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Who'd Make U.S. Safer? Amid War, Voters Face Key Choice… 'Por Bush? Por Kerry?'; Liberals, Conservatives Target Specific Groups To Get Out The Vote

Who'd Make U.S. Safer? Amid War, Voters Face Key Choice

Jack Torry

September 19, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Columbus Dispatch. All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON -- They have much in common: sons of the well-connected, students at privileged private schools, graduates of elite Yale University, members of ultra-secret Skull and Bones.

Yet President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., two ambitious baby boomers with a shared heritage, see the world in wholly different ways. They are engaging in a spirited and divisive foreign-policy debate, perhaps unmatched in ferocity since the bitter disputes a century ago between advocates of American expansion and their anti-imperialist opponents.

They have the rapt attention of voters, who -- prompted by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- are showing the most interest in foreign affairs and national security since the height of the Vietnam War and the turbulent 1968 presidential election.

''It's a good thing we're talking about real issues and not about Monica Lewinsky,'' said Richard Herrmann, a former State Department official and director of the Mershon Center at Ohio State University.

Michele A. Flournoy, a deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, said: ''We are in a period where the threats to our security are very real. Americans have a sense of vulnerability at home, and they are evaluating presidential contenders through a very different prism, which first asks the question, 'Who will make me safer?' ''

The next president not only must vigorously prosecute a campaign against Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist organization, but also stabilize war-torn Iraq, deal with emerging nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, and monitor Russia as it continues a worrisome retreat from democracy to an authoritarian regime under Vladimir Putin.

Bush and Kerry have both insisted they will make the United States safer, but they veer apart on how to do so. Bush, while adopting President Woodrow Wilson's quest to expand democracy throughout the world, has shown a marked preference to disregard the international community and strike potential rogue states and terrorists even before the threat fully emerges.

U.S. forces toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan, which provided al-Qaida with sanctuaries to train the Sept. 11 hijackers. American and British troops, despite sharp objections from France, Germany and Russia, crushed Saddam Hussein's regime, a pre-emptive strike designed to make certain that Iraq's supposed arsenal of chemical and biological weapons would never be used against the United States.

By contrast, Kerry has argued that Bush's neglect of developing an international consensus -- another staple of Wilson -- has needlessly antagonized longtime allies at a time when their help is needed to crush bin Laden. And although Kerry voted in 2002 to authorize war against Iraq, he has maintained that Bush misled Congress and Americans about the danger of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, which U.S. officials now concede might not have existed at the time of the allied invasion.

''We probably have the starkest choices to make on foreign policy and national security that we have seen in decades,'' said Joseph Cirincione, director of the nonproliferation project for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The Bush-Kerry debate is a distant echo from an intense and divisive argument during the Spanish-American War in 1898 between the American expansionists, led by Theodore Roosevelt and Secretary of State John Hay; and the anti-imperialists, whose ranks included Harvard President Charles W. Eliot and former Republican Sen. Carl Schurz.

The forceful Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the Navy, helped transform the United States into a world power by urging war with Spain over Cuba, leading to the annexation of the Philippine Islands, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Such aggressiveness prompted Schurz to ask, ''Does this mean that wherever obstacles to the progress of civilization appear, this republic should at once step in to remove those obstacles by means of force?''

With his rhetorical style and willingness to use force, Bush seems a closer match to the expansionists of a century ago. While Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld asserted this month that the U.S. ''does not put forces in a country to leave them there,'' Bush in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention said, ''The wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom.''

That phrase is at the core of Bush's strategy: As authoritarian regimes develop into democracies, the anger and discontent throughout the Middle East will dissipate, making Americans safer from a new generation of terrorists.

In a speech this month, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, regarded as one of the chief architects of Bush's policy, said: ''Victory in the war on terror requires sowing the seeds of hope, expanding the appeal of freedom, particularly in the broader Middle East. As democracy grows in the Middle East, it becomes easier for peacekeepers to succeed throughout the region.''

Such a strategy has prompted biting criticism from Kerry and his allies, who have warned that Washington has sacrificed long-term alliances in return for fleeting victories against terrorists. Cirincione said Bush ''has staked out a radical new strategy on foreign policy and, in part, this election is a referendum on what Americans think of that strategy.

''The debate right now is between a strategy that sees the U.S. as having a mission to assertively go out and change regimes and promote American-style government, even if that means using military force, versus a policy that says we should be leading more by example than intervention.''

Even some who contend that Bush has worthy goals warn that he has engaged in such a flawed strategy that the nation has provoked intense hatred throughout the Middle East and south Asia.

Flournoy said that the administration ''has prosecuted the war on terrorism using only half the instruments at our disposal,'' ignoring ''public diplomacy to win the hearts and minds of the region. This is a debate over means, not ends. Kerry and the Democrats are saying there is a better way to win the war on terrorism. You cannot defeat terrorism by yourself, no matter how powerful you are. You have to do it working with others.''

Many of those critics contend that the war in Iraq was a distraction to the war against bin Laden rather than a well-conceived blow to make Americans safer. Although Saddam possessed chemical and biological weapons a decade ago, before the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, it has become apparent that he had no such threatening arsenal at the time of his fall.

Kerry has yet to make clear what he would do to stabilize Iraq, other than promising to convene an international meeting to gain broader help from other nations in reconstruction and security. But when asked last week by radio broadcaster Don Imus how he would handle Iraq, Kerry replied: ''What everybody in America ought to be doing today is not asking me. They ought to be asking the president, 'What is your plan?' ''

The fear among analysts is that no good answer to Iraq exists. Herrmann, who opposed the U.S. and British strike against Iraq last year, said: ''We're going to get out eventually. I don't think we're going to cut and run; I don't think we should cut and run. At this point, there are solutions, all of which are expensive.''

'Por Bush? Por Kerry?'; Liberals, Conservatives Target Specific Groups To Get Out The Vote


September 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004 St. Paul Pioneer Press. All rights reserved.

On a beautiful September day, Gerardo Cajamarca is doing something that can be fatal in his hometown of Bogota, Colombia.

He is talking to people about politics.

Cajamarca, part of a huge voter-contact effort in the metro area on Saturday, is gathering names and addresses, talking up the importance of organizing and volunteering, determining who is a citizen (and therefore a potential voter) and generally exercising rights that would make him a marked man back home.

All in the beautiful Español of Colombia.

"Por Bush? Por Kerry?" he asks a man in a black convertible, trying to determine the man's political preference. Cajamarca discusses immigration, the war in Iraq, employment and discrimination. The man is not a citizen – and cannot help on Nov. 2 – but Cajamarca sees these contacts in a broader context of democratic involvement.

"Voting is a part of democracy,'' he says, but only one part.

Back home, where Cajamarca worked with unions and human rights groups, he said thousands are killed each year by paramilitary groups for this type of organizing. He said 10 of his colleagues have died since he left early this year.

"That's why I'm here,'' he said.

Cajamarca, now working with the United Steelworkers Union, was part of a throng that gathered earlier in the morning at Washburn High School in South Minneapolis for a day of knocking on doors and spreading the word in shopping centers. The volunteers were organized by a coalition of labor, environmental, abortion-rights and other liberal groups known as America Votes.

There are so few undecideds that both sides are focusing on getting out their base and registering new voters who lean their way. On this particular weekend, it was liberals supporting Kerry. On another weekend, it will be conservatives supporting Bush. They use similar techniques but target different groups and neighborhoods.

At the liberal meeting, a color-coded coalition of activists – red T-shirts for abortion-rights supporters, purple shirts for the service workers, blue for Sierra Clubbers – heard a rousing sendoff from Sarah Stoesz, head of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

She ridiculed President Bush's reference to his opposition to abortion as support for "a culture of life.''

"George Bush and his band of religious zealots want to deny us our culture of life," she added. "We will take it back on November 2."

The event attracted volunteers such as Matt Dooley, a 17-year-old high school junior from Minneapolis, and John Ward, a Sierra Club member from Eagan.

"I'm here because I don't think our leaders had any plan at all going into Iraq,'' said Dooley. Ward, who planned to talk about mercury contamination in his door-to-door visits, said he believes close-to-home environmental issues can make a difference.

"There's such an overload of information,'' he says. Threats to drinking water are easy to understand. "It's local, it's right here,'' he says. "Iraq is over there.''

As the groups mobilized for door-knocking forays into targeted neighborhoods, Ana Vazquez, an ebullient and bilingual organizer for the Minnesota office of America Coming Together, huddled with Cajamarca and others who will work the city's growing Spanish-speaking neighborhoods.

"This is historic,'' she said, repeating it in Spanish. "No one has ever knocked on people's doors in the Latino community.''

On to the Kmart parking lot, where Vazquez, Cajamarca, Jeannette Rebar, who works with the Service Employees International Union, and Meighan Stone, communications director for the Minnesota office of America Coming Together, are trying to stop people as they enter and leave.

Vazquez, from Puerto Rico by way of New York, charms families with children, talks empathetically to couples with multiple jobs and gently prods them into considering the importance of American politics in their daily struggles.

"It's like a blitz!" she says of the saturation effort. She said she hopes for a coalition of immigrants from the range of nations represented on Lake Street – Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, Panama, Ecuador and Colombia.

But can they vote? Many of the contacts at this spot are with Spanish-speaking immigrants who are not citizens and are not eligible to vote.

While other groups walk precincts with targeted Latino voters, Vazquez and Cajamarca hand out Spanish-language literature to the non-voters at Kmart, hoping that it will find its way into the hands of relatives or friends who are voters.

Rebar fills out a voter registration form for a man who is from Somalia and is a citizen, but has not registered. Speaking fluent Spanish, she learns from a couple that they favor Democratic candidate John Kerry but are non-citizens and cannot vote. Two young African-American men, who have never registered, are put on the rolls by the group.

Throughout the morning, Vazquez spreads the gospel of Latino involvement in American democracy, where an organizer from the violence of Bogota can find a home.

"I love it!" Vazquez says of this busy, multicultural spot. "I call it the United Nations of Minneapolis.''

Saturday, Sept. 18, noon. Parking lot and entrance to Kmart on Lake Street in Minneapolis. 45 days to Election Day.

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