Paul Anderson, Tribune column, October 29 2004
Like most readers of Tribune, I’m hoping John Kerry wins the US presidential election next week.
I don’t like what George W Bush has done at home — massive tax cuts for the rich, a big squeeze on America’s already inadequate welfare state, favours to big business on every front — and I don’t like his foreign policy. The way the Bush administration has gone about its “war on terror” since 9/11 fills me with despair. Cosying up to the Israeli right; the extraordinary failure to prepare for the “morning after” in Afghanistan and, particularly, Iraq; the vile abuses of human rights in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib — time and again the Bush administration has proved itself irresponsibly short-sighted, incompetent and brutal. It’s time for a change.
Yet although I’m rooting for Kerry, I’m doing so in a manner so low-key it’s barely perceptible. OK, I’m writing this column, which of course will sway opinion throughout the world thanks to Tribune’s amazing syndication deals — aka me posting it on this weblog after the paper went to press.
Otherwise, however, I’ve done sweet FA. I’ve followed the US election campaign in the British newspapers and on TV, but far from obsessively. I’ve been to see Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 and was underwhelmed. And I’ve continued the boycott of American fast-food chains I began immediately after visiting Kentucky Fried Chicken for the first time in the 1970s. Well, they back the Republicans, don’t they?
But I’ve done nothing so bold as sport a Kerry campaign badge, let alone contact an American voter in a swing state urging support for Kerry. The Guardian set up a scheme to do just this last week, encouraging readers to write letters to 14,000 voters in Clark County, Ohio, putting the case for removing Dubya. The stunt has, er, certainly had an impact: it was picked up big-time by the US media, and for a while last week the Guardian’s website was one of the most visted on the planet.
But all publicity is not good publicity. Rather a lot of the American response to my favourite daily’s initiative was elegantly summed up by the disgruntled recipient of a letter who wrote back: “Hey, England, Scotland and Wales, mind your own business. We don’t need weenie-spined limeys meddling in our presidential election. If it wasn’t for America, you’d all be speaking German.”
One reason for my inactivity is that I take the point: we limeys — weenie-spined or otherwise — have no more right to intervene in US elections than have Americans to intervene in elections over here. More important, I can’t think of anything I could do that would make a blind bit of difference to the result on November 2.
But if I’m going to be completely honest, the biggest reason for my atrophy isn’t political realism. I’m as game for hopeless causes as the next dreamer — anyone for socialism, European federalism or proportional representation? The truth is that I don’t believe that the outcome of this election is quite as important — at least for anyone living outside the US — as most commentators seem to think.
Now, I’m not arguing here, as some Leninist crazies do, that there is no difference between Bush and Kerry because they're both capitalist imperialists. There is a gulf between them on domestic policy — on healthcare, on education, on workers’ rights, on pensions, on taxation. And there are at least grounds for believing that a Kerry White House would be rather more Realpolitik-oriented than a Bush White House — less adventurist and more enthusiastic about working through international consensus.
But the differences between Kerry and Bush on foreign policy (except on the environment) are not huge.
On one hand, Kerry is no dove: as Edward Luttwak argued cogently in the Sunday Telegraph last weekend, those peaceniks who think he would adopt a policy of non-interventionism simply haven’t examined his record, which is consistently hawkish (including voting for war in Iraq). Certainly, a Kerry victory would not – thankfully – mean a rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
On the other hand, it’s at least plausible – I would say likely — that a second-term Bush administration would be much more cautious on foreign affairs than the first-term Bush administration has been. The neo-conservatives who lobbied successfully for the invasion of Iraq have also been responsible for everything that has gone wrong since, and their star is on the wane. What’s more, the scale of the US commitment in Iraq — and the likelihood that it will not be brought swiftly to an end — makes it extremely unlikely that any administration will seek out further targets for pre-emptive action.
Maybe I’m complacent, but I just don’t buy the scenario that has Bush marching into Iran or North Korea. Sorry if this sounds like heresy, but I think the world could live with a Dubya victory.