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In defense of John Kerry

Now that John Kerry has locked up the Democratic presidential nomination, a new race is on: to portray Kerry as a spineless wimp when it comes to national security and terrorism, hiding behind the skirts of the United Nations and unwilling to defy world opinion to protect the homeland.

James Lileks (a favorite of the blogosphere for reasons that escape me) wrote:

Let’s just be blunt: The North Koreans would love to see John Kerry win the election. The mullahs of Iran would love it. The Syrian Ba’athists would sigh with relief. Every enemy of America would take great satisfaction if the electorate rejects the Bush doctrine and scuttles back to hide under the U.N. Security Council’s table. It’s a hard question, but the right one: Which candidate does our enemy want to lose? George W. Bush.

Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma said that “if George Bush loses the election, Osama bin Laden wins the election” since enemies of the United States would interpret it as a sign of weakness.

“What do you think Hitler would have thought if Roosevelt would’ve lost the election in 1944? He would have thought American resolve was” (weakening), Cole said, according to a spokeswoman.

In other words, according to this Republican congressman, the 22 million Americans who voted for the Republican Thomas Dewey against Roosevelt in 1944 were lending aid and comfort to the Nazi leader.

Even a disillusioned leftist like Michael J. Totten— hardly a fan of President Bush– joins in:

I’d say Osama, if in fact he’s still breathing, would probably prefer a John Kerry victory. After all, the Bush Administration, as Christopher Hitchens put it, “wakes up every morning wondering how to take the war to the enemy.” John Kerry sees this sort of thing as “the most arrogant, inept, reckless, and ideological foreign policy in modern history.” So, yeah, Osama bin Laden might prefer a US president who is a little less…enthusiastic about taking the war to the enemy.

Time for a reality check. I’ll grant that Kerry is at least partly responsible for these kinds of attacks. His rather slippery position on the Iraq war in 2002 (voting to authorize military action but then criticizing Bush for failing to win UN support) didn’t help. My sense is that Kerry returned from his service in Vietnam a near-pacifist, but gradually came to understand the need for a strong defense and, in some cases, military action. And those who proclaim him the preferred candidate of al-Qaeda are– maliciously or otherwise– doing him a disservice.


On February 27 Kerry delivered a foreign policy speech which deserves more attention than it has been getting. Of course it’s possible (as some undoubtedly will argue) that Kerry didn’t mean a word of it, that it’s a ruse to protect himself from charges of foreign-policy weakness, that if he becomes president he will promptly consign his words to the dustbin of history. But just for the record here are some of the things he said in that speech:

Despite the professed fears of his opponents, Kerry seems to grasp what’s at stake.

We had [Osama bin Laden] in our grasp more than two years ago at Tora Bora but George Bush held U.S. forces back and instead, called on Afghan warlords with no loyalty to our cause to finish the job. We all hope the outcome will be different this time and we all know America cannot rest until Osama bin Laden is captured or killed.

This war isn’t just a manhunt – a checklist of names from a deck of cards. In it, we do not face just one man or one terrorist group. We face a global jihadist movement of many groups, from different sources, with separate agendas, but all committed to assaulting the United States and free and open societies around the globe.

The War on Terror is not a clash of civilizations. It is a clash of civilization against chaos; of the best hopes of humanity against dogmatic fears of progress and the future.

Kerry doesn’t reject the use of military force, but neither does he consider it the only available tool. This is something Bush seems to accept hazily, if at all.

The President’s budget for the National Endowment for Democracy’s efforts around the world, including the entire Islamic world, is less than three percent of what this Administration gives Halliburton – hardly a way to win the contest of ideas.

We cannot win the War on Terror through military power alone. If I am President, I will be prepared to use military force to protect our security, our people, and our vital interests.

But the fight requires us to use every tool at our disposal. Not only a strong military – but renewed alliances, vigorous law enforcement, reliable intelligence, and unremitting effort to shut down the flow of terrorist funds.

And no, Kerry does not reject unilateral military action if necessary.

Allies give us more hands in the struggle, but no President would ever let them tie our hands and prevent us from doing what must be done. As President, I will not wait for a green light from abroad when our safety is at stake. But I will not push away those who can and should share the burden.

…if I am President I will not hesitate to order direct military action when needed to capture and destroy terrorist groups and their leaders.

Unlike Bush, combat veteran Kerry appears to have a real understanding of the needs of the soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

…today, far too often troops are going into harm’s way without the weapons and equipment they depend on to do their jobs safely. National Guard helicopters are flying missions in dangerous territory without the best available ground-fire protection systems. Un-armored Humvees are falling victim to road-side bombs and small-arms fire.

And families across America have had to collect funds from their neighbors to buy body armor for their loved ones in uniform because George Bush failed to provide it.

Does anyone seriously doubt that the US military is overextended? If Bush tries to argue against this, the question should arise: which candidate is “weak on defense”?

…to replenish our overextended military, as President, I will add 40,000 active-duty Army troops, a temporary increase likely to last the remainder of the decade.

Even some of Bush’s most fervent supporters have questioned his reluctance to shake up the US intelligence community in the wake of 9/11. Kerry appears more willing to act.

We must do what George Bush has refused to do – reform our intelligence system by making the next Director of the CIA a true Director of National Intelligence with real control of intelligence personnel and budgets. We must train more analysts in languages like Arabic. And we must break down the old barriers between national intelligence and local law enforcement.

And how about that Bush achilles’ heel, the “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia?

In the case of Saudi Arabia, the Bush Administration has adopted a kid-glove approach to the supply and laundering of terrorist money. If I am President, we will impose tough financial sanctions against nations or banks that engage in money laundering or fail to act against it. We will launch a “name and shame” campaign against those that are financing terror. And if they do not respond, they will be shut out of the U.S. financial system.

Despite the suggestions of some of his opponents, Kerry says he would not cut and run from Iraq or Afghanistan.

…whatever we thought of the Bush Administration’s decisions and mistakes – especially in Iraq – we now have a solemn obligation to complete the mission, in that country and in Afghanistan.

Two years ago, President Bush promised a Marshall Plan to rebuild that country [Afghanistan]. His latest budget scorns that commitment.

We must – and if I am President, I will – apply the wisdom Franklin Roosevelt shared with the American people in a fireside chat in 1942, “it is useless to win battles if the cause for which we fight these battles is lost. It is useless to win a war unless it stays won.” This Administration has not met that challenge; a Kerry Administration will.

Finally Kerry reiterates the need for the US to support the values of liberal democracy worldwide, in deed and well as in word.

We need a major initiative in public diplomacy to bridge the divide between Islam and the rest of the world. For the education of the next generation of Islamic youth, we need an international effort to compete with radical Madrassas. We have seen what happens when Palestinian youth have been fed a diet of anti-Israel propaganda. And we must support human rights groups, independent media and labor unions dedicated to building a democratic culture from the grass-roots up. Democracy won’t come overnight, but America should speed that day by sustaining the forces of democracy against repressive regimes and by rewarding governments which take genuine steps towards change.

During most of his campaign for the Democratic nomination, Kerry failed to give enough prominence to some of these views. Now he needs to speak out loudly and clearly on these matters, even at the risk of upsetting some antiwar Democrats. The more he repeats these points, the better his chances of being elected President in November.

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