Jerusalem: If the presidential race between Bush and Kerry remains too close to call even till the day of the election , this will demonstrate the Democratic Party's colossal failure in its strategy, its party machinery, its candidate, and its political advisors' vision.
George W. Bush was not only a dubiously elected president but one of the most mediocre in U.S. history. His political good fortune was the tragedy of 9/11. These attacks enabled him to exploit the most primitive but natural emotions of the American people: the pursuit of revenge through the exercise of America's incomparable military power -- no matter where, how, and against whom -- in a desperate bid to heal the collective trauma caused by a small gang of fanatical terrorists. Can one imagine the Bush administration and policy without his "crusade against the terror"?
As an Israeli, I remember Menachem Begin's frank statement that one major reason for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was the desire to heal the trauma caused by the 1973 war and to re-establish the nation's self-confidence. The balance of power between Israel and Lebanon, even with the presence of Syrian troops in the country, ensured an easy military victory against the Palestinian organization, especially since Israel enjoyed the backing of some Lebanese Christian militias. The opposition Labor Party initially supported the invasion. The results of this military adventure are well-known: the Israeli "liberators" soon became cruel occupiers and oppressors To the 1973 trauma was added a twelve years nightmare, called "Israel's Vietnam."
The Democratic party's dilemma during this election season was whether to join the Bush vendetta or to establish an alternative foreign and national security policy. Supposing that the citizens' mood for revenge would continue unabated, fueled as it was by Bush and his neoconservative advisors, most party strategists chose the former option mainly because its field operatives and activists were ensnared by the existing administration's emotional distortion.
However, this was a major strategic mistake. Three major facts should have been obvious for any serious analysts soon after the military strikes in Afghanistan. First, the desire for revenge could have been satisfied then, even without bin Laden's capture, and a victory over terror should have been declared without American casualties. Second, it doesn't make any sense to believe there was cooperation between the fundamentalist al-Qaeda and Iraq's secular Ba'athist regime. Third, after the inspectors and American satellite sources failed to find any signs of WMD in Iraq, and even presuming that a small quantity still existed, it didn't endanger any country including Israel. On the contrary, the only long-term beneficiary from the destruction of Iraq's remaining military power would be the Iranian Islamic regime, a potential ally of fundamentalist terrorism and an exporter of the world-wide Islamic revolution.
On these and additional arguments, the Democratic Party and its candidates possessed a good chance to set up an alternative national agenda around the case against the war, but they missed the opportunity and played on President Bush's turf and according to his rules and militaristic values. When John Kerry began to speak out against the way that the "war against the terror" was waged, it was too late and was even perceived by the people as unconvincing and manipulative. John F. Kerry failed the basic leadership test together with his party to establish his own agenda. This may be a tragedy, not only for American society but for parts of the world far beyond its own borders, including my own polity.
Baruch Kimmerling is a professor of sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among his recent books are Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War Against the Palestinians (Verso, 2003), Immigrants, Settlers and Natives (Alma and Am Oved, Hebrew, 2003), and The Palestinian People (Harvard University Press, 2003) with Joel S. Migdal.