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Jewish World Review Feb. 9, 2004 / 17 Shevat, 5764

Michael Barone

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But what would Kerry do? |
Former weapons inspector David Kay's statements that he could find no stores of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that he believes none will be found there have provided emotional sustenance to the `BUSH LIED' crowd and present a political problem for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Yet Kay's comments fail to sustain the charges Bush's opponents make against him.

Did he manipulate the intelligence? No. U.S. intelligence concluded that Iraq has had WMD since the 1990s, when Bush was governor of Texas. The major foreign intelligence services all agreed. Did Bush lie about it? No. He reported accurately what the agencies said. Did he base his case for war solely on WMD? No. He also argued that military action would oust a regime that supported terrorism and that a free Iraq would make the Middle East less dangerous.

Nor is it clear that this is an intelligence failure that could have been prevented. Saddam Hussein acted as if he had WMD, violating United Nations resolutions seeking disclosure of his weapons. Kay now theorizes that Saddam's scientists may have deceived him by telling him they were working on WMD when they weren't. If so, how was U.S. intelligence to know that? And would it have been prudent to rely on such reports? The fear of Bush's opponents is that overestimates of an evil regime's capacity will lead to unnecessary wars. But the more characteristic failure of intelligence has been to underestimate evil regimes' progress toward WMD, as in the cases of Iran, North Korea, and Iraq itself in 1991. In the post-September 11 world, underestimates are surely more dangerous than overestimates.

The strongest argument that the failure to find WMD in Iraq weakens the United States is that it will reduce American credibility in the future, when a president seeks support at home and abroad for a pre-emptive war. But this is not an argument likely to be made by Bush's opponents, since they tend to oppose pre-emptive war. Which leads to the question of how they--especially the Democratic front-runner, John Kerry--would conduct foreign policy differently from Bush. Kerry presumably would not have taken military action against Iraq without France's approval, but he supported Bill Clinton when he threatened to do so in 1998. He might well engage in bilateral negotiations with North Korea, instead of the multilateral negotiations Bush has been insisting on, and make a deal like the Agreed Framework of 1994--which the North Koreans have blithely admitted they violated.

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"Unpatriotic"? Kerry might make more efforts to negotiate with the so-called reformers in Iran, although the America-hating mullahs hold all power. He might, as he has on the campaign trail, make soothing noises about the Kyoto treaty to make friends with the Europeans (which means basically France and Germany, since most European nations supported us on Iraq). But he failed to vote against the 1997 resolution in which the Senate rejected the central premise of the Kyoto treaty by 95 to 0.

There is a certain antique tone to Kerry's rhetoric. He denounces Bush's foreign policy as, among other things, the most "ideological" in history. "Ideological" was a Cold War term that soft-liners used to castigate hard- liners who opposed detente with the Soviet Union. But it hardly applies now. Bush came to favor pre-emptive war and military action in Iraq in response to post- September 11 circumstances, not on the basis of some pre-existing ideology. Similarly, Kerry and other Democrats are preoccupied by the notion that they are being or will be attacked for being "unpatriotic," as opponents of the Vietnam War sometimes were. But the only ones using the word "unpatriotic" are Democrats like Wesley Clark, who applies that label to Bush. Kerry complains that former Sen. Max Cleland was called "unpatriotic" in ads in 2002.

But the ads simply said he was voting to block passage of the homeland security bill, as he arguably was. The Republicans have been careful to acknowledge Kerry's heroism in Vietnam. But in replaying the arguments of the Vietnam era, Kerry has not shown that he has a coherent foreign policy for the post-September 11 world.

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JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2004, Michael Barone