Long ago and far away

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Kerry's "Terrorism as Nuisance"

My initial reaction to the New York Times magazine interview with John Kerry was less negative than I thought it would be. In fact, thanks to some reasonable reporting, I sort of have feel for Senator Kerry’s thought processes. That doesn’t give me much comfort.

I’m beginning to get the idea that Mr. Kerry is sort of a “one trick pony” when it comes to the world of ideas. Everything he says seems to be based on an analogy to one of his prior experiences. But he doesn’t seem to be able to move quickly to embrace new ideas, but he does have a certain consistency. An odd, out-of-phase consistency.

Thus, we see his clumsy analogy between terrorism and organized crime and prostitution. He has some experience prosecuting the latter, so he chooses to apply that knowledge to the battle against the former. His view of the military is shaped by his own experience in Vietnam. Every war becomes the Vietnam War. His view of the supremacy of diplomacy was probably shaped by the experience of growing up in a diplomat’s family. His long held opposition to nuclear weapons has not been modified over the years, so we see his strong reaction to the possibility of the U.S. developing nuclear bunker busters. It may explain why he has remained so classically leftist while many in his party moved to a more centrist positions.

So, when he discusses his view of terrorism, it is a view shaped by his experiences in working with drug lords and money launderers, the “non-state” forces that he went after before. Once again he turns to what he has done before.
In the the New York Times Magazine article (The New York Times > Magazine > Kerry's Undeclared War )
Bai, the reporter, attempts to distinguish President Bush’s position from Mr. Kerry’s by asserting that Bush is focusing on nations rather than these stateless supranational groups. I believe this understates the effort being made by the administration to use law enforcement techniques to clamp down on terrorist money while also providing examples of how the big stick will be used to thump nations who support terrorists. While they are not yet completely to be trusted, certainly Pakistan and Libya seem to have received loud and clear the message Mr. Bush sent out about being “with us or against us” in the fight against global terrorism.

Senator Kerry’s approach fails to recognize that some states operate outside the bounds of international law. Diplomacy has minimal impact on them. Indeed, some of these states are barely states at all, but are rather merely borders that encompass everything from street level dictatorships to tribal wars to warlord enclaves (think Somalia or Rwanda). Other states do not control all of their ostensible territory, but have large chunks that are under the rule of the gun. Since they have little or no trade, sanctions can have little impact on them (North Korea for instance, seems to be willing to allow its own people to starve rather than mend its ways). When dealing with such “nations” attempting to even find a government to negotiate with that has the power to enforce the results of any such diplomatic effort is a challenge. Further, there are other states, such as Iran, who recognize that Western dependence on their oil puts them outside the threat of meaningful sanctions.

Kerry seems unwilling to accept the idea that there are states that are so corrupt or so filled with rage that they will harbor virtually any group willing to pay enough protection money or to do the bidding of the regime on occasion, while maintaining as degree of “plausible deniability” about what they are doing. Iran, in particular, seems to fall into this mode.

Senator Kerry also seems naïve in expecting that he can form airtight alliances that will prove incapable of succumbing to bribery and self-interest. He has not addressed the issue of the Oil for Food scandal on the sanctions program against Iraq, perhaps because he believes that a certain level of corruption is inevitable, based on his past experience in dealing with organized crime.

Kerry’s view must be tested by voters against the real world they live in. Is Kerry simply too idealistic? Rudy Giuliani thinks so and challenges Kerry’s thought that, given the seeming impossibility of ever truly defeating terrorism, maybe the best we can hope for is a world in which terrorism is not a big thing, but put back into place as one of life’s “nuisances”:

I’m wondering exactly when Senator Kerry thought they were just a nuisance.
Maybe when they attacked the USS Cole? Or when they attacked the World Trade
Center in 1993? Or when they slaughtered the Israeli athletes at the Munich
Olympics in 1972? Or killed Leon Klinghoffer by throwing him overboard? Or the
innumerable number of terrorist acts that they committed in the 70s, the 80s and
the 90s, leading up to September 11?

This is so different from the President’s view and my own, which is in those days, when we were fooling
ourselves about the danger of terrorism, we were actually in the greatest
danger. When you don’t confront correctly and view realistically the danger that
you face, that’s when you’re at the greatest risk. When you at least realize the
danger and you begin to confront it, then you begin to become safer. And for him
to say that in the good old days – I’m assuming he means the 90s and the 80s and
the 70s -- they were just a nuisance, this really begins to explain a lot of his
inconsistent positions on how to deal with it because he’s not defining it
correctly.

I think Mr. Kerry’s definition is shaped by his inability to adapt to the new,
cold and hard reality of the post 9/11world. And it is wrong.

Update: corrected posting date

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