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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

SecState wannabe Holbrook points up the fundamental distinction between Dubya and Kerry

On NPR's "Morning Edition" program yesterday, Steve Inskeep interviewed Richard C. Holbrooke, correctly described on NPR's website (which, at the moment anyway, offers an edited audio clip of the interview) as a

foreign policy adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign, [who] says President Bush's plan to shift 70,000 U.S. military personnel from Europe and Asia will weaken America's already strained ties with its European allies and will add to the cost of maintaining U.S. troops.

According to the New York Times, Amb. Holbrooke is "is often mentioned as a possible secretary of state in a Kerry administration."   

Although he also makes some highly dubious economic and military-logistics arguments, Amb. Holbrooke's main pitch is that it's unwise from a diplomatic standpoint to ruffle the feathers of our German, Japan, and Korea as we're trying to "rebuild those alliances."  But that point is very debatable, and it's a debate that Dubya certainly should welcome because it highlights his campaign's talking point that a Kerry presidency would give Germany, France, and the UN Security Counsel an effective veto over American foreign policy.

From the left, a tongue-firmly-in-cheek Mickey Kaus notes (link, boldface, and elipsis by Kaus):

Richard Holbrooke instinctively hits on the winning political response to Bush's troop redeployment: "I know that the Germans are very unhappy about these withdrawals." ... Note: Sometimes you really need to let Bob Shrum vet your sound bites.

From wherever-he-is (but clearly on this matter, somewhere to Kaus' right), InstaPundit reprints a snarky-funny email from a reader:

Bush is bringing our troops home from Germany because he realizes American-style democracy will never succeed there. After freeing the German people from a brutal dictatorship and protecting them from Soviet tyranny for almost fifty years, Bush is finally willing to admit that Germans aren't capable of contributing to the security and prosperity of the world.

However, in listening to his radio pitch on behalf of the Kerry foreign policy mindset that's waiting in the wings, I was actually most struck by a comment made by Amb. Holbrooke as he was taking great pains to distinguish between the way that a Kerry administration would differ from the Bush administration in employing strategic preemption to defend America.  My transcript from the audio clip on the NPR website, as far as it goes:

INSKEEP:  Sen. Kerry has said that in a Kerry administration, the United States would go to war because we have to, not because we want to.

HOLBROOKE:  Right.

INSKEEP:  There's been a lot of debate about exactly what that means.  The Bush adminstration wrote a national security strategy to include a doctrine of a preemptive war, such as Iraq.  Would a President Kerry renounce that strategy of keeping the option of a preemptive war?

HOLBROOKE:  I need to be very clear on this. No president can give up the option of attacking if you believe we're in imminent threat.  For example, had President Roosevelt known that the Japanese were about to attack Pearl Harbor, he would have been entirely right to attack first.  But John Kerry's position is quite clear.  You don't go to war unless you have to.  It's a last resort.

Unfortunately, the audio clip on NPR's website — for whatever reason — edits out what then followed in the interview.  (Phone call from Bob Shrum to NPR?)  I won't try to quote Amb. Holbrooke from memory, but I'm quite certain that he made a major point of saying that the rejection of a "preemption" policy by a Kerry administration would not be revolutionary, but actually a return to the policies of every American administration going back decades.  In all of those administrations, said Amb. Holbrooke, including those of Reagan and Bush-41, America refrained from using military force unless and until a threat was indeed imminent.  (He didn't mention the first Gulf War or Kosovo, but I assume Amb. Holbrooke would say those were limited exceptions that don't detract from the major thrust of his argument, and I'd agree with that.)

He could, in fact, have added one more administration to his argument — Bush-43, pre-9/11.

And there you have it, folks, in a nutshell.  If elected, John Kerry (and his likely secretary of state) will return us to the posture we were in on September 10, 2001.  John Kerry will roll back the "Bush Doctrine," pure and simple. 

Under President Kerry, America will again trust implicitly in its intelligence agencies to give us 100 percent accurate warnings of when a threat has become "imminent."  When we spot the modern-day equivalent of the Japanese aircraft carriers off the coast of Hawaii, then we'll use our military, and not before.  And in the meantime, we will continue to allow grave dangers to gather without any possibility of using military means to disrupt them.  Unless the threat has become "imminent" and we have rock-solid intelligence (far stronger than what we had about Iraq's WMD status — i.e., better than any intelligence service in the world had) to confirm that, the possibility of American military action will be totally off the table.  The fathers and mothers of American military personnel can rely upon that; so too, one presumes, can Osama bin Laden and his band of brothers.

Now, I'm sure Amb. Holbrooke and Sen. Kerry will insist that we can afford to run those risks; that they'll magically fix all our intelligence deficiencies; that the Kerry Justice Department will issue strong indictments and prosecute the bad guys with great "vigah"; that our again-new-best-friends France and Germany will help keep us safe when bon homme Kerry is in the White House instead of Cowboy Dubya; and so forth.

And if you buy all that, then maybe you'll feel safe and secure with a President who wants to return our national policy on use of military force to its pre-9/11 status. 

If so, I also recommend that you buy a teddy bear — a great big soft one.  Hugging it tight every night while you say your prayers will do just about as much to keep your country and your civilization safe from the terrorists as President John Kerry will.  Maybe if we pretend it never happened, and can't happen again, the Twin Towers will reassemble themselves in the sky.  And 3000 dead American civilians will suddenly walk down their driveways, each whistling a happy tune, and greet their widows and widowers and orphaned children and shout, "Honey, I'm home!"  Dorothy's house will rest again on its foundations in Kansas, Auntie Em will give us each a hug, and all will again be well in the world.

*******

I've just completed the considerable investment of amount of time it took to read through Norman Podheretz' 38-page article in the September issue of Commentary, aptly entitled "World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win."  It was time well spent; Podheretz writes clearly and well, and the article's length is simply a product of how comprehensive it is.  In fact, I recommend that you print it out so you can underline and annotate it, and return to it later.  This article could equally well have been subtitled, "Why Richard Holbrooke is a profoundly and dangerously foolish man."  I cannot recommend it strongly enough to do it justice.

Posted by Beldar at 08:05 PM in Current Affairs, Global War on Terror, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

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Comments

(1) LazyMF made the following comment | Aug 18, 2004 8:22:18 PM | Permalink

Beldar, you are being a little too harsh on Holbrook here. I heard the interview yesterday also. With respect to the troop withdrawal the analysis was different for Korea than for Europe. Holbrook criticised the Korean troop withdrawal not because we are trying to mend our alliance with South Korea, but because of the looming threat that is North Korea. Holbrook would argue the presence of American troops serves as a deterrent to North Korean agression and pulling them out now sends the wrong message.

Also, I don't have a problem with Kerry relying on his intelligence for foreign policy any more so than Dubya does for his. We had faulty Iraqi intelligence which, in a large part, led us to war. Also, we have the obvious threats of North Korea and Iran boldy and publicly pursuing nuclear ambitions while this administration fiddles (or seems to). Dubya's North Korea policy is radically different than Clinton's, but has not been effective. Likewise, it seems that we are relying on internal unrest and an Israeli alliance with the Kurds as our Iran policy.

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 18, 2004 8:45:56 PM | Permalink

One can debate small points around the margins. Since the armistice in the Korean War, the American troop presence there has been to deter another North Korean invasion; to guarantee that America would react bigtime, 25,000 troops are as sufficient as 35,000, and neither would be remotely enough to project an offensive threat. I'd argue that Sadaam in his jail cell sends a far stronger message to the madman in North Korea than another 10,000 US troops, and a Kerry cut-and-run from Iraq would likewise send a far stronger signal, but a very bad one, to the North Koreans, Iranians, Syrians, etc.

But while all those issues are important, they're not crucial in a strategic geopolitical sense. Rolling back the Bush Doctrine — Dubya's willingness to use the American military to disrupt grave and gathering threats, not just "imminent" ones — ought to be the kind of issue that prompts voters to pull one lever or the other. In that respect, I see the upcoming election as a referendum on the question of whether a majority of American voters remember and understand 9/11's significance — and realize that we really are "at war" whether we acknowledge it or not. Holbrooke thinks we aren't, and to the extent I can actually sort out his man's foreign policy views, Kerry seems to agree with him.

(3) LazyMF made the following comment | Aug 19, 2004 12:16:45 AM | Permalink

Please accept these comments as off-the-cuff, beer-fueled comments, much like we'd do if we were sitting down together to have a cold one. After all, I'm in the Comments section of a blog, so I shouldn't have to research and fact check all that much.

I don't have any problems with the Bush Doctrine per se, just with the way it has been applied. Preemptive strikes are necessary when we are at war, and we are at war. I agree with that. It just seems to me that Bush played a big gambit with Iraq and lost. He played the gambit when he knew North Korea and Iran were bigger problems than Iraq. Aside from the justness and legitimacy of the Iraq war and how best to resolve it, it has burned through most of America's resolve for another, more important large-scale military action and is not good for our economy.

With respect to North Korea, neither 25,000 nor 35,000 troops are really enough of an actual deterrent. I think Saddam in a jail is a good message for Kim Jong Il (in jail in Gitmo or Kuwait would be even better), but so is the continued presence of US troops on the 38th parallel. Withdrawing the troops sends a message which I think conflicts with Bush's hard-line policy towards N. Korea. One of the valid criticisms of democracies like ours is that we don't have consistent long-term foreign policies because of the changes in administrations. This troop withdraw (coupled with the new dialogue with N. Korea through Japanese, Chinese and Russian intermediaries)is a change of policy (flip-flop?) within the same administration.

I haven't read the Podheretz article yet. I must confess that when you said it was 38 pages long I had bad flashbacks to my college days when I plunked down $5 of my hard earned money for an issue of Foreign Affairs and struggled my way through the first article. But with respect to Holbrook I wonder (1) to what extent a Kerry administration will allow the Sec. of State alone to drive foreign policy, and (2) whether Holbrook will be an effective Sec. of State.

IMO, we haven't had a good Sec. of State since James Baker and I think nobody expected much from him going in. Powell has been ineffective because he seems to be a message carrier with no authority to improvise, and has nobody's ear in the administration. Albright was not very good (and it is painful to listen to her schill her new book). If Holbrook is a foreign policy idealogue like Kisinger, then I have some problems with him. If he is a skilled diplomat that will help shape administration policy with others, then I don't have problems. I have heard Holbrook speak before about his negotiations with Milosevic and some of his other diplomacy. He seems firmly grounded in realpolitik. That said, I don't think one should pull the lever in the voting booth this November based on who might be Sec. of State. Also, I will read the article knowing that Commentary and Podheretz are hard-liners with respect to Israeli policy. I think Holbrook advocates re-opening dialogue between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the US and believes there will be no peace there without US involvement (in the NPR interview did you hear him talk about how irrational Arafat was in the Dayton Accord negotiations?)

Now, getting back to baseball, I have handed you a fungo bat. Have at me.

Also, a blatant blog plug for your readers interested in following North Korean issues. Rebecca MacKinnon is a CNN reporter in their Asian bureau who blogs daily on North Korea: http://www.nkzone.org/nkzone/

(4) Joshua Chamberlain made the following comment | Aug 19, 2004 10:07:32 AM | Permalink

Oh, good God, LazyMF, just give up that "sending messages" diplo-talk and think about the real reason for this re-deployment. Victor Davis Hanson has been writing about it for years: it is not good for our "allies" like Germany or Korea to rely on us to defend them. It simple encourages them to live in an anti-American fantasy world where all disputes can be solved with "dialogue" and Americans with guns are the "real terrorists." They need to live in the real world and defend themselves.

(5) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 19, 2004 11:12:34 AM | Permalink

Lazy wrote,

I don't have any problems with the Bush Doctrine per se, just with the way it has been applied. Preemptive strikes are necessary when we are at war, and we are at war. I agree with that. It just seems to me that Bush played a big gambit with Iraq and lost. He played the gambit when he knew North Korea and Iran were bigger problems than Iraq. Aside from the justness and legitimacy of the Iraq war and how best to resolve it, it has burned through most of America's resolve for another, more important large-scale military action and is not good for our economy.

The central point of my original post was that Kerry and his SecState-presumptive Holbrooke will roll back the Bush Doctrine; preemptive military action against "grave and gathering" threats will be off the table. If you agree with me that we're in a war, and you agree with me that at least the credible threat, and sometimes the actual use, of preemptive military action may be essential to fight it seriously, I have a hard time understanding how you could still vote for Kerry. (Unless perhaps you think that domestic policy issues trump foreign policy ones — in which case you don't really think we're in a war.)

I also don't understand the basis for your conclusion that "Bush played a big gambit with Iraq and lost." The regime changed. That's not a "loss" in my book; ask Sadaam if he thinks he "won" the war. From the standpoint of changing the regime, defeating Sadaam's army, wrapping up major combat operations (division-size or larger), we not only won, we won brilliantly, breathtakingly, astonishingly.

We can argue about whether it was an "ugly win" or not, or whether it came at too high a cost. The more serious argument, though, I think would be over whether we were adequately prepared to "win the peace," and whether the occupation and reconstruction made necessary by winning the war is worth its cost. I assume that's actually what you were referring to when you concluded that "Bush lost" the "gambit" (a loaded term, but I won't argue with it for now). Surely you'd agree, however, that it's too soon to make meaningful judgments about the long-term consequences of the Iraqi occupation and reconstruction.

Finally, I agree with you that North Korea and Iran are still problems, and arguably bigger problems. To recognize, however, that Iraq was comparatively low-hanging fruit doesn't mean that you should turn your nose up and refuse to enjoy the low-hanging fruit. On 9/11/01, there was one organized government in the world (a) that was an active, major sponsor of regional and international terrorism, (b) with both a long history and a current status of defiantly flouting UN resolutions and sanctions and its other treaty/armistice obligations, and (c) whose military forces were regularly firing live ammunition with the full intention of killing American and British military personnel — Sadaam's Iraq. That made Sadaam the logical Target No. 2, right after the Taliban. The amount of support Dubya got from the UN and the Coalition of the Willing and the US Congress in the run-up to the Iraq War, and then in actually throwing out Sadaam, was certainly less than the ideal, or than Poppy got in Gulf War I; but it was a helluva lot more than Dubya could have gotten, or could get now, for using serious military force against Iran or North Korea.

And hey, the Iraq War did knock another higher-hanging piece of fruit off the tree — Libya. It shook the whole damn tree! The problems with Iran and North Korea (and Syria and Palestine and on and on) haven't magically gone away. But what posture would you rather be dealing with those guys from? Post-Iraq War and post-Afghanistan? Or post-Desert One?

Which is the logical transition into my final point. I'll tell ya, my honored and honorable friend, what scares me about the prospect of a Kerry presidency. If I thought he was as unprincipled but politically brilliant as Clinton, I'd be less worried. What scares me is the idea that Kerry may actually be as principled, bull-headed, and politically tone-deaf as Jimmy Carter. To the applause of the French and the Germans, he's gonna lie the country down on the sand and let the Lilliputians tie us up good and tight. We're talking here about the guy who met with the North Vietnamese while he was still an officer in the US Naval Reserve, and who now wants to start off his foreign policy as President with a declaration that we'll only use our military as a "last resort." Does this not trouble you, my friend?

(6) LazyMF made the following comment | Aug 19, 2004 11:45:39 AM | Permalink

Joshua, I don't know how you can argue that "sending messages" is diplomatic babble. We won the Cold War by "sending messages" with diplomats, nuclear arsenals, naval and troop deployments, Presidents publicly speaking in West Berlin, etc.

Do the Germans rely on us for their defense? They sure used to. In the minds current Germans they probably don't feel like they need defending right now (even though their country is a hot spot in the war against terrorism). I don't have any probelms with pulling out of Germany per se, but it has served as a good logistical spot for our global troop movements over the past 5 decades.

With respect to South Korea, They rely on us and we rely on them. They should not be confused with the South Vietnamese army. They know they face a very real threat and they are willing and able to defend themselves. Ask any person who has served in Korea (or even infantry in Vietnam) what absolute badasses the ROKs are. Also, they are strong allies of the US. Shortly after Spain announced their withdrawl of troops from Iraq, South Korea announced the were sending in 3,000 troops.

Beldar, I used the term "gambit" with its chess connotations - riskily giving up something to gain a greater good. Bush gave up $ and political will (which he knew going in), but didn't gain much. Did we win regime change? Sure. Was it a victory in the War against Terror? Probably not, but it is too early to tell. Although Iran wasn't firing at British and American jets at the time, in 2001-2002 we knew that Iran had a much stronger connection with international terrorism and was hell-bent on nuclear weapon development. Iran and Iraq had the same desire, but Iran's means to obtain nukes were much better than Iraq's.

(7) TheSophist made the following comment | Aug 19, 2004 2:26:12 PM | Permalink

First of all, thanks to Beldar for that link to the Commentary article. I'm about halfway through it, and despite the clearly partisan point of view (with which I happen to agree, but still, it's pretty visible), there's a lot of good analysis and argument. It's far better than anything I've read from the 'other' side of the foreign policy debate, that's for certain.

Second, while I agree that this election will be about whether Americans believe we are at war or at peace, I think there's a second factor at play as well. I think most Americans who aren't arrogant products of elite universities (*raises hand*) recognize that they don't know squat about policies or issues. Bush Doctrine is just a phrase to most voters, and frankly, should be. Instead, they try to figure out which guy running for office seems most trustworthy. It's a delegation of responsibility issue. "I don't know squat about what to do about Iranian nukes, but I think this guy seems like he knows what he's doing and seems like I can trust him when push comes to shove." This is one reason why the Dems have latched on to Bush's supposed 'credibility gap' and the rallying cry of the Left is "Bush Lied!". This is also the reason why Kerry's war record is of such enormous interest to the average American (i.e., a non-activist in the Lefty cause). It's about trust.

When Kerry or his surrogate Holbrooke says they'll roll back the Bush Doctrine, the question is whether you trust him. Bush says he'll be resolute -- do you believe him? Kerry says he'll be more sensitive -- do you trust him? I think this election will be driven more by character than by any in recent memory, precisely because the policy issues involved are so complex and difficult to unravel.

Third, as to the specific initiatives of moving US troops out of Germany and S. Korea, I think it's a good call on both accounts. I do not think that having boots on the ground on the DMZ is much of a deterrence to either attack or to N.Korea's nuclear ambitions. We Americans sometimes fail to recognize just how good a small nation's military is. S. Korea has a professional military, that is extremely well-trained and well-equipped (with U.S. military equipment, by the way), and more than able to defend itself against any N. Korean aggression. Things have changed since the Korean War in the 1950's. I do feel personally that Korea is one case where we could follow the Nixon Doctrine as opposed to the Bush Doctrine, due to the power and strength of the South Korean military/economy. Provide support, air cover, intel, recon, command & control help, and the S. Koreans would likely wipe out the N. Korean military on the ground without any further assistance.

Fourth, I just don't see how removing 35,000 troops from S. Korea, nevermind the 10,000 or 15,000 currently proposed, would undermine our negotiating position vis-a-vis N. Korea. It isn't as if we were going to launch an invasion across the DMZ with 35,000 troops, without consent and coordination with the S. Korean military, is it? If we were to take preemptive military action vs. N. Korea, it would be by precision bombs on their nuclear power plants, touching off a war on the peninsula that would undoubtedly kill millions and destroy the economy of S. Korea (a major trading partner). If that were to happen, 35,000 US troops would make a difference but not enough to deter war.

-TS

(8) J_Crater made the following comment | Aug 19, 2004 4:14:55 PM | Permalink

Back in the old days of the "Cold War," a troop withdraw, like the one announced by President Bush at the VFW convention, would have been hailed as a gesture to relax tensions; showing that the U.S. was not acting belligerent during negotiations.
Given that the North is still on a "Cold War" footing, this should probably be treated the same.

(9) furious_a made the following comment | Aug 19, 2004 5:50:04 PM | Permalink

"You don't go to war unless you have to. It's a last resort."

Kind of like Britain and France only went to war after the Germans invaded Poland, and after the Germans had mapped out the Panzer-friendly routes through the Ardennes, and after the Germans had rehearsed the airborne assaults on the Meuse River fortresses.

You know, when Britain and France had to. As a last resort.

Add Richard Holbrooke to the list of Future Kerry Foreign Policy All-Stars:

...Joseph Wilson IV (Fraud).
...Richard Clarke (Passed-over Bureaucrat).
...Sandy Berger (Document Thief).

Saints preserve us from this scurvy lot.

--furious

(10) Mikey made the following comment | Aug 20, 2004 9:55:09 AM | Permalink

Yeah, our pre-Sept. 11 posture: Supine.

(11) Oscar made the following comment | Aug 20, 2004 1:05:47 PM | Permalink

"I think most Americans who aren't arrogant products of elite universities (*raises hand*) recognize that they don't know squat about policies or issues."

Well, I went to Harvard, and took Kissenger's course in International Relations, and I don't think I know squat about a lot of the issues. It takes a lot of TIME to be up on it all.

Hence, I agree that there is definitely a good reason for voting on "who do you trust to get it right?"

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