Some time has passed since John Kerry unveiled his war doctrine in his nomination speech.
“As president, I will bring back this nation’s time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to.”
Robert Kagan in Sunday’s Washington Post (Registration required – BugMeNot) makes the case that Kerry is invoking an American “tradition” that does not exist. He also wonders if Kerry is actually be espousing a form of isolationism not seen since the period between WWI and WWII.
Perhaps he’s distorting American history simply to cast the Bush administration and the war in Iraq in the harshest possible light. But maybe Kerry is not being cynical. Perhaps, finally, he is saying what he really believes and not what American policy has been, but what it should be.
The doctrine Kerry enunciated on Thursday night, after all, was the doctrine initially favored by the antiwar movement and the mainstream of the Democratic Party after the debacle of Vietnam. “Come home, America” was the cry of those who believed America had corrupted both the world and itself in “wars of choice” in Vietnam and elsewhere.
Advocates of this doctrine did not propose a “return” to some mythical American past. Rather, they proposed a radical departure onto a very different course in American foreign policy. Their goal was a retraction of American power and influence from around the globe. Nor did they have any doubt that their view of America was patriotic. They would cleanse America of its sins.
If Kerry has revealed himself in an unusual moment of honesty, it’s time everyone took an equally honest look at where he would lead the country if elected. Kerry’s “doctrine of necessity,” if seriously intended, would entail a pacifism and an isolationism more thorough than any attempted by a U.S. government since the 1930s. It would rule out all wars fought for humanitarian ends, all interventions to prevent genocide, to defend democracy or even, as in the case of the Persian Gulf War, to uphold international law against aggression. For those are all wars of choice.
For someone who professes to seek better relations with the rest of the world, Kerry’s doctrine of necessity would base American foreign policy on narrow, selfish interests far more than the alleged “unilateralism” of the Bush administration. Some Europeans have been quietly worrying that what they consider Bush’s overambitious foreign policy will be followed in the United States by an isolationist backlash. After hearing Kerry’s speech, they may worry a bit more.I welcome the distinction, though I get the feeling that Kerry won’t be highlighting this aspect of his new doctrine.