View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Kerry the "Realist" 

Over the weekend, John Kerry published an op-ed piece detailing his "realistic" "vision" for Iraq. The Bush campaign should hope that he finds time to keep writing.

Our military performed brilliantly in the war's first mission: ending the regime of Saddam Hussein. And all Americans share President Bush's desire for Iraqis to live with the blessings of democracy and security. But we are a practical people, and we know that all the rhetoric we've heard hasn't been accompanied by a realistic plan to win the peace and bring our troops home. We know that a chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Eric Shinseki, was right when he argued that more troops would be needed to establish security and win the peace in the weeks and months after Saddam Hussein's fall. And we know, especially, that we should have brought more friends and allies to the cause.

By carefully avoiding any mention of why we went to war, and how success in Iraq makes the US more secure, Kerry is trying to frame the question entirely in terms of an exit strategy. The issue is no longer how to win a war against radical Islam, but rather how to shift the burden so we can bring the troops home.

The point here is not to revisit history but to forge a new policy based on what we know and on what will be most effective. We still have an opportunity to prevent Iraq from becoming a failed state and a haven for global terrorists and Islamic extremists. We can still succeed in promoting stability, democracy, protection of minority and women's rights, and peace in the region, even at this late hour, if we construct and follow a realistic path. But if we are to reduce the overwhelming military and financial burden America is bearing and maximize the chances of success, we will need help from others. Getting that help will require not only convincing our friends and allies that we share an interest in preventing failure but also giving them a meaningful voice and role in Iraqi affairs. That is the only way to forge real cooperation, and it is long past time for this to be done.

Follow the bouncing ball here. Again, Kerry fails to show any understanding of why we fought in Iraq in the first place. The only issue now is how to avoid catastrophe. The risks that he posits were exactly the reasons for going to war initially, but Kerry sees them only as consequences of intervention. Note also that Kerry doesn't consider these dire consequences, with worldwide implications, to be sufficient to recruit the allies he believes to be necessary. And finally, our "allies" should have a "meaningful voice and role in Iraqi affairs." So, while sovereignty was the rallying cry for Saddam's Iraq, it's dangerous to allow too much of it for a democratic Iraq.

On the economic front, that means giving them fair access to the multibillion-dollar reconstruction contracts. It also means letting them be a part of putting Iraq's profitable oil industry back together. In return, they must forgive Hussein's multibillion-dollar debts to their countries and pay their fair share of the reconstruction bill.

Huh? We're offering portions of multibillion-dollar contracts in return for forgiveness of multibillion-dollar debt, and promises to pay their "fair share" of those very contracts. In other words, we're offering a net financial loss as a financial incentive. From this equation, the "allies" we're trying to buy, er, bribe, er, persuade, are better off staying invested in Iraq's future by holding onto those loans.

We should also give them a leadership role in pursuing our wider strategic goals in the region. As partners, we should convene a regional conference with Iraq's neighbors. Such a conference would have two goals. First, it should secure a pledge from Iraq's neighbors to respect Iraq's borders and not to interfere in its internal affairs. And second, it should commit Iraq's leaders to provide clear protection for minorities, thus removing a major justification for possible outside intervention. Together, we should jump-start large-scale involvement with an international high commissioner to coordinate economic assistance and organize and implement these diplomatic initiatives.

Now, Kerry's spinning off into deep space without a tether. He carefully avoids enumerating Iraq's neighbors. They include such defenders of the international order as Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. All three countries have powerful reasons to see Iraq fail. Such faith in international conferences, after the 20th Century, is touching in its naivite. Appropriate, perhaps, for an op-ed writer, dangerous in a President.

After we take all these steps, and dramatically secure Iraq's external security through Iranian, Syrian, and Saudi promises, NATO can step in as a police force.

Sure. Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are all just itching to help us get out of the quagmire that Kerry imagines Iraq to be. Let's stipulate that Iraq is a quagmire (it's not) and that NATO has tens of thousands of extra, well-trained troops looking for police duty (it doesn't). Knowing that the purpose of leaving Iraq alone is to help the US out of a mess, and to replace the coalition with NATO troops, why on earth would they agree to such a thing? Indeed, they have every incentive not to, knowing that a democratic Iraq poses a serious threat-by-example to their own regimes.

Worse, they'd have an incentive to do what regimes in that part of the world do so well - lie. Get us to "internationalize" the mission, and then proceed to undermine the country, anyway. After we've started to bring the troops home.

We're going to give "a leadership role in pursuing our wider strategic goals in the region" to countries that plainly are hostile to those goals. Leadership roles are earned, not given away as sops to countries that have obstructed us every step of the way. If democracy, stability, and economic growth aren't enough to persuade Germany and France and Russia that our interests coincide, does Kerry really have such a low opinion of his friends that he believes that a few billion in cement contracts is going to win them over?

Most ominously, Kerry doesn't discuss what he thinks our "strategic goals" in the region are supposed to be. Kerry shows no signs of understanding the larger strategic role that Iraq is supposed to play. He shows no signs of being willing to support Israel in the face of European hostility.

In short, candidate Kerry is promising a President Kerry who is willing to put the national interests of the US, as he sees them, in the hands of bought allies and honest enemies. Now all he needs is a peanut farm and a toothy grin.

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