Tonight, another familiar face will address the Democrats: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Yes, the principal critic of Mitt Romney’s foreign-policy vision will be the senator who is considered Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s best friend in Washington — a tired drone from the Foreign Relations Committee who has somehow become the frontrunner to be the next secretary of state if Obama wins a second term.
Kerry’s speech is likely to be a very predictable one: Mitt Romney is a dangerous cowboy who disregards world opinion and embraces a foreign-policy philosophy that recklessly pursues American interests and dismisses the objections of allies and of vital, effective, trustworthy international institutions like the United Nations. Perhaps the phrase “global test” will make a comeback.
The current secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has made clear that she will serve only one term, and Politico describes Kerry’s desire to finish his career as the country’s top diplomat as “one of Washington’s badly kept secrets.”
The problem is that Kerry has gotten most of the biggest foreign-policy calls of the past two decades wrong.
He voted against the authorization of force for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
He opposed President Bush’s 2007 surge in Iraq, calling it “a tragic mistake.” The surge, he elaborated, “won’t end the violence; it won’t provide security; . . . it won’t turn back the clock and avoid the civil war that is already underway; it won’t deter terrorists, who have a completely different agenda; it won’t rein in the militias.” In September 2007, Kerry voted in favor of a resolution introduced by Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich.) to withdraw all U.S. troops within 90 days.
Where Kerry isn’t wrong, he is living up to his flip-flopper label: He voted for the Iraq War and then later insisted he voted only to threaten the use of force, not to actually authorize the use of force. He initially supported and then opposed a funding bill for the Iraq War in late 2003, which prompted the confusing defense, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”
He has called Israel’s security fence “a barrier to peace” and “a legitimate act of self-defense.”
In 2004, one of the biggest applause lines in Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in Boston was, “We shouldn’t be opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America.” By February of this year, Kerry was denouncing his own applause line: “Cutting foreign aid has always been a guaranteed applause line on the political stump . . . efforts in Congress to cut billions from the president’s proposed budget for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are short-sighted.”
In May 2011, shortly after the U.S. Navy SEALs successfully raided Osama bin Laden’s compound, Kerry was quick to emphasize that U.S. military efforts in that part of the world were far from over: “With the death of Bin Laden, some people will ask why we don’t pack up and leave Afghanistan. We can’t do that. . . . Our military is making significant inroads clearing the south of insurgents. But we expect a significant Taliban counterattack this spring to regain some of these areas. We also know insurgents are spreading into other areas of Afghanistan as we drive them from their bases in the south.” But one month later, Kerry was saying the cost of the war was “unsustainable” and urging President Obama to speed up troop withdrawals.
Eight years after his presidential bid, Kerry is still fond of a statement as opaque and messy as a spilled bowl of pea soup. Discussing the WikiLeaks documents and U.S. policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Kerry said, “Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.”
The policies are at a critical stage! (Quick, how was that moment different from any other of past years?) The documents may underscore the stakes! The urgency of the need to make the calibrations may get even more urgent!
But it is Kerry’s dedicated cultivation of Bashar Assad — one of his primary foreign-policy focuses since his 2004 presidential bid — that most clearly illustrates his naïveté.
On March 15, 2011, the first sparks of a national uprising against Assad’s regime ignited; within days there were large-scale protests in several cities, and police responded with live ammunition in some cases. About 70 Syrian civilians were killed in the initial weeks.
At the end of that month, Secretary Clinton uttered one of the administration’s most regrettable lines about the Syrian dictator in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation: “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”