Our friends at RealClearPolitics have performed the service of collecting links to all the major speeches given at the Democratic convention just concluded in Boston. Exceeding my usual threshold for pain by a substantial margin, I have reread the texts of the speeches of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Teresa Heinz Kerry, John Edward and John Kerry.
Reading these speeches in tandem one can observe the thematic unity imposed on them by the Kerry campaign. One of the striking themes is the proposition that Democrats believe in one America while Republicans not only believe in two, but “need” two in order to further their sinister plans. Other shared themes such as Kerry’s military service are more obvious and require no comment.
One of the more obvious themes these speeches also shared is the proposition that President Bush’s leadership has caused the United States to fall into disgrace among the nations of the world. In his New York Post column today, Amir Taheri does a superb job of exposing the analytical errors of the few words in Kerry’s speech devoted to foreign policy and national security. On each of Kerry’s points Taheri skewers Kerry; here is Taheri on the necessity of alliances as set forth in Kerry’s speech:
Kerry…says: “We need to build our alliances, so that we can get the terrorists before they get us.” Yet he also says: “I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security.”
Well, that is what Bush did when he led the war to liberate Iraq. And this is what President Bill Clinton had done when he sent troops to break the Serbian fascists in Bosnia and, later, in Kosovo. In both cases, the U.N. Security Council had indicated its unwillingness to back the American position.
Kerry, however, has made his strategy conditional on support from unidentified allies. But who are these allies?
A majority of NATO members backed the United States in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, as did a majority of the European Union members, plus Japan. In the Balkans, Greece alone of NATO members led the opposition to U.S. policies. In the case of Iraq, France played that role.
Thus what Kerry’s offers amounts to nothing but bringing occasional dissidents such as Greece and France on board. Is that so important in the larger scheme of things? Americans might be surprised to learn that “we will win” if, and only if, French President Jacques Chirac agrees to join Kerry in fighting al Qaeda or in deploying NATO forces to Iraq.
But what if the Americans have no support from other nations and yet need to fight against an enemy? This is not a hypothetical question: It happened to the British in 1939-40, when they had to fight Hitler alone.
Taheri usefully quotes Kerry in this context attempting to ward off the anticipated criticism that Kerry’s approach to national security is overly deferential to the United Nations; Kerry vows not to make preservation of America’s national security interests conditional on United Nations support.
Alone among the speakers who raised this theme against Bush, only Bill Clinton pursued a critique of the Bush administration’s treatment of international organizations and treaties. Clinton’s audacity in this regard is notable in light of Taheri’s observations regarding certain aspects of the foreign policy record of the Clinton administration that Taheri rightly recalls. In my view, however, the Clinton administration was willing to act “unilaterally” without the approval of the United Nations only when the national security interest of the United States was not truly at stake.
In his speech, Clinton forces us to recall the zealotry with which he maintained or pursued international commitments that belied the national interest and sovereignty of the United States. The baldness of Clinton’s comments on this subject stands out among the speeches at the convention. Here is Clinton’s critique of the Bush administration’s treatment of international organizations and treaties:
The president had an amazing opportunity to bring the country together under his slogan of compassionate conservatism and to unite the world in the struggle against terror.
Instead, he and his congressional allies made a very different choice. They chose to use that moment of unity to try to push the country too far to the right and to walk away from our allies, not only in attacking Iraq before the weapons inspectors had finished their work, but in withdrawing American support for the climate change treaty and for the international court on war criminals and for the anti-ballistic missile treaty and from the nuclear test ban treaty.
Here Clinton asserts that the Bush adminstration’s withdrawl from the ABM treaty (lawfully pursuant to its terms) was wrongful. Clinton’s belief that the United States should deprive itself of a missile defense under current circumstances in a post-Cold War world is not one that most Americans would find compelling.
Clinton also suggests that the Bush administration’s refusal to implement the Kyoto Treaty is wrongful despite the fact that it was opposed by a 95-0 vote in a 1997 Senate resolution. Clinton fails to note that he never submitted the treaty protocol to the Senate for ratification after signing it in 1998, for the obvious reason that it would not have been ratified.
Clinton further suggests that the Bush administration has acted wrongfully in refusing to subject American military forces to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. If Clinton were actually to elaborate an argument on this point, its unpopularity would become apparent. The point of Clinton’s reference to the test ban treaty is not altogether clear to me, but this treaty is another that the United States has signed but not ratified.
Each of the treaties and organizations referred to by Clinton was indeed supported by his administration. Each would likely be supported formally or in practice by a Kerry administration. Yet each would seem absurd to most Americans contemplating the war in which we are engaged. Shouldn’t Kerry now be asked for his position on each of these issues?