Here's an idea for Bush campaign ad:
Scene: Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and their cronies are in their cave, eating popcorn. The cave is dimly illuminated by the light of a television set.
They're watching a clip from the Wisconsin Democratic debate.
Questioner: Senator Kerry, President Bush . described himself as a war president. He said he's got war on his mind as he considers these policies and decisions he has to make. If you were elected, would you see yourself as a war president?
Kerry: "I'd see myself first of all as a jobs president, as a health care president, as an education president and also an environmental president. . So I would see myself as a very different kind of global leader than George Bush."
Cut to Osama and Mullah Omar high-fiving each other, throwing the popcorn up in the air. One henchman in the background is grinning while waving a "Kerry for President" banner.
Fade to black.
Raise text: Re-Elect George W. Bush. The right man at the right time.
Now, I have no idea if it's a good political commercial or not. But it's the sort of commercial I'd like to see. And if John Kerry and George W. Bush have their way, I probably will. The president insists he's "looking forward" to a debate on his handling of foreign policy. And Senator Kerry says constantly, "If the White House wants to make this election about national security, I have three words they understand: 'Bring, it, on!"
Despite Kerry's instinctual condescension - "I have three words they understand" - I'm delighted he's so adamant.
Because for the first time since 1988, foreign policy is an issue. In 2000, the distinction between Gore and Bush was blurry. George Bush opposed nation-building and advocated a "humble" foreign policy. And Gore was a "hawk" in an administration that conducted a war against a dictator (Slobodan Milosevic) without U.N. support and without any "imminent threat" to provoke him.
Now things are reversed. Bush "arrogantly" supports nation-building while the presumptive Democratic nominee voted no on the $87 billion for Iraqi reconstruction, which means Kerry is opposed to the most important American effort at nation-building since Douglas MacArthur ruled Japan. And he also thinks making nice to the U.N. - not making war on our enemies - should be the top priority.
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.