July 14, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Strong on "leadership," short on funding

For all the firepower the Democratic candidates directed at President Bush for the war in Iraq during the primary campaign, you would think that the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign would be just brimming with foreign policy prescriptions. You would especially think so at a time when the United States is engaged militarily in two theaters, Afghanistan and Iraq. And of course in a war against terror that reaches into the American homeland.

But if you expected a lot of specifics from "the two Johns," you would be wrong. The foreign policy recommendations that have come out of the campaigns of the two senators have been skimpy and sometimes in contrast to the candidates' well-documented voting records in the Senate.

Now, this shortcoming may not be so strange in the case of Mr. Edwards, who after all is a one-term senator, and who previously made his living as a malpractice lawyer. It should be considered significant, though. The criticism implied in President Bush's comment that "Dick Cheney can be president" is certainly not beyond the bounds of debate as regards Mr. Edward's experience and qualifications. In fact, Mr. Kerry thought so himself, stating during the Democratic primaries that the presidency is not a place for "on the job training."

In the case of candidate John Kerry, we should be able to form a picture. Mr. Kerry likes to cite his Vietnam military service (controversial though his later activism is with many voters). He was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984, and he sits on the Committee on Foreign Relations. In Mr. Kerry's case the difficulty is abounding inconsistency.

Take Iraq. In 1991, Mr. Kerry was among 45 senators to vote against the use of force against Iraq. In 2002, Mr. Kerry voted with 76 other senators, including Mr. Edwards, in favor of the resolution authorizing the Bush administration to use force against Iraq to ensure Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolution. "This resolution will send a clear message to Iraq and the world: America is united in its determination to eliminate forever the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," as he said at the time.

Both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards have eloquently stated their support for building a democratic Iraq. As Mr. Edwards said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in October 2002, "It is in America's national interest to help build an Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbors, because a democratic, tolerant and accountable Iraq will be a peaceful regional partner. And such an Iraq could serve as a model for the entire Arab world."

Yet both men voted against the $86.5 billion supplemental appropriations bill for 2004 to fund our forces and to build infrastructure and democratic institutions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, their prescription is call for more U.N. and NATO involvement in Iraq, though the U.N. is reluctant and no European ally has stated an eagerness to step forward.

Mr. Kerry would like to be seen as strong on defense. In a 2003 article in Foreign Policy magazine, he wrote, "It is up to Democrats to understand and prepare for Fourth Generation warfare (fighting unconventional forces in unconventional ways) so our nation can be better prepared to wage and win the new war."

Yet, Mr. Kerry's voting record on defense is persistently for spending cuts and weapons systems reductions. In 1996, for instance he voted for the Harkin amendment to freeze defense spending for the next seven years and transfer $34.8 billion in savings to education and job training. Among the weapons systems he has voted for eliminating are the B-2 stealth bomber, the F-16 fighter, the Patriot Missile, the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, the Apache Helicopter and Aegis Cruiser. And let's not forget that Mr. Kerry has voted against funding for Missile Defense at least 53 times between 1985 and 2000.

Where Mr. Kerry is fairly consistent is his affinity for multilateral institutions and arms control regimes, which provide his answer to today's problems of terrorism and proliferation. Let's allow Mr. Kerry to explain his vision to fight terrorism, also from Foreign Policy magazine:

"Draining the swamps of terrorists will require much greater involvement in the world. It must include significant investments in the education and human infrastructure of troubled countries. The globalization of the last decade proved that simple measures like buying books and teaching family planning can do much to expose, rebut and isolate, and defeat the apostles of hate." Would it were so.

Helle Dale is director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies at the Heritage Foundation. E-mail: helle.dale@heritage.org. Her column ordinarily appears on Wednesdays.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in The Washington Times