John Kerry’s "Diplomacy"

Joseph M. Knippenberg

September 1, 2004

John Kerry and his supporters have made much of how the Bush Administration’s actions have caused American standing in the world to suffer. Our unilateralism in Iraq, they argue, has led virtually everyone to hate us or at least to sit on their hands. In his major speech at NYU this week, Senator Kerry put it this way: “After insulting allies and shredding alliances, this President may not have the trust and confidence to bring others to our side in Iraq. But we cannot hope to succeed unless we rebuild and lead strong alliances so that other nations share the burden with us. That is the only way to succeed.” A Kerry Administration would do a much better job, he argues.

That’s not the conclusion you would draw from the behavior of the Kerry campaign. The Senator himself has referred to the allies fighting and working with the U.S. in Iraq as a “fraudulent coalition,” a “trumped-up, so-called coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and extorted” (Detroit Debate, 10/26/03 and Des Moines Register, 3/9/03). I wonder what British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his colleagues from Poland (Marek Belka), the Netherlands (J.P. Balkenende), Italy (Silvio Berlusconi), the Czech Republic (Stanislav Gross), and Australia (John Howard), among others, think of this characterization. Last I heard, you attracted more flies with honey than with vinegar. How eager will they be to partner with President Kerry (I had a hard time typing that)?

Oh, but maybe they won’t have to! John Howard, for example, is locked in a contentious election campaign with Mark Latham, his Labor Party challenger, who has promised to bring Australian forces home by this Christmas. After the bombing of the Australian Embassy in Djakarta, Indonesia earlier this month, Diana Kerry, chair of Americans Abroad for Kerry, told an Australian reporter that his country’s support for the U.S. in Iraq made it more vulnerable to international terrorism. From where I sit, this sounds like music not only to Latham’s ears, but to the ears of the terrorists who are seeking precisely to influence elections.

Of course, John Kerry didn’t make this remark, just someone in his campaign organization who happens to be related to him by blood. Is this the sort of diplomatic discipline, not to mention the sensitivity to others’ losses, we can expect from a Kerry Administration?

Last, but not least, there’s the Kerry campaign’s shameful response to Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s speech to the joint session of Congress. “The last thing you want to be seen as is a puppet of the United States, and you can almost see the hand underneath the shirt today moving the lips.” This from Joe Lockhart, a recent high-level recruit to the sagging Kerry campaign. The candidate himself was a little more circumspect, stopping just short of calling Allawi a liar: according to him, while Allawi and the President were both trying “to put their best face on the policy… the fact is that the CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operations, and the troops all tell a different story.”

There you have it, a preview of John Kerry’s diplomacy: for short-term domestic political gain, he will deride and insult anyone. He learned his French well, mais oui?

Joseph M. Knippenberg is Professor of Politics and Associate Provost for Student Achievement at Oglethorpe University.