August 29, 2004

Vietnam and Kerry's Worldview

I did not know John Kerry in Vietnam, but I knew the area he was in, having served in the same area as a civilian. I've talked to him often about Vietnam in recent years, and there is no question in my mind that it was the defining experience of his adult years, just as it was for me and hundreds of thousands of other Americans, including those now attacking him.

His personal saga embodies the American experience in Vietnam. First he was a good hero in a bad war -- a man who volunteered for duty in the Navy and then asked for an assignment on the boats that were to ply the dangerous rivers of Vietnam -- when most of his college-educated contemporaries (including George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton) -- found easy ways to avoid Vietnam. Then, carrying shrapnel in his thigh, he became an eloquent but moderate member of the antiwar movement. John Kerry introduced his Vietnam record into his campaign because it is a central part of who he is.

-- Richard Holbrooke, writing in the WaPo yesterday.

It's interesting that Holbrooke would write (in an op-ed doubtless approved by Kerry) that Vietnam is the "defining experience" of Kerry's adult years. Given that the op-ed appeared yesterday, weeks into the Swift Boat maelstrom, it appears Kerry has decided he will not be cowed by all the Swift Boat going-ons (into soft-pedaling his Vietnam history). Indeed, Kerry instead appears to be purposefully keeping Vietnam front and center via prominent surrogates like Holbrooke.

Given this, I think it behooves us to analyze Kerry's '71 Senate testimony in more detail. To be sure, let's recall that it was a long time ago. That he was a pretty young man. And that Kerry himself has suggested some of his comments were a bit on the overzealous side.

Still, if Vietnam is Kerry's formative experience, his comments merit closer analysis than I've seen of late. So let's take a look at a few key grafs from Kerry's testimony. Here, for instance, is Kerry recommending to the Senators that the U.S. pull out of Vietnam asap:

My feeling, Senator, is undoubtedly this Congress, and I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but I do not believe that this Congress will, in fact, end the war as we would like to, which is immediately and unilaterally and, therefore, if I were to speak I would say we would set a date and the date obviously would be the earliest possible date. But I would like to say, in answering that, that I do not believe it is necessary to stall any longer. I have been to Paris. I have talked with both delegations at the peace talks, that is to say the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government and of all eight of Madam Binh's points it has been stated time and time again, and was stated by Senator Vance Hartke when he returned from Paris, and it has been stated by many other officials of this Government, if the United States were to set a date for withdrawal the prisoners of war would be returned....I would, therefore, submit that the most expedient means of getting out of South Vietnam would be for the President of the United States to declare a cease-fire, to stop this blind commitment to a dictatorial regime, the Thieu-Ky-Khiem regime, accept a coalition regime which would represent all the political forces of the country which is in fact what a representative government is supposed to do and which is in fact what this Government here in this country purports to do, and pull the troops out without losing one more American, and still further without losing the South Vietnamese.

Put aside the dreary notes of pompousness and self-importance ("I have been to Paris.") Focus instead on Kerry's likely disingenuous concern about the South Vietnamese. It's clear he's hell-bent on getting all U.S. troops out as soon as possible. But, and at the same time, Kerry claims that he's interested in not losing too many South Vietnamese lives in the midst of his recommended uber-hasty departure from Vietnam.

But how does that jibe with this part of his testimony later?

Senator Aiken: I think your 3,000 estimate might be a little low because we had to help 800,000 find sanctuary from North Vietnam after the French lost at Dienbienphu. But assuming that we resettle the members of the Saigon government, who would undoubtedly be in danger, in some other area, what do you think would be the attitude, of the large, well-armed South Vienamese army and the South Vietnamese people? Would they be happy to have us withdraw or what?

Mr. Kerry: Well, Senator, this obviously is the most difficult question of all, but I think that at this point the United States is not really in a position to consider the happiness of those people as pertains to the army in our withdrawal. We have to consider the happiness of the people as pertains to the life which they will be able to lead in the next few years.

If we don't withdraw, if we maintain a Korean-type presence in South Vietnam, say 50,000 troops or something, with strategic bombing raids from Guam and from Japan and from Thailand dropping these 15,000 pound fragmentation bombs on them, et cetera, in the next few years, then what you will have is a people who are continually oppressed, who are continually at warfare, and whose problems will not at all be solved because they will not have any kind of representation.

The war will continue. So what I am saying is that yes, there will be some recrimination but far, far less than the 200,000 a year who are murdered by the United States of America, and we can't go around- President Kennedy said this, many times. He said that the United States simply can't right every wrong, that we can't solve the problems of the other 94 percent of mankind. We didn't go into East Pakistan; we didn't go into Czechoslovakia. Why then should we feel that we now have the power to solve the internal political struggles of this country?

We have to let them solve their problems while we solve ours and help other people in an altruistic fashion commensurate with our capacity. But we have extended that capacity; we have exhausted that capacity, Senator. So I think the question is really moot.

Translation: Get our boys home soonest--whatever happens to the South Vietnamese (what would Kerry have done in Korea? What might he do in Iraq?). And, regardless, we can't go around, willy-nilly, trying to help oppressed peoples in so distant places like Prague or Saigon.

This isn't just far-away history, of course. When Bosnians were being massacred in large number--Kerry voted against lifting the arms embargo on the long suffering Bosniaks and using NATO air-power against Bosnian Serb gunners terrorizing "safe" havens like Sarajevo and, most tragically of all, Srebrenica.

Why, one wonders? Wouldn't a liberal Senator from Massachusetts want to help victims of genocidal policies? Because I think, to his core, Kerry's Vietnam experience has left him highly suspicious of the use of American power. He appears to think it an overly blunt instrument that, more often than not, causes more harm than good on the world stage. So, therefore, a policy of authorizing NATO warplanes into flight to protect civilians being shelled to death becomes cause for deep suspicion. Put differently, how could a military adventure by the Americans be for a good cause? (Note also, and perhaps this is strange for the son of a diplomat, that one espies isolationist tendencies within Kerry too).

Then there's this:

Senator, I will say this. I think that politically, historically, the one thing that people try to do, that society is structured on as a whole, is an attempt to satisfy their felt needs, and you can satisfy those needs with almost any kind of political structure, giving it one name or the other. In this name it is democratic; in other it is communism; in others it is benevolent dictatorship. As long as those needs are satisfied, that structure will exist.

But when you start to neglect those needs, people will start to demand a new structure, and that, to me, is the only threat that this country faces now, because we are not responding to the needs and we are not responding to them because we work on these old cold-war precepts and because we have not woken up to realizing what is happening in the United States of America.

Is it just me, or is it an odd concept to think of societies as simply mechanisms by which to "satisfy their felt needs"? And is there not an alarming relativism buried in this Marxist-like cogitation about "structure"? Put differently, if the "felt needs" are satisfied via communism fine. By dictatorship, fine. Democracy is just the "name" we use in these United States. We are left wondering whether it really means anything special, no?

Look, I'm not saying Kerry thinks communism and democracy are equally good or bad. What I'm saying is that I don't really know what Kerry is willing to fight for. I feel a dearth of true conviction in this man (war hero one day; dissident the next; medals good; medals, or ribbons, bad).

Containing communism in Central America or Vietnam was not worth our blood and treasure (opposing totalitarian ideologies). Preventing genocidal conduct in the heart of Europe wasn't (humanitarianism). Securing Kuwait's sovereignty and protecting Saudi Arabia's oil supplies wasn't (realist reasons). Well, it's fair to ask, what is then? (ed. note: You might quibble with me here and say it's merely the way we have tried to achieve our geopolitical objectives that bothers Kerry. But this is unpersuasive. I challenge readers, for instance, to show me what he would now do differently in Iraq than Bush is doing--a war Kerry himself provided the President the authority to wage. And, no, vague talk of being more multinational and realist ain't gonna cut it.)

To be sure, too much Manichean-style conviction can be dangerous as well (what gets Bush critics up in arms). But, in a post-9/11 world where the risk of apocalpytic terror by fanatical terror groups is very real--I want someone in power who believes societies are sometimes inherently different. That they might even share different core values, mores, and priorities (ie., not merely all going about satisfying their 'felt needs' in similar fashion in morally neutral fashion).

Someone who might even believe that our values are, on occasion, superior to those of some of our foes. Put another way, I want someone in power who believes that our values (when linked to tangible national interests of import) might be worth fighting for--even with painful expenditures in blood and treasure occasionally necessitated--in the furtherance of human advancement and liberty.

Look, Saddam was a monster--can anyone deny his passing from the scene is not a positive development? Of course, we committed many missteps during the post-major combat period--but the Iraq project could still ultimately prove a success. If it did--would we not all rejoice that an Arab democracy took root in Mesopotamia--a democracy that would replace a morally bankrupt system defined by neo-Stalinist thuggery of the most brutish stripe?

We might fail, yes, and such failure would be at great costs to the stability of the region and American credibility worldwide. But I think the risk of failure is lower with Bush in for a second term than with Kerry winning in November. For Bush, I believe, thinks there is something worth fighting for in Iraq. I'm not sure Kerry really does. So Kerry, I suspect, would have us do what he counseled re: Vietnam. Get out, and let the locals sort out their difficulties, as they will be better off without us.

He could be right, of course (that, all told, the Iraqis would be better off without us--though the specter of horrific and large-scale inter-sectarian revanchist killings makes that hard to believe). But I think (despite too few troops, Abu Ghraib, the situations in Najaf and Fallujah) that we can still turn Iraq into a success (defined as a unitary, viable democratic polity). This effort, of course, needs to unfold within the larger context of a generational committment in the Middle East on a variety of levels (forging an Arab-Israeli peace settlement; better public diplomacy, helping foster conditions of sustainable economic development).

But, arguably most of all at this juncture, it means seeing Iraq through.

Would John Kerry?

Posted by Gregory at August 29, 2004 01:51 AM


"Would John Kerry?"

Is there any evidence extant of Kerry supporting the use (that's use - not threat) of military force regardless of objective? His record is replete with examples of taking both sides of many issues (dependent upon political wind direction) but I cannot recall any instance of him actually supporting the use of force.

Posted by: Rick Ballard at August 30, 2004 02:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If past is prologue I think we can assume that, in the event of a terrorist attack during a Kerry presidency, John Kerry would turn the ship of state into the fire, beach it, jump out, and personally shoot the rogue nation or terrorist group behind the hootch.

That'd get my vote, anyway.

Posted by: FlashBack at August 30, 2004 02:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Apoligies for the populist tripe I posted above.

Posted by: FlashBack at August 30, 2004 02:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"a man who volunteered for duty in the Navy and then asked for an assignment on the boats that were to ply the dangerous rivers of Vietnam -- when most of his college-educated contemporaries (including George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton) -- found easy ways to avoid Vietnam."

I suppose I see why you like Holbrooke. Such mealy mouthed phrases which are technically correct, but which give a totally false impression. Masterful.

Posted by: Jim Thomason at August 30, 2004 02:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg: What an impressive analysis -- both insightful and clarifying. My favorite line: "I don't really know what Kerry is willing to fight for."

Posted by: Hovig at August 30, 2004 02:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What worries me is that Kerry might not return us to the Clinton foreign policy. I think Bush's policy is the right one, but if the people don't support it, they should get what they want.

However, Kerry seems driven by a need to show how his military experience makes him more able to fight the war on terror properly and more sensitively. What that suggests to me is that he would fight it lke LBJ fought Vietnam, which would be the worst option.

Posted by: AST at August 30, 2004 03:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg stated "I don't really know what Kerry is willing to fight for."

John Kerry would do what he has always done, look out for himself first. Volunteering for swift boats, videotaping staged combat, taking medals for minor flesh wounds then coming home early to condemn America to get elected. In John's world it has always been John's needs first and last. I don't believe John has a soul, just a need to be the most powerful man on earth. God help us if he is elected.

Posted by: Lugh Lampfhota at August 30, 2004 03:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have no doubt that John Kerry would support military force -- about five minutes before he decided to not support it. Senator Kerry is never wrong because he takes all sides of all issues.

Posted by: Jim at August 30, 2004 03:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good work, Greg, on some of the lesser known parts of Kerry's appearance before the Fulbright Committee. There's still a gold mine of insights left in the remarks that came after his prepared statement, but I commend you for digging out and examining some very nice nuggets.

There's no doubt that Kerry would return us to a pre-9/11 foreign policy. Holbrooke has made that absolutely clear.

The real question is whether he'd go back to a polls-driven Clinton-era foreign policy, or all the way back to a woe-is-us-no-wonder-they-hate-us Jimmy Carter foreign policy. I can't decide whether Kerry's overriding desire to be elected (and presumably reelected) as President would override his basic character formation from the Vietnam years, but I genuinely fear we'd be back into the days of Desert One.

Posted by: Beldar at August 30, 2004 03:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kerry was anti-war before his service in Vietnam. His Class Orator speech at Yale graduation in 1966 was harshly critical of the U.S. for intervening in Asian affairs and urged a U.S. withdrawal. To avoid the draft, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve while at Yale to become a naval officer -- like JFK.

Harvard Crimson, Kerry interview, February 18, 1970: "At Yale, Kerry was chairman of the Political Union and later, as Commencement speaker, urged the United States to withdraw from Vietnam and to scale down foreign military operations. And this was way back in 1966."

Posted by: Zavier at August 30, 2004 03:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"a man who volunteered for duty in the Navy and then asked for an assignment on the boats that were to ply the dangerous rivers of Vietnam -- when most of his college-educated contemporaries (including George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton) -- found easy ways to avoid Vietnam."

Jim Thomason: From my reading of it, it isn't even technically correct. He joined the navy as a safe option after being turned down for deferment to study in Paris. He joined the swift boats because they were employed off shore and only after he joined were they swictched to the Mekong Delta. And once there he finagled three purple hearts for at least the first one, a self inflicted wound [scratch?] that shouldn't have qualified for such and then high tailed it outta there as fast as he could.
Which is fine up to a point, I wouldn't have wanted to be there either, but don't afterwards hypocritically make yourself out to be this big hero by misrepresenting what happened. Juvenile is the word that comes to mind.

Posted by: tony at August 30, 2004 03:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Holbrooke is dead wrong on one point. Kerry volunteered for the Swift boats before they were sent to river duty. When he signed on, they had easy duty, patrolling the coast. Here's the Boston Globe citing Kerry himself:

"Kerry initially hoped to continue his service at a relatively safe distance from most fighting, securing an assignment as "swift boat" skipper. While the 50-foot swift boats cruised the Vietnamese coast a little closer to the action than the Gridley had come, they were still considered relatively safe. "I didn't really want to get involved in the war," Kerry said in a little-noticed contribution to a book of Vietnam reminiscences published in 1986. "When I signed up for the swift boats, they had very little to do with the war. They were engaged in coastal patrolling and that's what I thought I was going to be doing.""

They were only sent to river duty after Kerry joined up with them.

You'd think someone defending Kerry would ttry and get so basic a point correct.

Bush on the other hand began is flight training when the TANG was still flying missions in Vietnam, and he actually volunteered to be sent but was turned down because he didn't yet have the required experience:

"A former senior Virginia Air National Guard commander, who served with George W. Bush in the Texas Air Guard, says Bush volunteered for Vietnam combat service but was turned down because he did not have the required flight experience. ...

According to Campenni, Bush inquired about participating in a volunteer program called Palace Alert that used Air National Guard pilots flying in the F-102 Delta Dagger interceptor jet in Vietnam.

The Air Guard advised Bush he did not have the desired 500 hours of flight time as a pilot to qualify for Palace Alert duty, and, in any event, the program was winding down and not accepting more volunteers."!news&s=1045855934842

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at August 30, 2004 04:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


You are dead on here. And your analysis sets out as well as any I have seen why Kerry is unfit to be CIC in the aftermath of 9/11.

To me the best evidence of how Kerry would act as CIC is first, what he has "advised" CICs to do since 1966 (it is amazing how he arrived at wisdom sufficient to share at such an early age) and second how he has voted on questions of war and peace in the Senate (which votes are by and large consistent with the advice he has given to former CICs).

This evidence is not rebutted in any way to the satisfaction of any reasonably objective person by his 1/3 year service in Vietnam in 1968-1969 whether you believe his version of events then or the version testified to by the SBVT.

I think the focus from now until the election should concentrate laserlike on making sure everyone understands Kerry's consistent philosophy and the actions he has taken to advance that philosophy.

Posted by: vnjagvet at August 30, 2004 04:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


First off, we shouldn't overlook Paris. Kerry, while on active status in the Naval Reserves, met with the Viet Cong leadership and, apparently, struck a mutual understanding with them: US military is not to be trusted. It's hard to say who used who, but I suspect it was mutually benefical to both sides.

It would be interesting to hear from Henry Kissinger's talk on having some novice attemp to broker an agreement with the Viet Cong leadership. I remain uncertain why Kerry wasn't thrown into the brig over this matter.

The parallel with today, of course, is that candidate Kerry "has spoken with some foreign leaders," but will not reveal who they are.

Kerry, along with McCain, headed the Senate Select Committee on Vietnam POWs/MIAs. The relationship with the Viet Cong leadership continued, as Kerry's picture has prominent placement in the Liberation Museum.

Besides, the Kosovo stance of Senator Kerry, many in Nicaragua will never forgive him for siding with the Communists, visiting and giving comfort to their leadership.

Posted by: Capt America at August 30, 2004 04:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jim Thomason:

Kerry "volunteered" after his deferment was not accepted. He "volunteeered" for swift boats because at the time they were not being deployed into enemy areas. Then, when Adm. Zumwalt decided to recharter their mission, Kerry ranted and raved to his peers but not to his superiors.

The rest of his four months (one of which was in training), he found his way to a fast exit.

Posted by: Capt America at August 30, 2004 04:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One thing that jumped out at me that you didn't dwell on Greg, is Kerry's casual claim, in his exchange w/ Senator Aiken (an antiwar Vermont Republican, btw, and along w/ Sen. Clifford Case of NJ one of only two GOP senators at the hearing, IIRC), that "the United States of America" was murdering 200,000 people a year in Vietnam.

And neither Aiken nor any other senator bother to challenge Kerry on that. In fact, the softball and at times even cheerleading nature of the questions or remarks the senators offer while young Kerry is mouthing his outrageous calumnies against fellow Americans still serving in SE Asia is one of the most depressing things about this transcript.

But perhaps, Greg, you think the *200K/year murdered by the USA* claim is one of things that Kerry has admitted was "over the top" about his testimony.

To me, however, that's a pretty half-@$$ed substitute for a full and frank apology and retraction, which is the least that Kerry owes his fellow vets, not to mention his fellow Americans generally, since his remarks slandered us all.

If you look over the record of Kerry's comments on this testimony, I think you'll see he's pretty much stood by it, and even said he's proud of it. Any backing away he's done has been limited and to me at least, not very convincing.

Posted by: Phil in Virginia at August 30, 2004 04:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In Kerry's Senate testimony he spoke of the people of Vietnam not really caring about whether their government was communist or democratic as they just wanted to be left alone in peace in their rice paddies - or words to that effect. Recently he seems to have some of that same position regarding the people of Iraq. He spoke of working as president through diplomacy to get a coalition to relieve us of much of our present effort and that if that didn't work then we should rethink just what the people of Iraq really wanted - I think meaning democracy. I believe strongly that Kerry has no intent or interest in making an effort to spread democracy as a way of making the world safer. The more I read Kerry's various statements and his voting record the more obvious it becomes that he has never been particularly concerned about the spread of communisum

Posted by: liz at August 30, 2004 05:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kerry showed no real concern about the advancement of communism because he is from the same stripe of "liberals" as former members of the American Communist Party, who decided in the middle 1950s they would do much better getting their agenda into law by becoming Extreme-left Liberal Democrats. They had realized liberal dems had already passed laws which were close to what they wanted to achieve.

This is why you didn't hear anything from them in the 1960s and later -- they joined the Democratic party.

Kerry will no more attack another nation in response to an terrorist attack on America, again, than he will admit he has lied about his Vietnam adventure. All he wants is power and prestiege and a fat retirement (with SS guards), which he could never earn by working.

Why do you think he married two wealthy women? They had what he didn't -- MONEY and power. He wants to be president, not for his dreams for America, but for his own gratification.

Posted by: Jim in NC at August 30, 2004 06:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree completely. I wrote some similar thoughts here:

Posted by: Dave Justus at August 30, 2004 08:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Is there some magic rule that the fourth comment on any blog post mocks Bush for not being in Vietnam?

Posted by: Yeah at August 30, 2004 09:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Most revealing in this analysis is Kerry's ambivalence to the form of government that addresses the felt needs of its citizens. However, several questions remain unexplored. Does that mean that a potential leader should attempt to gain power? After all, according to Kerry's theory not only would the system not matter, but also who led the government would not matter. A second, contradictory question might be whether Kerry thinks the pursuit of power is noble, in and of itself. His theory might justify the blind pursuit of power because whoever is best at fulfilling needs would be a better leader and any means to achieve the position of power would be legitimate. Is he a ‘by any means necessary’ radical liberal at heart who believes in the will to power?

What I mean to illustrate with the above questions is that Kerry's comments don't illustrate a consistent theory. An internally consistent theory would reveal not only a way for judging ends (the fulfillment of needs) but also means.

Additionally, one could argue that addressing the perception of need is an insufficient purpose of government. Perceptions of need will naturally vary. Limousine liberals would want to let everyone eat the proverbial cake, regardless of the ownership of said cake by someone else. Hard-scrabble farmers/laborers would almost always be less generous. His statements make me nervous because he instinctually assumes he knows what the answer IS. Perhaps I’m reading too much into his comments, but I think they illustrate his voting record and show an amazing consistency for someone not know for holding the line.

Posted by: Birkel at August 30, 2004 10:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To clarify the above:

His votes show an amazing consistency when viewed w/rt his liberal/socialist leanings, IMO.

However, his theory of government is inconsistent unless viewed w/rt his desire for power, IMO.

Posted by: Birkel at August 30, 2004 10:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Some of you guys are getting a bit carried away in your efforts to make Kerry out as some sort of poltroon. Sure, it wasn't known at the time that the Swift Boats would be going into action on the rivers, but it didn't take much imagination to realize that they were more likely to do so than were the larger vessels. If Kerry were interested in avoiding action, he could have stayed aboard Gridley. My belief is that the real reason he put in for Swift Boats was that the Navy did not at that time have in commission a boat named PT109, so he settled for the closest he could get.

Posted by: Paul Zrimsek at August 30, 2004 02:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It would really be interesting to hear a frank re-assessment of his anti-war views by Kerry himself. As a young man, deeply involved in the the war and the anti-war movement, it is understandable that he viewed Viet Nam as an isolated event. However, from his persepctive now, 35 years later, does he see Viet Nam as part of an overall strategy to defeat the expansion of a totalitarian system? Or does he still see it as simply an expression of American arrogance, the US trying to force "our way" on another small nation?

I think this would tell us a great deal about how Kerry would lead us against Islamic Terrorisim.

Posted by: Dan at August 30, 2004 03:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sen. Kerry is not the only leftist who believes
ANY use of Armed Force by the United States
is immoral. In fact, I believe that is one
of the lefts' core beliefs.

Posted by: pragmatist at August 30, 2004 03:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Paul is right; Kerry could have stayed on the Gridley and been perfectly safe.

I don't know about the PT-109, but I think Kerry was looking ahead to a political career, and decided that cruising around the Pacific (and off the coast of VN) wasn't good enough. I think the coastal Swift boat patrols would have been considered "in" Vietnam, and Kerry thought they'd look better on his resume.

Posted by: PJ/Maryland at August 30, 2004 03:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This Belgravia Dispatch posting was quite compelling, but all the comments are on one side, so I'll try to spice things up a bit.

Mr. Kerry was young and stupid once, but so was I (alas, these days I'm old and stupid) and more to the point, so was Mr. Bush. Is there any evidence that the appalling moral equivalence highlighted in the quote from Mr. Kerry's Senate testimony was still a part of his thinking during his political career as candidate for or member of the U.S. Senate?

Posted by: Arjun at August 30, 2004 07:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I guess that was pretty bland (sorry). Here's another question. Did anyone read Gregg Easterbrook's column in TNRO? Will we reach a point (Mr. Easterbrook claims we already have) at which keeping U.S. troops in Iraq does more harm than good?

Posted by: Arjun at August 30, 2004 10:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I would agree except as noted above, kerry himself says he took the assignment expecting to avoid combat. Of course maybe you feel he was lying.


There is some, but most tellingly is he still trades in the influence such comments give him in certain quarters, and as Greg's post points out, his policies over the years are what one might expect from someone with those views. Therefore I would like to see Kerry explain specifically what about those long ago comments he now regrets and why.

Posted by: Lance at August 30, 2004 10:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks for the reply.

Sorry to repeat myself, but that Gregg Easterbrook column was pretty disturbing for me. I'm still in favor of helping the Iraqis find their way to some form of liberal democracy, but is our military presence there still needed or advisable? The trouble is that the Iraqis (according to polls) don't seem to want us there any more. I blame the Bush Administration's mismanagement for this unfortunate fact, but how do we deal with this?

More generally, if you agree with me that we ought to try to promote liberal democracy, how do we get around the fact that democracy promotion tends to make us unpopular throughout the world, which tends to diminish our effectiveness in democracy promotion? (Perhaps a partial answer to my question is that other steps can be taken to improve world opinion of the U.S. The gratuitous offensiveness of certain Bush Administration officials has been "notably unhelpful" in this regard.)

Posted by: Arjun at August 30, 2004 11:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


A few thoughts. First of all, democracy promotion does not, I believe, necessarily make us unpopular in the world. The manner in which the Bush administration went about it did, as an empirical fact. The questions that remain are 1) Is democracy promotion still a worthwhile goal? and 2) Can this be accomplished militarily, or are there more effective approaches?

I think the answer to #1 is an emphatic yes. The answer to #2 is almost always there are better approaches.

For an authoritative and comprehensive assessment of the Bush team's successes and failures in the democracy building efforts in Iraq, see this piece written by Larry Diamond, formerly a senior advisor to the CPA in Iraq published in Foreign Affairs by the Council on Foreign Relations:

This is noted neoconservative Francis Fukuyama's take on the overall historical record of nation building through military intervention:

"America has been involved in approximately 18 nation-building projects between its conquest of the Philippines in 1899 and the current occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the overall record is not a pretty one. The cases of unambiguous success-Germany, Japan, and South Korea-were all ones in which U.S. forces came and then stayed indefinitely. In the first two cases, we were not nation-building at all, but only re-legitimizing societies that had very powerful states. In all of the other cases, the U.S. either left nothing behind in terms of self-sustaining institutions, or else made things worse by creating, as in the case of Nicaragua, a modern army and police but no lasting rule of law."

Fukuyama's article can be found here:

I think that soft power can accomplish much in the realm of spreading democracy. Consider that no bombs were dropped on Moscow, or anywhere in Eastern Europe, yet those regions converted to democracy. Similarly China is moving toward democracy without being bombed into submission. This was accomplished through our victory in the war of ideas and the war for hearts and minds, coupled with strong military stances of containment, though not confrontation.

Similarly, the war against the spread of radical Islamist jihadism is actually a war of ideas, specifically for the soul of the Muslim world - a battle between reformers and fundamentalists. We must hunt down and kill the terrorists, there is no doubt about that. Those that have already gone down the path to jihad must be eliminated.

But we must also take time to promote our ideals so that the reformers can prevail in the propaganda showdown with Bin Laden and his ilk. It will not help if while we track down and eliminate terrorists, we create more than we kill through our misguided and counterproductive policies.

The more the Arab world hates us, the stronger the fundamentalists will become, and vice-versa. When the anger rises, so does the level of financial support, volunteering, and public sympathy. This was one of the rationalizations for the invasion of Iraq: that a democratic state in the middle of Mesopotamia would act as a catalyst for winning over converts to democratic ideals. However laudable the goal, the execution was fatally incompetent, and even perhaps the plausibility of the desired outcome unrealistic considering the realities of war and the cultural and regional contexts.

So, we should actively assist in democracy promotion through diplomatic channels, support for reformers, and other means employed by the CIA and intelligence groups during the Cold War. It would also help if America could muster the ability to take a more even-handed approach to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as well as influence regimes in the region to take more meaningful steps toward reform. Above all, we must restore our image and endear the world to our worthy ideals. As Fukuyama noted in The End of History, these ideals sell themselves if given the room.

Posted by: Eric Martin at August 31, 2004 12:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric Martin,

I am once again extremely impressed by the strength of your arguments. (Then again, I've gone on the record describing myself as "stupid", so maybe that's not such a great compliment.) The more I hear from you, the more comfortable I feel about possibly voting for Mr. Kerry.

You are absolutely right: war is not the only way, or even the best way, to promote democracy. However, other means can also be controversial. For example, the Bush Administration's recently renamed Broader Middle East and North Africa initiative is unpopular with many governments, and not just because it's from the Bush Administration. There is a widespread sentiment that only Westerners or Europeans can "handle" democracy. As an American of Indian parentage, I disagree with that sentiment.

President Kerry can and should use other means, besides war, to promote democracy. But will he believe in that goal?

Posted by: Arjun at August 31, 2004 12:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Got to hand it to Holbrooke, he can distort with the best of them.

1: As others already noted, Kerry himself stated that he joined the Swift boats because they weren't doing anything dangerous.

2: He forgot to mintion that John Edwards also managed to miss out on Vietnam.

3: He forgot to mention that the shrapnel in Kerry's butt / thigh came from Kerry screwing around with a hand grenade (he dropped in in a bin of rice, and didn't get away in time. Why he thought that tossing a grenade in a rice bin was an effective way to destroy it, I don't know. I'd think fire would do a much beter job). Note that Kerry mentions this in Tour of Duty.

4: That "moderate" member of the "anti-war" movement went to Congress and, under oath, lied about the US military, slandering hundreds of thousands of US Soldiers in the process. Some moderate.


There is only one way we're going to promote democracy in the middle east. That's by having US troops be there for the next 40 years. They will do two things: first, they will teach, by example, the habits of thought that make a workable democratic society possible. ("What do you mean you let the tribal elders decide everything for you? Why do you do that?")

Second, they will kill anyone who tries to pull a coup against the government, or with the government against the Constitution.

You can only really have Freedom of Speech when the society is stable enough to survive it. Continental Europe, for example, doesn't have solid Freedom of Speech (see laws re: Nazi regalia), because their political system, with all those splinter parties, isn't capable of handling it.

By having the US there, ready to step on anyone who goes outside the lines, Iraq will be stable enough to survive letting the fruitcakes yap, and discredit themselves in the process.

And thus a real, stable, democracy will form.

Posted by: Greg D at August 31, 2004 01:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"-- a man who volunteered for duty in the Navy and then asked for an assignment on the boats that were to ply the dangerous rivers of Vietnam -- "

Technically true but misleading nevertheless. How does Kerry ever expect to overcome the image of a stretcher?

Posted by: Abdul Abulbul Amir at August 31, 2004 01:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thank you for bringing to light this otherwise unnoticed part of Senator Kerry's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. It is something American voters should know about Senator Kerry's philosophy of government. It is stunning to me that our constitutional form of government with its Bill of Rights, rule of law, and *** that goes with that is not mentioned by him and does not rank any higher than communism or benevolent dictatorships in his mind. The "old cold war precepts" he mentions were valued by others, thank God, and we, thus far, have been able to avoid losing our freedom. So, thank you for your good work.

Posted by: Nellie at August 31, 2004 10:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg D,

Do you think Iran has any chance of reforming from within and without the aid of American troops present until 2050? What about other countries in the region?

What does that then say about our troop presence in Afghanistan? Did we not commit enough troops to insure the birthing of democracy?

Further, with withering support for the presence of American troops in Iraq among the population, how do you convince the people of the desirability of their presence?

Finally, your sanguine description of American troops teaching by example about the virtues of democratic society seems to exceed the mandate and expertise of the armed forces. Can they knock down uprisings, surely. But can they lead by example to bring a society to democracy?

Certainly, their conduct thus far, though largely exemplary, has also been an example of many negatives (Abu Ghraib in particular). As a friend of mine, an Army Ranger, is fond of saying, "The military is a hammer, but the hammer is a tool that is only suited for certain types of work."

Posted by: Eric Martin at August 31, 2004 02:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There are reams of documents proving American atrocities in Vietnam. Look up the volumes of testimony from "Winter Soldier". Ever heard of My Lai?

No, that doesn't mean "vets are bad." It means, maybe, that it was *a bad war*. Maybe a war where you are slipping into terror tactics fairly routinely, just to keep from losing, is *a bad war*.

Uncle Ho was supported out of nationalist sentiment, not so much because he was a Communist. Our friends in Saigon, by contrast, had little popular support.

A war where you are fighting in a foreign country's civil war, against nationalist sentiment, supporting a feeble puppet regime - is a bad war.

Telling the truth about that situation is the responsible thing to do.

Clintonian poll-driven foreign policy?!? Please. What was the public support for the Balkans war against Serbia?

What I would like is *competent* foreign policy. It was probably *possible* to invade Iraq and make a success of it, leaving Iraq a democracy. But, by every indication, the Bush administration screwed it up badly - the prime mistake being *not committing enough troops* - and why? For political and ideological reasons - because Rumsfeld had an axe to grind about a smaller, lighter Army, and because a heavy troop committment would've been a harder political sell. (It was sold as being and *easy* war.)

Vote Bush out. Put the grownups in charge. I don't know exactly what Kerry would do, but I'm pretty sure it would be responsible and well-considered. We don't need fuzzy, irresponsible thinking like "axis of evil" and "Iraq=9/11".

the wesson

Posted by: The Wesson at September 2, 2004 02:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well we should definitely get out of Iraq, if we cannot do anybody any good there, and are doing ourselves and others harm - don't you think?

Right now it seems as if our military might is helpless - the planners don't think we can exert our force to crush the nest of scorpions in Fallujah - or squash an upstart rabble-rousing cleric once and for all - so why the hell NOT get out?

My plan:
Park American forces nearby and let everything sort itself out. See who or what wins. If it's not to our liking, just invade again.

Apparently, we invade a lot better than we occupy. So, let's play to our strengths and invade as often as we need to.

the wesson

Posted by: The Wesson at September 2, 2004 02:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I'm curious, do you claim to believe the "Winter Soldier" BS because you are ignorant, or because you're dishonest?

Because it was shown years ago that the majority of the people who "testified" there either were not actually soldiers, or had not served where they claimed to have committed crimes.

Posted by: Greg D at September 2, 2004 05:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


To answer your issues, see Germany, post-WWII. (I assume you're talking about Iraq, not Iran.)

Without a strong US presense there, and with Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran as neighbors, I don't think Iraq has a chance on its own of building a stable and democratic society.

Afghanistan is not as important to the War on Terror as is Iraq. Turning Afghanistan into the greatest country in the world still wouldn't improve the Middle East.

Turning Iraq into a functional modern society with a functional government, OTOH, gives an example that other Arabs can look to. An example that shows them a better way than what they're living under. It will bring hope for the future to people who currently have nothing to hope for other than a good afterlife.

If you don't want to nuke the Middle East out of existence, and you don't want to lose the WoT (which is to say, if you don't want to be a serf, whose daughters, sisters, and wife have the legal standing of children), then you want to reform their culture.

Which means you want President Bush to win re-election, and win in Iraq. Because John Kerry will be happy to put a "pro-US" thug in charge, and leave.

And Wesson, wif we leave Iraq, exactly where do you plan on parking all those US forces? Saudi Arabia?

Posted by: Greg D at September 2, 2004 05:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I was talking about Iran not Iraq because I wanted to see if you thought that military presence is the only means to foster democracy. Iran is a country that seems to be heading down that road without US presence, albeit in fits and spurts and against the strength of the clerics.

As for the Winter Soldier testimony, some have been proven to be untruthful, but not most. Most have been proven to be actual soldiers operating out of the area claimed. I think you have the percentages flipped.

I differ with your overall assessment on the future too. First of all, I see Bush installing a pro-US thug as just as much a possibility as Kerry. History shows that the GOP has been as prone to use such tactics as the Dems, if not more so.

As for Germany post-WW II, are you suggesting we send more troops or is there another way to quell public animosity?

I am all for influencing the region, but prefer Fukuyama's approach. I think that Bush has messed up Iraq so badly that it might be beyond the point where we can create a stable democracy. That doesn't mean we abandon the goal, just the methods.

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