The debate, the war on terror, and freedom from fear

Thursday 30 September 2004 at 23:14

Sarah and I watched the first presidential debate tonight at a friend's house. I'm glad we did, even though I'm trying to keep a little distance from politics for my own peace of mind. I already knew I was going to be voting against Bush. After the debate I'm relieved to also say I'll be voting for Kerry.

His criticism of Bush's foreign policy aligns well with my own views, and I was impressed with how he presented the arguments. I was glad to see him aggressively challenge Bush's performance in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and N. Korea. I'm also happy that he remained appropriately respectful. Bush has half of the country's support and deserves to be treated respectfully.

I was especially encouraged by Kerry's sketch of a plan for Iraq. Bush failed to present any sort of change in how to proceed in Iraq. Iraq is slipping towards civil war and our coalition seems increasingly unable to prevent it. We need help on the ground. Our military is already stretched too thin. We need serious commitments from our allies in Europe and Asia to support the transition of the Iraqi's to their independence. Bush has adopted a posture that makes any request for help a sign of weakness. By contrast Kerry seems to draw strength from the idea of international support. That difference in attitude is the first sign of hope for Iraq I've seen in months.

Also, Bush is too connected to the oil business for the rest of the world to believe that we're sincerely interested in helping the Iraqi's to create and sustain their own independence and not there for the oil. Regardless of whether you think Bush's motives are generous or selfish, you can hardly blame other countries for being suspicious of the Bush family oil ties.

It's not all roses of course. I am settling into a belief that we'd be much better off with powerful State governments and less powerful Federal government. Neither of these candidates offer any hope in that direction. At a glance, that sounds like a Republican ideal. But Bush cuts taxes with one hand while spend-spend-spending with the other. At least with Kerry I know what I'm getting into.

What's especially frustrating is the rhetoric of "The War on Terror". I may be alone in this conviction. Terror is not an enemy against whom you can actually wage war. Terror is a feeling, an internal state of mind. It is intense, overpowering fear. War cannot reduce that kind of fear. War depends on fear. It can only increase it.

Both candidates brag that they're the tough guy who will hunt down and kill the terrorists. Israel has demonstrated for decades that no amount of hunting and killing actually reduces terrorism. England's conflict with Ireland is also an instructive lesson from history on this score. We need a different metaphor to frame our thinking and unfortunately neither candidate has much to offer.

Having said that, Kerry did work a nice sound bite into his closing remarks. "Freedom, not fear" is a pretty good slogan. It is certainly in the right direction. What we need is freedom from fear, not a war on terror. "Freedom, not fear" is close, though. I hope it gets lots of airplay. Unfortunately it is still only a sound bite and probably won't change the world.