Reading presidential candidates on foreign policy is like wearing a counterfeit Rolex: It looks nice, and you can flash it at the girls, but you?d better be sure no one asks you the time. So, John Kerry on Iraq and the war on terrorism, two Leviathans that will end up shoving a prospective President Kerry around far more than the reverse. But campaigns are never exercises in modesty.
Three things struck me in Kerry?s compendium of foreign policy promises. The first was that he was too coy on the Bush administration?s doctrine of preemptive strikes against perceived threats. ?Any attack will be met with a swift response,? he said, adding that the ?United States of America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to?; however, nowhere did Kerry actually say he would not strike out first if the U.S. actually ?had to.?
Is this important? It is, because it is another example of Kerry trying to put an imaginary distance between his foreign policy and that of the Bush administration. The fact is that the preemptive strike is one of those foreign policy instruments everyone likes to complain about, but that no one who can afford the luxury would willingly give up.
Second, Kerry was all over the place on how much he would spend on defense. After complaining that the Rumsfeld Pentagon had fought Iraq ?on the cheap? he promised to ?reduce the cost [of the war] to American taxpayers.? How? ?By adding 40,000 active duty troops?not in Iraq, but to strengthen American forces that are now overstretched, overextended and under pressure.? Plus, Kerry played the demagoguery card (for which Christopher Hitchens rightly horsewhipped him in Slate), when he said: ?And we shouldn?t be opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America.?
So, let?s see: Kerry will reduce costs for the American taxpayer in Iraq (where, outrageously, not enough was paid on prosecuting the war and the postwar campaign by the Bush administration?though too much was paid for those goddamned firehouses); but he will spend more on troops elsewhere, even adding 40,000 new faces, who will help troops who are overstretched, overextended and under pressure, but not in Iraq, where they are most overstretched, overextended and under pressure.
Hell, even Vietnam was fought on better foundations than that.
Third, I noticed that Kerry mentioned not once democracy in the Middle East. In fact, his only mention of democracy came in the rather mildewed context of Berlin, where his father was once stationed, and where, Kerry noted, ?it and the world were divided between democracy and communism.? There, he added, ?I saw the fear in the eyes of people who were not free.?
Evidently, however, Kerry didn?t have the balls to take the extra step and argue that a similar grand global dividing line today exists in the Middle East, where fear and the absence of freedom are rampant, but also where autocratic regimes have never been as weak, illegitimate or scared; and where the U.S. would do well to take advantage of this situation before the inevitable hurried scramble home.