John Kerry Owes Voters a Clear Foreign Policy Vision

Originally posted: September 10, 2004

Greencastle, Ind. – In a bullfight, the picador is that horseman who comes out to lance the bull with a sharp spear and get him angry, ready for the matador. Dick Cheney makes a fine picador.

Calmly, carefully, precisely, the vice president told a GOP audience in Des Moines, Iowa, that the nation would be more likely to “get hit again” by terrorists if John Kerry wins.

“The danger is we’ll get hit again and we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating,” Cheney said.

That poke finally got Kerry’s attention.

It is hard to exaggerate how much Kerry gave away when he stepped from the rim of the Grand Canyon to answer the question put to him by President Bush: Knowing everything you do now, would you still have voted for the resolution to authorize the war?

Yes, said Kerry, promptly and definitively, before adding nuances and qualifications. Many Democrats felt it would have been better if Kerry had stepped the other way off the canyon rim. Kerry’s answer was the biggest mistake of the campaign so far, and it gave the Bush-Cheney team another opportunity to pummel him as a flip-flopper on Iraq.

Kerry has a difficult time admitting a mistake. He has complained in the past that candidates have too little time to think and too much temptation to talk. So you say something stupid, he says, “and then later you’re afraid to admit it for fear of looking more stupid. So you’re stuck with a position you don’t like and don’t want to support.”

Sound like he is talking about Iraq? Actually, Kerry said those words 30 years ago, just after being defeated in his first race for Congress. Heed those words, John.

For the 30-plus years since George McGovern lost to Richard Nixon, Democrats have been saddled with the perception of not being sufficiently strong on national security. Some of his colleagues now are urging Kerry to drop Iraq and move the campaign to domestic issues. “Any time we’re talking about national security issues, we’re on their field,” said Sen. Evan Bayh.

George McGovern, the anti-war candidate in 1972, was a bomber pilot in World War II, with a distinguished combat record. His enduring mistake was that his campaign never made that service record a central part of his biography. This year, by nominating Kerry and highlighting the contrast between his Vietnam service and that of the incumbent president, the Democrats hoped they could shed the soft-on-security collar.

But Kerry almost gave the game away. In standing by his vote and dithering that he would have done it differently, he demoralized the very substantial part of the Democratic base who believe that the war and Kerry’s vote for it were both mistakes.

For weeks, Kerry has been playing rope-a-dope, being hammered by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth on television and by Bush and Cheney on the campaign trail. The Republican strategy has been to transform al-Qaida, 9/11, Iraq, Saddam and Osama into one ominous and continuing threat of terror and depict John Kerry as the son of McGovern, irresolute and indecisive on national security.

When Cheney took the terror alert to Code Red, saying the Kerry-Edwards ticket would make America more vulnerable to being hit again, he seems to have gotten Kerry’s attention.

Finally the Democratic nominee is putting together a full case against a pre-emptive war sold to the Congress and the public with bad intelligence and hollow threats.

We found no massive stockpiles of biological weapons, no nuclear weapons or unmanned aerial vehicles to carry them to the United States. After 17 months, $200 billion and 1,000 American lives lost, we know now there was no Saddam Hussein-9/11 connection.

Bush did not build a network of allies to share to fighting or the costs of the war. He did not prepare adequately for the invasion or for the insurgency that developed afterward. He did not go to war, as he promised, as a last resort and he has no plan to get out.

Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time. Just as Howard Dean said.

But Kerry owes the country more. He has sufficient history of vacillating, nuancing and changing his mind that we ought to see at least a first draft of a Kerry Doctrine on foreign policy. Would he endorse pre-emptive wars in an age of terror? How would he deter potential threats? If Bush was wrong, how would Kerry do it right?

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