So John Kerry wants to be leader of…France? Or was it Germany? Belgium or Saudi Arabia, anyone? Or perhaps he’s gunning for Kofi Annan’s job as head of the United Nations.
I raise this question because Kerry may have said (and did later defend) that he’s the first choice of foreign leaders and that somehow this matters. According to Kerry, foreign leaders are lining up to tell him, “‘You gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy [President Bush].’” And why might this be? Because, explain these foreign leaders to the Democratic nominee, “We need a new policy.”
Now wait a minute, did I get that right? That foreign leaders need a new U.S. policy and that this is a good reason to vote for Kerry? I don’t mean to sound heedless of the opinions of mankind, but I’m honestly not sure many Americans care whether foreign leaders want “a new policy” in this country. Last time I looked foreign leaders don’t vote in U.S. presidential elections. One might add that they do not, by definition, have our best interests at heart. The protection of American citizens is neither their business nor their concern. This is as it should be, and is all obvious enough. But does Kerry get it?
Uh oh, there I’ve gone and hit a raw nerve. But before I’m accused of questioning Kerry’s patriotism let me say that’s not my point exactly. We all know he fought bravely for his country in Vietnam and is one tough hombre. What I am saying is that Kerry thinks more like a European than an American. As with much of elite opinion in America, his sentiments and way of looking at the world have become Europeanized. Since he’s the one glorying in the approval of foreign leaders, he should take this as a compliment, not an insult.
But thinking about America’s interests and role in the world as might a European leader (dare I say a Saudi prince?) can lead to trouble if you’re running for president of the United States. That’s what George Washington thought anyway. In his Farewell Address he warned against passionate attachments to other countries lest these facilitate “the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no common interest exists.”
Don’t get me wrong. There can be little doubt that America and Europe share a common interest in putting an end to terrorism. (I’m not so sure this can be said about Saudi Arabia, however, and this is one reason Kerry should let us know which foreign leaders he’s been chatting with.) But there can also be little doubt that a profound gulf exists between America and Europe over policy in the war on terror. If the debate leading up to the war in Iraq did not establish this beyond any doubt, the recent elections in Spain surely did.
The Spaniards just suffered their own September 11 on a smaller scale, and how did they respond? They elected Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as prime minister. During the campaign Zapatero had promised to withdraw all Spanish troops from Iraq, but up until the attacks of a few days ago he had trailed badly in the polls. But despite the carnage–or really because of it–Spaniards have turned to the very man who had criticized outgoing prime minister Jose Maria Anzar for being too supportive of America’s antiterror policy. The Spaniards are entitled to pick their own leaders. As are we. What I would like to know is whether Zapatero is one of Kerry’s confidants, and whether as president of the United States Kerry would also cut and run from Iraq.
The truth is that the United States cannot do as Spain or any other European power does. America is simply not in the same situation as the European powers. It is a continental-sized republic with interests all around the globe, as well as, we have learned, deadly foes. Spain might escape further terrorist attacks by becoming a neutral. Though one should recall that neutrality was not always the best defense against Nazi Germany. What is clear is that America was a target for terror long before it launched its mission in Iraq. Taking a pass on the war on terror is not a real option for the United States. And though they do not yet realize it, Europeans may also have no easy way out.
Kerry’s comments about his powwows with foreign leaders have come under scrutiny of late. Secretary of State Colin Powell has called on Kerry to provide a list of names, if the senator is in fact serious about making foreign views of the Untied States an issue in the campaign. But Kerry has not backed down. Recently, he declared, “I think what I said [last week] was that I’ve heard from people around the world who look forward to the day when they’ll have an administration they can work with.”
Well, no doubt they do feel that way. And why shouldn’t they? But is this the kind of administration–one that puts foreign opinions and feelings first–that the American people want representing them and their best interests? We’ll see come November.
–Adam Wolfson is editor of The Public Interest.