Jewish World Review Feb. 10, 2004/ 18 Shevat, 5763
Kerry won't scare any of the big beasts
One hopes the misprint doesn't lead the less seasoned hiker into an awkward situation, and that any mountain lion confronted by city folks dutifully adopting the prescribed position will think "What the hell do they mean by that?" and wander off shaking his head rather than flying into a carnivorous rage.
I thought of the advice when I caught Presidential candidate John Kerry, the Default Democrat, at one of his final campaign stops in New Hampshire. Unlike the noisily anti-war Howard Dean, Kerry has taken a different tack. The thinking seems to be that, on the war, George W Bush is the mountain lion and the Dems need to "do all you can to appear larger". When I first encountered him on the hustings last summer, Kerry was austere and patrician and all too obviously found electioneering a distasteful chore. He mentioned his service in Vietnam a lot, but only as biography. Now he implicitly contrasts his military record with George W Bush's, and thereby to the war on terror. Mostly he does this through meaningless slogans. Everywhere he goes he intones portentously: "I know something about aircraft carriers for real." What does this mean? Does he own one? He's certainly rich enough to afford one and, unlike the French, one that works.
But, of course, it doesn't have to mean anything. It's like the other catchphrases in his stump speech: "We band of brothers," he says, indicating his fellow veterans. "We're a little older, we're a little greyer, but we still know how to fight for this country." These lines are the equivalent of the guy in the woods raising his arms and opening his jacket: it's a way of making a dull politician with no legislative accomplishments and two decades of shifty, flip-flop weathervane votes appear larger than he is. The Dems reckon that Bush is a single-issue candidate - he's the war guy - and that, if Kerry can make himself appear larger on the national-security front, Bush's single issue will cease to be an issue and the election will be fought on Democratic turf - healthcare, education, and so forth.
So far the strategy's working. Kerry won three purple hearts in Vietnam, while Bush was either in the National Guard or, according to Michael Moore, a "deserter". This charge is easily rebutted, but once you start having to explain things the other guy's won. What counts is not the fine print but the meta-narrative: Kerry was in South-East Asia, Bush was in the South-West United States. That makes Kerry seem "larger", which may be why the Bushies are waddling away from a fight on the issue.
But the idea that this puffs up Kerry to be the President's equal on the new war is a more tortuous stretch. The only relevant lesson from Vietnam is this: then, as now, it was not possible for the enemy to achieve military victory over the US; their only hope was that America would, in effect, defeat itself. And few men can claim as large a role in the loss of national will that led to that defeat as John Kerry. A brave man in Vietnam, he returned home to appear before Congress and not merely denounce the war but damn his "band of brothers" as a gang of rapists, torturers and murderers led by officers happy to license them to commit war crimes with impunity. He spent the Seventies playing Jane Fonda and he now wants to run as John Wayne.
Vietnam was a "war of choice". But, once you chose to go in, there was no choice but to win. America's failure of will had terrible consequences. The Seventies - the Kerry decade - was the only point in the Cold War in which the eventual result seemed in doubt. The Communists seized real estate all over the globe, in part because they calculated that the post-Vietnam, Kerrified America would never respond. In the final indignity, when the proto-Islamist regime in Teheran seized the embassy hostages, they too shrewdly understood how thoroughly Kerrified America was. It took Mrs Thatcher's Falklands war and Reagan's liberation of Grenada to reverse the demoralization of the West that Kerry did so much to advance.
Senator Kerry has done a good job of enlarging himself but the reality is simple: George W Bush's America has won two swift wars and overthrown two enemy regimes; John Kerry was heroic in a war that America lost and whose loss he celebrated. Since then he's been a model lack-of-conviction politician. The question for anyone who thinks Kerry has "credibility" on national security is a simple one: who do you think Iran, North Korea, Syria, al-Qa'eda's Saudi paymasters and the rogue elements in Pakistan's ISI would prefer to see elected this November?
Those guys are the real dangerous beasts and you can bet that, unlike Democratic primary voters, they don't think Kerry looms so large, with his endless deference to the UN and the French, and his view that the war on terror should be more a matter of "law enforcement" - subpoenas, the Hague, plea bargains.
That's as profound a mis-understanding as the fellow on page 70 of my book, raising his butt to the mountain lion. And that's not a position most Americans will want to take.
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.
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