There is a natural impulse to pounce and hold John Kerry to his latest pronouncement on Iraq -- namely, that it would be Kerry presidential doctrine to pull out of Iraq in the near future, just as it was Kerry anti-war-protester doctrine to pull out of Vietnam in the past. Partly, that impulse comes from the desire to reconcile the Kerry flips with the Kerry flops, draw a straight line, and be done with it. And partly, it's the fact that such a line of Kerry thought really does exist beneath his absurdly baroque vacillations. The guy was against the war in Vietnam, and he's against the war in Iraq -- for now, anyway.
"It is never easy to discuss what has gone wrong while our troops are in constant danger," he said in a "major" speech on Iraq this week as he prepared to discuss what he believes has "gone wrong while our troops are in constant danger." In so doing, he opened two windows into his thinking (current?) on Iraq. "We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure," he scolded. And: "Iraq was a profound diversion from that war (on terror) and the battle against our greatest enemy, Osama bin Laden and the terrorists."
On "trading a dictator for a chaos" -- much could be said about the crashing infelicity of "a" chaos, but I resist -- Kerry expresses a distressing nostalgia, maybe not so much for the ancient regime of Saddam Hussein as for what has been dubbed the "decade of defiance" preceding his removal. The era he pines for -- beginning, say, with the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 (on which Iraq left still-unexplained fingerprints) and ending after U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 was adopted unanimously in 2002 -- was not exactly a run-up to endless summer.
With Iraq having flouted 17 Security Council resolutions calling for its disarmament, international law was rendered impotent. With Islamic jihadists having murdered 3,000 Americans on 9/11 -- the hellish climax of more than two decades of attacks on Americans and other Westerners -- the non-jihadist world was struck at its heart. While the WMD that assorted intelligence agencies indicated were in Iraq have not been found, Saddam Hussein's drive to procure WMD remains beyond dispute. Put it all together and "a chaos" was looming and "a dictator" was doing what he could to, um, bring it on, including providing safe haven for Al Qaeda members.
Maybe Kerry yearns for Saddam's Iraq because he also believes, as he told us this week, "Iraq is a profound diversion from ... the battle against our greatest enemy, Osama bin Laden and the terrorists." According to Kerry, the war in Iraq might as well be an extraterrestrial expedition for all it has to do with the global war (World War IV) provoked by the Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The president knows better: "Coalition forces now serving in Iraq," George W. Bush told the U.N. General Assembly this week, "are confronting the terrorists and foreign fighters, so peaceful nations around the world will never have to face them within our own borders." Britain's Tony Blair, also this week, described the conflict in Iraq as "the crucible in which the future of this global war on terrorism will be decided."
After all we have learned about interlocking, overlapping Islamic terror groups spanning the globe, John Kerry's truncated analysis shows -- and I just hate to say it -- a troubling lack of nuance. How do you cordon off jihadist war in Iraq from jihadist war in the rest of the world? Kerry should realize that our enemies are linked by something stronger than politics or blood or nationality. They are linked by a belief that in fighting, beheading and killing non-Muslims, they are doing Allah's work. This belief took them to New York City. It took them to Beslan. It took them to Madrid. It takes them all the time to Jerusalem. And it's taking them to Baghdad.
And in Baghdad they await the results of our presidential election. In a way, this draws another line between John Kerry's past and present. In the early 1970s, Kerry did much to further the aims of the anti-war movement, a movement credited by, among others, General Vo Nguyen Giap, commander of North Vietnam's armed forces, with helping the North Vietnamese to victory. As a presidential candidate, Kerry has become the anti-war candidate. What does his message, that Iraq was a mistake, convey to our foes in the field? Not American resolve, that's for sure. More like a mega-attack of Vietnam Syndrome. And that doesn't help anyone in the crucible.
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