Kerry Asserts Realistic, Obtainable Foreign Policy: Security First, Democracy Later
Displaying a maturity and realism that comes from knowledge and understanding real priorities, John Kerry has indicated in two interviews in the last 24 hours that US national security is more important than PNAC-inflated rubbish about bringing democracy to the world. In interviews to the two top newspapers in the country yesterday, Kerry flatly stated that if given the choice between pushing democracy in a country or region, or ensuring Americaís national security goals are met first, Kerry will opt for security first, democracy later.
Sure, the wingers will jump on this and yell that Kerry is against democracy. Rubbish. Kerry is focusing on the real world and dealing with real threats in a Nixonian way. There is no pie-in-the-sky phony idealism glossing over right-wing empire building and incompetence here. What Kerry is saying simply is that we want to get the nukes and WMDs first and kill the terrorists, and not engage in empire-building disguised as a quest for unrealistic democracy-spreading in regions where such efforts can lead to destabilizing regimes that only endanger us more. Kerry is eschewing the high-gloss rhetoric used by Bush, wherein Bush spouts unrealistic plans to bring democracy to areas as we enrage those populations.
Both the New York Times story of their interview, and the Washington Post story of their interview reflected how easily Kerry dealt with a wide range of foreign policy subjects. Both stories noted that Kerry didnít offer any specific plans for dealing with Iraq, (as if Bush offered any foreign policy specifics during the 2000.) But it does appear that in not offering an alternate approach on Iraq, Kerry has wisely decided that 1) if I do offer one, the Bushies will just criticize it no matter what; and 2) itís Bushís problem, let him stew in it, Iíll deal with the situation I find when I get there.
Kerry is taking a grown-up, big picture, take-the-world-as-it-is approach to foreign policy. He is actually moving to the right of Bush here, and in essence heís saying ďforget all the rhetoric about liberation and democracy, whatís important is our national security.Ē
Here are excerpts from the stories:
Kerry, who has devoted much of his two-decade Senate career to foreign-policy issues, was comfortable and confident in answering questions that hopscotched across the globe and various trouble spots. He provided detailed and sometimes complex answers that occasionally drew on his experiences in meeting leaders in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.
He said he would aim to set clear priorities after deciding what is most important and achievable in dealing with other countries. He also said he would balance those goals so no single objective overwhelms the administration or leaves other concerns festering. He accused to the Bush administration of having an "Iraq-centric preoccupation" that has left little opportunity to deal with other pressing problems.
"Do you think they know where Latin America is? It is all part of the same problem," Kerry said. "It is the distinction between what is cosmetic and what is real. In the 20 years that I have been here, I have learned to distinguish between the two. This stuff going on is mostly rhetoric."
While he said that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was "in a worse neighborhood" and thus posed the potential of destabilizing the Mideast, Mr. Kerry argued that North Korea and Iran ó and the loose nuclear material floating around the former Soviet Union ó posed the more direct and serious threat of putting unconventional weapons into the hands of terror groups.
Mr. Bush, he argued, had relegated those problems to the back burner, adding that North Korea "was a far more compelling threat in many ways, and it belonged at the top of the agenda."
"This administration is high on rhetoric and high on ideology and low on actual strategic thinking and truth," he asserted. "This administration has been almost myopic in its view on Iraq itself, to the exclusion of those things that are necessary to in fact make the world safer."
Asked if he would have dealt with other threats before turning to Iraq, he insisted he would have "dealt with them simultaneously."
In other words, unlike Bush, Kerry will multi-task.
On North Korea:
The Bush administration has argued that bilateral talks would reward North Korea for its behavior, and it was necessary to include the other nations to ensure a regional solution. Kerry declined to say what he would offer North Korea as inducements to give up its weapons but said he would be willing to discuss a broad agenda that includes reducing troop levels on the Korean Peninsula, replacing the armistice that ended the Korean War and even reunifying North and South Korea.
Kerry said Bush had made a serious mistake by not talking directly with Pyongyang. He said his advisers, such as former defense secretary William J. Perry and former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger had told him that when they were in the Clinton administration "they had no illusion that [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Il was probably cheating [on nuclear agreements] over here and trouble over there, but they were getting the process of a dialogue to get a verification structure," Kerry said. "You are better off engaged in that effort than disengaged."
Kerry also accused the administration of having no plan to deal with North Korea's rush to build its nuclear weapons arsenal. He derided the Bush administration's long effort to set up six-nation talks to resolve the impasse over North Korea's nuclear ambitions as a "fig leaf" designed to cover up its failure to have a coherent policy.
Kerry said he would immediately begin bilateral negotiations with North Korea -- a goal the Pyongyang government has long soughtóbut, perhaps in a nod to the sensitivities of the Japanese, South Koreans and Chinese, he also would not abandon the six-nation talks. "I would keep them both going," Kerry said. "I would do the six-party, but I would engage in bilateral discussions."
On the Middle East:
Kerry was more cautious on whether he would allow talks with Iran, which has not had relations with the United States since the 1979 revolution. "It is one of the ironies of the Middle East," he said. "You look at Egypt and Saudi Arabia and you have governments who like us and people who don't. In the case of Iran you have a government who doesn't and people who do."
But Kerry he would need to know what the United States could expect if it began talks with the Islamic Republic, which is sandwiched between the two countries recently invaded by the United States -- Afghanistan and Iraq. He said he was "prepared carefully to explore the possibilities of what direct engagement might provide. But I'm not just going to engage in it for nothing."
Kerry has regularly attacked Saudi Arabia on the campaign trail as an unreliable partner in the fight against terrorism. He suggested he would punish the Saudis if they did not cooperate more fully on money laundering and the tracking of terrorist financing. "We cannot be hamstrung on Saudi oil," he said. "I don't believe we have a free voice in the Middle East as long as we are dependent on the oil card. That is exactly what gets played. I think there has been this sweetheart arrangement that has deprived us of that ability."
On Egypt, Kerry said that he would not tie foreign aid to greater openness and reform. "I would first want to link it to the warmth of relationship with Israel and the effort to secure general stability in Middle East," he said. "You have to put your priorities first."
Donít think for a moment that the Saudi Royal Family isnít interested to see Kerry take a more moderate, realistic line on reform than their patron Bush.
Kerry said Pakistan is a "critical relationship," and he said he would not immediately pressure President Pervez Musharraf to loosen the reins of power.
"Is he is strong man to a degree? Did he promise elections that have not occurred and all the rest? Yeah," Kerry said. "I don't see that as the first thing that is going to happen in our priority of making America safer. It is a long term goal. It is goal that I will keep on the table. But it is not the first thing that has to happen."
Instead, Kerry said, "I think the first priority is keep those [nuclear] weapons" out of the hands of radical Islamists in Pakistan, with the secondary objective of crushing al Qaeda through better intelligence sharing with Pakistani security services.
And then, the closer:
Kerry evinced little concern about the possibility that Islamic parties could sweep elections in Middle Eastern nations if open elections were permitted. He said he would not try to thwart the results if it appeared Islamic parties might win.
"The last time I looked, except for Florida, an election is an election," Kerry said.
Good stuff all the way around, from a guy who has forgotten more about how the real world works than Bush will ever know.