Though the Democratic soap opera debates will continue to play on television, by the end of this week it's more than likely that Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts will have too commanding a lead for the other would-be nominees to overcome. Howard Dean's mythological ability to raise money on the Internet disappeared with his "I have a scream" concession speech in Iowa. His campaign is about out of money and while it may continue, he will not long be a force in the 2004 race. General Wesley Clark is still not ready for prime time, and Sen. John Edwards of South Carolina is glib and pretty, but barely vice presidential material. The straight jacket candidates -- Sen. Joe Lieberman who must be crazy to think that he can win as a moderate in an immoderate party, and Cong. Dennis Kucinich, who is just plain loony -- will be less of a force than Rev. Al, who will stay in the race to boost his influence and to take over the Jesse Jackson role at the convention. That leaves the Dems -- and maybe all of us -- with Kerry.
It is time to start taking Mr. Kerry seriously, if only because he will be a considerable political force against President Bush. There is a lot of overconfidence among Republicans this year, and all of it -- not just some of it -- is misplaced. Mr. Kerry has a great deal going for him. First, is the fact that he is a pluperfect liberal.
The Americans for Democratic Action give Kerry a 93% lifetime rating. He is a reliable hard-core liberal, which provides him his second advantage: the liberal media, which is a powerful weapon that he will be able to take for granted. The media love Kerry because he is one of them. Being a liberal northeastern elitist is the only qualification a Democrat needs to have the media squarely in his corner. The coverage of Kerry will be unerringly positive and constant, reflected by news reporters, columnists and television commentators praising him and comparing favorably his every remark against Mr. Bush. The constant drumbeat of pro-Kerry coverage will convince many undecided voters to vote for Kerry even though his positions on virtually every issue are far to the left of the American public. Some of those positions, when considered even with a little judgment and discernment, should disqualify him from the presidency. Consider his Clintonian position on terrorism.
In the South Carolina debate last week, Tom Brokaw asked Kerry if Mr. Bush had exaggerated the threat of terrorism. His answer adopted the Clinton approach to terrorism, which is what got us to the sorry state of vulnerability we were in on 9-11. Kerry said,
The war on terror is less -- it is occasionally military, and it will be, and it will continue to be for a long time…But it's primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world -- the very thing this administration is worst at. And most importantly, the war on terror is also an engagement in the Middle East economically, socially, culturally, in a way that we haven't embraced, because otherwise we're inviting a clash of civilizations. And I think this administration's arrogant and ideological policy is taking America down a more dangerous path. I will make America safer than they are.
No, Mr. Kerry. You will not make us safer by saying terrorism is a matter for law enforcement to handle. That approach by the Clintons left Osama bin Laden at large in 1996 and 1997 when the Sudanese government offered him to us on a silver platter, and Clinton refused. As then-National Security Adviser Sandy Berger explained in an interview with then-CNN star Peter Arnett, we lacked sufficient evidence to indict Osama in a court of law. The war against terrorism is not a matter for the FBI. It is a war, and has to be fought that way. Leaving it to the law enforcement community ignores a threat that is beyond law enforcement's ability to defeat. You cannot defeat terrorists -- and the nations that support them -- by indicting people. You have to kill them.
Kerry's slip into the "cultural" causes of terrorism is as revealing as it is wrong. Poverty and lack of social spending do not cause terrorism. If they did, the world's poorest nations would be the primary sources of terrorism. But they are not. Terrorist organizations haven't sprung up from Eritrea or Burkina Faso. Terrorists aren't the impoverished. They are generally more affluent and better-educated than the truly deprived. Terrorists come from -- and are supported by -- some of the world's wealthiest nations such as Saudi Arabia. They arise from a culture of hatred, not poverty. Like it or not, this is a war of cultures: Islamic fascism against Christianity and Judaism. The answer is not cooperation with the UN and others who have always turned a blind eye to the terrorist-backing nations, and the ideology of hatred from which terrorism comes at us. Kerry is as much a multinationalist as Jacques Chirac. Their mutual solution -- turning the problem over to the United Nations to solve -- is not a solution. It's an abdication of American security to nations and global pseudo-authorities that have no interest in preserving America's way of life. Kerry's solution is Clinton's, and it is a proven failure.
JOHN KERRY IS NOT A CONFUSED man. His service in Vietnam traumatized him, and created a distrust of America and its interests. One warrior-intellectual characterized the trauma of Vietnam. There were two kinds of men who returned from Vietnam, he told me. One came back disappointed but enormously impressed by his fellow soldiers. The other -- like Kerry -- came back convinced that the US lacked resolve to fight any war that lasted more than a few days. Kerry, and those like him, saw only chaos and deception, and have never gotten past that. What is worse, Kerry imputes to the Middle East what he saw in Vietnam.
In Islamic fascism, we face an enemy that is anachronistic and culturally backward. But the Islamic terrorists are not as culturally remote from us as the Viet Cong soldier was. Many of the Islamic fascists are Western-educated and both understand and hate the secular social structure they see in the West. In Vietnam, the insurgents and the North Vietnamese regulars came from a subsistence agricultural society and understood little about us or our way of life. They didn't want to destroy America, only conquer its ally. Terrorists' learned from the French in Dienbienphu: Western powers can be defeated by a determined ally that is willing to sacrifice whatever it may take simply to outlast them on the battlefield. And people like John Kerry were the ones who can be outlasted and defeated, because they cannot resolve themselves to whatever sacrifice is needed to win.
When Kerry returned from Vietnam, he had learned both pessimism and opportunism. His record is a jumble of it. In 1991 -- when the UN Security Council had passed a resolution authorizing military action to remove the Iraqi invaders from Kuwait -- Kerry voted against the use of American force when President Bush 41 asked for a war resolution from the Senate. In 2002, Kerry voted for the war resolution and in 2003 voted against the $87 billion special appropriation President Bush 43 wanted to pay for the continuation of the war and to help structure an Iraqi democracy. The 1991 version of John Kerry opposed use of American military power in the most extreme circumstance, when an ally had been conquered and even the UN was resolved to stand up for it. The current version of Kerry drifts with the political wind. Both are the real John Kerry: the opportunist with no real values, incapable of leadership.
We can expect very little else from Kerry, who will beat the drum of criticism of the President's actions incessantly. He will call for investigations of the pre-Iraq campaign intelligence. He will call for more reliance on international cooperation and meet with foreign leaders and even Kofi Annan throughout the campaign to show how he will lead us back into the internationalist fold. And if he is elected president, he will surrender the progress we have made against terrorism. He will govern as Clinton did, by the hour or minute, depending on focus groups to make his foreign and domestic policies. Hard decisions will not be made, and our enemies will regain the upper hand.
Mr. Kerry served his country well in Vietnam, but not since. If he becomes president, his ultimate distrust of America will become the force behind many little surrenders of American power and influence around the world. Conservatives who now threaten to stay home, rightly angry at Mr. Bush for his immigration policy and abject failure to control government spending, should think hard about the ultimate question: Will we be better off four years from now if Mr. Kerry resumes Clinton's failure to act decisively? If we do not act decisively as Mr. Bush has done, our enemies surely will. John Kerry is a huge risk that America cannot afford to take.
TAS Contributing editor Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and now often appears as a talking warhead on radio and television.