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Glenn Kessler writes a fairly balanced piece on John Kerry's foreign policy experience and philosophy in today's Washington Post. At least, Kessler's article provides more balance than those I've read before on Kerry and his election run, especially in the East Coast media. The general tone can be summed up in this excerpt:
Throughout his career, Kerry generally had been rated among the left-of-center members of the Democratic caucus on foreign policy issues, according to organizations such as the National Journal that rank lawmakers based on key votes. Kerry displayed skepticism about costly weapons systems, such as the B-2 bomber and President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (though he supported a 1999 bill to deploy a national missile defense). He supported measures promoting human rights in China and questioned U.S. support for the contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s. At the same time, he also embraced free trade pacts, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But it is difficult to draw a complete picture from a few floor votes -- or even hundreds of votes -- because so many reflect the political agenda of the party in power.
Kerry earned some of his most conservative ratings from the National Journal on foreign policy in the two years -- 1993 and 1994 -- during which the Democrats held both the White House and the Senate during his tenure.
If nothing else, remember that last piece, because it explains the nature of Kerry's voting record -- and his history of contradictory voting and political positions throughout his nineteen-year Senate career. For instance:
Kerry displayed skepticism about costly weapons systems, such as the B-2 bomber and President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (though he supported a 1999 bill to deploy a national missile defense). He supported measures promoting human rights in China and questioned U.S. support for the contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s. At the same time, he also embraced free trade pacts, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.
B-2 Bomber: Reagan in White House.
Contra Support: Reagan.
NAFTA: Clinton in White House.
While this explains a good deal of Kerry's shifting positions, as the article itself hints, sometimes Kerry's shifts are prompted by good, old-fashioned hindsight:
When Kerry rose before the Senate on Jan. 11, 1991, to explain his vote against the Gulf War resolution, he charged that the George H.W. Bush administration had done too little to involve the rest of the world in its campaign to oust Iraq from Kuwait.
"Can it really be said that we are building a new world order when it is almost exclusively the United States who will be fighting in the desert, not alone but almost, displaying pride and impatience and implementing what essentially amounts to a pax Americana?" he asked. "Is that a new world order?"
Eleven years later, when Kerry discussed the resolution for last year's war against Iraq, his opinion of Bush's father's efforts had changed: He praised the coalition that had been formed for the Gulf War, in part to complain that the current president had thus far failed to secure the same level of cooperation.
Of course, the problem is that we couldn't afford to wait eleven years for a President Kerry to figure it out.
As for Kerry's overall philosophy, Kessler says that Kerry is all about "engagement"; he consistently votes against any action that he feels has not had enough "engagement" with other countries. In 1995, for instance, while Bosnians were being massacred by the Serbs, he voted against lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia -- one of only 29 Senators to do so -- because he felt that the US had not coordinated properly with Europe on the issue. However, Kerry had no problem putting US troops on the ground as buffers between the Serbs and the Bosnians instead of just letting the Bosnians defend themselves, as long as Europe wanted the US there. Nine years later, we're still there.
Bush has accused Kerry of wanting a permission slip from the UN before taking any action internationally, a charge at which Kerry bristles. "Never. Never have. Never ever, ever in my life in the United States Senate have I ever ceded our authority to the U.N. or have I recommended it," he said. "Never. Not once in one vote; not in one speech. Never. That is a lie."
Well, never in the US Senate -- but that qualifier is huge. In his first run for Congress in 1970, Kerry had this to say to the Harvard Crimson:
"I'm an internationalist," Kerry told The Crimson in 1970. "I'd like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations." Kerry said he wanted "to almost eliminate CIA activity. The CIA is fighting its own war in Laos and nobody seems to care.".
The Kerry campaign, celebrating primary victories in Virginia and Tennessee last night, declined to comment on the senator's remarks. As a candidate for president, Kerry has said he supports the autonomy of the U.S. military and has never called for a scale-back of CIA operations
At best, Kerry is a rank political opportunist, much like Bill Clinton, but without Clinton's charm, and -- it must be said -- without Clinton's instinct for getting it right more often than not. For all of Kerry's education and resume, he's simply not very bright when it comes down to making the right choices in history. He supported the Sandanistas when it turned out that the Nicaraguans detested them. He opposed the Gulf War even though the UN approved it and it turned out to be a success, as far as it went. He voted against weapons systems that turned out to be crucial to our military preparedness. And he did all that because a Republican was in the White House at the time these issues were on the table. Kerry had no problem supporting NAFTA or regime change in Iraq or military action in the Balkans without UN approval -- because a Democrat was in the White House.
All of which points up the real problem with Kerry, and that is that you can't pin down which Kerry is the real one. Here's the best assessment I've seen, from one of Senator Kerry's own political allies:
Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he senses that Kerry in recent years has been refashioning his foreign-policy persona, making it appear tougher, in preparation for a run for the presidency. "The question, setting aside the campaign, is: Where is John Kerry's heart?" said Kagan, who has advocated a muscular U.S. approach to world affairs. "My sense is his heart is in the anti-Vietnam, '70s-'80s left."
You bet. And all of this overweening concern for "engagement" is nothing but a smokescreen for analysis paralysis, allowing the anti-war leftist the wimpy way out of having to make the tough national-security actions. Because history shows that if you wait for unanimous UN approval on anything significant, you can procrastinate forever.Sphere It View blog reactions
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