Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 01, 2004
POLITICS: Kerry Speech Blog Roundup

*Tom Maguire agrees with me that Kerry failed to address the critical questions in the war on terror - who we are fighting and whether he would have gone to war in Iraq. (Maguire also notes, of Kerry's "the United States of America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to" line: "Why we had to go to war in Kosovo remains a mystery, but this has been a Kerry line for over a year.") Kerry supporter Matt Yglesias agrees for basically the same reason: "To put it politely, I thought that was crap":

Mainly, I'm pissed about Iraq. How to handle Iraq is the most important question facing the president and he just punted. On other looming foreign policy issues (Iran, North Korea, Sudan) where, again, the president can pretty much do whatever he wants we are left with no idea of what a President Kerry would want to do. Nor do we even have a particularly smart backward-looking critique of the Iraq War. It's bad, of course, that the president wasn't straight with the American people about the case for war. Nevertheless, if the deception had been in service of a wildly successful policy, this would be the kind of thing one could more-or-less shrug off. Similarly, contrary to Kerry's accusation Bush didn't go into Iraq without a plan, he went in with a bad plan. But Kerry doesn't get into any of this. Nor did he so much as mention our general strategic situation in the Middle East, offering an opinion one way or the other about the alliances with Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

Typically, Yglesias and his liberal friends think that Kerry's vagueness was politically smart - as usual, they seem to assume that the American people are too dumb for specifics - but I tend to think that if the debates roll around and Kerry refuses to answer these two critical questions - (1) would a President Kerry have ultimately decided to go to war with Iraq, and (2) does the war on terror go beyond hunting down some stateless terrorists - he'll come off like Dukakis' cold response to Bernard Shaw on the death penalty in 1988.

*Andrew Sullivan, who's also voting for Kerry:

No mention of democracy in Iraq or Afghanistan. No mention of the terrorist forces that are amassed there. No reference to the elections scheduled for January. No mention of Iran. And the whole point is about process - about how to wage a war, not whether it should be waged. This is a man who clearly wants the U.S. out of the region where our future is at stake, and who believes that simply by taking office, other powers can somehow pick up the slack. Memo to Kerry: no other powers can pick up the slack. They don't have the troops or the technology or the will. His strategy is pure defense. This sentence is his strongest threat: "Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response." So let's wait, shall we?

Also: "private drug research that has cured millions and saved my own life must be throttled to placate constituencies like the AARP."

Also: "I'm glad that Kerry has decided to use the FMA against Bush, as he should." (For a guy who excoriates Bush for not using the word "gay," Sullivan's awfully forgiving of Kerry making only the vaguest possible allusion to the issue, referring only to the "Constitution." Jon Stewart did a great bit where he played that clip and then had someone whisper in his ear and said, "wait, gay people want to do WHAT?").

And: "I definitely liked Kerry less at the end of it than at the beginning."

*Jay Reding thinks President Bush can tear up Kerry's approach with one word that was conspicuous by its absence: "Victory."

*I was only joking to friends about Kerry arriving in Boston on a water taxi because he couldn't find a swift boat, but Fred Kaplan at TNR reveals that those of us who had this thought weren't off base at all:

A few weeks back, a colleague of mine at TNR joked that the Kerry campaign should create a miniature river in the FleetCenter, in which the candidate and his "band of brothers" could wend their way toward the podium in a swift boat. Then came news that the Kerry campaign had actually hunted for a Vietnam-era swift boat to plunk down in the convention center. Alas, none was found, and Kerry had to settle for a water taxi ride with his boat mates.

Kaplan also notes a flaw in Kerry's invocation of the lessons of his combat service:

To Kerry supporters who argue otherwise, is it really necessary to point out . . . that the very men who dispatched Kerry to Vietnam were themselves decorated veterans?

(Of course, some, like LBJ, had fairly bogus combat decorations. But as to the architects of that war, the point stands). Kerry wants us to believe that his combat experience will be a restraint on going to war:

As President, I will wage this war with the lessons I learned in war. Before you go to battle, you have to be able to look a parent in the eye and truthfully say: “I tried everything possible to avoid sending your son or daughter into harm’s way. But we had no choice. We had to protect the American people, fundamental American values from a threat that was real and imminent.” So lesson one, this is the only justification for going to war.

But this leaves unanswered the critical question about our reluctance to use force to stop the march of terrorism in the 1990s: what will Kerry say to the parent or spouse or little child who has lost a loved one due to a terrorist attack that Kerry could have prevented if he'd gone to war? The possibility doesn't even enter into his calculations.


He said he would respond if America was attacked. Well, duh. I take something else from this distinction: he will not attack if America is provoked.

"I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as President."

This really intrigues me. I agree that Vietnam was a defense of the United States, inasmuch as we were trying to blunt the advance of Communism. So: only Nixon can go to China. (Only Kirk can go to Chronos, for you Star Trek geeks.) Only Kerry can confirm that Vietnam was a just war. This completely upends conventional wisdom about the Vietnamese war, and requires a certain amount of historical amnesia. Why does this get glossed over? The illegitimacy of the Vietnam war (non-UN approved, after all) is a key doctrine of the Church of the Boomers; to say that service in Vietnam was done in defense of the United States is like announcing that Judas Ischariot was the most faithful of the disciples. Imagine if you were a preacher who attempted such a revision. Imagine your private thrill when everyone in the congregation nodded assent. The past was more malleable than you had ever expected.

"The future doesn't belong to fear; it belongs to freedom."

A passive platitude. Try this: "The future cannot belong to fear. It must belong to freedom." Because that tells me you intend to shape history, not sit back on the couch and see how it all turns out. In any case, the two are not necessarily symmetrical; it is possible to be fearful and free, for a while. Ask the Brits in WW2. And just saying that the future belongs to freedom does not make it so, I fear. I think this is an appeal to those who believe that the administration has created a climate of fear so they can take away our freedoms. You know, the neocons who danced a jig of joy on 9/11 because they saw an excellent opportunity to subpoena library records.

And so on. All the stuff about restoring trust and credibility is nice, but note how no one is questioning the trust and credibility of the Brits, the French, the Russians and the UN, all of whom shared the same opinions about Iraqi capability. What it says to me is this: if John Kerry had been president after 9/11, he would have looked at all the intel about Iraq, studied its history, examined its strategic value, shaped up the nature of its leadership, and declined to depose Saddam.

Fine; I understand that position. I understand that he defended America by serving in Vietnam.

One question: did Vietnam attack America?

Ah! The Gulf of Tonkin incident and subsequent resolution made it seem as if they had. So he fell for that, as everyone did. He voted to wage war against Iraq because he fell for that, as everyone did. He's learned. Next time he needs hard proof, like a smoking crater in New York.

Make that another smoking crater in New York.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:03 AM | Politics 2004 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

And did anyone catch Kerry on Fox News Sunday? I did not see the whole thing, but when asked what exactly his plan is for dealing with terrorism and hostile foreign countries, Kerry says something to the effect of, "I can't answer that, you never know what might come up." Like another 9/11 maybe?

Posted by: Tom G. at August 1, 2004 10:56 PM
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