Monday, May 31, 2004

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (2)

What a big foreign policy team you have, Senator Kerry!

Readers of the blog are aware of my current dissatisfaction with George W. Bush's management of the foreign policy apparatus -- which means I'm taking a good hard look at Kerry. As someone who's primarily interested in foreign affairs, a few questions come to mind -- what are the foreign policy priorities of a President Kerry? How would Kerry manage the system? Who would be the key players in a Kerry administration?

The answers to the first question can be found in this Sunday special by Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post (click here for Kerry's audio interview with Kessler). I'll comment on the substance of this in a later post.

As to the latter two questions, Robin Wright provides some clues with a backgrounder in Sunday's Washington Post. The key parts:

Since Kerry wrapped up the presidential nomination in March, however, many of the Democratic Party all-stars have signed on and are injecting new energy. Now in the midst of an 11-day blitz on foreign policy, Kerry is also being advised by former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright, former U.N. ambassadors Richard C. Holbrooke and Bill Richardson, former defense secretary William J. Perry, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, former NATO commander Gen. Wesley K. Clark, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden (Del.), ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee....

Unlike the Bush or Clinton campaigns, however, Kerry uses his foreign policy staff less for tutorials and positioning on foreign policy than as sounding boards to refine details, according to aides.

As a Vietnam veteran and as a senator from Massachusetts, Kerry has been involved with the full range of foreign policy issues for decades. In conference calls during the day with an array of advisers or in one-on-one calls late at night, Kerry often uses his expanding team as sounding boards to provide feedback on his ideas.

"He is his own best foreign policy adviser," Berger said. "He feels very secure in what he knows and doesn't feel compelled to show everyone how smart he is."

For now, the Kerry campaign's primary foreign policy focus is on four issues: Iraq, the Middle East, terrorism and nonproliferation. To prepare a broader agenda, aides say the campaign will soon invite hundreds of foreign policy experts and academics to join about 20 teams to develop ideas and papers on countries, regions or transnational issues. (emphasis added)

On Kerry's senior team, I have decidedly mixed feelings. I have the utmost respect for Holbrooke and Perry -- but I'm not as confident about the rest of the group. See this David Adesnik analysis of Wesley Clark for one source of trepidation. As for Berger -- well, any former National Security Advisor who writes on Democratic foreign policy should be able to beat out some lowly midwestern assistant professor of political science for the lead article position in Foreign Affairs. [Smart-ass-ed. Sorry -- but do scroll down Kausfiles to see Mickey's take on Berger's ability to present a public face for Kerry.]

Another thing -- hundreds of foreign policy experts and academics? That would be impressive -- I'm pretty sure the entire National Security Council staff is less than 200 people.

Whether such a large campaign staff would accomplish anything is an unanswerable question. On the other hand, if the story is correct, it means two things:

1) Kerry takes foreign policy seriously.
2) There are an awful lot of foreign policy wonks who are Democrats (gasp!)

posted by Dan on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM


What kind of a President could Kerry make if he feels the need to get input from hundreds of other people? What kind of a spineless jellyfish needs other people to tell him what to think and do?

This stands in marked contrast to President Bush, who offers steady leadership in times of change, by not feeling the need to get input from anybody.

Advantage Bush -- BIG TIME.

posted by: RushBush on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

This stands in marked contrast to President Bush, who offers steady leadership in times of change, by not feeling the need to get input from anybody.

Bwhahahaha! That's exactly his problem.

posted by: mallarme on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

Hundreds & hundreds? Sounds like overkill. But nice to know he's at least considering other viewpoints.

A devil's advocate could have saved the current crew a lot of misery.

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

If you want to conceal what you are really thinking, you hire a very large staff with a lot of contrasting views. That way, nobody can deduce your views from your advisors. Since Kerry has used this tactic before (in listing prospective SecDef that a Kerry admin might like to have), it's reasonable to think he's at it again.

The more I hear Kerry, the more I feel the spirit of, of all people, Henry Kissinger. what I do see is someone very confident in his foreign policy vision, but unwilling to communicate it very well.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

The Washington Post, which is semi-Wilsonian, overreacted to Kerry's foreign policy statements. That's partly because he may have overemphasized how much he wants to be a tough-minded realist. The Post reacted as if he'd discarded promoting democracy. Really, all he said was that hunting terrorists and securing nuclear material would be higher priorities. That strikes me as common sense. You know, WMD and terrorists as the immediate goal, international liberalism as the long term one.

I think Kerry overstated it because he wanted a contrast with Bush's Wilsonian rhetoric. As someone interested in spreading democracy, I'd prefer if he talked about it a little more. For the contrast with Bush, he could just point out that Bush has talked about liberal reform, but has not, in fact, done a goddamn thing to do it.

posted by: EH on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

An interesting comment, AM, considering that Kissinger is well known for communicating his views at every opportunity. As to the influence his ideas have on Kerry, you (and Mickey Kaus) may have gotten that impression from Glenn Kessler's WaPo article Sunday. I'm not sure I hear the same things you do, but we'll see.

As for Kerry's circle of foreign policy advisers, my guess is that this will shrink quickly and dramatically if he is actually elected President. We are in Year 12 of an anomalous period in the history of American foreign policy, in the first part of which the President acted as his own Secretary of State on issues that interested him (the Mideast and Northern Ireland) delegated his authority to his Secretary of State on a controversial issue involving risk (Bosnia and later Kosovo) and let everything else drift. During the last four years, foreign policy has been essentially run out of the Pentagon, with an assist from the Office of the Vice President.

Neither of these paradigms represent how foreign policy has usually been run in the past, and the most significant change Kerry would make if elected may turn out to involve the way policy is made more than it does the direction of policy itself. Specifically, Kerry may want to direct foreign policy through a strong Secretary of State; if he does, the vast majority of his campaign's foreign policy advisers end up working for the Secretary (which I am assuming would be Joe Biden) or working where they do now, out of government.

This is obviously a guess, tainted by my own strong preference for running foreign policy through the State Department. However, we do know about Kerry that he is much more interested in foreign affairs than Clinton was, and we can say with some confidence that he will want to do things differently from Bush just for its own sake.

Also, for what it is worth, Henry Kissinger became a strong advocate of having the Secretary of State run foreign policy as soon as he entered upon that office.

posted by: Zathras on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]


Good post fairly addressing the indications of what process we might see in a Kerry Administration. This is probably a more important issue than actual content since: 1) the content is hard to predict given the volatile situation in the world, and 2) process is where most of your criticism of Bush has been directed.

And in case you are still on the fence with respect to who to support as the fall draws closer I would just ask you to compare the collaborative approach being taken by Kerry with the current defense of the Bush adminstration approach:

This stands in marked contrast to President Bush, who offers steady leadership in times of change, by not feeling the need to get input from anybody.

As someone who welcomes actual thinking about issues you will be more comfortable with someone who gets input from other points of view.

posted by: Rich on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

" not feeling the need to get input from anybody." It is humorous when one sophmoric idiot builds their argument based on the response of another sophmoric idiot. Given I perpetuated the string, I guess I deserve the same label. It is interesting that President Bush had a scant few months to make historic decisions that have been extremely successful, as opposed to Mr. Kerry and his distinquished group of advisors, most of whom were in power during the first WTC bombing and American defeat at Mogadishu. Give these folks another eight years. Not hardly!!

posted by: Rd on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

George Bush's foreign policy has been amazingly successful. He has spent $200 billion +, 800 + American lives, 5K casualties in order to do what ?

posted by: JOn on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

Hope Andrew Sullivan doesn't mind..."If someone had said in February 2003, that by June 2004, Saddam Hussein would have been removed from power and captured; that a diverse new government, including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, would be installed; that elections would be scheduled for January 2005; and that the liberation of a devastated country of 25 million in which everyone owns an AK-47 had been accomplished with an army of around 140,000 with a total casualty rate (including accidents and friendly fire) of around 800; that no oil fields had been set aflame; no WMDs had been used; no mass refugee crises had emerged; and no civil war had broken out... well, I think you would come to the conclusion that the war had been an extraordinary success. And you'd be right."

There's much, much more. I know you know this, it just doesn't fit your arguement.

posted by: RD on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

An alternative to your conclusion number (2) is that Kerry is either
a) Looking for expertise without regard to political affiliation, or
b) Consciously adding Republicans/Conservatives to the mix (just no more neocons for a while, please.)


posted by: Angry Bear on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

It's simple.

Schroder, Chirac, and Annan are sending over a team of diplomats "experienced in complex negotiations with arab politicians" to help develop the Kerry campaign's foreign policy.

posted by: George Smythe on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

Dan, I'm surprised you lumped Biden in "with the rest" as someone you weren't terribly impressed with. Every time I've heard him speak on foreign affairs issues, he's struck me as sober, knowledgable and intellectually honest. Based solely on those interviews, I think he'd make a great SecState or NSA. What's your objection to him?

posted by: Dave on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

Biden also impresses me as well as Holbrook and Perry.

Albright does not.

Do we really know yet what Kerry really believes or would do? Seems to me he is merely figuring out what positions will get him the most votes.

I am still concerned that Kerry learned to wrong lessons from Vietnam.

posted by: Tallan on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

"(W)hat are the foreign policy priorities of a President Kerry? "

The same as those of Senator Kerry - getting himself (re)-elected. Personal advancement is clearly the only thing about which he has ever cared.

posted by: Silicon Valley Jim on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]


Shorter Sullivan: "Iraq looks great if you ignore the stuff that says otherwise."

posted by: EH on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

"’(W)hat are the foreign policy priorities of a President Kerry? ‘

The same as those of Senator Kerry - getting himself (re)-elected. Personal advancement is clearly the only thing about which he has ever cared.”

I completely agree. There seems to be no core values embraced by John Kerry. One may disagree with President Bush---but you know what you are getting. Not so, in regards to the Massachusetts senator. He truly comes across as a man who puts his wet finger to the wind. And yes, one should be very wary of Kerry’s invitation to “hundreds of foreign policy experts and academics to join about 20 teams to develop ideas and papers on countries, regions or transnational issues.” This is downright goofy. It also allows Kerry to pretend to be all things to all people. Do you want to delude yourself that he might be conservative? In that case, you can point to a few conservative advisors. Likewise, if you prefer a more liberal alternative. Resolutions released by such a diverse mob of credentialed experts will surely not pass the laugh test. I expect them to sound like something out of Monty Python.

I still contend that John Kerry will soon be very unpopular with the Democrat power bosses. The situation in Iraq is improving and the good economic news is getting harder to ignore. President Bush should be heading back up in the polls---and unless there are further media manufactured scandals---should easily win reelection. Kerry’s campaign is about to undergo a total melt down. Bill Clinton will make sure of it.

PS: The Fox News/Opinion Dynamics polling organization reports that President Bush currently leads Senator Kerry in Ohio by a six point margin, 47-41%. This will probably be the key state to keep your eyes on.

posted by: David Thomson on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

Mr. Sullivan may or may not be happy we're arguing over him. But he does argue and doesn't ignor the weaknesses of our policy. I'll "see" your A.S. remark and "raise" you this one:

"But it's worth acknowledging that, with a little perspective, our current gloom is over-blown. Stocks in Iraq have been way over-sold. I even regret some minor sells myself. Now watch the media do all it can to accentuate the negative."

Let's elect Soros' and Kennedy's man and Michael Moore can make the ultimate action film "The Perfect War". Not to stray too far from Mr. Drezner's thread, I'd imagine Kerry would want to bring in some fellow world leaders to help determine what's best for Americans too.

posted by: RD on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

Anyone interested in spreading democracy wouldn't find these words too comforting. I would think that Kerry's foreign policy would be the status quo of the 90s (lots of diplomacy but no real progress).

Does anyone not find some of this stuff disturbing? 19 of his 23 commanding officers in Vietnam feel he doesn't have the fitness to be CinC.
it seems like Kerry's post-vietnam activities have earned him special foreign leader endorsements

After trying toidentify what JFK would stand for, given his own past pronouncements and positions (voted for nuclear freeze during the 80s not peace through strength), I find his judgment is severly lacking.


posted by: Karen on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

Here's my problem: Albright, Holbrooke, Perry, and Biden are all seasoned FP professionals to be sure, but their record is pretty dismal if you ask me. Let's go around the globe:

In Europe we have the worst fighting since WWII in Yugoslavia, though Clinton's team deserves some credit for forcing intervention and helping end this, this largely waited until the two sides were tired enough of shooting each other after many years of it. Kosovo was their save, but one can argue that had they placed less faith in the non-solutions offered by the UN and EU that things may not have come to this.

In East Asia, we see the Southeast Asian currency crises, which redounded to the benefit of Islamic hardliners in Malaysia and Indonesia, while China chose to embrace a form of nationalism so rabid it verges on fascism. Meanwhile, India set off a nuke, causing Pakistan to put their own together, in the process creating a global Home Depot for wannabe nuke builders. At the same time, we cut a deal with the Norks that gave them the cover they needed to start enriching uranium, and now we have to worry about whether Kim Jong Il's mental state because he's probably got at least a half dozen functioning warheads.

Back in the Middle East, Iran makes the decision to go nuclear too, while Saddam refuses to tell us what he's up to, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict kicks it up about a dozen notches. Afghanistan becomes a moonscape out of a James Bond movie, complete with secret underground lairs and a billionaire madman training a private army to take over the world. Chechnya says it wants out of Russia and Russia says "nyet" and proceeds to use tactics not unlike those the German army once used at Stalingrad, with predictably similar results.

With the happy exception of South Africa, much of that continent proves that just because things are really bad, doesn't mean they can't get worse. The Sudan shows that a poorly-trained army is still quite effective at slaughtering civilian populations wholesale, while Rwanda was so poor they didn't even buy cheap AK-47s to help liquidate a million or so people. In Somalia we blink, not seeing the strategic significance of a fight nobody cares for in a part of the world that provokes little sympathy. US targets are attacked directly in Africa and Yemen, and our response is so ambiguous as to embolden our enemies.

Crossing the ocean, South America suffers a series of financial crises that set nascent democracies back several decades, not to mention preparing the rise of borderline anti-US governments in Brazil and Venezuela. Colombia's morass continues unabated, while we re-install Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti. Now there's one we all wish we could take a mulligan on.

Looking back we see that the 1992-2000 period was not in fact one of relative calm, but of rapidly-evolving risks that combine the animating power of ancient hatreds with the potency of modern technology. In a time of incredible change, Holbrooke, Albright, Perry, and Biden sought refuge in the comforting language of Atlanticist diplomatic culture and the ego-gratifying but ineffectual support of the UN.

If these are the people behind Kerry's foreign policy, then I feel more certain than ever before that he, and the Democratic party, have failed utterly in the quest to grasp the realities of our present world. Too bad.


posted by: Colin Kingsbury on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]


I have to thank you for such a wonderful turn of phrase: "Now there's one we all wish we could take a mulligan on."

I can just see a President jumping up and down shouting "I WANT A DO-OVER!!!"

posted by: Rob Crocker on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

Apparently Kerry is going to run on the theme of "If you liked Clinton's foreign policy, vote for me."

If we use the standard that Democrats seem to want use now of US troops still being in areas of the world where instability and death occur, despite it being on a smaller scale then when the US arrived, then Kosovo and Haiti are both quagmires now at best and Somalia was a defeat.

Who was it that gave Milosevic a nice photo op in Dayton? or negotiated with a man who was responsible for the death of hundreds of US and UN troops while at the same time trying to capture him? Of course we can't forget how those mighty FP wonks failed to stop the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsi nor their policy failures like North Korea or Middle East peace. We now know they didn't have time to worry about any of the above because at the time, according to Richard Clarke, they were concentrating on al-Qaeda as the number one issue and they did a great job on that one.

posted by: Mike Lech on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

Wondering how he would take it, I said to Feldman, "What you're describing to me sounds a lot like what I'd expect from Brent Scowcroft."

"Yes," he said. "I think a lot of what you'd see from a Kerry Administration might be like that. I think there'd be a lot of similarities." When I later made the same suggestion to Kerry's chief foreign-policy adviser, Rand Beers, he agreed.

posted by: goethean on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

Dan: 1) Kerry takes foreign policy seriously.

C'mon, you are smarter than that. This is the conclusion that the campaign team obviously wants to create, but it is not necessarilly true. I believe a more accurate, but still fair, conclusion would be that:

1) Kerry takes the importance of foreign policy seriously.

posted by: submandave on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

"Whether such a large campaign staff would accomplish anything is an unanswerable question."

Not if you've lived in the real world for any length of time.

I can tell you right now that this is a prescription for appearing to do something while accomplishing next to nothing.

posted by: cj on 05.31.04 at 09:23 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?