NEWSWEEK International Edition<br><br>The first test is potentially the most important, because all else follows from it. What kind of conflict are we in? The Bush administration has striven to make the case that we are in a war much like World War II. Both the president and Vice President Cheney have repeatedly implied this. Cheney has often made specific analogies to it. The president's supporters explain that in a life-and-death struggle with a mortal foe, you have to fight anywhere and everywhere. Things don't always go well. Churchill and Roosevelt made many mistakes during the second world war. But they kept pressing forward. Looking back today, who knows if the North African invasion was worthwhile? Sometimes you take the wrong hill. That's war.<br><br>It's a powerful interpretation because, if accepted, it gives the administration a virtual carte blanche. All errors are forgiven, all blunders swept aside, all excesses dwarfed by the overarching conflict. Iraq may have been badly handled, but it is just one front in a many-front war. Abu Ghraib may have been appalling, but consider the pressures. During World War II, the United States interned Japanese-American civilians. It wasn't right, but it was war.<br><br>An alternative interpretation would hold that we are not in a classic war with a powerful and identifiable country. Rather, this new war is really much more like the cold war. It has a military dimension, to be sure, but in large part it's a political, economic and social struggle for hearts and minds. In such a conflict, as in the cold war, the question of where and how military force is used is crucial. Its battlefield successes always have to be balanced against political effects. An understanding of culture and nationalism becomes key because the goal is more complex than simple military victory. It is creating like-minded societies. Thus, if you are not sophisticated in your application of power, you can find yourself in a situation like Vietnam where you win every battle but lose the war.<br><br>One can argue that this is precisely the situation in Iraq, where America could easily crush the insurgency but at a political price that would make victory utterly counterproductive. And beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, of course, the conflict becomes even more complex and less military. In Iran and North Korea, the military option is more bluster than fact. And how does one defuse militant extremism in, say, Indonesia, Morocco and Egypt? By working with those governments to find terrorists, and with those societies to help modernize them. And if this is the bulk of the task going forward, does it really resemble a war?<br><br>The second challenge for the candidates is to explain what would constitute success. Here Bush has been clear. Success requires victory in Iraq, which is "the central front in the war on terror." Bush seeks to establish democracy in Iraq as a way of breaking the tyrannical status quo in the Middle East that has bred repression and terror. Kerry has argued that the war in Iraq was justifiable but disastrously botched. More recently he's said that it has been a distraction from the war on terror. Though both are defensible positions, Kerry will have to choose one of them.<br><br>Bush's position on Iraq seems genuinely held. He did not plan the intervention for political benefit. But it does have a powerful dividend. It places him in the role of rooting for America's success in a great venture. He praises American soldiers for building Iraqi schools and holding town-hall meetings. He intends that America help build a free Iraq. It is a remarkably successful rhetorical approach—despite what is actually happening in Iraq—because Bush is telling Americans what they believe about their country. He is telling them what they want to think about the mission in Iraq. He is rooting for America to triumph against the odds.<br><br>For Kerry to succeed, he must find a way to root for American success as well. He should also ceaselessly praise the nation-building efforts of American soldiers in Iraq, which are in fact quite heroic. He was mistaken in reacting to Prime Minister Allawi's speech to Congress by belittling him. Instead he should have expressed solidarity with Allawi's goals. "Who among us does not wish that Prime Minister Allawi's dream of democracy in Iraq will be fulfilled?" he might have said, adding, "But the reality is that we are moving away from that dream every day, thanks to the monumental blunders of the Bush administration." While frontally criticizing the Eisenhower-Nixon administration, John Kennedy always took pains not to criticize the country. "I don't believe there's anything this country can't do," he said after laying out all the things it wasn't doing.<br><br>In It's Entirety <br><br><br><br>got to let your eyes adjust
_________________________ got to let your eyes adjust
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