Kerry Should Be Challenging Bush's Basic Assumptions On Foreign Policy
I am half way through the audio book version of Woodward’s “Plan of Attack”, and the book is remarkable for the author’s ability to report on so much without analyzing what he is hearing and placing any of it in a context of what we now know. I plan to write specifically on the book in a future post, but it is clear why Bush personally likes the book even if those around him do not. Woodward’s account builds a plausible case for what I call the “Benign Interpretation” theory, which in essence establishes the meme that 1) Bush is actually blessed with decent instincts in dealing with the military and focusing on the threat at hand; 2) after 9/11 Bush focused specifically on doing whatever was necessary to protect the homeland, thereby spawning the Bush Doctrine of preemption; 3) Bush came to office committed to facilitating events to directly implement the existing policy of regime change in Iraq, no matter how he could justify it, because Saddam was a threat in that region; 4) Bush was a victim of the confluence of two damaging streams, one being terrible intelligence from a variety of sources, and the other being a Vice President and Defense Secretary bullying their way into forcing events faster than the Commander in Chief was ready to at that time, and therefore hijacking foreign policy; and 5) Bush deciding after 9/11 that it was the duty of the United States of America to assume the role of liberator of oppressed peoples of the world.
I am not ascribing the Benign Interpretation theory to Bush’s actions myself, but I do think that it is the mantra that Bush’s defenders use to support him and attack those who oppose him. It is also clear that even if you accept the Benign Interpretation of Bush’s national security and foreign policies, there are gaping holes in it and other areas that still call into question his fitness for a second term. These include 1) his lack of focus and action against the Al Qaeda threat pre 9/11; 2) his all-too-willingness to mix the post 9/11 anti-terror effort with the preexisting desire to get Saddam at any means possible; 3) the damage he did to the internationally-supported war on terror by his near-unilateral diversion of the anti-terror effort away from an unfinished Afghanistan into the war of choice in Iraq; 4) his willingness to be pushed by Cheney into a war based on intelligence he himself wasn’t sold on; 5) his near-total disregard for the well-documented concerns of many experts on the pitfalls and long-term challenges resulting from the occupation; 6) his willingness to place the full financial burden for nation building in Iraq on the taxpayers of the United States at a time of unmet needs here at home and an unwillingness to modify his tax cut policies; 7) his failure despite repeated opportunities to develop a multinational burden-sharing effort in both Afghanistan and Iraq when such a burden could have been shared with better diplomacy; 8) having Cheney still there in a second term to repeat these mistakes all over again, instead of having an effective and moderating counterbalance close by to steer him to better outcomes, like he did in Texas (Bob Bullock); and lastly but not least 9) his interpretation of his job and that of our military to be an army of liberation throughout the world.
My point in all of this is that even if you want to give Bush the benefit of the doubt and defend most or all of his actions to date on national security, foreign policy, and the war on terror by using the Benign Interpretation theory, you cannot defend against most of the gaping holes I outlined above. Even if you want to give Bush a pass for taking out Saddam and “liberating” the Iraqis from the regime, and even if you want to give him a pass for allegedly being mislead about the WMDs and Saddam-Al Qaeda links, he still does not get a pass for allowing Cheney and Rummy to drive his foreign policy ahead of him and then escape responsibility for the outcome, because it can happen all again in a second term. Even if you give him a pass for toppling Saddam, he doesn’t get a pass for not paying attention to the now-validated concerns about what we would be up against in the occupation and the acceptance of silly assumptions and lack of planning by his team for the resulting difficulties. Even if you want to give him a pass on his war on terror because we haven’t yet been hit again, he doesn’t get a pass for destroying and then being unwilling to rebuild the international anti-terror coalition that he assembled right after 9/11. Even if you want to give him a pass for eliminating a threat to Israel, he doesn’t get a pass for virtually destroying the Middle East peace process. And even if you want to give him a pass for liberating the Iraqi people, he doesn’t get a pass for telling Congress and the world that the war was about WMDs, UN resolutions, and Saddam’s ties to terrorism, and then claiming after those arguments fell apart that it was about liberating the Iraqi people.
John Kerry still as yet has not put forward a compelling alternate foreign policy for the 9/11 world. I think it is possible to do so, while still accepting the Bush policy of preemption and the realities on the ground in Iraq. How? First, Kerry must remind voters that the original focus was supposed to be on fighting terrorism and responding to actual threats against the United States, not nation-building. As such, it must be a priority for the US to stabilize Iraq while not making it worse, and getting the country into the hands of the Iraqi people, the Arab League, and the UN as soon as possible. Our armed forces cannot and should not be tied down in a shooting gallery in Iraq for years when the war on terror is paramount. Second, we need to finish what we started in Afghanistan with regards to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Third, we are made no safer by occupying countries only to reward GOP campaign contributors with contracts paid for with the blood of our soldiers and the “liberated” people. And fourth, Kerry needs to go right at Bush’s messianic zeal to be the world’s liberator. The American people never gave their permission to Bush for him to use the world’s mightiest military to be God’s instrument for justice in the world. We have never had that debate in this country, and we certainly didn’t hear about this new mission from candidate Bush in 2000, who was against nation-building and wanted a “humble” foreign policy, but now seems to think that it is the obligation of American taxpayers to finance this mission solely while needs are unmet here at home and while tax cuts and deficits destroy our long-term fiscal stability. It is not the mission of America’s military and specifically the Reserves and Guard, many of whom are your neighbors, to have their lives put on hold or destroyed to fight wars of liberation anywhere in the world on Bush or Cheney’s whim, when we have a war against terror that should be the primary focus. Wars of liberation or to stop oppression and slaughter are the job of NATO or other coalitions, and yes, even the UN, by having the US shame them into action. But is not the job or financial burden of the United States to liberate people unilaterally, and our founding fathers certainly felt this way. The voters should have the chance to vote on this assumed obligation and whether or not we should be the world’s policeman, judge, jury, and executioner, and pick up the tab for doing so.
John Kerry should be pressing the debate towards where we go from here, and why Bush is assuming that he can cash a check that the American people never wrote him. If George W. Bush has the courage of his convictions, then he will have no problem looking the American people in the eye and telling them that it is our job to liberate peoples of the world and bring freedom to them by military means when he decides to do so. John Kerry should have no hesitancy to engage Bush in this debate, and ask the American people if they are willing in a second term to unilaterally assume the military and financial responsibility of being the world’s liberator, as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney see fit. If Bush and Cheney want to make the issue about judgment, then let’s have that debate.