« NYT's margin of permissible untruthfulness | Main | Begging for a snarky caption »

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Musings on the significance of ailing despots elsewhere to the American election

The small town where I grew up — Lamesa, population around 12,000, situated half-way between Lubbock and Midland in the flat cotton-farming country of west Texas — had a single high school.  For its size, Lamesa High School had a pretty good band (my own main extracurricular activity — yes, I was a band geek, a trumpet player) and choir, a pretty good football team (state quarterfinals my junior year) and baseball team, and a fine basketball team (state champs my senior year).  But we had no debate team at all until, during the fall of my junior year in 1973, one of my classmates and his year-older girlfriend (who later went to Harvard Law) decided to start one, pretty much as a lark.  They talked me into attending one competition with them, in the even smaller Texas panhandle town of Dimmitt, and signed me up for some sort of extemporaneous speaking event in which I was to make a short speech based on an assigned-on-the-spot topic of current public interest.

As it turned out, my topic was a person I'd never heard of before — some guy named "Yasser Arafat."  It would be an understatement to say that in Lamesa, most of us weren't well tuned in to the chronic problems of the Middle East.  Although we had a mix of white, black, and latino students, I think there may have been, at most, maybe two or three Jewish families in the town (none with high school aged kids), and we had absolutely nobody from any Middle Eastern ethnicity.  My geopolitical consciousness  expanded abruptly a couple of years later when I hit UT-Austin — where my first three dorm suitemates were two Jewish kids from San Antonio and a devout Muslim from Algeria (all three of whom could at least agree that I was the hick among them).  But in high school, I was only vaguely aware that Israel had just fought a couple of wars against its Arab enemies; I couldn't have found Syria or Jordan on a map; and I hadn't a clue what a "Palestinian" was, beyond the fact that "Palestine" was a country I vaguely remembered hearing about in Sunday school.  And there I was, given about a fifteen minute head start to come up with a speech about some guy, whose name I wasn't sure how to pronounce, who was the head of something called the "Palestinian Liberation Organization."

But I had a file box full of recent Newsweeks and U.S. News & World Reports, so I cobbled together some sort of talk — I think I titled it "Yasser Arafat — Man in the Middle of the Action" (or that may have been the specified topic title, I can't recall) — and to my own immense surprise and that of my friends and more experienced competitors, I ended up winning that event at the competition.  This small accident of personal history then, as it turned out, sensitized me to the name "Yasser Arafat," and caused me to pay somewhat more attention to the man over the following years than I otherwise likely would have.

Arafat's story, of course, turned out to be every bit as violent as his terrorist background would have suggested, but also became marked by greed and cowardice and pettiness.  And now, on the cusp of an American presidential election, Arafat is ailing and marginalized.  The long-stalled Middle East peace process, such as it is, frankly waits for him to die.


The likelihood that Arafat will survive the next American President's term is poor.  Fidel Castro, another tin-pot despot outrun by history around him, is another whose failing health bodes well for freedom in a country whose size, population, and geographical proximity and historical ties to the US make it impossible for us to ignore.  The odds seem pretty good that our next President will have exceptional opportunities — triggered not by a CIA-inspired coup but by the slow hand of nature's grim reaper — to promote democracy in a new Palestinian state, Cuba, and perhaps other places besides Afghanistan and Iraq.  One hopes that this can be done without needing to use military force; but as always in matters diplomatic, our influence will be stronger than otherwise by virtue of our military might and the perception that we are not paralyzed against using it when we deem it appropriate.

There is a profound worldwide trend toward democracy — in fits and starts, and not without setbacks, but profound nonetheless.  Since 9/11, most Americans understand intuitively — and Pres. Bush has made the case logically and plainly — that our own long-term security depends on promoting democracy and assisting this trend.  And in places like the Middle East and Cuba, there may be sudden new opportunities — not of our own direct making, but of the grim reaper's — that will require a confident and bold and steady American involvement.

With that in mind, friends and neighbors, I ask you to look again at Sen. John Kerry's consistent record throughout his adult life.  I submit that you'll find no evidence there that he views America as a model to be emulated or a force for constructive change.  Instead, you'll find timidity, reflexive self-doubt, and the sort of extreme moral relativism that permits despots to pursue their bloody, repressive ways without much fear of political or economic consequences, and no fear whatsoever of military consequences.  Oh, sure, if we can "pass the global test," if we can get unanimous concurrence from NATO or the U.N., if his much beloved "summit conferences" produce action rather than stalemate, then a President Kerry might engage America.  (Or he might not — viz, the Gulf War.)  But how likely is that to happen?  And what historic opportunities — like those arising from the deaths-by-natural-causes of an Arafat or a Castro — will he squander?

No guts, no glory.  Dubya has guts, and he recognizes — as Kerry doesn't — that our own security requires us to take risks and to refuse to be bound by fuming vetoes cast by other interested nations whose interests may differ quite sharply from America's.  No one in the world — friend, foe, or in between — will mistake an America led by George W. Bush for a paper tiger; and no one in the world will doubt that an America led by John F. Kerry is exactly that.

Posted by Beldar at 09:29 AM in Global War on Terror, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Musings on the significance of ailing despots elsewhere to the American election and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Winning at Extemp Changes Lives! from DaveShearon

Tracked on Oct 31, 2004 11:27:33 AM


(1) PDS made the following comment | Oct 31, 2004 9:42:22 AM | Permalink

Well said, well said. Safire's column today buttresses your point: who would have thunk of the possibility Afghan elections on September 10, 2001?

Or, maybe more important, on September 12, 2001?

(2) SemiPundit made the following comment | Oct 31, 2004 10:35:23 PM | Permalink

What is the basis for your assumption that, once these old men are gone, their younger successors will be other than lean, hungry, and far more virulent?

(3) Beldar made the following comment | Oct 31, 2004 10:54:39 PM | Permalink

SemiPundit, I believe it would be a mistake to assume that these depots would automatically be replaced by other, younger despots. That's one possibility; an outbreak of genuine democracy is another.

Certainly there are elements within both Cuba and Palestine, for example, that will attempt to inject democracy into the power vaccums likely to occur when Arafat and Castro die. My hope is that a muscular American-led diplomatic and economic reaction from another Coalition of the Willing may promote their efforts effectively.

My fear is that a Kerry administration — which would probably refuse to act with anything short of a full U.N. confirmation that our efforts have passed the "global test," and which would take even the remote possibility of American-led military intervention off the table — would end up playing right into the hands of the "lean, hungry, and far more virulent" successors to whom you refer. Young John Kerry was perfectly content to see exactly that happen in Southeast Asia after America's influence disappeared from South Vietnam.

(4) Chrees made the following comment | Nov 1, 2004 12:42:31 PM | Permalink

My introduction to Arafat's name was one of Johnny Carson's Great Carnac routines. It went something like

"Yasser Arafat"

"What is the sound that Dolly Parton's bra makes when she takes it off?"

Yeah, it's still bad, but it was the first time I had heard the name that I remember...

(5) Tom Grey made the following comment | Nov 1, 2004 2:57:19 PM | Permalink

My support for Bush has gotten stronger and stronger. Because I believe a certain kind of world is possible, and very desirable.

A World Without Dictators.
Country by country regime change.

(6) SemiPundit made the following comment | Nov 4, 2004 11:45:43 AM | Permalink

According to the news, Arafat is almost gone. It appears that, after all, he will die in bed, contrary to the wishes of his enemies.

Now, the succession struggle begins and we may learn whether he has been a moderating force within the PLA.

The comments to this entry are closed.