The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, July 22, 2004

Another mammoth Kerry foreign policy exploration

From Philip Gourevitch in the New Yorker (July 19), a pantechnicon profile-ish piece on Kerry's foreign policy influences and attitudes. (There is no actual policy yet, it seems.)

Concerns about the drift of Kerry's thinking are not allayed: interviewed by Gourevitch, he says (emphasis mine)
I have a thirty-five-year record of making it clear what my foreign policy is. I supported Bosnia. I supported Kosovo. I supported Haiti. I supported Panama. I support military action when I think it is appropriate. I supported deploying troops in the Western Pacific when we needed to stand up to the testing that the Chinese were doing with respect to Taiwan. I'm clear about my willingness to use force if necessary to protect our interests in the world and obviously to protect the security of our country.

There are times and places where you may lay down a law of behavior that amounts to a doctrine-you know, how you take a nation to war. Pretty firm in my belief system is the notion that, with the exception of an immediate emergency you have to respond to, it's a last resort.

War is a last resort - except in case of emergency! He really doesn't want to tie himself down...

The evolution of Kerry's thinking is fascinating: when Iraq occupied Kuwait in 1990 - the clearest possible justification for US military action short of an attack on the US or its NATO allies [1] - Kerry voted against the resolution. Then, as he says, he supported the Balkan adventures - the bombing of Kosovo, in particular - which gave rise to the supposed addition to the categories of use of force permitted under international law of humanitarian intervention.

Bush Jr, seeing that, after all, the categories of acceptable war were not closed, laid claim to a broad right of pre-emption; and, faced with a resolution on the younger Bush's fancifully legal war, Kerry voted in favour [2].

Kerry's objections to Bush's policy seem, in Gourevitch's piece as elsewhere, directed more to style and process than to substance [3]: having talked extensively to Kerry, the guy says
There is no guessing what Kerry would do about Liberia, Haiti, or Darfur if he sat in the White House...

My fear is that Kerry has every intention of pursuing as vigorous a projection of US military power as Bush has managed; a different target list, perhaps, and a studied cultivation of allies and engagement with the UN, but an enthusiasm to shoulder the white man's burden.

With a 41/43 angle in mind, Gourevitch looks at Richard Kerry's views on US foreign policy. Kerry's father's 1990 book on the subject - The Star-Spangled Mirror: America's Image of Itself and the World - I find much more congenial, as, for instance:
The struggle to put policy in touch with reality was difficult enough before the siren song of promoting human rights.

Conclusions: for all the (understandable) lack of detail, the drift of pieces over the last few months on the Kerry foreign policy has been fairly consistent. For those of us looking for the US, in the delightful Aussie phrase, to pull its head in under a President Kerry, there is naught for our comfort.

The time may be approaching to reconsider 'support' for Kerry. The value of a Kerry victory would be as punishment for, and a deterrent against, the waging of pre-emptive war. But Kerry, it seems, would construe such a stricture narrowly - as applying, if at all, only to nasty George's unilateral wars, not the pre-emption by coalition that he seems to have in mind.

If the aim is to limit US military action, it may be better to have a bruised and battered Bush win a narrow victory (perhaps with electoral shenanigans further to dilute his mandate) than a fresh and invigorated Kerry. (Though there must be a risk that the fact of being a lame duck might unshackle the Dr Strangelove in a second-term Bush.)

Whoever wins, there is some comfort in the constraints on US military action that overstretch in US forces will impose [4], at least so long as the current level of deployments in Iraq lasts.

But there's no necessary reason that the next invasion will be another full-dress affair: a commitment, backed up by a few hundred troops, may escalate unpredictably.

One to ponder...

  1. And Japan and South Korea, too: a comprehensive list of countries an attack on which triggers a US treaty obligation to provide military assistance? Research needed...

  2. My May 11 piece discusses the subject under the head The do-gooders and aggressive war.

  3. And the Democrat wing of the Democratic Party - which, I see, almost acronymises as DEWDROP! - might be less than chuffed with the following:
    ...nineteenth-century and twentieth-century leaders didn't have it all wrong as they understood the machinations of alliance politics and the need to negotiate your interest to the degree that you can until you've exhausted every possibility of doing so. You go backward to Disraeli and Metternich and forward to Henry Kissinger, in more recent times, and see how effectively we've moved on that stage.
    Neutral readers might be surprised at the notion of Disraeli and Metternich moving effectively on behalf of Uncle Sam; the DEWDROP will be thinking Pinochet.

  4. Part of the unwillingness of weasels to supply forces for Iraq may be that this would free up US military resources for intervention elsewhere.


The dewdrop reference explained, perhaps.

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