[CULTURAL DIMENSIONS]Should Korea root for Dean?Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s victory in the Democratic Party’s Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19 confounded the pundits, who had all but given the nomination to Howard Dean. Mr. Kerry has been viewed as having the momentum heading into the New Hampshire primary and those that follow. The other surprise in Iowa was John Edwards, a freshman senator from North Carolina, who rose from single digits in the polls to finish a close second behind Mr. Kerry. Democratic activists have now been talking about a Kerry-Edwards dream ticket that will unite North and South in the effort to unseat President Bush.
For Korea’s America watchers, the collapse of Howard Dean was big news. Mr. Dean built his candidacy around opposition to the war in Iraq, a cause that many Koreans sympathize with. He was the voice of the America that many people around the world feel has been intimidated into silence by the Bush administration’s aggressive war on terror. Mr. Dean’s America believes that idealistic foreign policy based on international cooperation can create a good image for the United States that will earn it respect and guarantee its security at the same time. It is the successor to the self-determination idealism of Woodrow Wilson and human-rights idealism of Jimmy Carter.
None of the other candidates has made much of the war in Iraq or foreign policy. As senators, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards both voted to authorize President Bush to use military force in Iraq if necessary. Both have criticized the Bush administration’s policy toward Iraq since the war, but the record of their “yes” vote remains. Both surged because Democrats believed that they have the best chance of beating President Bush. Mr. Kerry has a liberal voting record on domestic issues and appeals to Democrats and independents who are unhappy with Mr. Bush’s domestic policy. Mr. Edwards is more conservative than Mr. Kerry, but attracts support with stirring speeches that appeal to the populist streak in the Democratic Party.
The collapse of Mr. Dean and the rise of Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards means that President Bush will face a serious challenge for re-election that carries the risk of defeat. This leaves Mr. Bush with two choices: rally his base or move to the center. The direction that he chooses will have a direct impact on policy after the election regardless of who wins. If Mr. Bush rallies his conservative base and wins, he will be able to govern from the right regardless of the size of his victory. If he loses following the same strategy, the Democratic president will be forced to the center, fearing the voters would be just as willing to remove a liberal president as they would a conservative one. If, on the other hand, Mr. Bush moves to the center and wins, then he will be forced to stay there, but if he loses, the Democratic president will be free to move to the left.
With President Bush and the likely Democratic nominee agreeing ― as defined by the vote in the Senate ― on the need for war in Iraq, political posturing now focuses on the domestic agenda, where Mr. Bush is weakest. The political situation has returned to the days of the Cold War, when there was bipartisan support for standing up to the Soviet Union, but broad disagreement on domestic policies.
Any serious candidate has to assure the American people that he is strong on national security. As in the Cold War, being strong on national security means a combination of strength and good judgment. A candidate who deviated from this rule by being too aggressive (Barry Goldwater in 1964) or too weak (George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984) lost in a landslide. Mr. Dean will join this list on the side of the weak if he is the nominee.
None of these developments is good news for Koreans who desperately want to see the United States take a more sympathetic stance toward North Korea. Only a Howard Dean presidency would make them happy because he is the only major candidate to be sympathetic to the idea of a non-aggression treaty with North Korea. Mr. Kerry or Mr. Edwards would be more open to negotiating with North Korea than Mr. Bush has been, but either man would be firm in negotiating. On matters of style, Mr. Kerry would probably make a better listener than Mr. Edwards or a re-elected President Bush because he knows the horrors of war from combat experience in Vietnam.
For Koreans who take a hard line toward the North and who value the alliance with the United States, the prospect of a competitive race between Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry or Mr. Edwards creates stability because it acts as a check on Mr. Bush without the danger of an unpredictable alternative. Korea’s America watchers would be wise to read up on John Kerry and John Edwards ― just in case.
* The writer is an associate professor at Kyoto University in Japan.
by Robert J. Fouser