The Magazine

John Kerry, Reactionary

From the July 19, 2004 issue: He's against a heroic foreign policy.

Jul 19, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 42 • By THOMAS DONNELLY and VANCE SERCHUK
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The deeper problem for realists, of course, is that American interests and American principles are inextricably bound together in Iraq. Iraqis' tolerance of foreign troops has always dangled on the thread of the belief that the United States will help empower the Iraqi people, not consign them to life under yet another strongman. In particular, the support of the majority Shia has been contingent on U.S. guarantees of democratic elections. Should we retreat from these assurances, it will destroy the very stability that the realists claim to prize.

If the terms "liberal" and "conservative" still had any meaning in American foreign policy, George Bush would happily style himself the true liberal--the radical, even--in the upcoming election and paint Kerry as the conservative, the reactionary. Indeed, it's hard to conceive of anything more repugnant to American principles--or blind to American interests--than "conserving" the current political order in the Middle East.

It is one thing to argue that strategy and statecraft demand that we pick our fights carefully, with a due regard for the sacrifices Americans will be asked to make in blood and treasure. It is another altogether to say that prudence demands that we pick our principles so as to avoid sacrifice. Always shameful, such a position is also, in a post-9/11 world, profoundly unrealistic.

Tom Donnelly is a resident fellow, and Vance Serchuk a research associate, in defense and security policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.