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Jewish World Review Feb. 10, 2004/ 18 Shevat, 5763

Mark Steyn

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Consumer Reports

Kerry won't scare any of the big beasts |
Among my Christmas presents was a copy of Survive, a recent collection by Sports Afield magazine of helpful tips for the great outdoors. Most of the stuff was familiar - rub a raw potato on poison ivy, roast a wood bug before you eat it - but on page 70 I was surprised by this novel approach to mountain lions: "Do not approach one, especially if it is feeding or with its young. Most will avoid confrontation, so provide an escape. Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your anus, and open your jacket if you have one on." I can't say I did that the last time I saw a mountain lion, but maybe I had a lucky escape. And then I realized it's meant to be "raise your arms" and that the item is a cautionary tale in the pitfalls of computer "scanning".

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.

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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.

02/02/04: The Kerry biography: He's risen without trace
01/26/04: Mad Dr. Dean jolts Kerry campaign to life
01/21/04: Undoing the party herd
01/13/04: llIegals the political 'untouchables'
01/05/04: Don't leave Saddam trial to the 'jet set'
12/30/03: Doers and disparagers
12/23/03: Spates of denial
12/16/03: Defiant? He's a Ba'athist who won't bath
12/10/03: Rummy speaks the truth, not gobbledygook
12/02/03: War on terror can't stop with Iraq
11/24/03: It's not Vietnam and Bush is no Kennedy
11/12/03: There is a Cold War between the US and the EU
10/28/03: Muslim paranoia: Enemies made us impotent!

10/28/03:The CIA scandal is important not because it put an agent's life at risk — it didn't — but because it shows that US Intelligence is either obstructive or inept
10/08/03: Palestinian death cult
09/29/03: Bring on the capitalists
09/22/03: Here comes General Clark, his policies will follow shortly
09/17/03: Don't wait for government protection
09/11/03: Predators aren't looking for peace
09/02/03: This is Hillary's moment — You go, girl!
08/29/03: There are now calls for greater UN involvement in Iraq. Thatís the last thing the country needs
08/26/03: There's only one hyperpower — so everything is our fault
08/04/03: The White Man's Burden
07/29/03: Bill Clinton got this right
06/25/03: It's Mullah time!
05/07/03: What counts is what a guy does when he's not talking
04/30/03: It's named UNSCAM for a very good reason!
04/14/03: Movers and shakers have moved on to the next 'disaster'
03/25/03: Give Saddam credit
03/18/03: 'Eurabia' will have to look after herself
02/27/03: Death wish
02/19/03: The curtain will come down on the peaceniks
02/10/03: Let's quit the UN
02/03/03: Columbia reality-check
01/29/03: Go forth and multiply
01/09/03: America's fake identity crisis
12/31/02: GOP underperforms, but Dems are laughable
11/26/02: A bombing pause --- for 12 months!?
10/30/02: Stop making excuses for Muslim extremists
09/27/02: The more inventively you try to ''explain'' the Islamist psychosis as a rational phenomenon to be accommodated, the more you risk sounding just as nutty as them
08/23/02: Battered Westerner Syndrome inflicted by myopic Muslim defenders
08/09/02: Friends in low places
08/02/02: Armageddon out of here
07/26/02: Enjoy the ''scandal'' while you can, lads
07/16/02: Arafat is toast; Bush knows it --- so why doesn't the rest of the world?
07/10/02: Hey, FBI: So, denial really is a river in Egypt!
06/20/02: A fight to the finish
06/11/02: Rock, royalty a good match
05/31/02: Unless we change our ways ... the world faces a future where things look pretty darn good
05/24/02: Sweet land of liberty: Britain and Europe have free governments, but only in the US are the people truly free
05/14/02: Extreme hypocrisy in the pursuit of 'peace' is ...
05/10/02: The home office of extremism
05/01/02 Slipping down the Eurinal of history: France, the joke is on you
04/23/02 It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land
04/16/02 Mideast war exposes 'ugly Europeans'
04/09/02 Arafat has begun his countdown to oblivion. Now it's time to crush the Palestinian uprising
03/27/02 The good, the bad and the Gallic shrug
03/20/02 Grand convocation of the weird

© 2004, Mark Steyn