Kerry flexing vs. strength
By Frank J. Gaffney Jr. Published August 3, 2004
On the face of it, last week's Democratic National Convention was a gavel-to-gavel paean to the philosophy of peace through American strength.
Speaker after speaker invoked the strength of their presidential candidate. For his part, Sen. John Kerry extolled the importance of strength and wrapped himself in its imagery -- no fewer than 17 times in his acceptance speech.
Yet, Mr. Kerry is to strength what anti-matter is to matter, what anti-gravity is to gravity. He is, in short, the anti-strength candidate.
This is the case for a simple reason: Effective strength is more than a physical attribute. The martial art of jujitsu teaches that an adversary wielding brute strength alone can be decisively defeated by someone who is weaker, but more skillful. None other than Bill Clinton made this point when he told the conventioneers that "strength and wisdom are not conflicting values -- they go hand in hand." He erred only in adding that "John Kerry has both."
Actually, John Kerry's career from Vietnam on has not been marked by either particular strength or wisdom. Its hallmarks have instead been two very different qualities -- what Shakespeare called "vaulting ambition" and generally poor judgment. Denying the reality of the latter traits in a presidential candidate in the hope of selling him to the public as a man of strength and wisdom requires a wholesale -- and hopefully unsustainably fraudulent -- political makeover.
For example, the touchstone of Mr. Kerry's claim to strength was his service in Vietnam. It was lauded by just about every convention speaker and showcased in filmed tributes and embraces from members of his Swift boat crew. Not reflected, however, were the views of 250 other veterans of those naval units who have written Mr. Kerry raising "substantive concerns as to your honesty and your ability to serve ... as commander-in-chief of the military services." (The full text of their letter can be found at www.swiftvets.com.) <see: bottom>
Some of these concerns will be amplified in a new book "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry" (Regnery, Aug. 15). Other complaints, including Mr. Kerry's unauthorized wartime use of Navy assets and personnel to film "re-enactments" of his exploits (presumably to advance his political ambitions), have already been reported in the Boston Globe, the National Review and The Washington Times.
Even more problematic is the anti-strength record John Kerry compiled from his return from Vietnam until his present candidacy. At the heart of what his admirers describe as his "nuanced" approach to foreign and defense policy is an attitude toward U.S. power that exemplifies the "blame America first" syndrome. He explicitly reviled his comrades-in-arms in Vietnam, charging them as well as their commanders with "war crimes." He advocated accommodation with North Vietnam, Sandinista Nicaragua and the Soviet Union. He opposed the procurement of advanced weapons essential to the projection of power and protection of our forces. And while he tries to dismiss such behavior as the stuff of, as he said on Fox News Sunday, "a different time" -- "right after the fall of the Soviet Union; the Cold War had ended; people saw things differently" -- this was actually the way he behaved during the Cold War's long twilight struggle, as well.
To be sure, after the Berlin Wall fell, Mr. Kerry became even more overtly opposed to the philosophy of peace through strength and the military wherewithal required to enjoy its benefits. While too many on both sides of the aisle fell for seductive appeals to cash in the "peace dividend," John Kerry earned his rating as the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate in no small measure by advocating far deeper cuts in the armed forces and intelligence community. Had his "leadership" actually been followed at the time, the nation would have been left even more severely ill-prepared to deal with today's threats than we are at present.
Now, Mr. Kerry unconvincingly claims that he will be able to demonstrate strength where George W. Bush has failed thanks to his experience negotiating with foreign countries (principally, it would appear, aimed at normalizing relations with Communist Vietnam), his service on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees and his first-hand acquaintanceship with a number of world leaders. His anti-strength tendencies show through, however, when he slips -- as he apparently did on Fox on Sunday -- and declares, "I understand how to get us out of Iraq."
On Thursday night, Mr. Kerry offered his audience what seemingly was intended to be the ultimate proof of his strength: "I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security."
This statement is remarkable for two reasons: (1) It belies Mr. Kerry's well-established proclivities; (2) the Massachusetts senator's harshest criticism of the Bush foreign policy is that the incumbent president not only believes in this principle, he actually acted upon it -- notably, by invading Iraq rather than allowing our French, German and Russian "allies" to exercise the veto they promised Saddam Hussein would prevent the overthrow of his regime.
Thus, the choice Americans will have to make this autumn is pretty straightforward: Accept the claimed "strength" of a man who has spent his entire public life seeking higher office on a platform of accommodation of our adversaries and opposition to the policies and programs aimed at defeating and destroying them. Or re-up a president who has repeatedly demonstrated the robust quality of his wartime leadership by successfully executing just such peace-through-strength policies and associated rearmament initiatives.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.