is feasible in Scheuer’s opinion because Osama bin Laden and his Islamists are guided by defined and indeed “limited” goals:

First, the end of all U.S. aid to Israel, the elimination of the Jewish state, and in its stead the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state. Second, the withdrawal of all U.S. and Western military forces from the Arabian peninsula – a shift of most units from Saudi Arabia to Qatar fools no Muslims and will not cut the mustard – and all Muslim territory. Third, the end of all U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Fourth, the end of U.S. support for, and acquiescence in, the oppression of Muslims by the Chinese, Russian, Indian, and other governments. Fifth, restoration of full Muslim control over the Islamic world’s energy resources and a return to market prices [sic], ending the impoverishment of Muslims caused by oil prices set by Arab regimes to placate the West. Sixth, the replacement of U.S.-protected Muslim regimes that do not govern according to Islam by regimes that do. For bin Laden, only Mullah Omar’s Afghanistan met these criteria; other Muslim regimes are candidates for annihilation.

We’ve all heard this list before; what’s new here is a senior U.S. counterterrorism official agreeing that the demands included on it can and should be met. Yet so Scheuer does: “We can either reaffirm current policies, thereby denying their role in creating the hatred bin Laden personifies, or we can examine and debate the reality we face, the threat we must defeat, and then – if deemed necessary – devise policies that better suit U.S. interests.”

Scheuer’s list of policy changes is headed by a change in policy toward Israel, a country he condemns as a “theocracy in all but name,” characterized by “arrogant racism.” He also makes it clear that he sees no reason for the U.S. to continue supporting any of its non-European allies against takeover by bin Ladenism: “For our own welfare and survival, we must ‘watch others die with equanimity’ and help after ‘the flames burn themselves out’ by focusing our overseas intercourse on trade, sharing knowledge, and donating food and medicine.” He is ready to evacuate all “military and naval bases on the Arabian peninsula.” And here’s how he characterizes the struggles of four other countries victimized by Islamist terror:

Washington has taken measures to enhance its ties to India and simultaneously to coerce Pakistan to halt aid for Muslim Kashmiri insurgents, thereby giving de facto sanction to India’s sorry record of abusing its Kashmiri Muslim citizens, as well as its Israel-like refusal to obey long-standing U.N. resolutions. Similarly, Washington has supported and armed the Indonesian military’s efforts to smash Islamist separatists on Aceh, advised and participated in Manila’s attacks on Moro Islamist groups in Mindanao, and backed the Yemeni regime’s drive to keep local Islamists at bay. . . . The point here is not to question whether the governments above are entitled to handle domestic “terrorism” as they see fit – they are – but to ask if the United States is wise to ally itself with regimes whose barbarism has long earned the Muslim world’s hatred.

Three of these four countries – India, Indonesia, and the Philippines – are secular democracies under attack from the very same groups that hit the U.S. on 9/11. Yet in every case, Scheuer disdains them – India he labels “unsavory” and “malodorous” – and manifestly sympathizes with their attackers. And his tale is seriously misleading. Manila, for example, only “attacked” the Moro Islamist groups because the latter have launched a campaign of murder against Filipino citizens and foreign visitors. Aceh and Kashmir are more complicated stories, but you would think that Scheuer – who claims expertise in South Asia – would know that those Kashmiri “insurgents” are Qaeda-backed terrorists who nearly succeeded in triggering an Indo-Pakistani nuclear war by opening fire on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, killing nine people. Putting the Kashmiri terrorists out of business is essential to the peace of the region.

Scheuer’s habit of seeing every world issue through the lens of Muslim aggrievement leads him into amazing double standards. While he apparently favors independence for the Indonesian province of Aceh, he condemns the U.S. for helping to achieve independence from Indonesia for East Timor, “ignoring the principle of self-determination.” How does it violate “self-determination” to grant independence to an ethnically and religiously distinct territory that Indonesia seized by force and where the pro-independence president won 83 percent of the vote in a free and fair election?

It is also telling that in his accounting of U.S. successes and defeats in the War on Terror, Scheuer lists as defeats the bombing of Taliban forces in Afghanistan, the addition of the anti-Chinese Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement to the State Department terror list, a joint U.S.-Indian military exercise in Kashmir, and the Israeli assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yasin. What do all three of these accomplishments have in common? Very simple: They could potentially offend an important section of Muslim opinion. It would seem that the former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit would regard the actual capture of bin Laden as the most catastrophic possible defeat of all.

What distinguishes Scheuer’s approach from that of, say, Michael Moore is that Scheuer is not an ignorant activist, but a person charged with informing the nation’s leaders about the terrorist threat. It is disturbing, at the least, that a man who had such a large role in defending the nation from Islamic extremism seems to have been mentally captivated by it. I have a strong feeling that Scheuer’s 15 minutes of fame have ended already. His book is no longer seen in the shop windows; its ranking on Amazon drops daily. But the spirit of appeasement that produced this book has not, alas, vanished – not from inside the national-security agencies, nor from the larger policy community.

No Fair!

David Frum September 27th, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post Style section profiled a new book with the couldn’t-be-clearer title He’s Just Not That Into You. The book offered its female target market a revolutionary new insight: If a man does not pursue a woman, it’s because . . . he doesn’t like her very much. When the author first explained his theory to his female friends in Los Angeles, they were thunderstruck: “It was like we were all punched in the stomach.”

Male readers of the Style section must have wondered: Can half the human race really be so deluded about the fundamental facts of life? But that question is unfair. After all, a very great many of those male readers are national Democrats — and they share exactly the same blindness as those Californian women.

If their candidate is trailing in the polls, as John Kerry is trailing now, they will try a million excuses before considering the possibility that the problem is . . . their candidate. He’s got so much going for him! He’s smart, he’s handsome, he has medals: How could the voters not immediately fall in love?

Of all the roster of excuses Democrats invoke to explain why the voters suddenly go cold (“Maybe they have lost our phone number? Maybe they have commitment issues?”) the absolute favorite is the excuse we have begun to hear this summer and fall: Their wonderful fella has fallen victim to Lee Atwater-style Republican dirty tricks.

In a September 1 syndicated column, former Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich explained how Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 election because of an Atwater-directed smear campaign: “We lost six points,” she recalls, because Atwater deceived the voters into thinking that Dukakis had once suffered from depression.

In late August, Maureen Dowd revealed that “W.’s old pal and running partner, Lee Atwater, set up the Bush modus operandi: Lay in the weeds while craftily planting plausibly deniable surrogates to slice up your rival.”

On the eve of the Democratic convention, Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson proposed that Kerry avenge defeated Democratic senator Max Cleland and a string of liberal victims stretching back to the McCarthy era with a reprise of the famous McCarthy-era zinger: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

It’s as if the Democratic party has spent the past 24 years at some Terry McMillan-style pajama party, eating Haagen-Dazs from the carton and reassuring itself, “We’re not to blame. It’s those evil Republicans — and those jerk voters.”

The idea that Democrats are hapless victims will perhaps surprise Henry Hyde, Raymond (“Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”) Donovan, and a long line of Republicans stretching back to the Nixon and Ford administrations. As for the claim that the Republicans possess some kind of inbuilt advantage in getting their message out — well, that’s kind of a harsh verdict on the editors of the New York Times, who are doing the very best they can.

But let’s go to the tape on the basic issue. Do Democrats lose elections because Republican lies cause the public to misperceive where Democrats really stand on the issues? In fact, those post-convention polls show a public highly alert to the genuine differences between the two parties.

One poll, conducted immediately after the convention by Newsweek, showed Bush 11 points ahead of Kerry. But look closer: On the issue of health care, where Kerry is making a costlier and more generous offer than the president, Newsweek found Kerry actually 2 points ahead. On the issue of jobs and foreign competition, on which Kerry has taken a wrongheaded but populist protectionist stance, the two candidates run neck and neck. And on the environment, Kerry’s lead is huge: 50 to 36.

Where Kerry’s lead vanishes is on issues of war and peace. Whether you ask about “foreign policy” or “Iraq” or “terrorism” or “better commander-in-chief,” Bush holds a lead of anywhere from 16 to 28 points. Time’s and Gallup’s post-convention polls showed similar huge leads for the president on issues of national security.

There are something like 160 million registered voters in the United States. If the post-convention polls are right, up to 100 million of them trust George Bush more than John Kerry to protect their children and homes from foreign enemies. You don’t move 100 million voters by surreptitiously placing scurrilous anonymous fliers underneath their windshield wipers.

Over a long period of months, President Bush has persuaded American voters that he is willing to do “whatever it takes” to keep them safe. Over that same period of time, John Kerry has persuaded those same voters that he will do something less. And who even among John Kerry’s supporters would deny that the voters have perceived something true about these two men? Kerry supporters will say that their man is smarter, more accomplished, more cultivated, more appealing in a hundred ways than George W. Bush. I have never heard anyone say that he has a stronger will to win this war. And what even Kerry’s supporters can’t say, American voters won’t believe.

Since 1968, Americans have perceived the Republicans as the party of American military strength and Democrats as the party of accommodation and negotiation. That perception cost the Democrats five of the six presidential elections from the Tet offensive to the end of the Cold War. Then, luckily for the Democrats, issues of national security receded. But while the Democrats regained their competitiveness in presidential elections, they never regained their lost credibility on national security. Indeed, the Clinton administration worsened the problem: From gays-in-the-military to its antiseptic Balkan wars, Clinton missed chance after chance to convince Americans that the nation’s security ranked supreme on the list of presidential priorities. And John Kerry is a much more dovish Democrat even than Bill Clinton.

At the beginning of the election season, John Kerry told friendly reporters that it was a great political advantage for him that he had been both a Vietnam warrior and a Vietnam war protester. He thought this experience would enable him to bridge the gap between those who thought of Vietnam vets as gallant fighters in a tragically lost cause and those who thought of them as vicious baby-killers.

This particular apercu of Kerry’s should have warned astute Democrats that their “electable” politician was not going to be so electable after all. Those of us who worried that George W. Bush might well be vulnerable in November could never understand why John Kerry never protected himself against the obvious points of vulnerability in his own record: the testimony to Congress, the jaunt to Nicaragua, the support for the nuclear freeze. But Kerry did not understand that these vulnerabilities were vulnerabilities. No wonder he and his supporters think that it is somehow a dirty trick to tell voters the whole story of his career: It’s simply unfathomable to them that he could have been so badly damaged by the plain facts of his life story.

Lee Atwater was an effective campaigner, who trained other effective campaigners. But he was no magician. He won elections by practicing a few basic rules: stay strong on national security, stay connected to your voters’ values. It’s really not so difficult a formula. Yet all these years later, the Democrats continue to be surprised by it. No wonder they want to believe that the Republicans are led by evil geniuses. How else could anyone as superior as they are keep losing to the same people in the same way, election after election?

In Search Of Escape – Not Victory

David Frum September 21st, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

On Iraq, John Kerry is a one-man think tank, producing more ideas more rapidly than any of the experts at Brookings or the American Enterprise Institute.

At various points over the past year, the Senator has called for sending more troops and withdrawing troops within six months. He has denounced the war — and also said that if he had it to do all over again, knowing everything he knows now, he would still have voted in favour of it.

Yet nothing infuriates Kerry more than press criticism that his message on Iraq is less than perfectly clear. So yesterday he travelled to New York University to give one more answer to the question, “what would you do?” And to give Kerry credit, his speech this time was clear — alarmingly clear.

In his NYU speech, Kerry reveals that he no longer believes that the United States can win in Iraq. His speech was released as a “plan to win the peace and avoid failure in Iraq.” But the text strongly implies that Kerry has come to terms with the probability of failure: “If the President would bring in more help from other countries to provide resources and forces, train the Iraqis to provide their own security, develop a reconstruction plan that brings real benefits to the Iraqi people, and take the steps necessary to hold credible elections next year, we could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years.” Kerry’s top priority is not to prevail in Iraq; it is to escape from Iraq.

But Kerry’s plan for getting from here to there is almost childishly unrealistic.

There will be no troops from other countries.

Trained or untrained, Iraqi troops will continue to need U.S. and coalition support.

It is the insurgency, not Bush administration foot-dragging, that has slowed the pace of reconstruction.

Kerry probably knows all this. But it does not matter. His plan is not a plan. It is a face-saving expedient to justify a hasty and unconditional U.S. withdrawal.

That need for face-saving explains the most mysterious element of Kerry’s newest Iraq plan: His emphasis on U.S. support for Iraqi elections.

All this year, Kerry has dismissed Bush’s talk of democracy in Iraq as delusional. In April, 2004, Kerry told reporters after a town hall meeting in Harlem, “I have always said from day one that the goal here is a stable Iraq, not whether or not that’s a full democracy.” Kerry published an entire oped on Iraq in the Washington Post on July 4 of this year that never mentioned elections at all and that ticked off “democracy” as just one item in a long list of U.S. goals.

So why did elections suddenly become so important to Kerry? Listen again to his timetable. Kerry wants to start withdrawing troops within six months of taking office. The Bush administration has scheduled the first Iraqi vote for January. Kerry sees Iraqi elections not as a goal in itself, but as a convenient occasion from which to start counting off the U.S. withdrawal.

Kerry’s record on Iraq is one of maladroit opportunism. In 1992, Kerry lost the Democratic vice presidential slot to Al Gore because Gore had voted in favour of the triumphant Gulf War and Kerry had voted against. In 2002, Kerry decided not to repeat his mistake, and this time voted “aye.” In his speech on the Senate floor, he explained that he cast his vote not only because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction — which he said had concerned him for a decade — but because Saddam’s regime was inherently dangerous to the region and the world: “[T]he record of Saddam Hussein’s ruthless, reckless breach of international values and standards of behavior which is at the core of the cease-fire agreement, with no reach, no stretch, is cause enough for the world community to hold him accountable by use of force, if necessary.”

In the Democratic primaries, Kerry came as close as he could to recanting that vote. He called himself an “anti-war” candidate.

After winning the Democratic nomination, Kerry tacked rightward again. On Aug. 9 of this year, Kerry told reporters at Grand Canyon National Park that if he had known in 2002 what he knows today, he would still have cast the same vote.

But now in late September, Kerry has learned something new: He is losing the support of independents. Moderate voters, especially women, are returning to President Bush and his promise of security through strength. Kerry’s only hope for victory now is to rile up the Democratic base — and hope that higher Democratic turnout rates can compensate for superior Republican overall poll numbers. So Kerry has abruptly reversed position on Iraq once more.

“I would,” he now says, “have concentrated our power and resources on defeating global terrorism and capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. I would have tightened the noose and continued to pressure and isolate Saddam Hussein — who was weak and getting weaker — so that he would pose no threat to the region or America.”

In other words, his positions on Iraq have amounted to: “yes with an explanation” (October, 2002), “probably not” (December, 2003), “yes, certainly” (August, 2004), “no absolutely” (September, 2004).

Is this man fit for command? You don’t have to be a Swift Boat vet to reply: “Absolutely not.”

Ohio: The Many Faces Of The Kingmaker State

David Frum September 14th, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ohio is George Bush’s make-or-break state. No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio — ever. Knowing that history, John F. Kerry has invested unprecedented time and money to win this crucial state.

It was here that Senator Kerry came to deliver his midnight response to George Bush’s acceptance speech on Sept. 2. Between now and voting day, Kerry will spend US$7-million to advertise in Ohio, more than he intends to spend in any state except Florida.

The so-called independent anti-Bush groups — MoveOn.org, Americans Coming Together and so on — have likewise made Ohio their highest priority: ACT held its August national convention here in Cleveland. Bruce Springsteen will give a free concert here to mobilize anti-Bush voters.

Ohio ought to have been promising territory for the Democrats. Only Michigan has been harder hit by the manufacturing recession of the past four years. Nearly 252,000 jobs — including 193,000 manufacturing jobs — have been lost in Ohio since the summer of 2000. Ohio’s unemployment rate is 5.9%; it was only 3.9% when George Bush took office. More than one-third the population of Cleveland now lives in poverty, the highest rate of poverty for any large U.S. city.

And yet the most recent polls in Ohio all give President Bush a lead over Sen. Kerry of anywhere from two to four points — and up to nine points among those people most likely to vote. It seems more and more probable that Ohio’s 20 electoral votes will bulk up President Bush’s total on Nov. 2.

Three broad trends are driving Bush’s surge.

* Despite all that talk about Democratic unity, Bush is more popular among Republicans than Kerry is among Democrats: 90% of Republicans support him; only 80% of Democrats say they intend to vote for Kerry.

* The Republican convention won over millions of female voters. Before the convention, Kerry had a seven point lead among women; Bush now leads among women by five points.

* Bush has established himself as the more decisive and principled candidate. In Newsweek’s most recent poll, 62% of voters say that George Bush has strong leadership qualities, only 50% say that about John Kerry; 54% trust George Bush in an international crisis, while only 46% say they would trust John Kerry.

These broad national trends are changing the election here in Ohio, too. Ohio is a state of five major regions. Northeastern Ohio — the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County — depends heavily on old-line industries like steel and automobiles. It is here that the job losses and the Democratic votes are concentrated. (It is also the home of Dennis Kucinich, the ultra-left congressman who finished last in the 2004 Democratic presidential race.) Kerry will certainly win this corner of the state — but not by enough to overcome his problems everywhere else.

Southeastern Ohio belongs to Appalachia, a region that is economically distressed but culturally conservative. Kerry’s cautious economic policies have not excited voters here. Instead they are voting their consciences on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage — and their traditional hawkishness on terrorism and Iraq.

Central Ohio, the area around the state capital, Columbus, is a thriving participant in the new economy. This is the home of Leslie Wexner, the retailing genius who created The Limited and Victoria’s Secret; it is home too to Ohio State University and the university’s technology spinoffs. Bush’s social issues do not play especially well here — but his tax-cutting pro-business economic policies do.

Western Ohio is farm country. President Bush has campaigned here hard and often. Voters here respond to Bush’s down-home personality, and are correspondingly repelled by Kerry’s exotic voice and manner. Not many Allen County farmers wind surf; not many own $8,000 bikes. At the same time, these all-American people earn their livings by selling grain and soybeans to the global market: Kerry’s protectionism threatens their livelihoods; George Bush’s vigorous advocacy of trade with China delights them. It probably also does not hurt that Bush in 2002 signed the most lavish farm bill since the middle 1980s.

Southwestern Ohio and metropolitan Cincinnati feel like Kentucky and Tennessee. This is a region full of hunters, gun owners and citizen-soldiers like Specialist James Ross — a 19-year-old sentry who saved the lives of 200 American soldiers by spotting and destroying a car bomb in December, 2003. Ross lived over the Ohio river in Boone County, Ky., but his story was told to the world by the local television station, Cincinatti’s WKRC Channel 12. These are the voters brought home by Zell Miller’s speech to the Republican convention in New York.

In each of these five regions, the Bush-Cheney campaign speaks in the local accent. The campaign has recruited 58,000 volunteers inside Ohio to visit voters and place phone calls. The Kerry campaign has been much less successful: It has had to rely on out-of-state phonebanks staffed by people like Mark Gabriele, a graduate student at the University of California who is using his own unlimited weekend calling minutes to place phone calls. “You don’t have to live in Ohio to help turn it blue,” he told the Columbus Dispatch. Maybe not, the Bush campaign answers — but it sure helps.

George Bush gets little respect from the national media. But in this election, he’s had a job to do, and he has successfully done it. John Kerry, by contrast, has failed to articulate a compelling message, failed to build an effective organization, failed to exploit the incumbent’s weaknesses and failed to maximize his own strengths. The bill for those failures comes due in only 49 days.

Vietnam Won’t Save John Kerry

David Frum September 7th, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

George Bush has emerged from the New York convention with a 10 or 11 point lead over John Kerry, depending who is counting. Democrats can reassure themselves that there are still nearly two months to go in this election. But given how badly Kerry has used the nearly seven months since he locked up the Democratic nomination, there is little reason to expect that he will use the next 60 days more wisely.

Kerry was caught off-guard by the success of Howard Dean’s insurgency in December, 2003. Up until that point, Kerry had been campaigning as a Clinton-style centrist on economics and a moderate hawk on the war. But Dean’s surge panicked Kerry into chasing the anti-war vote much further left than Kerry had ever intended to go. It was then that Kerry cast those votes against the US$87-billion for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq — votes that the Republicans are using now to argue that Kerry voted to deny U.S. forces body armour and ammunition.

Having beaten Dean, Kerry turned rightward again. In March and April, he told journalists that he was a “pro-war” candidate — that he disagreed with the Bush administration’s allegedly clumsy execution of the war on terror and the campaign in Iraq, but that he supported both. It was during this stage that he announced that he would send more troops to Iraq if needed to prevail.

By summer, however, the polls were suggesting that the public was souring on Iraq. Kerry had overshot again — this time, on the right. So he cancelled the promise to send more troops to Iraq (now he said he had meant only to promise to add more troops to the active strength of the armed forces) and began talking instead of withdrawing troops.

Convinced that Iraq was the only issue in the election, Kerry planned a convention that slighted domestic issues like jobs and health care and that showcased him as an experienced war leader who could save the country from foreign-policy disaster: exactly the approach that had worked for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. His acceptance speech told the story of a man of war who had the record and strength to secure the peace. He told the delegates that he was born in Colorado; that his father was an Air Force test pilot and that his mother was a Girl Guide leader; that he had volunteered for Vietnam and returned home to prosecute criminals; that he had devoted himself in the Senate to national security and intelligence issues.

None of this was false exactly, but it left behind a seriously misleading impression. Kerry is not a Westerner, nor is he the product of a middle-class military family: His father was a diplomat who carefully concealed his Jewish origins; his mother descended from one of Boston’s most aristocratic clans. Kerry came to national fame not as a war hero but as a war protestor — and though he certainly worked hard on national security issues, he did so as consistently the most dovish member of the U.S. Senate.

For Kerry to stake a claim to the presidency on his record as a warrior is akin to Bill Clinton staking his claim to the job on his excellence as a family man. And even if every word of the story had been precisely true, it still would have availed Kerry little. John McCain is an undoubted Vietnam hero, but he’s not president; Bob Kerrey lost a leg and gained the Medal of Honor in Vietnam, but Bill Clinton beat him all the same for the Democratic nomination in 1992.

Voters pick presidents for their strategic leadership, not their personal valour. Dwight Eisenhower could campaign as the architect of the victory in Europe, but if John F. Kennedy had offered only the story of his heroism aboard PT-109, he would have lost to Richard Nixon in 1960.

And as John Kerry’s personal story has unravelled, voters have been left with a strong impression that Kerry had attempted to deceive them. He should have told them about his days as a protestor — and told them too how he had grown and changed in the three decades since he compared U.S. forces to the horde of Ghengis Khan. He should have assured them that it was not mere opportunism that accounted for his vote in favour of the Iraq War in 2002 after he had voted against the UN-approved Gulf War in 1990.

But because he never understood how far his own past career had taken him from the American mainstream, he never believed that any explanation was necessary. And because he prized himself so highly, he could never accept that any explanation was due.

Will Kerry suddenly improve as a candidate? People do change in emergencies. But in this emergency Kerry seems again to be drawing the wrong lessons. He’s about to go viciously on the attack against the military records of George Bush and Dick Cheney. “Two tours of duty beats five deferments”: that was his theme at his midnight rally in Ohio last week. But Kerry has to beat Bush, not Cheney, and you can’t beat Bush by accusing him of having idled away his early life — Bush admits it himself. The dramatic event in Bush’s life is his conversion in his early 40s, and the harder you slam him for misspending his 20s, the more impressive that conversion becomes.

Terrorists could blow up a barracks in Iraq or a plane over Chicago; the stock market could crash and real estate prices could fall. But nothing short of such a negative miracle will save Kerry. Bush can still lose, but it’s too late for Kerry to win.

Notes Of Thanks

David Frum September 2nd, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Tonight, at the Republican National Convention in New York, George W. Bush will step onto the podium and accept his party’s nomination for president. Though conventions themselves have receded in importance, the acceptance speech has remained potent, offering the candidate — even one who has been in the public eye for four years — the chance to define himself. So what should the president say? The Op-Ed page asked speechwriters from six Republican administrations, including the current one, to propose a conclusion to President Bush’s address — one that sums up what they think the winning Republican campaign themes for 2004 should be.

In the four years since I last stood before you, this country has suffered grief and loss. And yet there are things we have gained as well.

We have learned a new gratitude to our friends and allies around the world who joined us on the battlefields of Afghanistan, of Iraq and in the quiet unrelenting struggle against the terrorists who skulk in the secret places of the world. To them, in a dozen and more languages, we say, ”Thank you.”

We have deepened our appreciation of those who protect our nation: the first responders, the police and intelligence services, the leaders in Congress who have worked patriotically to strengthen our defenses against terror and, of course, our fighting forces — regulars, reserves and National Guard. It is often the families of our fighting forces who sacrifice most. And to those wives and husbands, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, our whole nation says, ”Thank you.”

We have rediscovered our unity as a people, beyond the divisions of our politics. Our elections are vigorously contested, and so they should be. But when our country calls, we see that Democrats and Republicans rally together. As president I have benefited from the counsel of people of all parties. In my second term, I will continue to seek wisdom wherever it can be found and I will say to all who help, whatever their party label, ”I thank you.”

The world has changed since I stood before you four years ago and we have all had to change with it. The passage has often been rough, and there has been pain along the way. But we will make this voyage together: one nation, bound to its allies around the world, united in understanding and generosity to one another here at home. That is how I will lead with your help and with the help also of those we call opponents today — and will call friends again after the first Tuesday in November.

Easy Rider

David Frum September 1st, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Reviewers have almost unanimously dismissed Bill ClintonÕs mammoth book of memoirs as boring. It is easy to see why: much of it is an undigested mass of diary entries, apparently re-dictated without thought or reflection. Old speeches seem to have been pasted in randomly in the same manner.

And yet, if you gird yourself to read the book through, you keep stumbling across odd moments of revelation. Like this one: in the summer of 1971, young Bill Clinton had just taken an important political position as coordinator of Southern states for Senator George McGovernÕs campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. The trouble was that ClintonÕs new girlfriend, Hillary Rodham, had accepted a summer job at a law firm in Oakland, California. So Clinton quit the campaign and headed west. “During the day when [Hillary] was at work,” he writes, “I walked all over the city, read books in the parks and coffee shops, and explored San Francisco.”

Here was Bill ClintonÕs first major political responsibility-a responsibility he had been given by people who trusted him, a responsibility he had freely accepted-and he shrugged it off to chase a girl and spend his summer in coffee shops. History sometimes really does repeat itself.

The book suffers, too, from even worse faults than turgidity. Again and again Clinton reverts to his old habit of using lawyerly language for purposes of concealment. Here, for example, is his version of the episode in 1998 when a former White House aide, Kathleen Willey, accused him on national television of having kissed and fondled her: “[She] claimed I had made an unwanted advance toward her while she was working in the White House. It wasnÕt true.” By now, any reader who knows anything about Bill Clinton will know enough to ask what, precisely, “wasnÕt true.”

Yet on this front as well, My Life can surprise you, often agreeably. When he wishes, Clinton can be both frank and lucid in his use of language, and his stories often ring with more truth than presidential autobiographers are accustomed to permit themselves. Here is his account of how he persuaded one Arthur Barbieri, the Democratic boss of New Haven, Connecticut, to endorse George McGovern over the other Democratic contenders in the 1972 primary campaign:

“When I walked into his office and introduced myself, Barbieri was cordial but businesslike. He sat back in his chair with his hands folded across his chest, displaying two huge diamond rings, one big circular one with lots of stones, the other with his initials, AB, completely filled with diamonds. He smiled and told me that 1972 would not be a replay of 1968 [when he was caught off-guard by the Eugene McCarthy campaign], that he had already lined up his poll workers and a number of his cars to take his people to the polls. He said he had dedicated $50,000 to the effort, a huge sum in those days for a town the size of New Haven. I replied that I didnÕt have much money, but I did have 800 volunteers who would knock on the doors of every house in his strong-hold, telling all the Italian mothers that Arthur Barbieri wanted to keep sending their sons to fight and die in Vietnam. ‘You donÕt need that grief,’ I said. ‘Why do you care who wins the nomination? Endorse McGovern. He was a war hero in World War II. He can make peace, and you can keep control of New Haven.’”
Barbieri was won over.

Boring and revealing, disingenuous and candid: such contradictions are as typical of ClintonÕs memoir as they are of Clinton the man. It has been four years since he left office, and we still do not quite know what to make of him. There is the charm that comes through even these dry pages-until it is pierced by mawkish self-pity or a sinister insinuation about one or another political opponent. There is the sprawl and the mess that spoil much of My Life as they are said to have hampered ClintonÕs presidency-and yet within the sloppiness are virtues that never wholly go into eclipse.

My Life is, in brief, the story of a man endowed with an extraordinary gift for making other people like him. As for those otherwise predisposed, toward them Clinton adopts the same attitude that he adopted toward his future father-in-law, who also did not like him at first: “I decided IÕd work on him.”

In his political life, ClintonÕs gift for working on people took him all the way from Arkansas to the White House. There, however, the gift lost its power. It had done for him all it could do; that was not enough to make him a great or even a merely effective President.

Once in office, Clinton careered from crisis to crisis, unguided by any fixed purpose. He knew he disliked the racial segregation of the old South-but segregation had vanished long ago, and the cause of civil rights needed no further help from him. He knew he wanted to make sweeping changes in American life-but he was never quite sure what those changes might be, let alone how to bring them about.

At the beginning, of course, there were many who saw a higher purpose in ClintonÕs ascendancy to the presidency. They saw him as the man who would belatedly realize the blasted dreams of the generation of the 1960Õs. There were many who feared exactly the same outcome. Both turned out to be wrong. The record of ClintonÕs presidential initiatives, laid out in tedious detail in this book, shows him to have been, instead, the sort of man Groucho Marx might have been thinking of when he quipped, “Gentlemen, I have my principles. And if you donÕt like them, I have other principles.”

In one way, though, Clinton did achieve an unequivocal success as President. He came to Washington to have a good time-and what a time it was, and how he enjoyed it:

“I took every opportunity I could to bring all kinds of musicians to the White House. Over the years, we had Earth, Wind, and Fire, Yo-Yo Ma, Placido Domingo, Jessye Norman, and many other classical, jazz, blues, Broadway, and gospel musicians. . . . For the entertainment, we usually had room to invite more guests than could be accommodated at the dinner. Afterward, anyone who wanted to stay returned to the foyer of the White House for dancing.”

. . . .

“The [White House] mess was a wood-paneled room with good food prepared by Navy personnel. I ordered lunch from it almost every day and enjoyed going down to visit with the young people who worked in the kitchen. Once a week they served Mexican dishes I especially liked.”

And so forth. The photo sections of the book resemble some hyperactive teenagerÕs camp bulletin: Bill Clinton with the White House valets. Bill Clinton with his Secret Service detail. Bill Clinton surrounded by adoring voters, by adoring Colombian schoolchildren, by adoring Ghanaians.

At the conclusion of My Life, Clinton waxes magniloquent: “I wrote this book to tell my story and to tell the story of America in the last half of the 20th century; to describe as fairly as I could the forces competing for the countryÕs heart and mind; to explain the challenges of the new world in which we live.” Etc., etc., etc. Clinton the writer indulges in a great deal of this kind of high-flown hokum, just as he did when President. Whether or not he himself believes it, he wants his readers to believe that he was doing something more in the White House than spending his days gabbing with the kitchen staff or eyeing the breasts of the Italian prime ministerÕs second wife. Yes, it was party time; but all the while, he was toiling on that bridge to the 21st century like a John Henry of the age of the Internet.

In fact, Clinton was given one of the easiest rides of any President in history. He arrived in office after other men had ended the cold war and after other policies had propelled the United States into one of the greatest booms in its history; he left before his neglect of fundamental problems, from terrorism to Social Security, would exact its terrible toll. Dreading decisions, in his first term he flinched from them again and again; then he wasted his second term because he could not discipline his appetites or honestly confront his own actions. No chief executive since Warren Harding has brought more derision and disrespect upon the presidency.

But, as always, there is yet another interesting complication. The Bill Clinton story is not over. The same outstanding personal qualities that brought Clinton to the presidency have become relevant again now that he has left it, while the personal deficiencies that hobbled him in office have ceased to matter quite so much now that the nation no longer looks to him to lead it in war or protect it in peace.

Since exiting the presidency, Clinton has generally conducted himself with surprising grace and tact. He has been an articulate and effective spokesman for the United States when he travels abroad, while conspicuously refraining from criticizing his successor. Naturally, he has supported candidates of his own party, but he has largely stayed out of partisan politics. In this he could not have been more different from the only other living Democratic former President, Jimmy Carter, whose speech accepting the 2002 Nobel peace prize-during which Carter denounced on foreign soil the foreign policies of President Bush-may have been the most disgraceful act by an ex-President since John Tyler took a seat in the Confederate Congress.

In My Life, Clinton often talks about the process of maturation. Like many members of his generation, he has been late to reach full adulthood-not even being elected President quite got him there. Now, at sixty, he may at last have arrived. And who knows? There may still be important work yet for this gifted man to do, especially if ways can be found to deploy his persuasiveness and charm in the service of his country on the world stage. If that were actually to come about, the day might yet dawn when Americans of all political points of view would be ready to give the contradictory teller of this contradictory tale the affection and respect he has craved above everything else in life.