What is John Kerry’s theory of foreign policy?
Philip Gourevitch has a lengthy New Yorker essay on John Kerry’s foreign policy principles. A few parts that struck me: Kerry can’t be specific about what he would do in Iraq if he is sworn in next January 20th, because nobody knows what will be happening there then. He said that “America must lead in ...
Philip Gourevitch has a lengthy New Yorker essay on John Kerry's foreign policy principles. A few parts that struck me:
Philip Gourevitch has a lengthy New Yorker essay on John Kerry’s foreign policy principles. A few parts that struck me:
Kerry can’t be specific about what he would do in Iraq if he is sworn in next January 20th, because nobody knows what will be happening there then. He said that “America must lead in new ways” to meet “new threats,” “new enemies,” and “new opportunities” with “new approaches” and “new strategies,” to forge “a new era of alliances” and “a new direction in Iraq,” but there was nothing novel in the foreign policy he described. What he was calling for was a renewal of the approach to world order that Churchill envisioned in 1946—the preservation of international security through the web of alliances of the newly established United Nations. For all its inadequacies and failings, the Churchillian ideal of international coöperation had been upheld as the best way to safeguard America’s security and interests by every president until the Bush Administration kicked it over. This is the nut of Kerry’s argument on foreign relations—that Bush, despite his campaign slogan of “Steady leadership in times of change,” is a radical, whose “with us or against us” doctrine of preëmptive unilateralism amounts to a Texas-twanged cry of aux barricades! By contrast, the Senator from Massachusetts came across at Westminster as the conservative in the race. But did this “plan” for multilateralism as an expression of naked self-interest amount to a countervailing Kerry doctrine? “I think it’s such a mistake to try to find one or two words, fancy slogans, to reduce a complicated process,” Kerry said to me, during a lengthy conversation in a muggy old athletes’ training room at Westminster, where he draped his elongated limbs over a too small chair. The notion of a Kerry doctrine seemed to take him by surprise, and not pleasantly. “You have to be careful of ideology clouding your decision-making process, which I think this Administration has been exceedingly guilty of,” he said, and added, “I don’t want to use the word ‘doctrine,’ but I do think it is time for a new—I said it today—a very new calculation of how we protect our interests and balance them in the world.” At the same time, he allowed, “There are times and places where you may lay down a law of behavior that amounts to a doctrine—you know, how you take a nation to war. Pretty firm in my belief system is the notion that, with the exception of an immediate emergency you have to respond to, it’s a last resort.” As a naval officer in Vietnam, Kerry had learned that he could kill when it came to that, and he told me, “I would never hesitate to use force to protect our country in any moment in time if I thought it was critical.” But he didn’t say how he might make that judgment. Kerry has a habit of phoning around among a far-flung network of counsellors to gather conflicting opinions before reaching a decision. One result of this spongelike method is that it can be very hard for the person on the other end of a conversation with him to know just where he is heading as he circumnavigates an issue. It is not always obvious that Kerry knows, either, and his disinclination to codify his thinking on international relations, beyond a broad internationalist critique of the Bush doctrine, is generally seen as a political handicap.
What’s odd about this is that within the Gourevitch article itself there’s a formulation that would perfectly encapsulate what Kerry’s going after. Earlier in the story, Gourevitch writes: “the signature chord of his campaign’s foreign policy unmistakably: that ‘America is safer and stronger when it is respected around the world, not feared.’” (emphasis added) This is simultaneously a promising but incomplete formulation. The political class is familiar with Machiavelli’s dictum that it is better to be feared than loved — and the Bush team would probably embrace this line of thinking. Kerry’s introduction of “respect,” however, gets at a middle ground between the two poles of “fear” and “love” that probably resonates with most Americans. It’s the perfect way to communicate toughness while still attacking the Bush team’s foreign policy. The problem with the way Kerry phrased it, however, is that to pretend that respect and fear are mutually exclusive components is absurd. For there to be respect in international relations, there must be an recognition of capabilities that can also inspire fear. It’s the same mistake that’s frequently committed with Joe Nye’s “soft power” concept — to pretend that the soft power of governments does not rest on a foundation of hard power is just wrong.* Fear comes from hard power alone; respect comes from the combination of hard and soft power — it does not come from soft power alone. Maybe Kerry is just exercising a rhetorical flourish and understands this — maybe not. The fact that neither Gourevitch nor I can tell is what’s so disturbing to me when I contemplate pulling the donkey lever — which is why I’m still on the fence. The second passage that caught my eye:
Kerry remains confident that if he were President he could succeed where Bush has failed. Indeed, he seems to attribute all that is strained in the transatlantic alliance to the Administration’s hubris and its diplomatic incompetence. “It will be easier for a Kerry Administration to call on our allies to fulfill their responsibilities,” James P. Rubin, one of Kerry’s senior foreign-policy advisers, said to me. “When a President can go to countries and say ‘I’m going to take steps that you’ve been calling for,’ he can also say, ‘Now take steps to do what we need.’ It won’t be easy, but at this point there’s a political cost for countries to coöperate with the U.S. With a Kerry Administration, that cost will change.” But European resistance to the Iraq mission was stubborn from the outset, and an influential European diplomat in Washington told me, “If what John Kerry says today is that he thinks that Europeans could drag that car out of the mud now, I believe this is not a realistic expectation.” European leaders would certainly welcome a change of American Presidents, but they have their own elections to think about, and it is not clear that they would make much of a sacrifice for the new man. “Because of how it’s been handled so far, Iraq is really not a good case to demonstrate the great advantages of transatlantic coöperation,” another diplomat said to me. “It is actually the worst possible case. Iraq is simply too much of a mess.”
*As I noted previously, this dictum holds for states, not non-state actors.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.