Ira Chernus  


Kerry Offers "Four More Years" Of War


"Four more years." Thatís not just the Bush campaign slogan any more. It is now John Kerryís campaign promise: four more years of war in Iraq. In his first major speech on Iraq, Kerry presented a plan "to bring all our troops home within the next four years."

Only four more years of American young people killing Iraqis and being killed by Iraqis. Hardly a cheery prospect. Iíll vote for John Kerry and urge everyone I know to vote for him. He is certainly better than the alternative. But let us have no illusion about what we are choosing this Election Day.

And you have to wonder whether Kerryís plan can really end the war, even in four years. He rightly criticized Bush for giving us the prospect of war without end. But when he outlined his own proposals, it sure looked like more of the same.

If a president "would bring in more help from other countries," Kerry said, "train the Iraqis to provide their own security Ödevelop a reconstruction plan that brings real benefits to the Iraqi people Ö and take the steps necessary to hold credible elections next year Ö we could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years."

Yes, Kerry would make some compromises to keep allies on board. And he would spend a bit more money on "high visibility, quick impact" reconstruction projects in Iraq. In other words, he has a better feel for PR than Bush. But the fundamental strategy of a Kerry administration would remain just the same as the incumbentís (as Bush was quick to point out). No matter who wins on Nov. 2, the war and the killing will go on with no end in sight.

And the rate of killing will escalate, quite soon. The day before Kerryís speech, the New York Times reported that the U.S. plans to regain control of Falluja and other Iraqi cities by yearís end, using whatever force it takes. Thatís the only way to stage a January election that can have any appearance of legitimacy.

Last spring the U.S. offensive in Falluja was called off after 600 died, many of them innocent civilians. This time, says a U.S. commander, there will be no such mercy: "The cancer of Falluja is going to be cut out."

Kerry could have repudiated this disastrous policy. He could have pointed out that itís Vietnam all over again, a guaranteed way to lose the hearts and minds of the people we are supposed to be saving.

Instead, he agreed with the Bush administration that the elections must be held as scheduled and look legitimate. How to pull it off amidst such massive opposition? "Recruit troops from our friends and allies for a U.N. protection force," the Democrat says. "We should also intensify the training of Iraqis to manage and guard the polling places that need to be opened." As if there were any chance that UN and Iraqi forces could protect voters to provide free fair elections.

Whatever happened to that bright young lieutenant who came home from the war to speak the truth? Now he sounds more like the top brass who blindly followed self-defeating policies and asked a man to be the last to die for a mistake. Why does he endorse the same basic strategy that he so rightly proclaims a failure? Why not bring the troops home now?

Kerry promises to be honest, and he gave us a glimpse of an honest answer. The war was a mistake, he said, but now "we must do everything in our power to complete the mission Ö get the job done and bring our troops home" (four years from now, at best).

Just what does Kerry think the mission is? In his speech, he gave two answers. The link between them holds a key to understanding what this war is all about.

On the one hand, Kerryís idea of the mission is to avoid worse danger: "We cannot afford to see Iraq become a permanent source of terror that will endanger Americaís security for years to come."

This is apparently the prevailing thinking in the foreign policy establishment (of which Kerry is a long-time member). The war has created a well-armed, highly motivated anti-American fighting force in Iraq. The war has created grievances among the Iraqi populace that anti-American fighters can feed off of for years. It has also spawned the seed of an alliance between Iraqis and non-Iraqis who would, if they could, use violence to thwart U.S. goals.

For our bipartisan foreign policy elite, this amounts to "terror that will endanger Americaís security for years to come." Ever since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the establishment has been thinking and speaking in such fearful tones of absolute dualism. Anyone who does not support the overall goals of U.S. policy is, by definition, a mortal threat to U.S. security and must be stamped out.

But Kerry also offered a more positive view of the mission: "Our objective -- a stable Iraq, secure within its borders, with a representative government." In the foreign policy establishment, stable is a code word for a country that is a dependable part of the U.S. - led global system. It means a country where electoral democracy (the best government money can buy) and multinational corporate capitalism (under the watchful eye of the IMF and WTO) reign supreme. Secure means safe from any effective challenge to the U.S.- friendly system.

Republicans and Democrats alike assume that a challenge to the system anywhere might bring it toppling down everywhere. They believe that our own nation wonít be secure until we stamp out those challenges everywhere. Itís an all-or-nothing game. So they conclude that an Iraq free of U.S. control, where anti-U.S. forces have a voice in the government, would "endanger Americaís security for years to come."

This can all make sense if you believe in the Bush administrationís National Security Strategy. It says that there is only one "single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise. Ö These values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society." The U.S. will use its "unparalleled military strength" to make sure that "all nations and all societies can choose for themselves" to live the way we live. Itís our way or the highway of doom.

Thatís not merely the official Bush dogma. Itís bipartisan dogma. No leading Democrat has yet challenged it.

No one can ever prove that these beliefs of the establishment are true, or false. They are just taken on faith. But Kerry cannot question them. That would be like a candidate for Pope questioning the divinity of Christ or the dogma of the virgin birth. If you donít keep the faith, you wonít ever be a serious candidate for president of the United States. Just ask Ralph Nader.

Thatís why we have a Democrat who says he will do more of what the Republicans have done in Iraq, but better.

Of course, we may never have to worry about what a President Kerry would do. Times columnist Bob Herbert warns: "If he tries to finesse it, if he tries to play hawk and dove at the same time, if he fails to draw convincingly a clear and distinct line between his approach to this great tragic misadventure and that of the Bush administration, he might as well fold his campaign tents and go home."

If Herbert is right, itís probably time to start packing. Maybe Kerry can send those tents to Iraq, to house the thousands who will be homeless after the next U.S. attack.