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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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Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Global test and the Kerry pre-emption policy now murkier after Cheney-Edwards ding-dong

For what it's worth, I'd rate it a draw. A fruitless stalemate of the type associated with the Western Front [1].

A lot of shock-horror around that Cheney was brazenly lying. (And getting away with quite a lot of it, too.) Folks channelling Emma Claire, perhaps.

Amongst the back-and-forth (debate transcript), the question of pre-emptive war and the global test to which Kerry said he would subject any pre-emptive wars that he decided to wage.

[I opposed Bush's preemptive war, and the build-up to it, in dozens of pieces here from autumn 2002 onwards. My support for Kerry was rather posited on the basis that he would repudiate Bush's preemptive principle. My evaluations of his national security policy and personnel have grown increasingly gloomy over the months: this one does not buck the trend.]

Cheney raised the global test as a prelude to his litany of supposed Kerry errors on national security:
We heard Senator Kerry say the other night that there ought to be some kind of global test before U.S. troops are deployed preemptively to protect the United States.

Edwards picked up the reference:
What John Kerry said -- and it's just as clear as day to anybody who was listening -- he said: We will find terrorists where they are and kill them before they ever do harm to the American people, first.

We will keep this country safe. He defended this country as a young man, he will defend this country as president of the United States.

He also said very clearly that he will never give any country veto power over the security of the United States of America.

That was not what Kerry said about the global test, as the quote in my piece yesterday makes clear: he's talking about preemptive war in general, not limiting his remarks to fighting terrorism.

Moderator Gwen Ifill [2] asked Edwards for clarification. He replied:
...let me say, first, he said in the same segment -- I don't remember precisely where it was connected with what you just read -- but he said, point blank, "We will never give anyone a veto over the security of the United States of America."

Pause there to wonder at lawyer of Edwards' experience not having mastered his brief well enough to be sure of such a matter. I suspect dissembling.
What he's saying is we're going to go back to the proud tradition of the United States of America and presidents of the United States of America for the last 50 to 75 years.

First, we're going to actually tell the American people the truth. We're going to tell them the truth about what's happening.

In the immortal words of John McEnroe, You cannot be serious! Bay of Pigs, Tonkin Gulf Incidents, Iran-Contra - many more. Presidents of the era he mentions have deliberately misled the American people on matters of national security on countless occasions.

All the more surprising he should come up with such arrant bollocks (well up to Cheney's standard) when his running-mate started his political career with challenging the lies of the Vietnam war! A war in which USG deceptions were as numerous as grains of sand on the beaches of Cam Ranh Bay.

If Bush is inclined to live in a fantasy world - and he is - I wonder whether it's the same one Edwards is talking about...
We're not going to suggest to them that things are going well in Iraq or anyplace else when, in fact, they're not.

We're going to make sure that the American people know the truth about why we are using force and what the explanation for it is.

Viewers - apart from those Pollyannas who swallow his utterly counter-factual rose-tinted view of US foreign policy in the decades before 2001 - will no doubt have had their own views on whether Kerry could manage what a dozen earlier presidents could not.
And it's not just the American people. We're also going to make sure that we tell the world the truth.

Because the reality is, for America to lead, for America to do what it's done for 50 years before this president and vice president came into office, it is critical that we be credible.

It is critical that they believe that when America takes action, they can trust what we're doing, what we say, what we say at the United Nations, what we say in direct conversations with leaders of the world -- of other countries.

They need to know that the credibility of the United States is always good, because they will not follow us without that.

That's pretty clear: the diplomacy that the global test is purely an exercise in propaganda, however truthful it might prove to be.

There is no question of seeking consent - that would be to accept a veto on US action. No question either, it seems, that the US action need be justified as legal under international law (including the UN Charter). No question, either, that this information process necessarily occur in advance of the action taken - even where a preemptive attack is made otherwise than in response to an imminent threat (in the Caroline sense [3]).

Edwards seems to think that honesty is a substitute for legality and genuine diplomacy. It's hard to think that he really finds it
It is critical that they believe that when America takes action, they can trust what we're doing
when the scope of the - accountability seems altogether too strong a word - that he proposes the US should engage in with other nations is so shallow and peremptory.

If this is the sort of diplomacy that Kerry thinks will win the French and Germans to supply quantities of troops to relieve US forces' Iraq overstretch, then he has another thing coming.

(I refuse to think that Edwards was winging it with his global test responses - he knew the question would come up, and was surely carefully prepared on it, with input from the likes of Holbrooke and Beers.)

For anyone hoping to see the replacement of US unilateralism by a foreign policy based on cooperation with other powers to further genuine US national interests - as distinct from the PNAC Middle East project, or projects of humanitarian imperialism in Africa (can you say Darfur?) - Edwards gave us naught for our comfort in Cleveland last night.

  1. In the popular imagination - lions led by donkeys, the infamous musical Oh What A Lovely War and so forth. The revisionist view of the likes of John Terraine (The Smoke and the Fire, a Douglas Haig biography, as well, from memory) is that it was not much different from, other wars - the American Civil War or World War 2 - in the pointlessness of its casualties or the effectiveness of its generalship.

  2. Who performed as well as Bush did in the Florida debate: compelling one to ponder the part affirmative action played in her advancement. (Bush, of course, has enjoyed plenty of affirmative action of a rather different kind in his...)

  3. The definition of preemptive that Kerry-Edwards are using has yet to be elucidated. And, of course, it's critical. I can't imagine it's limited to the Caroline sense. But the principle they espouse must surely fall short of permitting war to be waged on the basis of potential threat.

    China, for instance, is a stupendous potential threat to the US: teeming population, astonishing sustained economic growth, nuclear weaponry. It looks like Germany under the Second Reich. (The PLA, last time I looked, was in poor shape - but the country has the resources to fix that.) Yet surely, as a matter of principle (clearly, as a practical matter, it would be lunacy to try it!), the Kerry-Edwards pre-emption doctrine wouldn't extend to war on the PRC in current circumstances.

    So what does it stretch to? I mentioned Osiraq in yesterday's piece as an example to test their doctrine. I get the feeling a raid like it would be covered by KE permissible preemption.

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