TCS Daily

Shhhhh! It's a Secret

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - August 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Long time fans of the popular TV show "The West Wing" will recall an episode where Josh Lyman, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff got President Josiah Barlet into trouble during a press conference. When asked whether President Barlet had "a secret plan to fight inflation," Lyman sarcastically joked that there indeed was such a plan. Hilarity followed as Lyman was then forced to explain why the President of the United States would keep a plan to fight inflation a secret. And needless to say, President Barlet wasn't pleased that he was made to look so ridiculous by one of his staff members.

Life has decided to imitate art. Only this time, instead of having Presidential staffers discuss secret plans to resolve certain policy issues, we now have a Presidential candidate doing it, according to a news report in the Washington Post:

"John F. Kerry pledged Sunday he would substantially reduce U.S. troop strength in Iraq by the end of his first term in office but declined to offer any details of what he said is his plan to attract significantly more allied military and financial support there.

[. . .]

"Kerry accused President Bush of misleading the country before the war in Iraq, burning bridges with U.S. allies and having no plan to win peace. But when questioned about saying Thursday in his acceptance speech, 'I know what we have to do in Iraq,' he would not tip his hand.

"'I've been involved in this for a long time, longer than George Bush,' he said. 'I've spent 20 years negotiating, working, fighting for different kinds of treaties and different relationships around the world. I know that as president there's huge leverage that will be available to me, enormous cards to play, and I'm not going to play them in public. I'm not going to play them before I'm president.'

"Reminded that he sounded like Richard M. Nixon, who campaigned in 1968 by saying he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, Kerry responded: 'I don't care what it sounds like. The fact is that I'm not going to negotiate in public today without the presidency, without the power.'"

Kerry understands that his promise to reduce troops will be popular with a significant portion of the American public. But campaign promises are easy to make. The hard part comes in filling in the details, which Kerry refuses to do.

But, as a recent account in Britain's Guardian newspaper captured, perhaps some of Kerry's campaign surrogates can fill us in on the essentials of the "secret plan"?

"'I can't give you the details of any deal, obviously,' Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Monday. 'You don't negotiate a deal until you have a leader who is there to negotiate a deal.'

[. . .]

"Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., a top Kerry adviser, thinks Kerry could sway allies better than the president, said spokesman Norm Kurz. But that's only hypothetical - 'I don't think there's a guarantee,' he said."

Oh well, it was worth a try.

Of course, no one asks that Kerry "negotiate in public" about his plan -- especially because he has no one to negotiate with at this point. What is requested is an explanation to the American public -- which last I heard, still has a vote to cast in the Presidential election -- on how Kerry will supposedly achieve his goal of withdrawing from Iraq. That Kerry cannot spell out the specifics of his plans should speak volumes, even if Kerry himself refuses to.

After all, neither Kerry nor future Presidential candidates can claim that they can keep the specifics of their campaign promises secret merely because they fear that they may have to "negotiate in public." A President will have to negotiate in public about a great many issues -- from reducing the budget deficit, to saving Social Security, to determining future tax policy, to reforming education. Imagine the (justifiable) outcry that would occur if a Presidential candidate said that he/she had a plan to reform Social Security, but would keep it a secret from the voting public merely because he/she didn't want to "negotiate in public." Imagine the frustration that would emerge if a Presidential candidate promised to reform a broken down education system, but wouldn't tell us how the reforms would be implemented, or what the reforms even were. Such tactics only serve to impoverish debate about public policy since they would deprive the voting public of the information they need to engage the candidates in informed debate, or to make an educated decision when they go to the polls. And yet, that is precisely what John Kerry proposes to do with regard to the issue of Iraq, and its impact in the Presidential election.

Kerry's gambit is especially noteworthy given the fact that disturbing details have emerged regarding his beliefs about Iraq. Kerry is hinting quite strongly that his administration would simply abandon Iraq and engage in a policy of "cut and run" should he become President. This despite the fact that Kerry now says that even while he plans on reducing American forces in Iraq, and even while he argues that President Bush "rushed to war" without adequate information and alliance support, Kerry "still would have voted to authorize the war and 'in all probability' would have launched a military attack to oust Hussein by now if he were president." It should be plain that Kerry is talking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to Iraq, but the hints about cutting and running are worrisome enough that specificity should be demanded by the voting public regarding what Kerry would do about Iraq as President. Such specificity, however, does not appear to be in the offing.


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