Politics & Policy

A Futile Foreign Policy

Kerry puts on a hawk suit.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the September 13, 2004, issue of National Review (the Kerry issue!).

John Kerry is worried about his record of support for gay unions, abortion-on-demand, and other hot-button liberal causes that rile moderate swing voters outside of New England. One way to counteract the image of an out-of-touch Boston liberal is to sound hawkish on foreign policy: If Vietnam was once something to be tapped for proof of a young Kerry’s opposition to the corporate military-industrial complex, it is now even more richly re-mined in his gray years for evidence of military valor, toughness, and hyper-patriotism.

The slogans “Just as tough, but smarter,” and “Respected, not just feared” now summarize the Kerry-Edwards party line on foreign policy. With those flippant phrases, a Jamie Rubin, Sandy Berger, Rand Beers, Joe Biden, or Joe Wilson can promise new style, same substance. In light of an amazing military victory in Iraq, followed by a difficult occupation, Kerry’s most recent statements suggest that he would not necessarily have done anything different from what President Bush did in invading Afghanistan and Iraq, but instead would have “reached out to” and “sat down with” allies; such an embrace of multilateralism, we are assured, would have avoided a “unilateral,” “preemptive,” and costly American enterprise. Kerry’s Iraq–it is presupposed that someone else mysteriously would have first removed Saddam–would purportedly now have involved a multinational effort, aimed more cautiously at order and stability rather than at unworkably radical democratic transformation.

MAN OF INDECISION

To the degree that there is any consistency in Kerry’s evolving positions about the use of force, there seem at least two constants: partisanship and expediency. Thus Republican administrations’ efforts to remove Saddam in 1991, and rebuild Iraq in 2003, prompted Kerry’s initial opposition and subsequent support, depending on the pulse of the battlefield–yes to war, if victory looks assured and cheap; no, if it is in doubt or its consequences turn messy. Thus Bill Clinton’s five air campaigns against Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Kosovo, and Sudan–often without congressional or United Nations sanction–earned not Kerry’s principled opposition to unilateralism, but his partisan approval, especially since Americans were bombing without being much shot at. That almost a decade later U.S. soldiers still patrol the Balkans or that neither the Taliban nor Saddam was much bothered by cruise missiles is not a problem.

Perhaps a better barometer of Kerry’s views about American power is his past opposition to strategic military expenditures that emphasized deterrence–the B-1 and B-2 bombers, the deployment of Pershing missiles in Europe, and the Strategic Defense Initiative. Not the use of force, but U.N. resolutions, sanctions, and protocols–coupled with multipolar, American-led diplomacy–should solve critical problems. This theme was emphasized by Kerry’s own father in his book, The Star-Spangled Mirror. “Americans,” Richard Kerry warned presciently of George W. Bush, “are inclined to see the world and foreign affairs in black and white.” We are guilty as a people of “ethnocentric accommodation–everyone ought to be like us.” The elder Kerry went on to counsel about the “fatal error” of “propagating democracy”–an idealism that made us stupidly captivated by “the siren’s song of promoting human rights.”

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