Kerry's Foreign Policy Trap

John Kerry is getting more than his share of tsuris these days: On Saturday, April 24 the New York Times ran a front page story headlined "Kerry's Anti-War Past Is a Delicate Issue in Campaign" and America Online featured it as its top news story of the day. In an accompanying AOL poll, 67 percent of the people responding to the question "Do you think John Kerry's anti-war past will hurt him in November?" answered yes. Despite polls showing the public does not believe America is safer today than it was before 9/11 and that most people believe there will be another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Kerry has not been able to distinguish himself from President Bush on these and a host of other foreign policy issues.

Leave it to the San Francisco Chronicle's brilliant cartoonist/satirist, Don Asmussen, the creator of "Bad Reporter: The LIES behind the TRUTH, and the TRUTH behind those LIES that are behind that TRUTH," to sum up Kerry's dilemma: The strip's first panel on April 23 features the headline "U.S. Invaded, Taken Over By Al Qaeda -- Kerry Still Lags Behind Bush." While Kerry "brain trust" urges him to strike back, the candidate incredulously claims that the "voters are more interested in education."

In the penultimate panel, Bush has "accidentally" destroyed the Earth, yet, "Kerry Still Trails in Polls." Finally, Bush, in space standing on "on a piece of what used to be Maine," is calling for "More Tax Cuts." A "directionless" Kerry is floating around in space and grasps for the "one last chance to turn things around." He reaches out for...Sen. Joe Lieberman!

On the domestic side of the balance sheet, should Kerry be elected he won't be calling on the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson for advice; he won't have a horde of right-wing operatives embedded within the administration fashioning domestic policy; and his administration won't be a one-stop employment agency for policy wonks from the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Family Research Council and other right wing think tanks, public policy institutes and lobbying outfits. On such issues as a woman's right to choose, workers rights, judicial appointments, faith-based initiatives, education, health care and the rights of gays Kerry has thus far remained on the moderately liberal to progressive side of the ledger.

However, in light of the dramatic increase in U.S. casualties in Iraq -- 720 as of this writing -- the resumption of fighting in Fallujah -- a city that has already experienced more than 1000 dead, including hundreds of woman and children -- and the daily suicide bombings and insurgent attacks, it is becoming increasingly clear that the battlefield for the election will not be the economy, education, the environment or even same-sex marriage. It will be the president's war on terrorism, his failed occupation of Iraq, and his other "visionary" foreign policy initiatives. On these issues Kerry has chosen to march nearly lock-step with Bush.

There are nuanced differences between Kerry and Bush on Iraq -- while in support of the war, Kerry doesn't think Bush is handling the postwar period well. In fighting the war on terrorism Kerry suggests U.S. resources are being squandered -- but these are differences without a distinction. Kerry prefers the United Nations take a lead role in the "handover," but that pretty much squares itself with Bush's recent statements that the construction of a transition government is in the hands of the United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Bush's move "essentially co-opted Kerry's long-standing proposal that the United Nations be given a key role in administering the occupation and organizing elections," the San Francisco Chronicle's Robert Collier recently wrote.

Kerry's inability to set himself apart from Bush on Iraq, the war against terrorism, and Israel and Palestine was made abundantly clear during the past few weeks when Kerry supported Bush's dressing down of Spain's Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, after the new prime minister decided to remove its troops from Iraq -- as he had promised during his campaign; and aligned himself with President's Bush's embrace of Ariel Sharon's policy of assassinating of Hamas leaders.

Kerry appears to be out-Bushing Bush when it comes to Cuba and Venezuela: Seeing Florida in play, he has emphasized his support for the four-decades-old Cuban embargo; and he has accused Venezuela President Hugo Chavez of "allowing Venezuela to become a haven for narco-terrorists" and fomenting revolution in the hemisphere by supporting Colombia's leftist guerrillas.

Instead of confronting Bush head to head on these critical foreign policy issues, Kerry's election strategy has Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) stamped all over it, causing many to question whether the Democratic candidate is nothing more than "Bush-Lite."

The DLC formed after the 1988 election -- in which Dukakis was branded as too much of a liberal -- and took on Bill Clinton as their centrist standard-bearer; their intention was to move the party away from the left and towards the center. The DLC has since been accused in these pages of sabotaging the Howard Dean candidacy.

Ralph Nader has branded the organization "corporatist" and "soulless." In a July 29, 2003 piece titled "The Democratic Weaselship Council" Salon's Joan Walsh asks rather incredulously "Has Karl Rove taken over the Democratic Leadership Council?"

In a document entitled "Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy" the DLC addresses foreign policy issues. It basically echoes the Bush Administration's foreign policy objectives, while giving lip service to the need for including other nations. The document touts the "party's tradition of muscular internationalism" and explains that it "supported the Bush administration's toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan" and "backed the goal of ousting Saddam Hussein's malignant regime...because Saddam posed a grave danger to America as well as his own brutalized people, and because his blatant defiance of more than a decade's worth of United Nations Security Council resolutions was undermining both collective security and international law."

News that Bob Shrum, the long-time Democratic Party insider and close advisor to Senator Ted Kennedy -- who recently called Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam" -- will be playing a greater role in the Kerry campaign may or may not shift the candidate's foreign policy thrust. Shrum is a co-founder, along with James Carville and Stanley Greenberg of Democracy Corps, a liberal political research group that frequently counters the DLC line.

Eliot Cohen, director of the Strategic Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, isn't sure there will be any policy changes. "When I look at the kinds of people who are advising Kerry, assuming Kerry runs his foreign policy from center and right of the Democratic Party, it would be very compatible with the Bush administration," Cohen told the Chronicle's Robert Collier.

Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering right-wing groups and movements.

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