TCS Daily

Innocent Abroad

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - November 1, 2004 12:00 AM

The war in Iraq and the potential conflict over North Korea's nuclear program are two of the biggest foreign policy challenges facing the next President. As such, they are naturally two of the biggest issues in this Presidential campaign. As the incumbent, President Bush has compiled a record in dealing with both Iraq and North Korea, and that record will face the voters' judgment on November 2nd.

John Kerry, on the other hand, can only be judged based on his rhetorical views on Iraq and North Korea. So let's take a look at that rhetoric and see how well it fits the realities on the ground.

Regarding Iraq, Kerry has repeatedly criticized the Bush Administration for not having brought enough allies on board for the military action and the subsequent occupation. On a number of occasions, Kerry contrasted the current coalition (which he called a "coalition of the bribed and the coerced") with that of the first Persian Gulf War -- which Kerry now holds up as the model of what an international coalition should be.

But Kerry's adulatory rhetoric regarding the first Gulf War should not disguise the fact that when it came time to vote on the resolution to authorize the first President Bush to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, Kerry voted "no." As Max Boot points out in the LA Times, the reasons Kerry gave for his vote back in 1991 sound almost exactly like the reasons he gives now for criticizing the war that ousted Saddam Hussein:

"I do not believe our nation is prepared for war. If we do go to war, for years people will ask why Congress gave in. They will ask why there was such a rush to so much death and destruction when it did not have to happen."

The 1991 coalition against Saddam Hussein included armies from France, Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia arrayed against Saddam Hussein. Again, Kerry praises that coalition today and says that the current President Bush would have done well to follow his father's coalition-building skills. Yet, in 1991, Kerry was singing a different tune:

"I regret that I do not see a new world order in the United States going to war with shadow battlefield allies who barely carry a burden. It is too much like the many flags policy of the old order in Vietnam, where other countries were used to try to mask the unilateral reality." (From the Washington Post -- emphasis mine.)

To Kerry, no matter how many allies are involved, it seems it is always a "unilateral reality" where the allies "barely carry a burden." The incoherence and inconsistency in Kerry's stance regarding Iraq and the building of coalitions naturally leads us to wonder whether any international coalition would meet his standards for multilateralism. And if Kerry cannot keep his critiques and positions clear, why should his statements on Iraq be taken seriously by the voters in the run-up to Election Day?

On North Korea, Kerry has argued for bilateral talks between the United States and the regime of Kim Jong-Il. This position repudiates decades of American policy -- which has been to demand that South Korea be included in any discussions and to involve countries like China -- which historically has exercised a great deal of influence over North Korea. Current American policy is to encourage six-party talks regarding the future of the Korean peninsula involving the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. Traditionally, the United States has refused to engage the North Koreans bilaterally so as to ensure that these other countries -- especially South Korea -- will not be excluded from the discussions. North Korea views South Korea as a puppet of the United States, and has traditionally been eager to bypass it and to talk with the United States directly.

Kerry has argued that he would like to have both bilateral discussions with the North, as well as the six-party talks that the Bush Administration seeks. The problem is that, according to the BBC, the other parties aren't as enthusiastic:

"Analysts believe Pyongyang may be waiting to see who will win the November elections before it makes its next move. It has refused to take part in a fourth round of six-nation talks which was planned for this month.

"But US Secretary of State Colin Powell stressed on Thursday - after talks with his Chinese counterpart - that Washington was still committed to this mechanism.

"'I'm quite confident that the six-part framework is a framework in which this matter will be dealt with for the foreseeable future, because it serves the interests of all parties,' Mr. Powell said.

"He said that North Korea's neighbours in particular had 'an even greater equity in seeing a denuclearised peninsula than does the United States'.

"Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, standing at his side, said the 'entire international community' agreed that the six-nation approach was the best way to deal with the problem."

Indeed, Kerry's proposal to have two-track negotiations has caused Tsutomu Takebe, the Secretary General of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party to state that four more years of George Bush is vastly preferable. It would come as no surprise to find out that other Japanese politicians feel the same way -- which may cause problems in the event that Kerry is elected and has to deal with the Japanese in addressing the many challenges posed by Kim Jong-Il's regime.

John Kerry presents an image of foreign policy competence and savvy for voters, but the fact is that when it comes to the issue of multilateralism in Iraq and the crisis on the Korean peninsula, Kerry's statements and proposed policies are full of inconsistencies and contradictions. With the Presidential election almost upon us, we would do well to consider candidate Kerry's statements, and the impact they might have if Kerry is elected to the White House.


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