John Kerry may have established a reputation for being anti-war early in his career. But he’s no more immune to the powers of the Washington foreign policy establishment than anyone else, and has become more hawkish as his stature has risen.
Kerry made a name for himself as a spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War in the 1970s, but he was one of many Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002 and was an early proponent of implementing a no-fly zone in Libya in 2011.
He may have attacked Bush on the Iraq War in the 2004 election, but he has become more open to foreign intervention over time, and his newest idea may be his most hawkish yet.
In a meeting in the White House Situation Room this week, Kerry argued for “immediate” airstrikes on Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile before Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey shot down the plan.
Dempsey informed Kerry that the Air Force could not simply drop a few bombs, or fire a few missiles, at targets inside Syria: To be safe, the U.S. would have to neutralize Syria’s integrated air-defense system, an operation that would require 700 or more sorties. At a time when the U.S. military is exhausted, and when sequestration is ripping into the Pentagon budget, Dempsey is said to have argued that a demand by the State Department for precipitous military action in a murky civil war wasn’t welcome.
It’s difficult to understand why Kerry, who has been a vocal opponent of wars in the past, is so adamant about getting involved in Syria, where the people we would be helping are not exactly our friends.
There have been plenty of times throughout history when a hawkish foreign policy may have been a good idea, but this isn’t one of them. Hurting Assad helps the rebels, and that doesn’t necessarily help us. We don’t get to discriminate between the freedom fighters and the terrorists, as much as we wish we could.
In his acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, Kerry hit hard on the Iraq War:
Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn’t make it so. Saying we can fight a war on the cheap doesn’t make it so. And proclaiming mission accomplished certainly doesn’t make it so.
Try substituting Syria for Iraq in that statement, and there’s some useful advice that Kerry should think about before he advocates getting so quickly and heavily involved in Syria.