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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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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Kerry courts credibility danger on allied help for Iraq

Brer Brownstein has been on the bus with JFK, and writes it up under the upbeat hed Kerry Sketches an Iraq Exit Plan.

I'm put in mind of Glendower's boast in Henry IV Part I [1]:
1578: I can call Spirits from the vastie Deepe.


1579: Why so can I, or so can any man:
1580: But will they come, when you doe call for them?

The problem is, of course, that, whilst many foreign leaders (including those with suitable troops to send to Iraq in relief of US forces) may plausibly be rooting for Kerry, there is (that I've seen), no evidence of any great willingness on their part to make such deployments.

And for good reason: foreign governments will wish to avoiding any hint of interfering in the US election. Their inclination to relieve US troops in Iraq under a putative Kerry presidency is bound to remain a matter for conjecture: if Kerry has any solid intelligence (it's hard to see how he can have), he is certainly not going to queer his post-January 20 pitch by betraying confidences now.

So, of necessity, Kerry is offering a pig in a poke: rather like Bush and Saddam's stores of WMD. Only, in Bush's favour, at least one knew that there had been Iraqi WMD back around 1990: as to allied willingness to relieve US forces in Iraq, we have no evidence worthy of the name. Except their repeated refusal to do so under the current regime in Washington.

In the Brownstein interview, as we had yesterday, there is a problem with formulation: on the question of Iraq deployment, he's quoted as saying
I will engage in the creation of a very different equation, very rapidly

But, as yesterday, Kerry in fact has a planning horizon of January 2009. The lede:
Within a first term as president, Sen. John F. Kerry thinks he could attract enough international help in Iraq to make it a "reasonable" goal to replace most U.S. troops stationed there with foreign forces...

Very rapidly?

And James Rubin steps forward, from the massed ranks of Kerry foreign affairs advisers, to parse his master, saying that
the candidate had not held any discussions with foreign leaders about committing more troops. Rubin said Kerry based his prediction of significantly greater assistance partly on reports from other advisors, such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But Rubin added, "No one is negotiating - that would be wrong."

Does a Rummy smirk come with that?

So, if they haven't been negotiating, what exactly have the contacts been between the Kerrymen and foreign powers to fill those reports?

And, for a guy who (with reason) slams Bush for his diplomacy, Kerry seems more than a little inclined to shoot from the hip:
Kerry said he believed other nations had failed to respond as much as they should to Iraq's needs, and that he would challenge them with a "message of responsibility." He also said he could exert such pressure more effectively than Bush by combining it with efforts to build more international cooperation on other issues.

Woah! Kerry is going to lecture the folks he needs a giant favour from about their failure to aid and abet (as accessories after the fact) the pre-emptive war of the guy he's saying is not fit to lead his country?

Bear in mind that, however it may seem in Peoria, the difference between US administrations is much less appreciated in Paris or Berlin. What Kerry might suggest - with brazen arrogance enough - is that, by voting him into office, the US is in some way shriven of its responsibility for waging aggressive war, and is morally entitled to make demands of its allies to clear up after it in Iraq.

But here he seems to be going even further: he seems to be blaming the allies for not supporting US operations in Iraq under the current administration.

Can he be serious? As for
efforts to build more international cooperation on other issues
is he saying that, if allies and others refuse to clean up after Uncle Sam in Iraq, he will withhold US cooperation? Isn't it likely that, in most spheres, cooperation will be intrinsically of mutual benefit to all parties? Yet Kerry talks as if granting US cooperation is some kind of freewill offering without possibility of reciprocal benefit.

And, for a man who will not see sixty again, there is a distasteful adolescent cockiness in
I've done this for a long time. I have negotiated personally with leaders of other countries…. And I believe I come to this table with greater experience and a greater sense of direction than George Bush.

What exactly is the this that he's talking about? So far as I'm aware, all his international experience has been as a US Senator. The little matter of separation of powers is known, surely, in the chancellery of Bongo-Bongo Land by now. What diplomacy, exactly, has Kerry carried on on behalf of the United States?

Is this more foreign leaders (March 18) bullshit?

(Brownstein refers to
Kerry's comments about his negotiating skills
in a way that suggests to me the raising of an eyebrow, Roger Moore-style.)

He comments that
Kerry is bound to face questions on whether it is realistic to shift the military burden so dramatically toward foreign troops. "He has set the bar very high," said one diplomat from a nation contributing forces in Iraq, who requested anonymity.

He also, via anonymice, raises an eyebrow over Kerry's suggestion that
he would open some of the meetings his officials would conduct with outside groups.

Some government experts say such a move could mean that the real negotiations would occur elsewhere. But Kerry said he is committed to unprecedented transparency.

Glendower, again.

  1. First Folio 3.1.


AP's Ron Fournier also got a Kerrython on the bus, and sarcasm positively drips, starting with the lede:
John Kerry says he can "put a deal together" as president to drastically reduce U.S. troop strength in Iraq, a pledge reminiscent of Richard Nixon's secret plan to end the Vietnam War and Dwight D. Eisenhower's promise to stop fighting in Korea.

The copy-editor dutifully works Nixon into the hed [1].

Fournier is firmer than Browstein on Kerry's Iraq 'diplomacy' to date [2]:
[Kerry] suggests he has back-channel assurances that foreign leaders would do more if he were president.

"There is a potential to be able to put a deal together over the course of time," Kerry told The Associated Press in his first interview as the Democratic nominee. "At least, that is the perception that smart people like Joe Biden and, you know, Carl Levin and other leaders who've been there for a long time."

He said his fellow Democratic senators, reporting on their foreign travels, have told him, "A change in the presidency is essential to our ability to restore our respect and relationship."

That is thinner than the air on top of Mount McKinley!

What exactly do these Kerrymen know about the intentions of foreign governments, and how do they know it? James Rubin told Brownstein that
No one is negotiating - that would be wrong.
But any commitment worth an ounce of reliance will be a complicated matter: it's not just a question of a thumbs-up and a We're with you, John. In order to ascertain what each country might be prepared to do, the Kerrymen will have had to have had discussions, received counter-suggestions, clarified terms. That, surely to God, is negotiation!

Fournier has Sen Carl Levin of Michigan tying himself in knots:
"Nobody is going to say what the details of the deal are. They simply report to us that distrust of the administration is so intense that you can't take a risk" and deploy troops to Iraq, he said.

That has the smell of authenticity. But, of course, it's not enough for Kerry.

So Levin has to stretch:
Levin wavered on the question of whether any foreign leader promised to get more involved in Iraq if Kerry wins. "It seems to be that's the basic implication," he said at first.

But has any leader made a commitment?

No, he replied.

So many Kerrymen, so many air miles, so little to show for it!

Our old friend, Anthony Cordesman of CSIS gives the straight (let's say, more plausible) dope:
Nobody is going to bail us out of our responsibilities in this conflict...It is not a matter of who is the president at this point. There simply won't be any international support for a country like France or Germany to do it.

he said the insurgency is either going to be contained in the next year or the American public will demand an end to the occupation. Either way, there will be a significant reduction in U.S. troops within four years.

Thus, Kerry's plan "borders on being irrelevant," Cordesman said.

Go, Ronny!

Now, I've been unstinting in my contempt for every aspect of the national security operation of the current regime at 1600 Pennsylvania. It would not be hard for a replacement team to do better.

But the more I see of the Kerry offer in that department, the less I like it. The militaristic stunts at the Convention were one thing - nauseating, but justifiable, perhaps. But arrogance, shiftiness, loose use of language, horde of advisers - not to mention some of their pedigrees (June 17) - are giving me serious pause.

  1. So far as I'm aware, both Nixon and Eisenhower had nothing of substance: a 1997 CSM piece recounts the background briefing in which the idea was first mooted (also this and this).

    Eisenhower's I will go to Korea did nothing much: John Gaddis says here that the Korean War ended effectively as a result of the death of Stalin.

  2. Note that parenthetical you know that Fournier has left in the quote: now, it's perfectly usual for such conversational detritus to be cleaned up in newspaper quotes. By leaving this you know in, I suspect the journo was taking the piss.

    And not without cause: that condescending smart people - as condescending to Biden as to Fournier - feeds the Brahmin stereotype. Though, to be fair, Biden is scarcely the Metternich de nos jours. (Oops - it's catching...)

    And there's something distinctly op-ed-ish about Fournier's (emphasis mine)

    when asked for hard evidence that his victory would produce a troops-reducing deal for America, neither Kerry nor his fellow senators cite anything other than their vague perceptions and utmost hopes.
    (The question of quotation marks ethics last arose on June 17 with the problem of cleaning up Ozzie Guillen's Spanglish.)


I see that, on the talk show shows on Sunday, Kerry was more specific on the whence cometh my help question:
With Edwards sitting by his side, Kerry said he is convinced that a Kerry administration could get NATO involved in Iraq.

And, indeed, I see that Our Plan for America (page 34) proposes that
We should...persuade NATO to deploy a significant portion of the force that will be needed to secure and win the peace in Iraq

Now, persuading one or two allies is one thing - hard enough, but just plausible; but NATO acts by unanimity, making the task of securing NATO troops vastly more difficult.

The NATO out-of-area operation in Afghanistan has not exactly been a signal success: the prospect of a much larger deployment in Iraq sounds like fantasy.

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