Tuesday, November 02, 2004

John Kerry: The September 10th Candidate

When I asked Kerry how Sept. 11 had changed him, either personally or politically, he seemed to freeze for a moment.

''It accelerated -- '' He paused. ''I mean, it didn't change me much at all. It just sort of accelerated, confirmed in me, the urgency of doing the things I thought we needed to be doing. I mean, to me, it wasn't as transformational as it was a kind of anger, a frustration and an urgency that we weren't doing the kinds of things necessary to prevent it and to deal with it.''

Source: Matt Bai, "Kerry's Undeclared War", The New York Times Magazine, October 10, 2004

The War on Islamist Terror is the central issue in this campaign, and we have two candidates with fundamentally different perspectives on how to wage (or not wage) it. I support George W. Bush because I believe that he truly understands the nature of the conflict and of our enemy, and is willing to do what is necessary to defeat the jihadists and the states that support them. I believe that while the administration has made some tactical and operational mistakes, its overall strategy, including the liberation of Iraq, has been correct.

I must confess that in regards to John Kerry, I have myself been guilty of waffling. In analyzing the Senator's record on the War on Islamist Terror, Iraq, and foreign policy in general, I have had trouble deciding whether John Kerry is an opportunist who sways with the political winds or a McGovernite trying to appeal to the center. In other words, are Kerry's "flip flops" the result of an attempt to hide his core beliefs, or do they merely reflect his lack of such beliefs?

In light of Senator Kerry's frequently contradictory statements and efforts to simultaneously appeal to both centrists committed to fighting the jihadists and to the Michael Moore wing of his own party, there is plenty of evidence for either thesis.

1. John Kerry on Iraq

As early as November 2001, John Kerry was calling for the War on Terror to be extended to Saddam Hussein. As he told John McLaughlin in a November 16, 2001 interview:

I have no doubt, I've never had any doubt--and I've said this publicly--about our ability to be successful in Afghanistan. We are and we will be. The larger issue, John, is what happens afterwards. How do we now turn attention ultimately to Saddam Hussein? How do we deal with the larger Muslim world? What is our foreign policy going to be to drain the swamp of terrorism on a global basis?

Source: "The Mother Of All Flip-Flops", The Weekly Standard, October 26, 2004.

Kerry, of course, went on to vote in October 2002 to authorize the use of force against Saddam. After taking an increasingly anti-war line throughout the fall of 2003, he then turned hawkish again upon the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe that we are not safer with his capture, don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president.
(December 16, 2003)

By September 6 of this year, Kerry was saying that "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Source: "Taking Flip-Flops Seriously", The Weekly Standard, September 20, 2004.

Kerry's rhetoric on Iraq has become so confused that he even contradicted himself during the debates. In the first debate, Senator Kerry said that the "president made a mistake in invading Iraq", but when asked immediately thereafter if our troops were dying for a mistake said no. In the second debate, Kerry said that "I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat", then just a few minutes later stated that "the president has been preoccupied with Iraq, where there wasn't a threat."

Senator Kerry states that he wants to succeed in Iraq, yet he has hinted that he will begin pulling out our forces regardless of conditions on the ground. When asked if Saddam would still be in power if he had been president, Kerry's response is "(h)e might be gone".

Finally, Senator Kerry speaks of the situation in Iraq in dire terms, and speaks of how he would do "almost everything differently" from the Bush Administration. Yet, his much vaunted plan for Iraq is itself "more of the same", offering little more than what the administration is already doing along with vague assurances that a Kerry Administration would do them better.

Kerry's record on Iraq is stunning in its incoherence and effort to be all things to all people. Nevertheless, a close study of Senator Kerry's broader public record and pronouncements, reveals that he does indeed have beliefs about America's role in the World.

2. John Kerry's Record on National Security

If you look beyond the events of the last several years, and examine the full breadth of John Kerry's record in public life, it is clear that the Senator has for most of his career been a committed member of his party's McGovernite wing. Upon coming home from Vietnam, Kerry joined the "anti-war" movement and advocated complete, unilateral American disengagement from Southeast Asia. Kerry's view prevailed, and the result was the imposition of Stalinist despotism over South Vietnam, with tens of thousands summarily executed, and possibly 1,000,000 others sent to "reeducation camps"; the nightmare of the Cambodian killing fields; half a decade of unchecked Soviet expansionism in the Third World; and an America afflicted with weakness and self-doubt.

John Kerry has invoked the name of Ronald Reagan on several occasions, which is ironic because he opposed Reagan at every turn upon being elected to the Senate in 1984. He fought
against the Reagan defense buildup that brought the Soviet Union to its knees, and against Reagan's efforts to combat Soviet expansion in Central America and elsewhere. If John Kerry's view had prevailed in the 1980's, there would probably still be a Soviet Union.

In many ways, the defining vote of Senator Kerry's career came in 1991, with the First Gulf War. Saddam Hussein had engaged in a blatant act of aggression with his annexation of Kuwait, and almost the entire world community was united behind the American effort to remove him. Yet, even under these circumstances, Kerry voted against using force to drive Saddam from Kuwait. Had Kerry's view prevailed in 1991, a nuclear-armed Saddam would still be in control of both Iraq and Kuwait. If these circumstances weren't sufficient to persuade Senator Kerry to support the use of force, it's hard to imagine anything short of a direct attack on our homeland that would.

3. John Kerry's Strategy for the War on Islamist Terror: Manage and Contain

Finally, we come to the question of how John Kerry would manage the War on Terror as president. While Kerry has talked tough during the campaign about hunting down terrorists, the overall signs are not encouraging.

In the NYT Magazine interview cited at the very beginning of this essay, Kerry admits that 9/11 "didn't change me much at all". Reading the article makes clear that Kerry sees the terrorist enemy not as a global Islamist movement bent on our destruction, but rather as a transnational criminal threat similar to organized crime or drug cartels. As Times author Matt Bai describes the Kerry view, "the enemy this time -- an entirely new kind of ''non-state actor'' known as Al Qaeda -- more closely resembles an especially murderous drug cartel than it does the vaunted Red Army."

In the words of Kerry foreign policy advisor Richard Holbrooke, "The war on terror is like saying 'the war on poverty.' It's just a metaphor." Or, as Kerry told an audience at Boston University on December 2, 2003:

"The war on terrorism is primarily an intelligence-gathering and law enforcement operation and we need a president who understands that," he said. "This president doesn't have the experience to be commander in chief

Kerry's definition of success in his metaphorical "war on terror" is quoted by Bai as follows:

''We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,'' Kerry said. ''As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life.''

(emphasis added-DD)

That any American politician could utter such words after 9/11 is startling. Kerry's statement that "We have to get back to the place we were" can only be interpreted as a desire to reduce the terrorist threat to its pre 9/11 "nuisance" level. It was thinking of terrorism as a mere "nuisance" that helped pave the way for 9/11. For Senator Kerry, jihadist terror is not an enemy to be defeated, but simply a threatening transnational phenomenon to be contained and managed to a suitable level. Meanwhile, hiding behind a 21st century homeland security Maginot Line, America will be free to return to September 10th business as usual.

Al-Qaeda and the Islamist terror movement are not drug dealers or crime lords. They are fanatics determined to drive the United States from the Islamic world, destroy all "apostate" regimes, and unite all the world's Muslims under the banner of the "Caliphate". The jihadist threat cannot be managed or contained to an acceptable level. It is a product of deeply rooted historical developments in the Arab world, and fueled by a political culture of dictatorship, propaganda, and fanaticism. As long as these conditions are allowed to persist in the Middle East, there will be a jihadist movement. Sooner or later, al-Qaeda, one of its allies, or a successor organization, will inflict an attack on this country that makes 9/11 pale by comparison. No amount of spending on homeland defense can provide 100% security. The jihadists must be taken seriously as an adversary, they must be defeated, and the political culture that sustains their movement must be transformed. This is a difficult and arduous task, that has already proven costly in both money and, far more importantly, lives. Unfortunately, the costs of inaction or half-measures would be far greater.

I believe that John Kerry is a patriotic American who will act in what he perceives as the best interests of this country. Sadly, though, his judgment on issues of national security is abysmal. John Kerry was wrong on Ronald Reagan and the Cold War in the 1980's. He was wrong about the First Gulf War in the 1990's. His position on the overthrow of Saddam is riddled with inconsistency and self-contradiction. Finally, he is badly wrong on the nature of the War on Islamist Terror. The consequences of a Kerry Presidency at this point in time for our country could well be disastrous.


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