The Magazine

Like Father, Like Son

Edward Kennedy restores the ramily reputation--for appeasement.

Feb 17, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 22 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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"When the bullets start flying, 90 percent of the casualties will be American," he said on the floor of the Senate on January 10, 1991. "Most military experts tell us that a war with Iraq will not be quick and decisive, as President Bush suggests. It'll be brutal and costly. It'll take weeks, even months, and quickly turn from an air war into a ground war, with thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of American casualties. The administration refuses to release casualty estimates, but the 45,000 body bags the Pentagon has sent to the region are all the evidence we need of the high price in lives and blood that we will have to spare....We're talking about the likelihood of at least 3,000 American casualties a week, with 700 dead for as long as the war goes on." His forecasts, of course, were completely off the mark. And he learned nothing from his mistake.

Indeed, Ted Kennedy is sounding more and more like his father. Joseph P. Kennedy, let it be said, didn't want Hitler to win, England to fail, and the Nazis to overrun Europe. But he had a shortfall of imagination when it came to the nature and presence of evil; he believed madmen could be bargained with, and right up through December 6, 1941, he believed the Axis posed no direct threat to American interests. He saw only the dangers of acting, which he called provocation, and not the far greater dangers of allowing chaos and evil to gain a foothold. ("The most dangerous course of all would be to do nothing," John Kennedy said in October 1962.) At heart, Joseph Kennedy's brief against war was familial and primitive, expressed best in a line FDR made him cut out of a 1938 speech given in England: "I should like to ask you all if you know of any dispute or controversy existing in the world which is worth the life of your son." This is the same line which his youngest son appears to be taking. After the Powell presentation last Wednesday, Kennedy complained that the president had failed to inform Americans, "What are going to be the human costs in terms of this conflict and this war, and in human terms, what will be the creation of refugees?"

Joseph P. Kennedy, said biographer Richard J. Whelan, "came close to rejecting war as an instrument of national policy. . . . An uncomprehending witness to the rise of new revolutionary forces, he could conceive of no conflict abroad that would affect vital American interests; no issue worth risking the lives of his or anyone else's sons." In January 1941 in congressional testimony, Kennedy said, "I am primarily interested in the proposition that I do not want this country to go to war under any conditions whatever unless we are attacked. And I would like to see the Congress of the United States still have a hand, so that they can represent the feeling of the people." Sound familiar?

"An assault against Iraq," Ted Kennedy warned on January 21, "will not advance the defeat of al Qaeda, but undermine it. It will antagonize critical allies and crack the global coalition that came together after September 11. It will feed a rising tide of anti-Americanism overseas, and swell the ranks of al Qaeda recruits and sympathizers. It will strain our diplomatic, military, and intelligence resources and reduce our ability to root out terrorists. . . . It could quickly spin out of control."

After Powell's star turn, Kennedy remained stubborn and truculent, insisting that the risks of war were not justified. Filled to the brim with fears and forebodings, he made no mention at all of the risks of inaction. Appeasement, it seems, is a recessive gene that afflicts only some among family members. Ted Kennedy is not his brother's brother, but he is his father's son.

Noemie Emery, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, is writing a book on political dynasties.