By M.V. Kamath
AN another one hundred days the United States will be holding its quadrennial elections for the presidentship and it is an open question who will win: the incumbent George Bush or the Democratic candidate John Forbes Kerry, who, incidentally, has the same?JKF?initials as his model, the former president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Recent polls show that Kerry has a slight edge over his Republican rival. Incumbency, in abnormal circumstances, always is a handicap and Bush must often be wondering in the privacy of his office whether he did the right thing in waging war in Iraq. Bush sadly underrated Iraq´s desire to fight back. The same mistake had earlier been made by Bush´s predecessors in the White House. It started with President Eisenhower who felt that once Vietnam succeeds as a communist state it will have consequential repercussions in neighbouring countries like Cambodia and Thailand, which could then also go communist. So the decision at first hesitatingly was taken to halt the progress of communism in Vietnam. It was a wrong decision to take. After over a decade of fighting and the loss of hundreds of its own, the United States had to turn tail, leaving a tired Vietnam to fend for itself. For the United States it was a humilitating defeat. That the mightiest nation in the world, a Super Power, could not win its war against a small Asian nation with hardly any resources was galling. Now that same mistake is being repeated, this time against another Asian nation, Iraq.
Iraq has been physically taken over but Washington is finding it hard to control Iraqi patriots, whether one calls them jihadists or terrorists. Bush, it would seem, is in trouble. This is a point that has been seized by John Kerry, the man who, on July 30, was appointed as the Democratic candidate for the US presidentship. Kerry had fought in the Vietnam war, unlike Bush. As he told the Democratic Convention which chose him as its presidential candidate: ?I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as a President.? Kerry promised that if elected he would fight ?a smarter, more effective war on terror?. But those who know him say that that does not necessarily mean he will withdraw all forces from Iraq. As he put it: ?As President I will not evade or equivocate but will tell the terrorists that they will lose and we will win.? What kind of man in this Kerry?
?Kerry? sounds like an Irish name, but his grandfather was a Jew who came to America from Austria and changed his name from Kohn to Kerry and converted to Roman Catholicism. Reportedly he made quick money and also lost it equally quickly and shot himself in the head in a hotel in Boston in 1921. Kerry´s father, Richard was a career mid-level diplomat working in the US Foreign Service and had become a test pilot during the Second World War. After the war Richard Kerry was posted in Europe and John had frequently to change schools even as his father got transferred. That, it is now claimed, gave John an excess of self-confidence. He tried to get into politics in the early seventies but was defeated in Congressional elections, first in 1970 and then again in 1972, but soon thereafter he managed to get elected as a Senator and he has been one for the past twenty years. His first marriage failed and after siring two daughters, he obtained a divorce in 1988. Seven years later, in 1995, he married for the second time, a rich heiress worth over a billion dollars.
Kerry, like the Kennedys, is a billionaire, totally ignorant about Asia and more specifically about India. In recent weeks, several NRI organisations in the United States have raised funds for Kerry´s elections but that is neither here nor there. Among NRIs who want to be in the good books of prospective presidents, it is not unusual to raise funds in the hope that they will be remembered when the time comes. That has seldom happened.
Teresa Heinz?for that´s her name?has provided her husband five new houses and all the things he wished to buy. Kerry, like the Kennedys, is a billionaire. From his mother´s side he apparently comes from a distinguished and old American family and these things mean a great deal in America, for all its profession of democracy and egality. And those who know Kerry describe him as a ?snob among snobs?. Kerry may be knowledgeable about Europe, but he is reported to be?like many of his predecessors?totally ignorant about Asia and more specifically about India. In recent weeks, several NRI organisations in the United States have raised funds for Kerry´s elections but that is neither here nor there. Among NRIs who want to be in the good books of prospective presidents, it is not unusual to raise funds in the hope that they will be remembered when the time comes. That has seldom happened. But some of the things Kerry said in his acceptance speech sound ominous. For example, he said that he would ?close the tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping jobs overseas.? As he put it bluntly: ?Instead, we will reward the companies that create and keep good paying jobs right where they belong in the good old USA. We value an American that exports products, not jobs. And we believe American workers should never have to subsidise the loss of their own jobs.?
That means that Kerry will discourage outsourcing jobs to countries like India. That is a warning that India might take seriously. He also said among other things that he will ?have a Secretary of Defence who will listen to the advice of the military leaders.? If the truth be known, the military leaders in the Pentagon are Pakistan-friendly and that is another point that India will have to remember.
Kerry may want to be different from Bush, but in the past he had supported the war against Iraq and it seems unlikely that he will change his views overnight. Indeed, in his acceptance speech, he said: ?As a President I will not evade or equivocate. I promise fast action in the war on terror and a strong military that will tell terrorists that they will be defeated.? There is nothing in what he has so far said that indicates that he understands the problems of South Asia, but reports suggest that the United States is now deeply divided over who should be the next President.
George Bush, the incumbent, has described Kerry as ?an indecisive, far-left liberal out of step with the mainstream values that are so important to our country.? According to Bush, Kerry has taken ?both sides on many issues, from education and trade to the war in Iraq?. In other words, Kerry is a man with no firm convictions and is easily changed. Certainly he has been heard to say that he will never hesitate to use force ?when it is required?. That can be understood to mean anything. Admittedly one cannot expect him to explain his likely foreign policy even before he is elected president. He has been quoted as saying that he will wean the US dependence on West Asia, that is, Middle East, oil and that he wants an America ?that relies on its ingenuity and innovation and not on the Saudi Royal family?.
One can only wait and see. Politicians say one thing before getting elected and then change their minds once they are in power. Kerry is an unlikely exception. In power few American presidents have been very friendly towards India, to start with. Why should one expect Kerry to be any different? Only time can teach them a lesson.