Whose mistakes are worse?

Posted: Oct 29, 2004 12:00 AM

Take heart America. John Kerry is too smart to make the kind of mistakes George W. Bush has made. His election (should it come to pass) will signal the dawn of a new era in which sophisticated internationalists will restore America's place in the world with skillful diplomacy and sound multilateralism. It will be the kind of administration that will make The New York Times and CBS News proud.
For starters, President Kerry will persuade France and Germany to send troops to Iraq so that our guys can get a little R-and-R on the Riviera. Though it may have seemed that France was firmly opposed to liberating Iraq; and though it looked like France truly intended to set herself up as the counterweight to American global influence; and though France, Russia and China were lobbying to remove all sanctions against Iraq; and while some cynics may have noticed that many French concerns were doing extremely well on the UN's corrupt oil-for-food program; Kerry will overcome all of that.

 He'll also somehow finesse the small matter that the populations of France and Germany are adamantly opposed to the Iraq venture (as indeed was Great Britain's -- Blair supported us at considerable personal risk). Unlike Blair, Chirac and Schroeder agree with their people. Still, John Kerry is very bright. He is fluent in French and can say s'il vous plait. And presumably that clever Richard Holbrooke can say bitte.

 Further, Kerry will restore our standing with the United Nations. Why just in the last few days, Kerry has seized upon a report (which now turns out to be false, but that's a detail) provided by Mohamed el-Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The U.N. report claimed that the United States had failed to secure 380 tons of high explosives at the Al-Qaqaa site. Kerry demonstrated his confidence in the U.N. by immediately accepting the report as true and declaring it to be "one of the great blunders of this administration."

 Except that, oops, it seems there were only 3 tons of missing explosives, and all of it probably disappeared before Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

 Still, if there's one thing John Kerry knows, it's that the United Nations is the font of international legitimacy. When young Kerry first ran for Congress in 1970, he told the Harvard Crimson: "I'm an internationalist. I'd like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations." He has matured in the intervening years, and yet ... In 1994, when President Clinton was contemplating U.S. action in Bosnia, Sen. Kerry was asked whether the Balkan War was worth losing American lives. He said: "If you mean dying in the course of the United Nations effort, yes, it is worth that. If you mean dying American troops unilaterally going in with some false presumption that we can affect the outcome, the answer is unequivocally no."

 Now that should make Kofi Annan (whose son seems to have made out really well on the oil-for-food program, too, but never mind), Jacques Chirac and all the mullahs of Iran fairly glow with pleasure!

 Note Kerry's assumption that if the United States acted "unilaterally" it would necessarily be doing so under a "false presumption that we can affect the outcome." Why is the presumption that American action can affect an outcome false, but an identical U.N. presumption true? And just wondering, wasn't American action rather decisive in World War I, World War II, the Gulf War, Grenada, Panama and too many other places to name?

 While Kerry dresses his foreign policy as "internationalism" and "working with allies," in fact it amounts to distrust of American arms. Kerry opposes actions that smack of American self-interest. He was against the re-flagging of Kuwaiti oil tankers, the Gulf War, the liberation of Grenada (which he called a "bully's show of force against a weak Third World nation") and the bombing of Libya following that country's terrorist attack on our troops in Germany, and he now says he's against the Iraq War. This reflexive suspicion of America's need to defend herself is bad enough in a college professor. In a president, it could spell disaster.

 Kerry is right about one thing: He would certainly not make the kind of mistakes George W. Bush has made. Bush's errors (and of course, being human, he has committed some) are those of a man with a passion to defend America. Kerry's errors would be those of a livelong dove who has shown himself very wary of expanding America's power.

 I know which mistakes I'd prefer. Let's vote.