A multilateralist's 'Fisking' of John Kerry’s multilateralist's major foreign policy speech
: Ah, Hub Blog’s first public Fisking of an article or speech. I decided to do this because of: the international events of recent days (i.e., France and Germany’s decision on Iraq, Colin Powell’s somersault
on UN inspections in reaction to France and Germany’s moves); the large amount of email I’ve received on the issue since I posted some items on it a few days ago; and the fact John Kerry is from the old Hub, giving me the local peg I needed to justify this long item. A couple notes before the Fisking commences:
-- Those of us who favor resorting to war against Iraq as a last resort, but preferred a more multilateralist approach beforehand, definitely have egg on our faces these days. It’s now clear the U.N. route is not working -- and probably never would have worked, judging by France and others’ recent actions. The die is now cast. War is going to happen, unless Saddam is ousted first or some miracle happens. Powell knows this. Those of us who backed him and favored his multilateralist approach -- as opposed to those who favor a multilateralist approach in order to block any and all action against Iraq -- also know it. Reluctantly, we're seeing through the egg yolk.
-- Some conservatives (by the way, I consider myself a moderate conservative) are now chortling over these recent events. But I find it curious that these same people are not acknowledging George Bush’s role in agreeing with this U.N. approach. I maintain going the extra U.N. mile was the right move, diplomatically and for PR purposes, and it certainly appears Bush will probably string it
out even longer, for the same diplomatic and PR reasons. Despite what unilaterists say (Billy Kristol has mocked those of us who use the ‘u’ word as ‘faux-hawkish multilateralists’), this president seems to sense, from a gut instinct level, that some sort of multilateralism is necessary -- or at least the appearance of multilateralism. In my opinion, Bush should have tried the multilateralist U.N. approach much, much earlier, even if it was doomed to failure, for it would have taken the edge off his image as someone eager for war. As Peggy Noonan
wrote last September:
“Members of the administration, on the other hand, seem lately almost inebriated with a sense of mission. And maybe that's inevitable when the stakes are high and you're sure you're right. But in off-the-cuff remarks and unprepared moments the president and some of his men often seem to have missing within them a sense of the tragic. Which is odd because we're talking about war, after all.”
In other words, there are some of us ‘faux-hawkish multilateralists’ who believe in Winston Churchill’s famous axiom that it’s sometimes “better to jaw-jaw than war-war.” We defintely have egg on our face right now, but at least we tried the “jaw-jaw” before “war-war.” So, please, hold the chortling to a minimum, even though you were proven right in the end.
-- Lastly, this is going to be a different type of Fisking, to wit: Call it a 'disallusioned multilateralist's Fisking.' I still agree with many of Kerry’s multilateralist points. However, the singular failure of Kerry’s speech is that, although he clearly had time, he didn’t bother to address the critical events of the last few days in Paris, Berlin and Washington. The speech ultimately bogs down into a have-it-both-ways mush.
So here goes with the Fisking (FYI, I picked out what I thought were pertinent passages in the speech; you can read it in its entirety
here; my responses are in italics following each passage.):
“We need a new approach to national security - a bold, progressive internationalism that stands in stark contrast to the too often belligerent and myopic unilateralism of the Bush Administration...."
I don’t know about ‘bold, progressive’ (see rest of speech). I agree about the ‘often billigerent and mypopic’ administration part (see Noonan passage above).
“We should be proud: Not since the age of the Romans have one people achieved such preeminence. But we are not Romans; we do not seek an empire.”
We’re like imperial Rome and should be proud. We’re not like imperial Rome. Why even bring up Rome? Hmmmm.
“After all, what is today's unilateralism but the right's old isolationist impulse in modern guise? At its core is a familiar and beguiling illusion: that America can escape an entangling world. ...that we can wield our enormous power without incurring obligations to others. ...and that we can pursue our national interests in arrogant ways that make a mockery of our nation's ideals.”
Agreed. It is a form of isolationism. I’m against both Pat Buchanan’s Bunker America and Bill Kristol’s Pax America. Something in the middle is dealing with both our realities and ideals. Go on, Senator.
“I believe the Bush Administration's blustering unilateralism is wrong, and even dangerous, for our country. In practice, it has meant alienating our long-time friends and allies, alarming potential foes and spreading anti-Americanism around the world.”
I do believe the administration has been engaging in blustering unilateralism. I.e.: ‘We can go it alone, no, wait, let’s try the U.N. option with Iraq.' Or: ‘We won’t talk with North Korea, but, well, let’s talk.’ But I certainly don’t care about ‘alarming our foes’ and don’t believe the Bush administration has caused anti-Americanism. They have exacerbated anti-Americanism, but they didn’t cause it. If the Bush administration is guilty of anything, they’re not doing enough to stem or openly challenge rampant anti-Americanism. How about the president -- not the Secretary of State alluding to -- speaking out against European (and French) hypocrisy? Not to do so seems like an old-fashioned defensive, polite nod to multilateralsim to me. Just pointing it out.
“Too often they've forgotten that energetic global leadership is a strategic imperative for America, not a favor we do for other countries. Leading the world's most advanced democracies isn't mushy multilateralism -- it amplifies America's voice and extends our reach. Working through global institutions doesn't tie our hands -- it invests US aims with greater legitimacy and dampens the fear and resentment that our preponderant power sometimes inspires in others. In a world growing more, not less interdependent, unilateralism is a formula for isolation and shrinking influence. As much as some in the White House may desire it, America can't opt out of a networked world.”
Tony Blair has been saying roughly the same thing. Good enough for me. ... Economic realities usually drive political realities. That's the great irony and wonder of capitalism: Give people economic freedom, they demand political freedom. George Bush understands this. And so: Globalization is unstoppable. And so: Our economies are becoming closer. And so: ... unilateralism or multilateralism? (Or a combination of the two, at the least?)
“We can do better than we are doing today. And those who seek to lead have a duty to offer a clear vision of how we make Americans safer and make America more trusted and respected in the world. That vision is defined by looking to our best traditions -- to the tough-minded strategy of international engagement and leadership forged by Wilson and Roosevelt in two world wars and championed by Truman and Kennedy in the Cold War.”
Leaving out certain key Republicans (such as, oh, Eisenhower and Reagan) seems a bit partisan and myopic, don’t you agree, Senator? Leaving out Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter is a little understandable. Bush Sr.? The Cold War was kind of all but over by the time he took office.
“For Democrats to win America's confidence we must first convince Americans we will keep them safe. You can't do that by avoiding the subjects of national security, foreign policy and military preparedness. Nor can we let our national security agenda be defined by those who reflexively oppose any U.S. military intervention anywhere...who see U.S. power as mostly a malignant force in world politics...who place a higher value on achieving multilateral consensus than necessarily
protecting our vital interests.”
OK, now we’re getting into interesting territory. Kerry should have called it like it is: The people he’s now talking about are largely on the left and to his left. Getting back to the Laborite Tony Blair, he waged (and still wages) an open battle against his own ‘loony left’ (his words, I believe). If Kerry is going to play the statesman-like figure who boldly attacks right-wing isolationists, he should also come out and attack the Democratic left-wing isolationists, for that’s what they are, at least in terms of clipping America’s powers. ... This was also a good point in his speech to more aggressively articulate how many multilateralists (such as Truman and Kennedy, if he had to stick with just those two examples) do believe in a form of American unilateralism when the nation’s safety is at risk. Kerry missed (or fudged) this opportunity.
“Americans deserve better than a false choice between force without diplomacy and diplomacy without force.”
Not a bad line.
“... the Bush Administration's erratic unilateralism and reluctant engagement.”
OK, I get the point. Bush has been erratic and reluctant. I also get this point: Kerry is running against Bush and is starting to come across as erratic and reluctant. Swipes like these by Kerry, while holding punches against those on the left, begin to diminish the seriousness and weighty tone of his speech. Not very Tony Blairish.
“We must drain the swamps of terrorists; but you don't have a prayer of doing so if you leave the poisoned sources to gather and flow again. That means we must help the vast majority people of the greater Middle East build a better future. We need to illuminate an alternative path to a futile Jihad against the world ...a path that leads to deeper integration of the greater Middle East into the modern world order.”
Kerry said this in the context of the need to go after terrorists first, before the root-out-the-causes-of-terrorism programs. So, agreed. But doesn’t most everyone generally agree with these points, at least in principle?
“The Bush Administration has a plan for waging war but no plan for winning the peace.”
Winning a peace would require ‘nation building’ and we all know what some on the right think about that. The events in post-war Afghanistan have been disappointing (the economic aid and security part, not the liberation part). Lots of zigzagging by the administration on the need for peace keepers, etc. Their plans for post-war Iraq, though, seem to have more coherency, albeit they’re more ambitious. Making a democratic nation out of feuding tribal and religious factions in Iraq ain’t going to be easy, for anyone, and it’s arguably unrealistic. We’ll see, apparently.
“NATO is searching for a new mission. What better way to revitalize the most successful and enduring alliance in history, then to reorient it around a common threat to the global system that we have built over more than a half-century of struggle and sacrifice? The Administration has tried to focus NATO on the Middle East, but it's high-handed treatment of our European allies, on everything from Iraq to the Kyoto climate change treaty, has strained relations nearly to the breaking point.”
Here were are. The beginning of true mush. NATO is definitely in search of a new mission. But are the French and Germans on the same page? Yes, the administration has been high-handed in treating just about everyone (that’s the mindset of go-it-alone, Pax America types, after all ), but -- there’s the old ‘but’ again -- the Germans and French just taught us a hard lesson that they will march to the beat of their own EU, NATO and domestic-policy drums. It isn’t all about us alienating them. ... P.S. I stand by a blog item I wrote a few days ago: If NATO does collapse as a result of the Iraq crisis, the president owes it to his countrymen to explain why Iraq was worth it, how we’ll get along without NATO, whether this was envisioned at the outset, what his long-term views are in general on future alliances, the U.N. and Security Council. Doubt we’ll get such an explanation.
“Destroying al Qaeda and other anti-American terror groups must remain our top priority. While the Administration has largely prosecuted this war with vigor, it also has made costly mistakes. The biggest, in my view, was their reluctance to translate their robust rhetoric into American military engagement in Afghanistan. They relied too much on local warlords to carry the fight against our enemies and this permitted many al Qaeda members, and according to evidence, including Osama bin Laden himself, to slip through our fingers. Now the Administration must redouble its efforts to track them down. ...”
Stop right there. The Bush administration’s handling of Afghanistan (during the war, not the peace) was astounding. Remember all the talk on TV -- before the war began there -- about how the Soviets got bogged down in those horrible Afghan mountains and gorges? How Afghanistan was the Soviet’s own Vietnam and how a certain NYT ‘analyst’ brought up the ‘quagmire’ word just prior to the Taliban’s fspectacular fall? The swift victory in Afghanistan was the result of imaginative, bold and brilliant tactics and strategy. It was the Bush administration’s shining moment. The failure at Tora Bora was disappointing. No doubt. Think it had more to do with the modern military’s aversion to risk, not the administration’s aversion to risk
. Failure to capture Osama has been a cheap-shot argument for Dems for a while now. Question: Could they have done better? Doubt it. ... The administration had a legimate reason to move to the next phase after the fall of the Taliban about a year ago.
“Second, without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime. We all know the litany of his offenses. He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation. He miscalculated an eight-year war with Iran. He miscalculated the invasion of Kuwait. ....”
“...That is why the world, through the United Nations Security Council, has spoken with one voice, demanding that Iraq disclose its weapons programs and disarm.”
No mention about France and Germany’s unilateralist actions, here or elsewhere in the speech. They’re both members of the Security Council.
“So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real, but it is not new. It has been with us since the end of the Persian Gulf War. Regrettably the current Administration failed to take the opportunity to bring this issue to the United Nations two years ago or immediately after September 11th, when we had such unity of spirit with our allies. When it finally did speak, it was with hasty war talk instead of a coherent call for Iraqi disarmament.”
Actually, I’m glad they didn’t bring up Iraq immediately after Sept. 11. It was initially pushed by neo-conservatives and debated in the administration, and then shoved to the backburner, and appropriately so. The initial target became Afghanistan, and appropriately so. As for going to the U.N. a year ago after the Axis of Evil speech, true. That was the time. But we’re not dealing with a year ago. We’re talking about today. Think: France and Germany -- and Powell’s somersault -- and how this was an undeniable blow to the multilateralists' hopes, as much as we hate to admit it.
“In U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, the United Nations has now affirmed that Saddam Hussein must disarm or face the most serious consequences. Let me make it clear that the burden is resoundingly on Saddam Hussein to live up to the ceasefire agreement he signed and make clear to the world how he disposed of weapons he previously admitted to possessing. But the burden is also clearly on the Bush Administration to do the hard work of building a broad coalition at the U.N. and the necessary work of educating America about the rationale for war.”
Maybe I missed it somewhere in the speech (my apologies if I did), but maybe now is the time for Kerry to mention that, oh, he voted for the resolution authorizing Bush to take action, if necessary, against Iraq. ... And don’t bring up Security Council Resolution 1441 without mentioning the events of recent days: France and Germany. The burden is on them, too. Powell and people like moi had to learn this the hard way.
“As I have said frequently and repeat here today, the United States should never go to war because it wants to, the United States should go to war because we have to. And we don't have to until we have exhausted the remedies available, built legitimacy and earned the consent of the American people, absent, of course, an imminent threat requiring urgent action. The Administration must pass this test. I believe they must take the time to do the hard work of diplomacy. They must do a better job of making their case to the American people and to the world.”
Again, the Bush administration has done a lousy job of lining up support, domestically and internationally. Multilateralism wasn’t their first option. Many in the administration despise the word, as we all know. But are we or are we not -- as much as we multilaterists hate to admit it -- close to exhausting our diplomatic remedies? At what point, exactly, do we call it quits and go alone without U.N. and Security Council support? Kerry doesn’t say. ...
... And now, following, is the clincher passage and sound-bite sentence that’s been played on TV over the past 24 hours:
“I have no doubt of the outcome of war itself should it be necessary. We will win. But what matters is not just what we win but what we lose. We need to make certain that we have not unnecessarily twisted so many arms, created so many reluctant partners, abused the trust of Congress, or strained so many relations, that the longer term and more immediate vital war on terror is made more difficult. And we should be particularly concerned that we do not go alone or essentially alone if we can avoid it, because the complications and costs of post-war Iraq would be far better managed and shared with United Nation's participation. And, while American security must never be ceded to any institution or to another institution's decision, I say to the President, show respect for the process of international diplomacy because it is not only right, it can make America stronger - and show the world some appropriate patience in building a genuine coalition. Mr. President, do not rush to war.”
True, Bush has not shown a truly sincere ‘patience in building a genuine coalition,’ like his father did in Gulf War I. But it’s reached an ‘appropriate’ point to start challenging Democrats
about what their definition of ‘rush’ is. Timetables and deadlines, please. Be specific.
“And I say to the United Nations, show respect for your own mandates. Do not find refuge in excuses and equivocation. Stand up for the rule of law, not just in words but in deeds. Not just in theory but in reality. Stand up for our common goal: either bringing about Iraq's peaceful disarmament or the decisive military victory of a multilateral coalition.”
Yes, France and Germany, stand up.
“Third, as we continue our focus on the greater Middle East, the U.S. must look beyond stability alone as the linchpin of our relationships. We must place increased focus on the development of democratic values and human rights as the keys to long-term security. If we learned anything from our failure in Vietnam it is that regimes removed from the people cannot permanently endure.They must reform or they will finally crumble, despite the efforts of the United States. We must side with and strengthen the aspirations of those seeking positive change. America needs to be on the side of the people, not the regimes that keep them down."
We all seem to agree on this point. Just disagree on the methods to achieve those goals. Actually, no, I should say ‘all reasonable’ people agree on this point. There are more than a few antiwar protesters -- and a few odd right wingers or so -- who obviously think leaving Saddam and other dictators in place is OK.
“In the 1950s, as the sun was setting on European colonialism, a young Senator named John Kennedy went to the Senate floor and urged the Eisenhower Administration not to back France against a rebellious Algeria. He recognized that the United States could only win the Cold War by staying true to our values, by championing the independence of those aspiring to be free. What's at issue today is not U.S. support for colonial powers out of touch with history, but for autocratic regimes out of touch with their own people.”
Like that last sentence. Don’t like the JFK-mentioning-JFK part. Could have used a much better example: Eisenhower saying ‘no’ to British and French attempts to seize the Suez Canal in the '50s. The forced JFK references get worse later. Keep reading.
“I believe we must reform and increase our global aid to strengthen our focus on the missions of education and health --of freedom for women -- and economic development for all. ... I propose the following policy goals: We should build on the success of Clinton Administration's Jordan Free Trade Agreement. Since the United States reduced tariffs on goods made in ‘qualifying industrial zones,’ Jordan's exports to the US jumped from $16 to $400 million, creating about 40,000 jobs. Let's provide similar incentives to other countries that agree to join the WTO, stop boycotting Israel and supporting Palestinian violence against Israel, and open up their economies. We should also create a general duty-free program for the region, just as we've done in the Caribbean Basin Initiative and the Andean Trade Preference Act. Again, we should set some conditions: full cooperation in the war on terror, anti-corruption measures, non-compliance with the Israel boycott, respect for core labor standards and progress toward human rights. Let's be clear: Our goal is not to impose some western free market ideology on the greater Middle East. It's to open up a region that is now closed to opportunity, an outpost of economic exclusion and stagnation in a fast-globalizing world. These countries suffer from too little globalization, not too
Fine. Completely agree. Free trade is good, when it’s not weighted against Third World countries.
“We must have a new vision and a renewed engagement to reinvigorate the Mideast peace process. This Administration made a grave error when it disregarded almost seventy years of American friendship and leadership in the Middle East and the efforts of every President of the last 30 years. ...”
Might want to mention all the Islamic terrorist groups operating there, Senator.
“(Israel’s) frustration is that they do not see a committed partner in peace on the Palestinian side. Palestinians must stop the violence - this is the fundamental building block of the peace process. The Palestinian leadership must be reformed, not only for the future of the Palestinian people but also for the sake of peace. I believe Israel would respond to this new partner after all, Israel has already indicated its willingness to freeze settlements and to move toward the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a comprehensive peace process.”
He’s now alluding to Islamic terrorism, but he’s still not mentioning it explicitly. ... By the way, Hub Blog is no big fan of Israel’s settlement policies. They are colonial by nature and an obstacle to peace. Period. Hope the Bush administration is stressing this behind the scenes to Israel. Terrorism must go. Then the settlements.
“There (in North Korea) the Bush Administration has offered only a merry go-round policy. They got up on their high horse, whooped and hollered, rode around in circles, and ended right back where they'd started. By suspending talks initiated by the Clinton Administration, then asking for talks but with new conditions, then refusing to talk under the threat of nuclear blackmail, and then reversing that refusal as North Korea's master of brinkmanship upped the ante, the Administration created confusion and put the despot Kim Jong Il in the driver's seat. By publicly taking military force, negotiations, and sanctions all off the table, the Administration tied its own hands behind its back. Now, finally, the Administration is rightly working with allies in the region - acting multilaterally -- to put pressure on Pyongyang. They've gotten off the merry go round - the question is why you'd ever want to be so committed to unilateralist dogma that you'd get on it in the first place.”
Love the first two sentences of that passage. They’re so true! Another classic example of the administration’s unilateralist Talk tough/Put away big stick after it doesn’t work. Now they’re talking again with the North Koreans -- and using a multilateralist approach, too. I do NOT believe in the antiwar crowd’s criticism of the administration’s current policy (talk, while shoving the issue to the backburner) approach toward North Korea. As Lincoln once said when pressed during the Civil War to take action against Britain, one war at a time, gentlemen. Makes perfect sense to me. Wish the Bushies were capable of such devastating quips. Wish Bush critics could understand such devastating quips.
“One of the clearest opportunities missed is the environment. America has not led but fled on the issue of global warming. President Bush's declaration that the Kyoto Protocol was simply Dead on Arrival spoke for itself - and it spoke in dozens of languages as his words whipped instantly around the globe. But what the Administration failed to see was that Kyoto was not just an agreement - it was a product of 160 nations working together over 10 years. It was a good faith effort - and the United States just dismissed it. We didn't aim to mend it. We didn't aim to sit down with our allies and find a compromise. We didn't aim for a new dialogue. The Administration was simply ready to aim and fire, and the target they hit was our international reputation.”
Obviously aimed at the environmental vote. But still partly true. I recently read how many people in the administration now regret, deeply, how they handled the rejection of the Kyoto treaty. It was needless bluster and rudeness. But Kyoto still deserved to be dumped and/or seriously modified. It’s just not workable.
“Let me offer one last example: The threat of disintegration and chaos rises steadily in Africa as the continent is increasingly devastated by HIV/AIDS. More than 29 million people there are afflicted with that disease. Africa has 11% of the world's population but 70% of all the people in the world living with HIV/AIDS. ...Yet the Bush Administration, intent on appeasing its right wing, assails population control while it neglects AIDS control even as that disease threatens to destroy whole populations.”
Not quite sure what this has to do with the thrust of his speech. Yet Hub Blog feels strongly about the issue of AIDS and Africa. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations did/have failed miserably in doing something about this. It’s a shame it took Christian missionaries to convince Jesse Helms to fund anti-AIDS programs in Africa. Kerry should have mentioned Clinton’s weak effort on this front, too. ... The last line in the above passage is pretty damning of the current administration -- and rightly so.
“Taken together, I believe these proposals, that I have put forward today, present a far better vision for how we deal with the rest of the world - a better vision for how we build relationships - and how doing so will make America safer. But there are other things we must do as well. I also believe there is a better vision for military transformation; a better vision for intelligence gathering; and a far more effective way of achieving homeland security and domestic preparedness. I intend to lay out detailed proposals on each of these areas in the coming months.”
Taken together, I think Kerry made some terrific points about multilateralism and its inevitability, but he pulled a lot of punches and omitted some important facts when it came to the necessity of Truman/Kennedy-style unilateralism. Don’t think he has a firm grasp on his own line: ‘Americans deserve better than a false choice between force without diplomacy and diplomacy without force.’ ... No mention of France and Germany. ... Also, he was talking too much to Democrats, not to all Americans, and the 'statesmen' like tone of it is hurt as a result. Lots of have-it-both-ways mush. Verdict: Earnest but flawed.
Kerry's concluding line:
“America's resolve to bear the burdens and pay the price of leadership so that we may, as President Kennedy said on a cold January day long ago, ‘assure the survival and success of liberty.’"
Go ahead. Shake your head. He just can’t get away from him. Not exactly a ‘new’ and ‘bold’ way to end a speech.