Two months ago, I left readers - and myself - wondering how I would use my absentee ballot in the US presidential election. A quick reprise is no doubt in order: a lifelong Democrat, and one who ridiculed the idea of a Bush candidacy back in 2000, I found myself waiting for the debates to see if I could bring myself to cast a vote for John Kerry, who coming out of the Conventions seemed to be just about the only man in politics with the ability to make President Bush look presidential. More specifically, I was, and remain, focused, on the war in Iraq and the broader "war on terrorism".
Other important matters - the US fiscal deficit, health care for uninsured Americans, cloning of human embryos for stem cell research, the production of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming - can all wait four years to be addressed in ways other than they would be in the second term of a George Bush administration. (Particularly, as the numerous "plans" that Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, have put forward would make little or no impression on most of these concerns). But what happens next in Iraq and Afghanistan - the two places where the Bush administration has engaged the US in the process of regime change followed by nation building - is time sensitive.
If over the next four years, these countries were to make definitive progress towards developing modern, secular, democratic governments, the proponents of Islamist jihad worldwide would find themselves in competition with a much more appealing vision of how life can be improved among the peoples they purport to lead in a terrorist war against the West and civil wars within their own societies. If, on the other hand, the opportunity is missed through a failure of leadership in Washington, Islamist terrorists will return to depicting the West as lacking the will to fight for its own values, and even its physical security.
Thus it was that at 2am, on 30 September, I switched on the television in my bedroom in London to watch the first of the three presidential debates. This was the one on foreign affairs, and it was crucial for my decision. If Kerry showed himself to be as determined to complete the tasks of democratic nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan as Bush, I would switch my attention to the arguments over world trade, global warming and even such personal issues as gay marriage, abortion and the place of religion in the classroom.
But 90 minutes later, my mind was made up. Bush had several times referred to the need to work for democracy in Iraq, he had lauded the registration of ten million Afghans for their upcoming presidential election, he had urged "a strategy of freedom around the world". Kerry had never, not once, referred to the goal of bringing about democracy in the Middle East: how could I entrust that responsibility, the one that I take to be the most critical task ahead, to an administration headed up by him?
But I waited. I watched two more presidential debates, and one vice-presidential. I followed the news reports from the campaign. I read the long interview Kerry gave to The New York Times magazine on fighting terrorism, the one where he compared it to the nuisance of drug dealing and prostitution - as though Colombian drug dealers and third world white slavers were blowing up innocent civilians in New York and Bali and Madrid. I am still waiting for John Kerry to support the propagation of democracy as a way of dealing with the roots of Islamic terrorism. As far as I am aware, he has yet even to praise the Afghan people - let alone US, Nato and UN efforts - for the successful and inspiring presidential elections that were recently held in Afghanistan, despite the earlier attacks by the Taliban on innocent Afghans registering to vote.
My ballot went into the post the day after the final debate, and yes reader, I voted for George Bush. But I did not turn my attention from the campaign. And I certainly attended to Osama bin Laden's latest video, the one where he sounded like an even more muddled Michael Moore, complaining that "the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces [abandoned] 50,000 of his citizens in the twin towers to face those great horrors alone at a time when they most needed him... because it seemed to him that occupying himself by talking to the little girl about the goat and its butting was more important than occupying himself with the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers..."
In other words, "Don't vote for George Bush," says Bin Laden. "He won't protect you from me." However bizarre his language, Bin Laden has made it clear that his candidate for US president is John Kerry. Could that be because Bush chased him out of Afghanistan, broke up much of his terror network and planted a US army in the heart of the Middle East, which is helping the Iraqi people to mount free elections next January. This was not what Bin Laden was expecting when he attacked New York and Washington, and he surely wants no more of the same. That's reason enough for me not to regret my choice for president this year.Reuse content