Today’s New York Times Magazine carries a long, sympathetic account of John Kerry’s view of the world in general and its application to the present circumstances in particular: “Kerry’s undeclared war.” Kerry is quoted at length sufficient to reveal the sheer obtuseness and utter vacuity of his views; the Kerry Weltanschauung revels in self-regarding lullabies.
The author of the article — Times writer Matt Bai — detects the sophistication and nuance that we have all observed in Senator Kerry’s views, and presents them with the admiration you would expect. He worries only over their marketability. Bai contrasts the Bush administration’s transformative approach to the Arab Middle East with Kerry’s more relaxed view:
Kerry, too, envisions a freer and more democratic Middle East. But he flatly rejects the premise of viral democracy, particularly when the virus is introduced at gunpoint. ”In this administration, the approach is that democracy is the automatic, easily embraced alternative to every ill in the region,” he told me. Kerry disagreed. ”You can’t impose it on people,” he said. ”You have to bring them to it. You have to invite them to it. You have to nurture the process.”
This was precisely the point made by former Vice President Walter Mondale in his critique of Bush administration foreign policy this past December; we reviewed Mondale’s critique in “Walter Mondale loses it.” In a speech at Macalester College in St. Paul on December 12, Mondale complained that President Bush was forcing democracy on Iraq and Afghanistan “at bayonet point.”
Bai buys Kerry’s critique insofar as it extends to Iraq. How about Afghanistan? Mondale, Bai and Kerry ignore the necessity of overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in order to deprive al Qaeda of its home base. They apparently think we should have kindly asked the Taliban to step aside after 9/11. Doesn’t consistency demand that the critique extend to complaining that the United States brought democracy to Germany and Japan “at bayonet point” after World War II?
Although Bai is oblivious to it, the key to Kerry’s thoughts leads back ineluctably to Mondale and the Carter adminstration. Here’s a characteristic slice of Bai’s presentation of the deep thoughts of John Kerry:
If forced democracy is ultimately Bush’s panacea for the ills that haunt the world, as Kerry suggests it is, then Kerry’s is diplomacy. Kerry mentions the importance of cooperating with the world community so often that some of his strongest supporters wish he would ease up a bit. (”When people hear multilateral, they think multi-mush,” [Delaware Senator Joe] Biden despaired.) But multilateralism is not an abstraction to Kerry, whose father served as a career diplomat during the years after World War II. The only time I saw Kerry truly animated during two hours of conversation was when he talked about the ability of a president to build relationships with other leaders.
”We need to engage more directly and more respectfully with Islam, with the state of Islam, with religious leaders, mullahs, imams, clerics, in a way that proves this is not a clash with the British and the Americans and the old forces they remember from the colonial days,” Kerry told me during a rare break from campaigning, in Seattle at the end of August. ”And that’s all about your diplomacy.”
When I suggested that effecting such changes could take many years, Kerry shook his head vehemently and waved me off.
”Yeah, it is long-term, but it can be dramatically effective in the short term. It really can be. I promise you.” He leaned his head back and slapped his thighs. ”A new presidency with the right moves, the right language, the right outreach, the right initiatives, can dramatically alter the world’s perception of us very, very quickly.
”I know Mubarak well enough to know what I think I could achieve in the messaging and in the press in Egypt,” Kerry went on. ”And, similarly, with Jordan and with King Abdullah, and what we can do in terms of transformation in the economics of the region by getting American businesspeople involved, getting some stability and really beginning to proactively move in those ways. We just haven’t been doing any of this stuff. We’ve been stunningly disengaged, with the exception of Iraq.
”I mean, you ever hear anything about the ‘road map’ anymore?” he asked, referring to the international plan for phasing in peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which Kerry supports. ”No. You ever hear anything about anything anymore? No. Do you hear anything about this greater Middle East initiative, the concepts or anything? No. I think we’re fighting a very narrow, myopic kind of war.”
It is not a coincidence that Kerry’s greatest success in the Senate came not during his long run of investigations but in the realm of diplomacy. He and John McCain worked for several years to settle the controversy over P.O.W.-M.I.A.’s and to normalize relations with Vietnam — an achievement that Kerry’s Senate colleagues consider his finest moment. ”He should talk about it more,” Bob Kerrey said. ”He transformed the region.” In the same way, John Kerry sees himself as a kind of ambassador-president, shuttling to world capitals and reintegrating America, by force of personality, into the world community.
He would begin, if sworn into office, by going immediately to the United Nations to deliver a speech recasting American foreign policy. Whereas Bush has branded North Korea ”evil” and refuses to negotiate head on with its authoritarian regime, Kerry would open bilateral talks over its burgeoning nuclear program. Similarly, he has said he would rally other nations behind sanctions against Iran if that country refuses to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Kerry envisions appointing a top-level envoy to restart the Middle East peace process, and he’s intent on getting India and Pakistan to adopt key provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (One place where Kerry vows to take a harder line than Bush is Pakistan, where Bush has embraced the military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and where Kerry sees a haven for chaos in the vast and lawless region on the border with Afghanistan.) In all of this, Kerry intends to use as leverage America’s considerable capacity for economic aid; a Kerry adviser told me, only slightly in jest, that Kerry’s most tempting fantasy is to attend the G-8 summit.
The promotion of Mubarak and Abdullah — an ugly tyrant and an isolated monarch — as keys to the advancement of American goals in the Middle East. The desire to restart “the road map” without mention of the events that have required its interment. The advocacy of summits and conferences and processes and “messaging” in the face of a war on America’s survival. The “unilateral” pursuit of North Korea as a negotiating partner without mention of the Agreed Framework of 1994. Is it not fair to say that this blubbering verges on the delusional?
With this we can agree: ”A new presidency with the right moves, the right language, the right outreach, the right initiatives, can dramatically alter the world’s perception of us very, very quickly.” We recall how the world’s perception of the United States was quickly altered by Jimmy Carter’s announcement that we had overcome our inordinate fear of Communism. Mutatis mutandis, John Kerry promises a restoration of the foreign policy of Jimmy Carter — the looming presence left unmentioned in the Bai article.
We saw a preview of the futility of Carterism in the face Islamism in the Iranian hostage crisis that terminated the Carter presidency. For those who learn from experience, the case for Carterism is even less compelling in 2004 than it was in 1980. Kerry’s resurrection of Carterism in the face of the Islamist war against America would indeed alter the perception of us very, very quickly, although I fear we would not be around long enough to appreciate it fully. (Thanks to RealClearPoltitics.)