A View From Britain

We've heard so much about how the "world" backs Mr. Kerry - here's a refresher, someone unbiased and frankly, says it as he sees it...

We had Churchill. The US has Bush. When you need a man for a fight . . .

THERE’S NO denying that Hamlet is the more interesting guy. But there’s a reason Fortinbras commands the stage at the end of the play. It’s easy to understand why the political Establishment wanted Lord Halifax to succeed Neville Chamberlain in 1940. But there’s a reason why it really couldn’t be anyone but Churchill. And no one can deny that John Kerry, the victor of this year’s presidential debates, is the choice of most intelligent and sophisticated people in Britain. But there’s a reason why I still hope America votes for George W. Bush today.
That reason? It’s one word. Will.
In 1940 the British people understood that the virtues that had counted in a time of peace were no longer the qualities needed when fighting a war. The diplomacy practised by Chamberlain, designed to avert conflict, had failed. And those closest to him, who had sat in his Cabinet and shared his strategy, were temperamentally ill at ease with the requirements of a world in which so many of their assumptions had been shattered. An Establishment reluctant to admit that it had got so much wrong hankered after a new leader who would not mark too dramatic a shift from what had gone before. But what Britain needed, and what it found in Churchill, was a leader who saw clearly the nature of the threat we faced and therefore could promise nothing but the sacrifices necessary for victory.
Of course, as those who knew him were aware, Churchill had many flaws. His ministerial record, from Gallipoli to Narvik, was studded by failure. He had a worrying tendency to micro-manage what was best left to his subordinates. His wilder strategic notions left able lieutenants like the Chief of the General Staff, Alanbrooke, exasperated. Some of his very closest colleagues, such as his raffish confidante Brendan Bracken or Professor Frederick Lindemann, the advocate of area bombing, were mavericks whose ideas history doesn’t judge particularly kindly. But all these weaknesses didn’t count for nearly as much as Churchill’s central virtue. He possessed, from the beginning, a single-minded desire to win. He had a will to victory which endured through criticism, reverses and painful error until the job was done.
The case for Bush today is the same. He and his Administration have made many mistakes. Although Afghanistan is moving slowly towards democracy, more should still have been done to support it after its liberation from the Taleban. The public case for removing Saddam Hussein should have been made on many fronts, instead of becoming bogged down in attempts to prove possession of smoking guns. More troops should have been committed to the war itself and they should have been used more quickly to combat the terrorist counter-attack. In particular, coalition forces should have finished the job in Fallujah earlier this year, instead of handing control of the town over to one of Saddam’s former lieutenants, a move which only disheartened the majority of Iraqis who wished to see Baathists in jail rather than hired as security subcontractors.
More could have been done to give Iraqis ownership of the liberation from the beginning, in particular through the early empowerment of moderate Shia and Kurds. And the horrors of Abu Ghraib demanded an acknowledgement of fault more rapid, profound and far-reaching than initially offered.
But all these mistakes, serious as they are, are the consequence of getting the big thing right. Recognising that victory in war comes from taking the fight to the enemy. In every conflict even the greatest leaders falter. Pitt was guilty of repeated failures early in his struggle against Napoleon. Lincoln’s Union forces badly mishandled matters at the start of the American Civil War. But victory came to those who were determined, come what may, that they would be implacable in pursuit of the enemy. In the conflict we now face, a global war against fundamentalist terror, the greatest mistake of all would be a failure to show the necessary determination.
It was the belief that hard choices could be avoided, that negotiations, international agreements, concordats and colloquia could deal with our unruly world, which encouraged terrorism in the first place. The architects of 9/11 and the planners of the Madrid, Bali and Istanbul bombings have made a calculation that the West is decadent, addicted to compromise and incapable of shouldering the burden necessary to defend its civilisation. When the Spanish people responded to the Madrid bombing by voting for a Government which was pledged to scale down its commitment to combating terrorism, the leaders of al-Qaeda drew the appropriate conclusion. The West lacked the will to fight. They would prevail.
It is no reflection on John Kerry’s character or patriotism to say that, should he win tonight, then a similar conclusion will be drawn by the terror masters. He may well hope that his Administration would be more effective in fighting terror. But his words, and actions, betray a mindset uncomfortable with the sacrifices required. The man Kerry claims as his hero, John F. Kennedy, promised that America would pay any price and bear any burden in its fight for freedom. But Kerry promises Americans that he will reduce the burden; indeed, he’ll do anything to get others to shoulder it. When it comes to paying the price, he wants a discount. He’s told the American people they should spend less money fighting terror in Iraq so that more can be spent fighting fires at home.
A visible reluctance to commit everything possible to the fight against terrorism, and to risk unpopularity in order to prevail, is the surest way of communicating weakness to the terrorists and encouraging them to fight with redoubled energy. George W. Bush knows that instinctively. And, in the interests of a safer world, that is why I hope he wins.

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