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Danger man John Kerry


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Danger man John Kerry

Stephen Morris:

October 25, 2004

ALTHOUGH George Bush has reopened a slight lead over John Kerry, the outcome of next week's US presidential election is far from certain. What would Kerry's election as president mean? A dangerous time for the West.

Many have correctly pointed out that Kerry is, for now, proposing an Iraq policy not very different from that of President Bush. Yet there are vital issues other than Iraq. Kerry's 34-year record in public life indicates that he never understood what the Cold War was about and that he does not understand the nature of the US's rogue-state or Islamist terrorist enemies now. Those who see in him a moderate realist replacing the idealists of the Bush administration will be disappointed. For Kerry has a world view that is also idealist, but of a different kind.

The great idealist American president Woodrow Wilson promulgated a world view containing two important but different themes: the missionary responsibility of the US to spread democratic institutions around the world and a belief in international law and institutions as a means of containing and resolving conflicts.

The Bush administration and Kerry have taken different aspects of Wilsonian thinking. While the administration favours the spread of democracy not only as an inherent moral good but also as a means of eradicating conflicts, it abhors any excessive reliance on the UN for solving disputes that affect the national interest of the US.

Kerry, by contrast, abhors the idea of promoting democracy as a moral responsibility of the US but places great faith in the UN and other international institutions, including international courts and formal alliance structures, as vehicles for resolving conflicts that involve the US.

In 1970, during his first run for Congress, Kerry told the Harvard Crimson that he wanted US troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the UN. He made a UN mandate a condition for the deployment of US forces in later years. He was able to get behind Bill Clinton's deployment of US forces in Bosnia because Clinton had kept them under the tight rein of the UN permanent representative.

As The Washington Post recalled last week, discussing the possibility of US troops being killed in Bosnia in 1994, he said: "If you mean dying in the course of the United Nations effort, yes, it is worth that. If you mean dying American troops unilaterally going in with some false presumption that we can affect the outcome, the answer is unequivocally no."

Kerry is also motivated by a strand of Left-liberal ideology that makes him a moral relativist. Unlike many American liberals, Kerry has often expressed his discomfort with the US criticising other nations for their repressive domestic policies. Thus a Kerry administration will be one that not only does not promote democracy, it will be one in which gross human rights abroad are given little attention.

Kerry was ignorant of both the facts and the genesis of the Cold War. In his 1971 speech before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he spoke about how the US was still reacting in "the 1945 mood" with our "paranoia about the Russians".

But it was the Vietnam War that has obsessed Kerry and brought out the leftist strands of his foreign policy views. In 1970, while still a reserve officer in the US Navy, Kerry undertook private contacts with the Vietnamese communist delegation in Paris. In his 1971 speech he is remembered and reviled by many veterans for accusing all American soldiers of committing atrocities and war crimes. What has been overlooked in his 1971 speech is that he also supported the Vietnamese communist cause, mouthing every plank of their political platform as his own. Were these extreme left-wing views merely the misadventures of a war-embittered youth? Hardly.

Kerry continued to pursue Hanoi's foreign policy interests in the Senate, even at the expense of his often-stated preference for the UN. In 1990, in a rare act of post-Cold War political unity, the UN Security Council approved a plan to end the war in Cambodia with a UN temporary administration to organise elections in the country. This was the plan, remember, that the Australian government and then Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans were deeply involved in realising. Yet Kerry opposed it. Instead, he wanted the Vietnamese-installed Hun Sen, formerly of the Khmer Rouge, to organise elections.

It seems that Kerry's preference for a UN role in conflict resolution is mainly to shackle American power, but not the power of his favourite little dictatorships.

Kerry's support for dictatorship and opposition to concern for human rights in Indochina continues to this day. When the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in 2001 to legislate in favour of human rights in Vietnam, Kerry bottled up this bill in the Senate to prevent it from reaching the floor for a vote.

The Far Eastern Economic Review, in a 1995 cover story, described Cambodia as "Medellin on the Mekong". So it is odd that a former Massachusetts prosecutor, whose 1997 book was an expose of organised crime as the great new threat to US security, should embrace the former Khmer Rouge commissar turned patron of Asian crime syndicates as the ruler of Cambodia.

Kerry's soft spot for the dictators of Third World countries was not confined to Vietnam and Cambodia. During the Cold War Kerry was opposed to using force against all adversaries. This was especially so in the case of Nicaragua, where Kerry began his diplomatic showboating with the Sandinistas in 1985, but also in Grenada and the 1991 Gulf War to evict Saddam from Kuwait.

KERRY'S benign attitude towards dictators will affect one of the US's two greatest contemporary security threats: the nuclear arming of North Korea and Iran. Kerry's strategy towards North Korea and Iran will be: engage but never intimidate. His policies on Southeast Asia and Central America were thus. Bush will be more cautious about deploying the military than he was in 2003, but will do so if he needs to. Kerry, by contrast, will only deploy force against North Korea if it invades the South.

Kim Jong-il and the Iranian mullahs will agree to talk while they build up their nuclear arsenal and its delivery systems. Eventually Kim and the Tehran clerics will have enough nukes to sell some to al-Qa'ida, or give them to Hezbollah. This is not a high-risk policy for them. With proliferation of nuclear weapons, given their relatively small size, there is no reason why the source of the weapons should be necessarily traceable. This would be especially so after a North Korean-manufactured nuclear device in a shipping container has been detonated in New York, London or Sydney, or an Iranian-manufactured device is detonated by Hezbollah or al-Qa'ida in Tel Aviv.

As for Kerry's understanding of the broader war on terror, look at his great new conception: what he said to Matt Bai in The New York Times Magazine earlier this month. Kerry thinks that the war on terror is like "the war against organised crime". Both, he insists, are examples of forces of chaos. Really? Since when did organised crime want to create chaos? Have you noticed the Mafia engaged in suicide bombing? Flying planes into buildings? When did any mob consider poisoning the nation's water supply? Have you heard that they are trying to acquire nuclear weapons? And is organised crime anywhere trying to convert Christian infidels to the Muslim religion?

Some of Kerry's views, particularly his moral relativism, have been imbibed from his father, former State Department official Richard Kerry. Others are a product of a Massachusetts liberal who came of political age during the extreme left-wing phase of the Vietnam-era anti-war movement. He loves to negotiate, but never intimidate foreign adversaries. This and his lack of an intellectually coherent mainstream vision is of no great comfort to a Western world that faces the most complex and dangerous challenges to its way of life.

Stephen Morris is a fellow at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.


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