CQ Flashback: Looking Backward On Security (5/28/04)

John Kerry talks about strengthening security and fighting terrorists, saying earlier this week that those who plan to attack us should understand that he would hunt them down and kill them, if he became president. However, The New York Times reports today that the foreign policy/national security team he has assembled for his campaign represents a flashback to eight years of the so-called “law-enforcement approach” that culminated in the 9/11 attack:

Seated in leather swivel chairs in the glass-walled conference room at Senator John Kerry’s Washington campaign headquarters two Fridays ago was a veritable reunion of President Bill Clinton’s national security team: Madeleine K. Albright, Samuel R. Berger, William J. Perry and Gen. John M. Shalikashvili. Richard C. Holbrooke joined his former colleagues via conference call from Tokyo. …
Besides the Clintonites and Mr. Biden, those in the loop or on its fringe include former Senator Gary Hart, who ran for president largely on a foreign policy platform in 1984 and 1988; Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations; and James P. Rubin, Ms. Albright’s former aide, who just moved from London to join Mr. Kerry’s staff and is traveling with him this week.
These deans of the Democratic foreign policy establishment have been corralled into a coordinated chorus of television appearances in recent days to speak in Mr. Kerry’s stead about President Bush’s prosecution of the war in Iraq.

The Times focuses on the involvement of Senator Joe Biden, a crank of the first order who uses his glasses to make him look professorial while on television, and uses the speeches of British politicians to make him sound intelligent. Biden’s involvement indicates that Kerry would be likely to tap the Delaware senator for an important post, probably Secretary of Defense. John McCain has been mentioned (and mentioned and mentioned and mentioned) for this post in a Kerry administration, but I don’t see John McCain mentioned as a member of this brain trust. All indications are that Kerry will bring in the crew from the last administration for his national-security team.
What does that mean for American foreign policy? Take a look back over the past decade, where the US sent a consistent message of cluelessness and lack of resolve. First and foremost, our response to numerous terrorist provocations showed that we refused to take them seriously, starting with the initial World Trade Center attack in 1993. A string of terrorist attacks on US assets followed during the Clinton administration — Khobar Towers, which killed 19; the African embassy bombings, which killed over 200 people, mostly native Muslims; and finally the October 2000 USS Cole attack, which killed 17 sailors and to which this team never bothered to respond. (Laughably, the 9/11 Commission blamed the Bush administration for this lack of response, even though it took office more than three months after the attack.)
The cumulative response for these declarations of war were a series of arrests and four missile strikes, two in Afghanistan and two in North Africa to take out a pharmaceutical factory that supposedly produced chemical-weapons precursors. No strategic plan was ever implemented to kill those who had declared war on the US; the only plan was a tepid tit-for-tat response to individual attacks.
Nor did the Clinton team impress anyone with its foreign policy achievements. While the twelve-year Iraq quagmire started with the first President Bush’s refusal to march on Baghdad while the road was open, the Clinton team ignored provocation after provocation, again demonstrating a lack of American will. Iraq regularly fixed targeting radar on our fighters enforcing the no-fly zone and on several occasions fired missiles at them, which not only violated the cease-fire agreements but on its own constituted an act of war. Saddam sent a team of Iraqis to assassinate former President Bush during Clinton’s first term by Clinton’s own admission, another act of war, and what response did we give? We dropped a few bombs on Baghdad, which did nothing to free the Iraqi people from Saddam’s grip and only demonstrated (again) that we had no stomach to respond to acts of war. Clinton pushed for, and got, a Congressional act that made regime change our national policy, and promptly did nothing about it. The only other action he ever took against Iraq was another few nights of bombing suspected WMD sites in Baghdad when Saddam kicked out the weapons inspectors in 1998, again a violation of the cease-fire agreement as well as a dozen UNSC resolutions.
What did this team actually do? They allowed Jimmy Carter to eat their lunch on North Korea, for one, which gave Kim Jong-Il enough time to actually develop a handful of nukes when they could have stopped him in 1994. The Clinton team also managed to involve us in the centuries-old civil war in the Balkans by dropping bombs on Yugoslavia, despite the lack of any American interest in the conflict, and without the UN approval that they scream about regarding Iraq. They talk about the supposed “quagmire” of Iraq while ignoring the upcoming ten-year anniversary of our continued involvement in the Balkans, where we remain to this day without any idea how to remove ourselves, and where people continue to kill each other over ethnic and religious differences.
Of course, Slobodan Milosevic engaged in genocidal “ethnic cleansing” — but so did the Rwandans, and we didn’t lift a finger to stop that, and a whole lot more Rwandans were being slaughtered than Bosnians or Kosovars. For that matter, so did Saddam Hussein. He put at least 300,000 Iraqis, mostly Shi’a, in mass graves, used chemical weapons to kill and terrify the Kurds, and drained the marshes of the Euphrates in order to wipe out the Marsh Arabs. Why didn’t these people deserve protection like the Europeans in the Balkans? Don’t “brown” people deserve protection from genocide, as long as that’s the excuse we’re using in the Balkans?
Kerry promises a forward-looking foreign policy, but he’s signed up with the people who demonstrate nothing except the fecklessness of the past. This is one reunion show that we don’t need in prime time.