Whichever way the U.S. election turns in November it will be historic in terms of race or gender.
This has brought some to suggest the 2008 presidential election will be the most significant in a generation – since 1980.
An assessment of the historic significance for any of the U.S. presidential elections is borne out only in retrospect. We now know the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan was of great significance.
Similarly, the 2004 election was significant since on its outcome hinged the fate of Iraq and the greater Middle East, in the midst of American-led war against Islamist terror.
How significant was the 2004 re-election of President George W. Bush might be assessed by imagining the Democratic nominee Senator John Kerry winning the election, and the possible consequences that would have followed.
The 2004 election was a referendum on President Bush’s decision to bring regime change to Iraq. It was a subject intensely debated in Washington before the 107th Congress voted on Public Law 107-243 – also known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution 2002 – and passed it with more than a simple majority. The vote in favour of the authorization bill was 296 to 133 in the House, and 77 to 23 in the Senate.
Saddam Hussein’s removal came about swiftly in April 2003 and the Iraq mission, indeed, was accomplished. By 2004, however, a second phase of the Iraq war was ignited by local insurgents and al-Qaida terrorists directed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
In the lead up to the 2004 election Kerry disavowed his 2002 vote and joined with most Democrats to push for troop withdrawal. Kerry as president-elect then likely would have begun disengagement from Iraq consistent with his party’s view that the Iraq war greatly damaged America’s image around the world.
But American troop withdrawal would get promoted across the Arab-Muslim world as victory for Osama bin Laden and the Islamist ideology he represents. It would cause greater militancy and violence, and make the aftermath of American withdrawal from Vietnam pale in comparison.
Iraq likely would splinter with Zarqawi on rampage. The sectarian bloodshed would draw Iran into Baghdad as defenders of Shiites resulting in the regional balance being altered precariously. Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, for instance, would be shelved, and the forces of Islamism – Hezbollah, Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban warriors and al-Qaida network across the Arab-Muslim world – would be immensely strengthened and consolidated in their jihad (war) against the West and its allies among Muslims.
Israel’s existence would be hugely imperiled, and a Europe unwilling to stem the tide of Islamism within its own boundaries could be counted on to display new ways of appeasing the Islamist version of totalitarianism on the march.
Instead the 2004 election brought Americans to witness a rare display of political heroism by their president, even though many are reluctant to acknowledge it.
President Bush has stood unperturbed by opinion polls and vitriol directed at him.
He held course on Iraq despite heavy contrary pressures until he found the right military commander in General David Petraeus to lead a military surge and defeat the insurgency.
President Bush secured Iraq’s freedom as Kerry would not, put al-Qaida on the run and, most importantly, has kept America safe from another terrorist attack.