Jewish World Review March 23, 2004 / 1 Nisan, 5764
John H. Fund
Bragging of foreign support doesn't win many votes in America.
Because polls show most voters personally like President Bush, Democrats have decided they must depict him as a liar or worse by zinging him on issues ranging from Iraq to Medicare. On the other hand, polls show that 41% of voters still have no clear opinion of John Kerry. That is why Republicans are ridiculing Kerry as an unprincipled waffler so that the first impression many voters get of him will be negative. So far the GOP satire seems to be outscoring the Democrats' claims of untrustworthiness.
Take the GOP's new video (now available on the Web) that spoofs John Kerry as Austin Powers the clueless spy in Mike Myers' films to poke fun at his refusal to name his foreign supporters. "Allow myself to introduce . . . myself," Powers says as psychedelic music plays in the background and two identical pictures of Mr. Kerry playing the guitar appear on the screen. Captions appear that read: "John Kerry: International Man of Mystery" and "And My Foreign Supporters."
Last Friday, Sen. Kerry finally had to raise the white flag in the ongoing exchange over the foreign leaders who secretly back his campaign. After a former Malaysian leader known for his anti-Semitic ravings publicly embraced Mr. Kerry, the senator's campaign was forced to concede that "this election will be decided by the American people, and the American people alone. It is simply not appropriate for any foreign leader to endorse a candidate." The Washington Post called Mr. Kerry's claim to have an international fan club "perhaps the most damaging boast in U.S. politics since Al Gore claimed the invention of the Internet."
Americans have long been acutely sensitive to foreign interests exercising undue influence on our politics. Our own revolution was to throw off the domination of Britain. Within a decade after becoming a nation, Americans were seething with anger at their former ally France in the so-called XYZ Affair. The controversy erupted in 1797 when France made indirect demands for loans and bribes in exchange for ending the seizure of U.S. ships by French privateers.
In recent years, Americans have also displayed little patience with European allies who couldn't muster a consensus to act against Serbian ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, only belatedly acted in Kosovo and wobbled over Iraq's flagrant disregard of 17 U.N. resolutions. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain's new prime minister, hasn't helped matters by pledging to end his country's participation in the "occupation" of Iraq. "Fighting terrorism with bombs, with Tomahawk missiles, isn't the way to beat terrorism, but the way to generate more radicalism," he says. European Commission President Romano Prodi has suggested "the American approach" to the war on terror has been discredited.
Mr. Kerry was thus badly hurt by his statement that foreign leaders would prefer that he be president. The American leaders most popular overseas have seldom been the ones most respected by Americans. Richard Nixon was wildly popular in Europe; the French could never understand why a "minor" scandal like Watergate should have forced him from power. Jimmy Carter won cheers abroad for warning against the "inordinate fear of Communism"; Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev famously kissed Mr. Carter on the cheek during an arms summit. Ronald Reagan, the man who defeated President Carter, was much less popular overseas, at least until the Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War ended.
Indeed, Mr. Kerry's campaign recognizes this danger. It is now doing what it can to bury the candidate's connections with France, where he spent many summers as a youth with a flock of French cousins in St.-Briac-sur-Mer, a resort town where his maternal grandfather had built an estate.
Last week, the New York Sun interviewed many French political observers who noted that Mr. Kerry is the kind of American that the French have always appreciated someone who speaks foreign languages and is urbane and sophisticated. "He is the closest thing that you will have to a French politician, with a certain diplomacy, a certain elegance," says Guillaume Parmentier, the director of the French Center on the United States. "[Mr. Bush] is perceived as being non-presidential; even his demeanor makes Europeans uneasy." Asked in what way Mr. Kerry was different, Mr. Parmentier laughed and said, "Well, he doesn't look Texan." Such comments won't go down well with many Americans, and not merely those who crack jokes about the French being "cheese-eating surrender monkeys."
Mr. Kerry's larger problem is that his public career has been far more attuned to the sensibilities of foreign leaders and countries than Americans are used to seeing in a president. In 1971, after he returned from Vietnam to head an antiwar group, Mr. Kerry told the Harvard Crimson that "I'm an internationalist. I'd like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations." In 1986, then a U.S. senator, he strongly opposed the Reagan administration's decision to bomb Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi compound in Tripoli in retaliation for a bombing in Berlin that killed two Americans and injured about 250 others. Mr. Kerry admitted at the time that it is "irrefutable that Gadhafi was behind that bombing" but said "we are not going to solve the problem of terrorism with this kind of retaliation." Even more recently, in a Democratic debate in South Carolina this January, Mr. Kerry said "I think there has been an exaggeration, they are misleading all Americans in a profound way," when asked if President Bush's administration had overstated the threat of terrorism.
To point out Sen. Kerry's record as an internationalist, a believer in nuanced diplomacy and an abiding faith in the United Nations as an instrument of foreign policy is not to question his patriotism or fidelity to American values. It is to question his judgment, since time and time again his approach to international terrorism has been tried and failed. That holds true from President Reagan's non-response to the 1983 killing of Marines in Lebanon to President Clinton's farcical bombing of an aspirin factory in Sudan in 1998.
If Sen. Kerry doesn't like the ads featuring him as Austin Powers, he better prepare for ones that compare his embrace of the incompetent U.N. bureaucracy and his on-again, off-again stance on providing money for our troops in Iraq to the bumblings of a foreign policy Inspector Clouseau.
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©2001, John H. Fund