The Corner

Lost Capital

My friend Josh Chafetz at OxBlog has come out for John Kerry. Kevin Drum agrees with Josh’s reasoning on this point:

I can envision a situation in which I think the United States ought to take military action and in which President Bush would agree, whereas President Kerry, because of his inordinate faith in the legitimizing power of international institutions, might not. But, first, let me note that, in any situation in which military force is clearly called for (e.g., another attack, leading to another Afghanistan), I have complete confidence that Kerry will make the right call. But what about another close call where I think we ought to send troops? It’s true, Kerry might not make my preferred decision. But I am also convinced that Bush — even a reelected Bush — would lack the political capital to send American troops into battle again in a close call. In other words, in the primary situation in which Bush’s advantage in grand strategy would be an issue, I don’t think Bush would be able to put his preferred policy in place, anyway.

Me: If Josh means in the first part that he’s sure Kerry would respond with force to another 9/11, I’m sure he’s right. To which most people would answer big whup. That hold true of pretty much anybody but Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and Cynthia McKinney. The second point is a more serious and nuanced one and I hear variations of it a lot. Frankly, I don’t buy it. I agree that Bush is in a situation where using force the next time — if there is one — will be more difficult. But what few people appreciate is how difficult it would be for a President Kerry to govern if he had the right instincts and judgement (something I doubt very much).

A huge chunk of Kerry’s base doesn’t like him very much — they hate George W. Bush. An overlapping but not identical chunk of his party is flatly anti-war. This means he would not have anything like the support of his own half of the electorate Bush would have. This sounds like a recipe for another LBJ situation where the center does not hold and the left is determined to tear the whole thing down. Meanwhile, while I will continue to support the war no matter who’s in the White House I’m not optimistic that a significant chunk of the GOP won’t simply wash its hands and say “it’s Kerry’s problem now.”

A re-elected Bush meanwhile can hold his own party together and get support from a sadly small but still not insignificant slice of middle-of-the-road voters and Democrats. If Josh’s concern is who will have more political capital to implement his policies, I am at a loss to understand how charisma-impaired, alliance-obsessed John Kerry with a horribly split party, a hostile Republican opposition which controls the House and Senate will have the more powerful stockpile of political capital.

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