The Magazine

Yes, Bush Will Win

From the June 14, 2004 issue: Going abroad makes the situation at home more clear.

Jun 14, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 38 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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George W. Bush is going to win. He'll win the war, and he'll win the election. How do I know this? Needless to say, I don't. And, God knows, the Bush administration often seems to be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But I've spent much of the last two weeks abroad, which (perhaps) gives you perspective. And that perspective leads me to think Bush will win.

It's not just that in Europe every leftist anti-American creep and every world-weary phony sophisticate wants and expects Bush to lose in November, and America to lose in Iraq. Surely the American people won't give them the satisfaction of having their wishes granted. Nor would the American people want to devastate the few beleaguered pro-American, pro-war-on-terror, anti-appeasement politicians and intellectuals in Europe.

Okay, that's wishful thinking. But there are grounds for hope. We are actually winning the war in Iraq, and the war on terror. We're not winning either as thoroughly or as comprehensively as we should be. Still, it is a fact that one year after the invasion of Iraq, Saddam and his regime are gone; a decent interim Iraqi government is taking over; we and the Iraqis have not suffered a devastating level of casualties; the security situation, though inexcusably bad, looks as if it may finally be improving; Moktada al-Sadr seems to have been marginalized, and the Shia center is holding; there is nothing approaching civil war. The failure to follow through in Falluja remains a problem, but it needn't become a precedent. And last week, the new prime minister, Iyad Alawi, thanked the United States for liberating Iraq, said that it would be "a major disaster" for U.S. forces to leave, and privately said that to win the war you have to kill the enemy. So it's unlikely he will constrain our troops excessively.

Meanwhile, most of the pathologies in the region that predate March 2003 still exist, but they're not worse, and some are better. There has been real progress, in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, against terror; the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network has been exposed; there has been progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front; there are signs of liberal ferment in the Arab world.

One sensible but conventional journalist wrote last week, "Can anybody seriously argue that, knowing what they now know about the unfolding of events in Iraq, the allies would willingly do the same thing again?" I think the answer is yes. And I think the American people will answer yes in November. They'll answer yes because they aren't really going to believe that we would have been better off to have left Saddam in power in Iraq. And the American people aren't really going to believe that more focus on first responders, and less on removing brutal dictators and changing the Middle East, is the right way to fight the war on terror.

Senator Kerry, it has to be said, is running a sensible and cautious campaign. But that makes him almost unique among Bush's opponents. Kerry is surrounded by loony supporters whose extremism will hurt him--or would hurt him, if the Bush campaign were more nimble. Poor Bob Dole had to pay in spades in 1996 for every incautious statement of Newt Gingrich. The first President Bush suffered for Pat Buchanan's convention speech. Left to their own devices, the media aren't going to make Kerry pay for anything, to be sure. But they would at least have to pay attention if the Bush campaign made a bigger deal out of the mind-boggling slanders by Kerry's fellow Massachusetts senator, Ted Kennedy, his predecessor as his party's nominee, Al Gore, and the largest bankroller of the anti-Bush forces, financier George Soros.

Kennedy last month hyperventilated about Abu Ghraib: "We now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management: U.S. management." Kerry, asked about that statement the next day, said, "He's my friend and I respect him, but I don't agree with the framing of that." The framing? But that was that--no follow-up from the Bush campaign to wrap that comment by his buddy Ted around Kerry's neck and to cause him days of discomfort.

A couple of weeks ago, Al Gore gave a speech in which he referred to "Bush's Gulag." Where were the Bush campaign surrogates, asking Kerry whether he thought that formulation was appropriate? And then last week, George Soros said that "the way President Bush conducted the war on terror converted us from victims to perpetrators." The Republican party chairman called this remark "troubling"--but made no effort to put Kerry on the spot. (Instead, the Bush campaign made a silly attack on Kerry for skipping a 95-0 Senate vote to authorize $25 billion for Iraq.)

It's frustrating. It's a ham-handed campaign. But Bush will win anyway. Then he can shake up his administration and really make progress toward winning the global war in which we're engaged.

--William Kristol