The Kerry campaign has decided to go on offense on what many perceive to be George W. Bush's strong point -- keeping America safe from terrorists. Would Kerry really do a better job at making America "safer and stronger" in a dangerous world? I have my doubts.
The line pushed by the Kerry campaign is that by taking us into an "unnecessary war" in Iraq, and "alienating our allies" Bush has weakened America and made us less safe. Given that the senator from Massachusetts voted to authorize the "unnecessary war" and his running mate, Senator Edwards, stated that he would have gone to war in Iraq even without U.N. approval, this charge is rather, well, Kerryesque. Now that Kerry has decided that his real position on Iraq is that he wanted to authorize a threat of force, but not its actual use, he feels free to criticize the president for sending troops to die in unnecessary wars. One problem with this demonstration is that "nuancing" positions every few months depending on the political climate does not make for good foreign policy; it makes for disaster.
But getting beyond Kerry's wavering leadership skills, how has the war in Iraq made America "weaker" or "less safe?" One argument is that it has bred hatred in the Muslim world against the United States and helped al Qaeda recruit thousands of new terrorists. The fact is, however, that in the 10 years prior to the invasion of Iraq, al Qaeda or related organizations bombed the World Trade Center, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the USS Cole, and, of course carried out the September 11th attacks that killed 3,000 people. Al Qaeda did not seem to have any problem getting recruits before the Iraq war. Those thousands of recruits that graduated from Afghan training camps apparently hated America even before George W. Bush took office.
There is scant evidence that the American ouster of Saddam Hussein (who was responsible for the death of more Muslims than anyone in history) has been a major spark in motivating many Muslims, not already so disposed, to devote their lives to terrorism. Though the U.S. has been predictably excoriated in the Arab press, the protests in Cairo and Damascus couldn't hold a candle to those in San Francisco and London. And the least that can be said of George W. Bush's conduct of the War on Terror (including our actions in Iraq) is that it has resulted in the death or capture of thousands of those would-be a Qaeda murderers -- including many senior al-Qaeda leaders.
The other main argument is that by "going it alone" in Iraq, against the wishes of Saddam's arms merchants, the French and the Russians, we have squandered the "sympathy" we had from the rest of the world after September 11th. But aside from sympathy, have we really lost anything that makes us less safe and less strong?
AS HE OUTLINED IN his December 3rd address to the Council on Foreign Relations, John Kerry believes that the U.S. will be "respected" throughout the world if he, as president, prostrates himself before the U.N. to personally "affirm that the United States has rejoined the community of nations," and vows never again to take any military action of which Security Council permanent members, and the supreme wielders of moral authority, France, Russia, and communist China, may disapprove. That may make American liberals feel warm and fuzzy, but I doubt it will win us much "respect." Making the U.N. Security Council a partner in our national security decisions certainly won't make us safer and stronger.
Western Europeans have a history of not liking American foreign policy. Certainly, America's foreign policy, as is true of that of any nation, seeks to protect its own interests. But America was, and still is, called the "leader of the free world" for a reason. And many western Europeans, perhaps too proud to admit that America is, in fact, their benefactor, refuse to recognize that American power in anyway is helping them, and are forced into believing that American foreign policy must instead have some sinister motivation (such as "imperialism.") Looking back to the 1980s, it is instructive to recall that despite fierce opposition from many western European populations (and from John Kerry), the dangerous cowboy president Ronald "Ray-Gun" went forward with plans to deploy new missiles in Europe to counter Soviet moves. To many Europeans, the United States under Reagan was just as dangerous to the world as was the Soviet Union, and Reagan's "provocative" actions were not seen as defending Europe, but as manifestations of unsophisticated American brute force in a struggle between two superpowers in which the European people had no real interest. The result was that we became less beloved in places like Belgium, but we also won the Cold War without a firing shot as the Soviet empire imploded. Was that a trade off that made us less safe and less strong? I don't know. That's a close call.
Similarly, what has our "arrogance" today cost us? The possibility of France and Germany and Russia sending a few thousand troops to Iraq? No, not even the suave John Kerry could have performed that miracle. Would better relations with the never all-that- cooperative French make us safer and stronger than not having Saddam in power in Iraq? We now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there were significant contacts between al-Qaeda and Saddam's Iraq. But since we cannot yet demonstrate a "collaborative" relationship, many Democrats claim that those links were of no threat to us. But on what basis do these anti-war Democrats think that those al-Qaeda contacts would never have turned "collaborative?" And since we know that Saddam did provide direct aid to other terrorist groups, wasn't it just as much of a threat to us that Saddam's Iraq might have shared its chemical or biological know-how or inventory with any number of anti-American terrorist groups, not just al-Qaeda? The removal of that threat makes me feel a little bit safer than I would getting a gentle, approving smile from Jacques Chirac.
THE FACT IS, IN THE MOST important tasks that most of our European allies can help us with in the War on Terror -- intelligence gathering and the arresting of terrorist suspects -- there has been no fall back in cooperation since the Iraq war because our interests are aligned. The French and Germans don't have any overriding commercial entanglements with al Qaeda like they had with Saddam, so they are just as anxious to see Islamic terrorists (at least those operating outside of the Levant) dealt a blow as are we.
And it is also worth noting that since Bush started fighting the War on Terror, not only do we continue to have the cooperation of European intelligence services, we have also received much greater cooperation from some formerly less than fully cooperative frontline governments like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Libya (not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan). That, in case you are wondering, makes us both safer and stronger.
Regardless of what some may say about how Bush's actions have lost us "sympathy" or "credibility" in the world, you can be sure that when Bush starts to rattle his saber, our enemies sit up at take notice. They know that when Bush threatens the use of force, he means it. Now what if, God help us, John Kerry becomes president, and there is a crisis somewhere -- say North Korea. Say we dutifully go to the U.N. and the U.N. tells the North Koreans that they had better stop what they are doing or the U.N. will get very mad. And to support that threat president Kerry deploys a large military force to Asia and gets a resolution from the Congress authorizing him to use (or threaten?) force. What are the North Korean's going to think? They're going to look at Kerry's position on the Iraq war and they're going to think, well here's a president who already said that he believes in making empty threats. And so president Kerry will either back down or launch a war that a credible threat may have avoided. Is that what the Democrats are talking about when they tell us that Kerry would make us safer and stronger?
The proposition that Kerry would make us safer and stronger is preposterous. But can the Kerry campaign convince enough Americans of it to get him elected president? It's quite possible, and that is scary.
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