Don't be fooled: Kerry would make a difference

It's not a matter of specific policies. It's just that Bush is the biggest obstacle to world peace
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The Independent Online

Better late than never, but John Kerry at last seems to be succeeding in putting some clear blue water between himself and President Bush over the issue of Iraq. It's more than just a question of tone and criticism. Kerry is talking of a date for drawing down US troops and a fresh start in internationalising security.

Better late than never, but John Kerry at last seems to be succeeding in putting some clear blue water between himself and President Bush over the issue of Iraq. It's more than just a question of tone and criticism. Kerry is talking of a date for drawing down US troops and a fresh start in internationalising security.

Not before time, onemight think. All through the summer Kerry has had the opportunity to pick up the Iraqi ball and run with it and failed to do so. He suffers from the same problem as the British Tory leader, Michael Howard, of having supported the war in the first place. It wouldn't work for either of them to come out suddenly and say the war was wrong from the start, however appealing to the anti-war voters.

But even so there is a sizeable number of people - more so in the US than in Britain perhaps - who went along with the war on the basis that their leaders told them it was necessary and urgent and who would now welcome a voice to express their sense of betrayal. To say he also was misled requires Kerry, as Howard, to admit his gullibility in the first place, but it is a perfectly defensible position on which to base a campaign criticising the way the invasion was planned and the occupation has been handled.

But Kerry also needs to define himself on Iraq in order to rebut the recent accusation that his policy is not really distinct from Bush's and that, if elected, it wouldn't make that much difference. It's a view much touted by UK government ministers of late, as well as supporters of the war, and for entirely self-serving reasons. It enables those, including the Cabinet, who know that the war isn't going right and they ought to be seeking change nonetheless to continue supporting Bush without having to justify their position.

It's nonsense, of course. Quite aside from the fundamental differences of approach between the two men (Kerry is by background and travel an internationalist; Bush has always defined himself as a heartland American with a consciously limited knowledge of the world at large), it deliberately sidesteps the defining feature of the Bush administration: the influence of the neo-cons on US foreign policy and the central role of the defence department in developing it.

The decision to invade Iraq was not made as a logical next step to 11 September and Afghanistan, but as part of a pre-existing plan espoused by the Vice President, Dick Cheney, and the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Iraq was only tangentially pursued as a manoeuvre in the war on terror. It was meant to be the essential first step in reforming the whole region and ensuring the development of its energy reserves. And it was born and bred in a small group within the White House and defence department. If any single feature has characterised the foreign policy of the Bush administration it has been the downgrading of the state department and its Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

To suggest that a change of administration wouldn't alter this is to fly in the face of the facts, however similar some of Kerry's individual policy statements may sound to the administration's. By reappointing Dick Cheney as his running mate and refusing to drop Donald Rumsfeld, Bush has made clear where his sympathies lie.

Iraq may have taught Washington to be more cautious about a policy of pre-emptive action. But when the US faces Iran and North Korea after the election, when it comes to considering its use of the UN, its policy on the Middle East and its attitude to Europe, we can expect more of the same from Bush. He's not going to change his spots and, if anyone doubted that, they had only to listen to his speech to the United Nations on Tuesday.

If nothing else a Kerry presidency will mean a restoration of the position of the state department in policy-making, a diminution of the role of the defence department and an end of neo-con influence. And that alone will make a huge difference.

But above all, it will make a difference in Iraq. If the US, and together with it Britain, are in a hole in the Middle East, it is a hole of their own digging, and one which is associated with Bush and Blair personally. It's all very well Bush talking of internationalising the task of reconstruction, but the problem is that the US is regarded as the occupying force; the opponents of war such as France or Russia see no value in getting Bush and Blair out of their hole and that any move by other countries, whether Muslim or not, now takes on the air of foreign intervention.

Bush cannot break free of these constraints because he cannot in the end admit his mistakes. Nor Blair for that matter. But change their regimes and all sorts of things become possible. France, China and even Russia could be brought back in. The UN could be asked to take over. A regional conference could be convened to guarantee the commitment of the neighbouring countries. Iran and Syria could be brought in as allies, not enemies.

That is the point that the supporters of war want to avoid by saying a Kerry administration would follow the same road as Bush. It's not a matter of specific policies. It's simply that the biggest single obstacle to world peace and security is the continuance in power of this President, and his British acolyte.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

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