The Magazine

The First 100 Days

What a Kerry foreign policy might look like.

Oct 25, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 07 • By MARC GINSBERG
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"ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT" and "anger management" both come to mind when one attempts to envisage the transition from a Bush to a Kerry foreign policy. And the changes wouldn't be merely matters of attitude. The first 100 days of a Kerry administration would represent a counterrevolution both in tone and in substance against the startling foreign policy departures ushered in four years ago.

The buzzwords of the Bush Doctrine would be swept away. Gone would be the "axis of evil" and "preemptive doctrine." Gone, too, would be "coalitions of the willing" and "old Europe." There would be a total housecleaning of ideologues who consider "alliance" a dirty word. Bush's "take it or leave it" unilateralism would give way to the greatest diplomatic charm offensive since Jackie Kennedy wowed Charles de Gaulle. Air Force One and Air Force Two would log a lot of global miles, particularly to Europe and a hostile Muslim world, in an effort to reverse the rising tide of anti-Americanism and put a new, fresh face on America's tattered world image.

However, those searching for an overarching Kerry foreign policy vision or doctrine would have to wait. Waging the "more effective" struggle against Islamic extremists that Kerry promises on campaign stops would have to suffice. A post-9/11 Democratic foreign policy that places American moral values on the same pedestal as American power, to strengthen international consensus and institutions to defeat terror, is still a work in progress.

Nevertheless, John Kerry is certain in his gut about what is right with his view of the world and what is wrong with George Bush's view. The two men have starkly different assessments of who the enemy is and what it will take to defeat him. A Kerry presidency would demonstrate that divide from the outset.

In a major foreign policy address at UCLA last February, Kerry contrasted his foreign policy philosophy with the Bush Doctrine, with its good nations pitted against evil ones that promote terror. "The war on terror," Kerry said, "is not a clash of civilizations; it is a clash of civilization against chaos, of the best hopes of humanity against dogmatic fears of progress and the future."

In other words, in order to "drain the terror swamp," the United States will need to wage a holistic struggle within a unified global alliance determined to preserve order and peace, marshalling additional global resources to neutralize conditions that give rise to terrorism: failed and failing states and their attendant poverty, unemployment, disease, and despair. In Kerry's view, the United States alone cannot prevail, since terrorists are dependent less on state sponsors than on loose confederations and networks operating in environments that the United States alone cannot alter.

During their foreign policy debate in Florida, John Kerry focused his fire against the very core principles guiding the Bush administration's foreign policy: Iraq, Kerry insisted, constituted a "profound diversion" from the war on terror and the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction and al Qaeda. Bush's assertive unilateralism, he said, has robbed the United States of global legitimacy and influence and accelerated the spread of malevolent anti-Americanism. According to Kerry, restoring global trust in America's moral values is a precondition for winning the ideological struggle that is fueling Islamic terrorism.

A president-elect Kerry would put in place a Democratic national security team sobered by the vital necessity of reorienting American national security objectives. Their goals would be to successfully end the American occupation of Iraq and to focus on combating Islamic terrorism and the threat posed by WMD. The people who would be members of this team are neither callow nor lacking in intent or conviction. Rather, they are an experienced and talented group, well known to allies and adversaries alike. Most held major positions in the Clinton administration and have been chomping at the bit to restore respect for America's military and economy, and to regain global admiration for America's values.

Expect a President Kerry's inaugural address to reflect his determination to realign America's global objectives and its values, without sacrificing its right to act alone when necessary. Guided by his belief that America has dangerously abandoned its moral compass, the new president would outline a series of foreign policy initiatives reflecting his commitment to forge a new international alliance against terrorism. He would take the same message fairly quickly to the United Nations.

There would, however, be no honeymoon for the Kerry foreign policy team. It would inherit a quagmire in Iraq, uncertain and messy, along with real terror threats from al Qaeda and loosely affiliated offspring, and the twin threats posed by Iran's and North Korea's acquisition and potential dissemination of WMD.