Kerry Faces the World

What would a John Kerry foreign policy look like? In some ways a lot like one the current President's father could endorse

Democratic foreign-policy hands tend to be less ideologically driven than Republican ones. Their strengths lean toward technocratic expertise and procedural competence rather than theories and grand visions. This lack of partisan edge is best illustrated by the fact that two of Kerry's top advisers served on Bush's National Security Council staff as recently as last year (Beers as senior director for counterterrorism, and Flynt Leverett as senior director for Middle East initiatives). The team that advised candidate Bush in 1999 and 2000—the so-called "Vulcans"—was practically the mirror opposite of the Kerry team. Though all its members had served at least one stint in government, most had held political appointments rather than working for decades in the security bureaucracy, as Beers did. And whereas Kerry's team is the embodiment of the nation's professional national-security apparatus, key members of Bush's team, such as Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, had spent entire careers trying to overthrow it.

In a telling sign of the parties' differences on foreign policy, discussion of the next Secretary of State is rampant among Democrats. (The issue of who would run the Pentagon—more of a power base in Republican Administrations, particularly this one—is a subject of much less debate.) Speculation focuses primarily on Richard Holbrooke, Clinton's former ambassador to the United Nations, who gained fame and no little notoriety for his peacemaking efforts in Bosnia; and Joseph Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who remains its senior Democratic member. Both men are stars in the somewhat gray firmament of Democratic foreign policy; both boast outsize personalities and loyal followings; and the two scarcely differ in their approach to the major foreign-policy issues of the moment.

Other key appointments would most likely be filled by the advisers who have surrounded Kerry since he launched his bid for the nomination. Rand Beers is often touted as a Democratic successor to Condoleezza Rice; he functioned as the equivalent of a National Security Adviser to Kerry throughout the primaries, crafting many of his policy positions. Others who figure prominently are Nancy Stetson, the chief foreign-policy adviser on Kerry's Senate staff, and Jonathan Winer, a longtime aide who specialized in international money laundering and terrorist financial networks for Kerry in the 1980s and early 1990s, and later in Clinton's State Department.

From the archives:

"Spies, Lies, and Weapons: What Went Wrong" (January/February 2004)
How could we have been so far off in our estimates of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs? A detailed account of how and why we erred. By Kenneth M. Pollack

From Atlantic Unbound:

Interviews: "Weapons of Misperception" (January 13, 2004)
Kenneth M. Pollack, the author of The Threatening Storm, explains how the road to war with Iraq was paved with misleading and manipulated intelligence.

A number of former Clinton officials, turned out by Bush's victory, would probably return to fill additional positions in a Kerry Administration. Some likely candidates are Ron Asmus (a State Department veteran and a possible assistant secretary of state for Europe), Jamie Rubin (Madeleine Albright's chief spokesman at the State Department), and several notable veterans of Clinton's National Security Council staff, including James Steinberg, Ivo Daalder, and Kenneth Pollack. Although some divisions exist among them (Daalder was an adviser to Howard Dean, for instance), these veterans tend to take a more hawkish approach to foreign policy than most professional Democrats of the post-Vietnam generation and even many current Democratic voters. Pollack is the author of The Threatening Storm, an influential book that argued for regime change in Iraq and was frequently cited by Republicans during the buildup to the invasion. Late last year, when Howard Dean was the front-runner, Pollack, Asmus, and another key Kerry adviser—the former State Department official Greg Craig—signed a manifesto titled "Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy," which aimed to put the Democratic foreign-policy establishment on record against Dean's perceived slide toward the party's dovish past.

Over the course of Clinton's presidency, especially during his second term, the President's foreign-policy team crafted a new vision of how America should engage with the post-Cold War world. Because this process got into gear well before 9/11, when the world was less keenly attuned to lofty questions of foreign policy, their vision received far less attention than the high-octane theorizing of Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and the neocons before and after the attacks. Nevertheless, it offers a road map to the probable overall direction of a Kerry Administration—one that might surprise people familiar with Kerry only through his relentless criticism of Bush on the campaign trail. These ex-Clintonites are quite comfortable with the use of force, and actually agree with the Bush Administration on some key goals—for instance, exporting democracy and political liberalization—though they differ significantly on how they would pursue them. They also differ on the question of where the true threats to America lie and how to combat them. Kerry's advisers focus less exclusively on nation-states like those Bush identified in his infamous "Axis of Evil" speech and more on the host of diffuse dangers that have arisen in the wake of globalization: destabilization, arms smuggling, and terrorism.

As the situation in Iraq has worsened, Kerry has stepped up his criticism of the Bush Administration. In an April 30 speech at Westminster College, Kerry laid out a three-part plan for the occupation and reconstruction of the country. First he would expand and internationalize the security force by seeking the support of the UK, France, Russia, and China, and also NATO, which, he suggested, might take control of the borders and train Iraq's army. Second he would propose an international high commissioner to oversee elections, write a constitution, and organize the reconstruction efforts. Third he would launch a "massive training effort" to expand Iraqi security forces. Taking those steps, Kerry declared, "is the only way to succeed in the mission while ending the sense of an American occupation." On the surface this may sound like merely a difference of emphasis—as though the only change Kerry proposes is a dash more multilateralism and UN involvement. But beyond specifics, the significance of which can be misinterpreted, lies a fundamental difference in world view between Democrats and Republicans—a difference in how they see the nature of the threat facing America. This, more than any distinction between hawk and dove, is also the fundamental foreign-policy difference between Bush and Kerry.

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Joshua Micah Marshall is the editor of the Web log Talking Points Memo and a contributing writer for The Washington Monthly.

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