Political Hay

The American Chamberlain

Neville Kerry admits he’s a gambler in the Pre-9/11 Casino.

By 10.12.04

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Anybody who doubts where John Kerry stands in relation to history need only read the lengthy, ingratiating portrait of him by Matt Bai in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

Kerry is our Neville Chamberlain, assuring us that we are not really at war, that the seeming conflict is all a misunderstanding that can be cleared up with a little clever diplomacy, and that he will bring us "peace in our time."

After a flattering portrait of Kerry as cool-headed and unflappable on September 11th (he was caught on a newsreel walking calmly down the Capitol steps while those around him were distraught), Bai, who has been covering the Kerry campaign for the Times, begins by acknowledging that, as far as much of the Democratic Party is concerned, the "War on Terror" is all an invention of the Bush Administration.

Inside liberal think-tanks, there are Democratic foreign-policy experts who are challenging some of Bush's most basic assumptions about the post-9-11 world -- including, most provocatively, the very idea that we are, in fact in a war. . .

In the liberal view, the enemy … more closely resembles an especially murderous drug cartel.… Instead of military might, liberal thinkers believe, the moment calls for a combination of expansive diplomacy abroad and interdiction at home, an effort more akin to the war on drugs than to any conventional war of the last century.

Even Democrats who stress that combating terrorism should include a strong military option argue that the "war on terror" is a flawed construct. "We're not in a war on terror, in the liberal sense," says Richard Holbrooke, the Clinton-era diplomat who could well become Kerry's secretary of state. "The war on terror is like saying 'the war on poverty.' It's just a metaphor. What we're really talking about is winning the ideological struggle so that people stop turning themselves into suicide bombers."

Bai immediately tries to distance Kerry from these views, but he arrives at the same place by wandering through Kerry's tour of duty of dealing with "the shadowy world of international drug lords" on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "If you don't mind my saying, I think I was ahead of the curve on this dark side of globalization," Kerry tells Bai. "I think that the Senate committee reports on contras, narcotics and drugs, et cetera, is a seminal report." Kerry adds that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror."

As Bai notes, Kerry summed all this up in his 1997 book, The New War -- even though he acknowledges the book "barely mentioned the rise of Islamic extremism." "Kerry, a former prosecutor, was suggesting that the war, if one could call it that, was, if not winnable, then at least controllable." Then comes the quote that is already on the verge of becoming famous:

When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview [than Bush]. "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance," Kerry said. "As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life."

You may have caught that reference to "the dark side of globalization." It's a recurring theme.

"The challenge of beating back those nonstate actors -- not just Islamic terrorists but all kinds of rogue forces -- is what Kerry meant by the 'dark side of globalization,'" write Bai. "He came closest to articulating this as an actual foreign-policy vision in a speech he gave at UCLA last February. 'The war on terror is not a clash of civilizations,' he said then. 'It is a clash of civilization against chaos, of the best hopes of humanity against dogmatic fears of progress and the future.'"

All this leads exactly where you'd expect:

If Kerry's foreign-policy frame is correct, then law enforcement probably is the most important, though not the only, strategy, you can employ against such forces, who need passports and bank accounts and weapons in order to survive and flourish. Such a theory suggests that, in our grief and fury, we have overrated the military threat posed by Al Qaeda, paradoxically elevating what was essentially a criminal enterprise, albeit a devastatingly sophisticated and global one, into the ideological successor to Hitler and Stalin -- and thus conferring on the jihadists a kind of stature that might actually work in their favor, enabling them to attract more donations and more recruits.

In other words, if we just ignore them, they'll go away. And if we don't ignore them but fight back, then it's all our fault.

So what would Kerry do to solve all this?

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 says 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. . .

John Kerry sees himself as a king of ambassador-president, shuttling to world capitals and reintegrating America by force of personality, in the world community.

So what's wrong with this picture?

Well, first of all, it never seems to occur to either Bai or Kerry that Kerry's model of international drug lords as the template for Al Qaeda is wrong. (We'll skip the prostitution analogy for now and try to deal with serious things.) Drug lords are businessmen trying to make money. They kill people and try to bring down Third World governments as a means of extending and protecting their business. They are driven by greed, which, in the end, can be satiated.

Islamic terrorists are driven by religion, not money. Their motives are not economic, which is exactly the problem. Poverty and misery are not the underlying cause. In fact, the major appeal of Islamic fundamentalism has been among the educated elite. (Engineering students seem to make the best recruits.) Exposure to Western culture usually makes Muslim fundamentalists more radical, which is why Samuel Huntington has called it a "Clash of Civilizations." Al Qaeda does not want to blow New York off the map because it wants to sell more heroin. It wants to destroy America because it hates it and believes Islam is destined to rule the world.

So here will come John Kerry, shuffling around Europe and the Middle East, signing treaties, accepting promises, and assuring the folks back home that everything is all right.

On top of this comes the argument that terror is really as "law enforcement problem." Liberals don't have a very good track record here, either. For more than 25 years, beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1960s decisions in criminal procedure and the academically driven "deprisonization movement," liberals rooted around the country looking for the "root causes" of crime, always promising they were just ahead and that the problem was about to be solved. Meanwhile, crime soared.

Then after 1990, two things happened. First, states started reinforcing the death penalty. Second, Rudy Giuliani put into effect James Q. Wilson and Richard Hernnstein's "Broken Windows" thesis, which said that enforcing public order and policing small infractions was the way to prevent larger crimes. All of a sudden, crime began a precipitous, decade-long drop back to 1960s levels. The search for "root causes" was forgotten.

All this tells you what's about to happen if John Kerry is elected the next President. Not only does he not have the fortitude to fight the war on terror, he doesn't even believe we're in a war. Terror will be explained away as "crime" and ultimately "an aberration." Councils of world leaders will sit around mulling over the problem -- just as the U.N. now talks circles around itself while ignoring the situation in Iran and the Sudan.

Meanwhile, al Qaeda or some offshoot will continue burrowing until they accomplish their goal - another major terrorist attack on our soil. At that point, Kerry will have an explanation similar to Neville Chamberlain's: "Everything would have worked if only Hitler had kept his promises."

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About the Author
William Tucker is news editor for RealClearEnergy.org.