November is a referendum on incumbent leadership

US Presidents are limited to two four-year terms[1]. Elections held after the second term are really a referendum on the challenger, and in 2000 Gore ultimately failed (I've written before on why the 2000 election represented the highest ideal of our system of government).

Elections held after the first term, however, are a referendum on the incumbent. A President who'se only claim to fitness for office is "I'm better than the alternative" is guilty of lowering the bar of public expectation. Such an attitude essentially justifies any failure of judgement or systematic deficit of leadership, because such am incumbent can always demonize the opponent infinitely worse. In the modern age, such demonization (called the politics of personal destruction) is all too easy for a well-funded political party, and a temptation that neither party can resist.

The way to begin raising the bar is to evaluate a President after their first term - and punish failure. Not failure as simple disagreement with policy positions, but failure of true leadership, failure in those respects where the President should be acting - and leading - as the Executive for all Americans, on issues that transcend the minor issues such as abortion and taxes and immigration. The score card for Leadership contains items like vision for America's role in the world, defense of the homeland, a commitment the Administration's own rhetoric on foreign policy, a willingness and dapatbility to recognize error and change course when needed.

A President who disagrees with me on social issues is tolerable, and even neccessary at times to maintain the ongoing national debate. But a President who fails to Lead is not tolerable, regardless of party affiliation or whether I voted for them or not.

I disagree with President Bush on social issues, and reserved the right to vote against him, based on that disagreement. But After 9-11, he had me on-board. I will never forget how he stood up on MY behalf as an American muslim and spoke needed words of restraint to the nation about a rush to judgement. I'll never hate him as a person. However, on the Leadership front, he has failed me and he has failed my nation. WARNING EXPLICIT LINKS NOT FOR CHILDREN The photos of the shocking torture and rape of Iraqi POWs at the Abu Ghuraib prison are ultimately a failure of policy, a failure of example, a failure of priorities, a failure of resolve[2]. This is just the most graphic symptom of a systematic failure to commit to the Iraq war the resources that were needed to succeed - and were this the Former President H.W. Bush executing the war, none of these failures would have been evident.

You must now take a detour and read Ginmar's Journal entry. It is a cleansing salve for the sickness of the Iraqi POW torture-rape story. If you clicked the graphic link above, you don't know how much you need to read this. But you do. Read it now.

Why am I reminded of the former President Bush? John Kerry spoke at Westminster College in Missouri and had this to say about how he would prosecute this war:

I believe that failure is not an option in Iraq. But it is also true that failure is not an excuse for more of the same.

Here is how we must proceed.

First, we must create a stable and secure environment in Iraq. That will require a level of forces equal to the demands of the mission. To do this right, we have to truly internationalize both politically and militarily: we cannot depend on a US-only presence. In the short-term, however, if our commanders believe they need more American troops, they should say so and they should get them.

But more and more American soldiers cannot be the only solution. Other nations have a vital interest in the outcome and they must be brought in.

To accomplish this, we must do the hard work to get the world?s major political powers to join in this mission. To do so, the President must lead. He must build a political coalition of key countries, including the UK, France, Russia and China, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, to share the political and military responsibilities and burdens of Iraq with the United States.

The coalition should endorse the Brahimi plan for an interim Iraqi government, it should propose an international High Commissioner to work with the Iraqi authorities on the political transition, and it should organize an expanded international security force, preferably with NATO, but clearly under US command.

Once these elements are in place, the coalition would then go to the UN for a resolution to ratify the agreement. The UN would provide the necessary legitimacy. The UN is not the total solution but it is a key that opens the door to participation by others.

In parallel, the President must also go to NATO members and others to contribute the additional military forces and to NATO to take on an organizing role. NATO is now a global security organization and Iraq must be one of its global missions.

To bring NATO members and others in, the President must immediately and personally reach out and convince them that Iraqi security and stability is a global interest that all must contribute to. He must also convince NATO as an organization that Iraq should be a NATO mission?a mission consistent with the principles of collective security that have formed the basis of the alliance?s remarkable history in the pursuit of peace and security.

To bring others in it is imperative we share responsibility and authority. When NATO members have been treated with respect, they have always ? always ? answered the call of duty. So too with other key contributors. Every one has a huge stake in whether Iraq survives its trial by fire or is consumed by fire and becomes a breeding ground for terror, intolerance and fear.

This is an argument of enlightened self-interest to our allies, not bluster about expectations of obedience. These words could have been spoken by our first President Bush equally well. That is in fact the game plan that he pursued in building the Coalition to free Kuwait. This approach worked then, it worked in Kosovo, and it will work now. The truth is that the current President, bound by forces within his Administration and a basic lack of will to assert leadership, or even attempt to articulate his specific plan and vision for how to proceed, is a failure. The election is a referendum indeed so that the next occupant als understands that the Electorate will hold him accountable in the same manner.

[1] Amendment XII, passed in 1951 because the GOP chafed under the four-term war leadership of FDR.
[2] As usual, Phil Carter has the best military legal analysis of the case, and Juan Cole has the best political analysis of the effect on American credibility, not with the mythical Arab Street, but with the very-real and essential-to-the-domino-theory Arab middle class and imntellectual elite, who are receptive to our mission but distrustful of our motives.

No comments: