"Invading Iraq was not a mistake. Although the intelligence about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction has been shown to have been flimsy and, with hindsight, wrong, Saddam's record of deception in the 12 years since the first Gulf war meant that it was right not to give him the benefit of the doubt. The containment scheme deployed around him was unsustainable and politically damaging: military bases in holy Saudi Arabia, sanctions that impoverished and even killed Iraqis and would have collapsed. But changing the regime so incompetently was a huge mistake. By having far too few soldiers to provide security and by failing to pay Saddam's remnant army, a task that was always going to be long and hard has been made much, much harder. Such incompetence is no mere detail: thousands of Iraqis have died as a result and hundreds of American soldiers. The eventual success of the mission, while still possible, has been put in unnecessary jeopardy. So has America's reputation in the Islamic world, both for effectiveness and for moral probity.
If Mr Bush had meanwhile been making progress elsewhere in the Middle East, such mistakes might have been neutralised. But he hasn't. Israel and Palestine remain in their bitter conflict, with America readily accusable of bias. In Iran the conservatives have become stronger and the country has moved closer to making nuclear weapons. Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia have not turned hostile, but neither have they been terribly supportive nor reform-minded. Libya's renunciation of WMD is the sole clear piece of progress.
This only makes the longer-term project more important, not less. To succeed, however, America needs a president capable of admitting to mistakes and of learning from them. Mr Bush has steadfastly refused to admit to anything: even after Abu Ghraib, when he had a perfect opportunity to dismiss Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, and declare a new start, he chose not to. Instead, he treated the abuses as if they were a low-level, disciplinary issue. Can he learn from mistakes? The current approach in Iraq, of training Iraqi security forces and preparing for elections to establish an Iraqi government with popular support, certainly represents an improvement, although America still has too few troops. And no one knows, for example, whether Mr Rumsfeld will stay in his job, or go. In the end, one can do no more than guess about whether in a second term Mr Bush would prove more competent."
They aren't particularly enamored of Senator Kerry though, especially on Foreign Policy issues. They note:
"If the test is a domestic one, especially an economic crisis, Mr Kerry looks acceptable, however. His record and instincts are as a fiscal conservative, suggesting that he would rightly see future federal budget deficits as a threat. His circle of advisers includes the admirable Robert Rubin, formerly Mr Clinton's treasury secretary. His only big spending plan, on health care, would probably be killed by a Republican Congress. On trade, his position is more debatable: while an avowed free trader with a voting record in the Senate to confirm it, he has flirted with attacks on outsourcing this year and chosen a rank protectionist as his running-mate. He has not yet shown Mr Clinton's talent for advocacy on this issue, or any willingness to confront his rather protectionist party. Still, on social policy, Mr Kerry has a clear advantage: unlike Mr Bush he is not in hock to the Christian right. That will make him a more tolerant, less divisive figure on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research.
The biggest questions, though, must be about foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. That is where his oscillations are most unsettling. A war that he voted to authorise, and earlier this year claimed to support, he now describes as “a mistake”. On some occasions he claims to have been profoundly changed by September 11th and to be determined to seek out and destroy terrorists wherever they are hiding, and on others he has seemed to hark back to the old Clintonian view of terrorism as chiefly a question of law and order. He has failed to offer any set of overall objectives for American foreign policy, though perhaps he could hardly oppose Mr Bush's targets of democracy, human rights and liberty. But instead he has merely offered a different process: deeper thought, more consultation with allies."
In the end, though, the Economist concludes that "[A]s Mr Bush has often said, there is a need in life for accountability. He has refused to impose it himself, and so voters should, in our view, impose it on him, given a viable alternative. John Kerry, for all the doubts about him, would be in a better position to carry on with America's great tasks." Couldn't have put it better myself.