Jewish World Review Oct. 13, 2004 / 28 Tishrei, 5765
Peter A. Brown
Patriot Act, preemptive force here to stay
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | The Bush doctrine of preemptive defense and the much-criticized Patriot Act apparently will remain in place no matter who wins the White House.
That's because John Kerry, one surmises after reading poll numbers, has decided that opposition to either can't help him win the presidency. In fact, it might make that task more difficult.
Although vociferous opposition to preemptive action and the Patriot Act were hallmarks of the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Kerry hasn't dwelled on either subject very much in his otherwise stinging criticism of President Bush's record.
When pressed on the use of preemptive force during his first debate with Bush, Kerry decided it is a pretty good policy after all. And Kerry ducked an opportunity before the estimated 60 million viewers to challenge Bush's assertion that the Patriot Act the senator had once decried had made Americans safer.
Might that be because Americans, intelligently and overwhelmingly, favor both policies as necessary in a changing world fraught with 21st-century terrorism?
It would not be the first time Kerry has changed his views in the face of public opinion.
The thrust of Kerry's critique of Bush's war policy is that the president has handled the Iraq incursion poorly and without sufficient planning for the postwar period. Kerry doesn't argue that the policy that motivated the invasion itself was flawed.
In a high-profile speech at the U.S. Military Academy more than two years ago, Bush declared, "The war on terror will not be won on the defensive." He said the nation's historic policy of not attacking first needed to be updated to safeguard the country in the 21st century when terrorists, not nation-states, are the leading threat.
In justifying the U.S. attack on Iraq, Bush invoked this doctrine. And the White House has pointed to Libya's subsequent decision to end its weapons-of-mass-destruction program as a dividend of Bush's new policy.
In the Sept. 30 debate, Kerry refused to rule out preemptive strikes when required by the national interest. Given the questions about the developing nuclear-weapons programs in North Korea and Iran, Kerry was wise to adopt that position.
The stark contrast from the fierce Democratic criticism of Bush as a warmonger for his doctrine of preemption during the party's presidential primaries is mind-boggling. One would think from listening to Kerry these days that he has always backed the policy of preemption.
The few times that Kerry does dare to mention the Patriot Act these days, he doesn't call for its outright repeal as he once did. The Democrats' new game plan on that once-hot topic is to play down their differences with it and emphasize that a few areas need correction.
Kerry & Co.'s change of heart about the Patriot Act and the notion of preemptive military strikes indicates that Democrats have learned the lesson of 1988.
That's when then former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry's boss, Democratic presidential nominee and Gov. Michael Dukakis, picked the views and values of the American Civil Liberties Union over those of the American people.
The fight in 1988 was over prison furloughs for convicted murderers. In 2004, the battle is over individual rights vs. collective security and the wisdom of waiting for an enemy to strike before the United States defends itself.
No matter what positions Kerry took in the primaries, he understands that what passes for conventional wisdom on these matters in Boston and Berkeley doesn't fly in Birmingham and Boise.
That's why, during the first debate, he tried to play down the notion that Bush's doctrine on the use of preemptive force was anything new. And although Kerry argued pre-emptive defense has been de facto U.S. policy since the Cold War, he didn't mention that no president since then had ever taken such action.
He did, however, suggest that any preemptive action must be carried out in a way that "passes the global test" of international opinion. But then, when the televised debate was over, he quickly denied that meant other nations should have veto power over what a president decides is in the United States' best interests.
Were Kerry not an adroit poll reader, he would surely be talking once more about how Bush's Patriot Act was trying to turn librarians into government informants and would strip Americans of their civil liberties.
That's what Kerry, who voted as a senator for the Patriot Act when it passed Congress with little opposition following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said last winter.
"Repeal the Patriot Act" was a stock Kerry campaign line.
Of course, Kerry's recent refusal to assail either the Bush doctrine or the Patriot Act could reflect long and deep thought on the subject.
If you believe that, however, I have a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in buying.
09/15/04: Kerry bets on Iraq change over consistency