Friday, July 30, 2004

“I am John Kerry and I am reporting for duty”

“I am John Kerry and I am reporting for duty.” With that opening statement and a salute, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry officially accepted the Democratic Party nomination as United States presidential candidate. The 46-minute speech, dubbed Kerry’s speech of his life, was undoubtedly optimistic (expected), inspiring, and can be considered a defining moment of Kerry’s campaign. Taken at face value, this speech laid his campaign platform and as former U.S. President Bill Clinton noted, distinguishes Democrat ideals and values from that of Republicans. Conservative New York Times columnist David Brookes had to admit that the speech and delivery was so good that it sounded Theodore Roosevelt Republicanesque. Indeed, President Bush will be hard pressed to match this nomination acceptance speech given the country’s current economic problems, healthcare crisis, and the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmire.

This last day of the four-day Democratic National Convention at the Fleet Center in historic Boston, Massachusetts provided a very exciting, up-beat, and climatic Kerry speech. Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva nominated Kerry and at the same time was critical of Bush’s economic and war- on-terrorism programs. Defeated rival candidates Senator Joe Lieberman (the first Jewish-American Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee) and retired General Wesley Clark, as well as California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright all gave classy speeches talking about the courage, integrity, and dedication to public service of Kerry. Kerry’s daughters Vanessa and Alexandra portrayed him as a loving and principled father and public servant. Prior to the introductory speech of former Georgia Senator Max Cleland, himself a Vietnam veteran and amputee, Kerry’s Navy Swift boat crew was introduced on stage. Jim Rassmann, the Green Beret pulled out of the Mekong River by Kerry when they were ambushed, also gave a short spiel on Kerry’s bravery and leadership skills. Rassman, by the way, is a disillusioned registered Republican. McClelland’s speech was touching and inspiring, especially when he described what he went through (lost both legs and right arm) and how he turned his life into one of service.

If anyone had doubts that Kerry would be not take a stand on the controversial issues of the present, this speech, using his Vietnam experiences, defined which side of the Mekong River he and the Democrats are on. He noted that his parent’s generation was the greatest generation, winning WWII and the Cold War and keeping the peace for over 50 years. He repeated that Americans are a “can do” people and have dreamt audacious goals and achieved those dreams. Kerry emphasized honesty and values, which must be exercised first by the President. Government, from the President downwards, need to be tell the truth to the American people, from the mistakes in the Iraq war, the rise of resentment against the United States, the true state of the economy, the environmental and the healthcare crises, among others.

While not personally attacking President Bush, he promised though, that his Vice-President would not “secretly meet with polluters” and his Attorney General will “uphold the Constitution”. He would not shirk from asking the hard questions and would demand the answers. He also stressed that he would only lead the nation to war “not because we want to, but because we have to”. Kerry stressed that for the U.S. to win the war on terrorism, the U.S. must be strong both economically and in homeland security. Importantly, according to Kerry, the U.S. needs a new President with the credibility and the skills to restore alliances with other countries. Kerry, like the other speakers, before him, noted that never has the U.S. been so isolated and despised as today because of how the Iraq situation has been handled.

As Kerry put it plainly, the coming elections are very important for the country because the “stakes are very high”. Assuming Kerry follows through with his stated commitments if he is elected, fundamental policy changes will happen on the war on terrorism, as well as a reconsideration of its international commitments on environment, human rights, and trade, among others. Both Kerry and Edwards noted the need for special forces to combat terrorism, which is an implicit admission that the war on terrorism is a low-intensity, localized affair that is heavily dependent on intelligence/counter-intelligence.

Implications for the Philippines

The U.S. presidential election and that of the Australian national elections later this year will hinge on how the situation in Iraq and other arenas of the war on terrorism continue to unfold. At this point, the Bush, Blair, and even the presumptuous Howard administrations are under constant criticism for the failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the primary reason for invading Iraq. Further, the continuous revelations of prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo by U.S. soldiers and new revelations on abuses by British soldiers, the perception of favoritism in awarding reconstruction contracts, and other reports of irregularities have severely eroded the moral high the U.S., U.K., and Australia claimed to have in invading Iraq.

Australian PM Howard’s administration, for example, has been accused of denying and then covering up prior knowledge of the Abu Ghraib abuses. Some British soldiers were recently court-martialed on charges of murdering in cold blood Iraqi civilians, while an American decorated soldier was recently charged with theft of a SUV. Add to this an ex-CIA officer’s assessment of rising Islamic hatred of the “invading infidels” because of their presence in “the two holiest places in Islam, the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq,” (American Conservative 2004), more terrorist incidents are expected. Their positions then are very tenuous compared to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has a fresh six-year mandate.

These dynamics provide President GMA with the leverage in dealing with the harsh words of U.S. and Australian officials on the withdrawal of the Filipino military contingent. Should these officials continue to malign the Philippines in brazen violation of diplomatic protocol, then the GMA administration is in a position to publicly call into question the probity of the Iraq invasion and the inherent weakness of the program of “winning the peace in Iraq”. Hers will be one of an increasing number of voices criticizing Bush, Blair, and Howard. There is a sense here, if Michael Moore’s blockbuster film is reflective of this emerging realization, that the Iraq debacle could have been handled more professionally and more forthrightly. In other words, GMA’s officials should take into consideration the scenario of new administrations in the U.S., U.K., and Australia by next year.

Watching and listening to the speeches and various commentaries were spine-tingling and learning experiences to this politically jaded observer. Taken at face value and if good speeches can translate into votes, the speeches given by various Democrats and their charisma, from Hillary Rodham Clinton to Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, to Teresa Heinz Kerry, and others, and to John Edwards, and John Kerry today , the Democrats should be able to regain the White House in November. I’ll write more about their speeches in future pieces as I look forward to the Republican National Convention.

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