Kerry's Foreign Policy

The only thing I care about in Kerry’s Speech is foreign policy. I think that ought to be the key question in this election, and I think it is important enough to trump almost anything else. (I say almost to forstall the more outrageous but not relevant hypotheticals).

I'm not as discouraged by what I see in his speech, but I'm not particularly encouraged either.

I know what we have to do in Iraq. I know what we have to do in Iraq. We need a president who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share the burden, reduce the cost to American taxpayers, reduce the risk to American soldiers. That's the right way to get the job done and bring our troops home.

Here is the reality: That won't happen until we have a president who restores America's respect and leadership so we don't have to go it alone in the world.

And we need to rebuild our alliances, so we can get the terrorists before they get us.

This is generally pretty discouraging. The focus is all wrong. The goal in Iraq is not to reduce the burden on the American taxpayer and reduce the risk to American soldiers. Those are laudable side effects of the goal, but they are not the goal. The goal is something along the lines of: set up and aid a regime in Iraq which in the long run can set a good example for the region and help deal with the problem of Islamist terrorism (through a large variety of different means.)

Also, the tepid response of our allies in the allegedly clear case of Afghanistan (including repeated and successful French obstruction in posting more NATO troops in Afghanistan) suggests that such allies are very unlikely to do much in the much less clear case of Iraq.

The last line I quoted is a bit odd. I agree with the sentiment that we need to get the terrorists before they get us, and that alliances will help that IF AVAILABLE. Maybe I'm parsing too closely, because it sounds like an IF/THEN statement which suggests that we can't get around to 'getting the terrorists before they get us' until we spend a lot of time rebuilding alliances.

I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as president. Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and a certain response. I will never give any nation or any institution a veto over our national security. And I will build a stronger military. We will add 40,000 active duty troops - not in Iraq, but to strengthen American forces that are now overstretched, overextended and under pressure. We will double our special forces to conduct antiterrorist operations. And we will provide our troops with the newest weapons and technology to save their lives and win the battle. And we will end the backdoor draft of the National Guard and reservists.

I'm heartened by the 'more troops' and end the 'stop-loss'. I'm not encouraged by the "not in Iraq" phrase. When combined with the "get the job done and bring our troops home" phrase a bit further above, it gives the impression that we should be leaving Iraq soon. That is a very dangerous position. Believing that we should never have gone to Iraq is one thing. Believing that it all should have been handled differently is ok too. But believing that we can pull out now or any time in the near future is a totally different thing.

A good opposition can argue that Bush ought never have put us in this position. But we are in fact there. We cannot now leave Iraq to chaos--and that is exactly what would happen if we pulled out any time in the near term (and by that I mean 5-10 years minimum). So either Kerry is unrealistic about bringing the troops home, or he is unrealistic about the consequences of bringing them home.

In these dangerous days, there is a right way and a wrong way to be strong. Strength is more than tough words. After decades of experience in national security I know the reach of our power and I know the power of our ideals.

We need to make America once again a beacon in the world. We need to be looked up to, not just feared.

We need to lead a global effort against nuclear proliferation, to keep the most dangerous weapons in the world out of the most dangerous hands in the world.

We need a strong military. And we need to lead strong alliances. And then, with confidence and determination, we will be able to tell the terrorists: You will lose and we will win. The future doesn't belong to fear; it belongs to freedom.

I like this rhetoric. It is absolutely correct. But when paired with the above quotes it creates a worrisome impression. I worry that he is confusing ends and means. Strong alliances are a great means to do something if they are available. They are a silly ends, and if they are not available you often must act anyway.

It is a question of balance. I will freely admit that in my estimation Bush has not been able to strike an ideal diplomatic balance between the utility of drawing support and the need to go alone if the support isn't forthcoming. But Kerry's history suggests that he strikes the balance too far in the other direction. He seems very unwilling to go it alone, so despite rhetoric to the contrary, it seems possible that the US could fall prey to UN vetos of vital action under Kerry. This worry is strengthened by Kerry's seemingly unrealistic expectations about how forthcoming European support would be under his administration and how much support could be available even if Europe were interested. Europe wasn't too interested in enforcing inspections in 1998 under Clinton. That forced Clinton to 'go it alone'. Does anyone think Kerry has more diplomatic skill than Clinton?

And the front lines of this battle are not just far away, they're right here on our shores. They're at our airports and potentially in any city or town. Today our national security begins with homeland security. The 9/11 Commission has given us a path to follow, endorsed by Democrats, Republicans and the 9/11 families. As president, I will not evade or equivocate, I will immediately implement all the recommendations of that commission. We shouldn't be letting 95 percent of our container ships come into our ports without ever being physically inspected. We shouldn't be leaving nuclear and chemical plants without enough protection. And we shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America.

And this is where I really worry. The problem is not that the ideas are bad. But the focus is awful. Nuclear and chemical plants cannot get enough protection. It isn't possible. We need to implement defensive measures, but we cannot rely on them. Defensive measures in reality are imperfect no matter how hard you try. The whole problem with terrorism is that in a free society (and possibly in any society) you can't construct a perfect defense, so whenever possible you have to catch or kill them before they attack.

I would feel a lot better about Kerry if that was his focus.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at July 31, 2004 3:45 AM