If you cut to the heart of the foreign-policy debate in the 2004 presidential election, you eventually confront an issue that is, by its very nature, irresolvable: Did George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq–or, as he would say, “Go on the offense”–make Americans safer at home? John Kerry has argued that it didn’t, that toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein only sidetracked America’s war on terror, that redirecting much of our military power to the effort in Iraq allowed the remnants of al Qaeda, including its leader Osama bin Laden, to slip through our grasp in Afghanistan: “The invasion of Iraq was a profound diversion from the battle against our greatest enemy, al Qaeda,” the senator insisted last month in a speech at Temple University. “There’s just no question about it.”
Kerry may well be correct in a narrow sense. Fewer American soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan would logically seem to have less chance to track down Osama and company. But if we follow Kerry’s own reasoning, his position begins to disintegrate on the broader question of whether the war in Iraq has made Americans safer at home. Is it credible to argue, as Kerry does, that the diversion of American manpower and materials to oust Saddam in Iraq significantly weakened our ability to pursue al Qaeda in Afghanistan–and also to argue, as Kerry does, that the diversion of al Qaeda manpower and materials to Iraq to combat American forces did not significantly weaken the terrorists’ ability to strike the United States?
Isn’t Kerry arguing, in effect, that the United States military, with its resources of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of billions of dollars, cannot effectively sustain two campaigns, but al Qaeda, with far fewer soldiers and far, far less money, can?
It’s a paradox Kerry has yet to explain.