Politics & Policy

Beyond The “Flip-Flops”

Kerry's doctrinaire liberal foreign policy.

Much has been said of Senator John Kerry’s tendency to go as the wind blows. In the first presidential debate, focusing on foreign policy, Kerry’s flip-flops were manifest.

But there is an even larger divide between the candidates on foreign policy, a chasm of approach that matters far more than Senator Kerry’s tendency to flip flop. President Bush is proud to defend America, to stand up for her values and to confront enemies wherever they may lurk. Senator Kerry, by contrast, has been demonstrably wrong on virtually every major foreign-policy issue of the past three decades. The good senator, it must be remembered, did not simply emerge from the paddy fields of Vietnam to run for president–notwithstanding the impression from the Democratic convention to the contrary. Rather, he has a record.

In the assessment of National Journal magazine–a nonpartisan publication with no political ax to grind–Kerry’s voting record is the single most liberal in the entire U.S. Senate. 100 out of 100. To the left of Ted Kennedy, to the left of Hillary. As President Bush emphasized in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, that fact should be repeated every day from now until November.

There was a time when Democrats could be strong on foreign policy, when Roosevelt and Truman and Scoop Jackson proudly stood up to America’s enemies abroad. But then Vietnam happened, and the Democratic party suffered a foreign-policy meltdown.

After Vietnam, many Democratic leaders abandoned their tradition of strong foreign policy and instead began blaming America for seemingly all the ills in the world. Pessimism, indecision, and an inability to identify or confront America’s enemies became the watchwords of many post-Vietnam Democratic leaders.

Few politicians are more defined by Vietnam than Kerry. It framed his worldview, and it is the putative reason for his candidacy.

As a result, Senator Kerry’s record is further to the left on foreign policy than any Democratic nominee since George McGovern.

Like Senator McGovern, Kerry fought honorably to defend his nation in war, and his patriotism is not in doubt. But his policy views have the potential to place America in grave jeopardy.

We must judge him by his record and by the company he keeps. As an initial matter, his postwar assignations with Jane Fonda’s antiwar protesters and his libelous charges of war crimes are well chronicled. Today, candidate Kerry dismisses much of this as youthful indiscretion.

But the remainder of his career continued apace. In 1970 he ran unsuccessfully for Congress, pledging his desire to “almost eliminate CIA activity” and to have U.S. troops “dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations.”

His first elective office, in 1982, was as Michael Dukakis’s lieutenant governor. That fact, too, should be repeated.

And then he made it to the Senate, where he proudly serves as Ted Kennedy’s junior colleague from Massachusetts.

In last week’s debate, candidate Kerry invoked none of his fellow travelers. Rather than Fonda or Dukakis or Kennedy, he instead nonchalantly proffered Ronald Reagan as a foreign-policy exemplar. Yet virtually Kerry’s entire Senate career was in loud and open defiance to Reagan’s foreign policy.

His first major foreign-policy cause in the Senate was to champion “nuclear freeze.” Never mind the Soviet nuclear buildup–Kerry’s impuissant solution was unilateral disarmament.

Next, Kerry battled Reagan and fellow-Democrat Sam Nunn on missile defense. Reagan was for it; Kerry, naturally, against.

He voted repeatedly to slash defense spending and intelligence resources, decrying what he called the “military-industrial corporate welfare complex that has relentlessly chewed up taxpayer dollars.”

President Reagan spoke out against the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union and demanded of Mr. Gorbachev that he “tear down this wall.” Senator Kerry, in contrast, fretted that “we can’t fight Communism everywhere.”

When the United States supported anti-Communists in Central America, Kerry responded that Reagan’s was a “silly and rather immature approach”; instead, Kerry flew to Managua to meet with Communist strongman Daniel Ortega (reprising his meeting with the Viet Cong in Paris years earlier) because he felt Reagan had failed “to create a climate of trust” with the Sandinistas.

When the U.S. routed the Communists in Grenada, Kerry derided it as a “bully’s show of force.” When Reagan bombed Libya in response to Muammar Qaddafi’s terrorist bombing of American soldiers in Germany, Kerry condemned the strike as “not proportional.”

In last week’s debate, candidate Kerry praised former President Bush’s leadership in the Persian Gulf War…without ever once mentioning that he himself had voted against that war.

Nor did he behave differently under a Democratic president: In 1995, when Congress voted to end the arms embargo in Bosnia, Kerry was one of 29 senators who voted “no.”

Ironically enough, the most notable instance where Kerry has broken course and supported military action was his most recent vote to go to war in Iraq, a war he now describes as “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The reality is that Kerry is less a “flip-flopper” than a doctrinaire liberal who occasionally nods to the center when he feels it will enhance his political electability.

Ironically, both John Kerry and John Edwards accuse the president and vice president of “not being straight with the American people.” Yet, as President Bush noted in his convention acceptance speech, the American people “know where he stands.” One might disagree with his policy prescriptions, but his position on the war on terror has been clear and unchanging from day one. In contrast, it is the Democratic ticket that is doing everything possible to conceal John Kerry’s three-decade record, to run instead as pro-military stalwarts “reporting for duty.” That’s “not being straight with the American people.”

As Vice President Cheney detailed in Tuesday’s debate, Kerry’s record demonstrates that he has been a constant voice on foreign policy–and constantly wrong. No matter what the conflict, Kerry’s position was clear: he was against defending American values, against standing up to our enemies, and, in effect, for appeasing totalitarian despots.

In a time of war–a war thrust upon us by murderers in the skies of Manhattan–there is grave risk in an “antiwar” candidate, and Kerry’s antiwar record extends three decades before Howard Dean emitted his primordial scream.

And on foreign policy, being a knee-jerk liberal is more than just a pejorative label. It is an approach to leading America that, unfortunately, has a proven track record.

America has already had a Democratic president who shared Kerry’s inclinations–and the debacle of Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy was self-evident. American hostages languished in Iranian prisons for 444 days while our helicopters crashed in the desert and our president wrung his hands, uncertain what to do next. It took Reagan’s leadership to restore America’s strength and respect abroad, and to win the Cold War.

After September 11, it became abundantly clear that we are living in a dangerous world, at war with fanatics who would do us great harm. The stakes could not be higher.

Regardless of whether one agrees with each individual choice in the war on terror, President Bush has acted clearly and decisively to protect the nation.

Rather than give in to shrill rhetoric, each voter should examine the candidates’ objective records to determine who best will be able to defend America, to identify the enemy, stand up to terrorists, and show principled resolve.

Little in John Kerry’s record suggests he is up to the task.

Ted Cruz served as domestic-policy adviser to President George W. Bush in the 2000 campaign.


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