Alas, liberal conventional wisdom holds that Kerry's service in Vietnam is supposed to be some sort of force field protecting him from criticism on foreign policy. This is obviously nonsense. There are veterans - and there have been veteran presidential candidates - with every conceivable foreign policy position. Presumably they can't all be immune from criticism? If being a war hero makes you a statesman, Benedict Arnold would look better in the history books.
From my perspective, Kerry's Vietnam record is admirable but the conclusions he's drawn from it are execrable. As a recently returned veteran, and congressional candidate, Kerry told the Harvard Crimson in 1970, "I'm an internationalist. I'd like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations."
Kerry's obviously more sophisticated than that now, but the story gives us a sense of what political lessons Kerry took from the war. Today, he says America's foreign policy must be dedicated to "mending" our relationships with the United Nations and "Europe," i.e. France.
Moreover, despite all of Kerry's bravado about having carried an M-16, Vietnam seems to have made him gun-shy when it comes to using force. Indeed, as George Will recently noted, in 1991 Kerry opposed militarily forcing Saddam out of Kuwait because to do so would constitute the abandonment of "the theory of deterrence." That's like not wanting to waste your shark repellent - even after the shark bites off your leg.
In short, John Kerry is very, very reluctant to use force and he thinks there are more important priorities than the war on terror. Indeed, now he even says his vote for the second Iraq war was really just a vote to let the president threaten a war - hence upholding the policy of deterrence!
Meanwhile, George Bush, whose relevant military experience has been the last three years as commander-in-chief, has a very different foreign policy record. I'd summarize it this way: We're at war and it's better to be unpopular and win it than popular and lose it.
Bush says he's first and foremost a war president. Kerry says he's a jobs president first, then an education president, an environmental president, a taking-thorns-out-of-kittens'-paws president, and - oh yeah - a guy in charge of some military stuff.
Let them bring it on.
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