In one of my favorite episodes of "M*A*S*H," Hawkeye and Trapper John were desperate to procure a medical incubator. They found their way to a corrupt supply sergeant who had three. The sergeant explained that he couldn't give the docs one of his incubators because, if he did, then he wouldn't have three anymore. He'd only have two, and two is worse than three.
This seems like the perfect metaphor for the "Kerry Doctrine." With the constant promises from almost every speaker at the Democratic Convention that a President Kerry would create "strong alliances" as his backdrop, John Kerry declared this week that he will pursue a "more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side."
You know some Kerry handlers cringed when the word "sensitive" slipped out of Kerry's mouth. "Sensitive" isn't one of the adjectives most people want describing America's war on terrorism. It's like promising weapons systems "softer than a baby's bottom."
Regardless, for Kerry the vital issue is playing nicely with others. The New Republic's Peter Beinart recently wrote, "Intellectually, Kerry knows he must show he'd go after the terrorists with a vengeance. But that's not where his heart lies. The topic that arouses his greatest passion-the one that has guided his entire career-is improving America's relations with the world." In his 1997 book, Kerry called for the creation of an "entirely new, multilateral code of behavior." In 1993, during the confirmation hearings for Warren Christopher, Kerry called for "an all-out effort to strengthen international institutions." Two years later, Kerry broke with many Senate Democrats and voted against lifting the Bosnian arms embargo, mostly because he wanted Europeans to like us. The Washington Post reported that when Bill Clinton called America the "indispensable nation" in his second inaugural address, Kerry lamented Clinton's "arrogant, obnoxious tone."
And, Beinart notes, "even the 1991 Gulf war, which Kerry's aides now cite as a model of multilateral cooperation, struck him as suspiciously unilateral at the time." Back then, Kerry said, the anti-Saddam coalition "lacks a true United Nations collective security effort, with the full measure of international cooperation and burden-sharing."
This is all consistent with liberal rhetoric for the last three years. How many times have we been told that George W. Bush "squandered" the good will of the world "community" after 9/11? The assumption behind all of this seemed to be that anything which cost America the support of allies like France or Germany was, in effect, too costly. In other words, the means-"strong alliances"-are more important than the ends-winning the war on terror, toppling Saddam, and so forth. Listening to these folks, one gets the sense that America's greatest foreign policy triumph was to get sucker-punched on 9/11 because it resulted in sympathetic newspaper headlines in Paris and Berlin.
Consider Kerry's seemingly final explanation for why he voted for a war he now condemns Bush for waging. He says he wanted Bush to have the authority to go to war in order to build up a mighty coalition to oust Saddam. But he says he didn't think Bush should actually go to war without such a coalition. Now that we know there weren't any obvious, imminently usable, stockpiles of WMDs, that case looks better today than it did then. But Kerry deserves little credit on that score, since he too was certain that Saddam had such weapons.
Still, I agree that a mightier coalition than the one we had would have been nice. Indeed, if President Bush could have enlisted that indestructible ghost army from the third Lord of the Rings movie to do our fighting for us, that would have been really great. But, in the real world, Kerry's position puts the cart before the horse. Was the goal to topple Saddam and secure the WMDs, or was the goal to get a bunch of folks to do it with us? Indeed, Kerry thought the first Gulf War Coalition couldn't meet Kerry's standard.
Now, there is one caveat to the Kerry Doctrine of international hand-holding. If America is attacked, he says he wouldn't hesitate to respond with force. That's nice, I guess. But what else is he going to say? "If America is attacked, I promise to play Boggle in the Oval Office!" He makes it sound like he's the first President to have the courage to commit to a policy of retaliation to attacks. Has any president actually rejected such a policy?
Kerry promises "I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security." Again, great. But no major candidate has ever promised to do otherwise. More importantly, the U.N. wouldn't need to have a veto over our national security with a President Kerry in office, since no situation obviously meets his standards for force except a direct attack. Kerry's like the sergeant from "M*A*S*H" who doesn't care what the incubators are supposed to be used for, so long as they're never used-for Kerry, no goal is worth losing allies, because keeping allies is Kerry's only goal.