More Advice For Kerry: Channel TR In Challenging Bush Foreign Policy
I have given several different ideas over the last month or so to the Kerry folks on how to differentiate himself from Bush on foreign policy and still be supportive of the troops and the war on terror. Several more ideas struck me today as I read various accounts of declining voter support for the Iraq war and rising voter concerns that the invasion made us less safe from terrorism.
First, portray yourself as a foreign policy realist, in contrast to the naive, never-wrong, inspired-by-God Bush. Tell voters that you will surround yourself with the best bipartisan team of experienced foreign policy and military hands in the country, people who have wisdom in dealing with the world as it is, not as some cabal wants it to be, and who are not driven to force the world to agree with us by force. In other words, demonstrate a preference for a geopolitical savvy rather than dangerous ill-advised fervor and gradually gain voters' comfort for that view and a desire to use whatever works, even if it doesn't follow an idealistic script. Take the world as it is, build upon the aspirations of the local people to incrementally build democratic societies without demanding everything our way. For example, it is clear that the Iraqi people would welcome a return to a post-Saddam nationalism and even the use of Army and Republican Guard regulars, rather than relying on the US "liberators" for "security" and watching their country slide into factional chaos and unending death and destruction. There is nothing wrong with steering the country towards a democratic, multiparty government and letting the Army regulars and Baath party bureaucracy resume their positions to get the country going again and restore order, unless you are Dick Cheney and want to ensure a client state for American contractors. We would still be spreading democracy and fulfilling what Bush claims was our main goal: regime change. We would just be letting the Iraqis have their country back and creating a good Saddam-less geopolitical counterbalance to Iran and regional fundamentalism at the same time.
Second, tell voters that America can lead the world only if we set a good example for others to follow, and not solely by using crusades to do so. Point out to voters that it is not inconsistent for America to follow a policy of preemption to deal with terrorist threats, even if it means going alone (like Afghanistan), while still working to lead by example in showing regions the benefits of democracy. Build upon the moderate elements in the Arab and Islamic world and work with them to not only support them but to also educate people what America is really about, not what they think it is from watching Bush for four years. The best manifestation of that would be to fully engage once again the Middle East peace process, which will be more difficult since Bush helped Sharon pour gasoline on his own right wing Likudites to the point that Sharon may lose his own election. But Kerry can tell the country that his biggest priorities would be to get Iraq back in the hands of Iraqis, restart the Middle East peace process even on terms that the Israeli right might find unacceptable, and finish the job in Afghanistan.
Third, run on a variation of the Teddy Roosevelt concept of walking softly and carrying a big stick. Republicans claim TR's overall approach as the basis for their world view, and trumpet the "coercive diplomacy" the Administration used in putting together the Coalition of the Billing. Well, we have now seen how quickly those "partners" will depart if they think American has FUBR'd Iraq. Bush supporters will say that he directly followed TR's example by sending our forces into other countries to "liberate" them from oppression. The TR example was irrelevant in Afghanistan as we were acting in a justified retaliation and self-defense. But the world is different now than in the early twentieth century. Peoples and regions are rightly sensitive to imperial colonialism, and although the toppling of the Taliban and the freeing of Afghanistan was defensible against all arguments, Iraq represented an example of Bush using 9/11 to go beyond the "humble" foreign policy he proposed during the 2000 campaign to not only settle old scores under the cover of terrorism, but to do everything possible to make it appear we want to reintroduce American colonialism while claiming we want to liberate peoples. Arguments about wanting to liberate Iraqis fall apart with every new Halliburton/Bechtel story, every story about private security contractors acting like the Saddamist thugs they replaced, and every story about how we will not let the Iraqis run their own country. Kerry must show voters that their support for Bush on national security and his preemptive policies against alleged terrorist threats have led to mistakes like Iraq, and will lead to others in a second term. Yes, voters do support Bush over Kerry on these issues because they feel he will keep them safer, but Kerry must draw the link between having a TR-like foreign policy of quiet strength, a willingness to be preemptive against threats when necessary, and a renewed effort to be the respected leader of the world in spreading democracy using a variety of means, not just a shoot-first, do-as-I say, to-the-victor-goes-the-spoils foreign policy.