William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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AND KERRY, TOO – AT 11:34 A.M. ET:  Remarkably little attention has been given to Obama's nomination of John Kerry to be secretary of state.  He's a popular guy around the U.S. Senate, which seems to be the most important qualification these days.

But Jeff Jacoby, the sole Republican editorialist at the Boston Globe, is troubled by Kerry's nomination and what it says about the direction of the Obama foreign policy.  I think we should be troubled, too:

...on the whole, Kerry prizes order and stability over liberty and human rights. He prefers to accommodate and engage America's foes than to deem them enemies who must be defeated. He thought the horrors of 9/11 justified not a military war on terror, but only better "intelligence gathering, law enforcement, public diplomacy." During his run for the White House in 2004, Kerry told The Washington Post that "as president he would play down the promotion of democracy" -- not because he denied the lack of freedom in places like Pakistan, China, and Russia, but because other issues "trumped human rights concerns in those nations."

Again and again, Kerry has shown a remarkable indulgence toward the world's thugs and totalitarians. Within months of becoming a senator in 1985, he flew to Nicaragua in a show of support for Marxist strongman Daniel Ortega, a Soviet/Cuban ally; he returned to Washington talking up the Sandinistas' "good faith." More recently Kerry earned a reputation as Bashar al-Assad's best friend in Congress. Against all evidence, Kerry described himself as "very, very encouraged" by the Syrian dictator's openness to reform; he repeatedly flew to Damascus to visit Assad, describing him afterward as "my dear friend" and assuring audiences that engagement was working: "Syria will move; Syria will change as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States." By the time Kerry finally changed his tune, thousands of Syrian protesters were dead or behind bars.

One of the great myths propagated by the left is that it stands for human rights.  It has never stood for human rights, except when convenient.  This is true both internationally and domestically.  Note, for example, the complete lack of interest by the left in the slaughter that has been going on in American cities in the last half century.  What is ironic is that most of the victims of that slaughter have been members of groups the left claims to champion.  What a bunch.

Both realism and idealism have a role to play in US statecraft, but the problem with the "realist" approach is that it too easily slips into callousness. Autocratic regimes may brush off mass murder or violent repression as other countries' "internal affairs," but such coldness is unworthy of the United States.

"I am very high on John Kerry," says Brent Scowcroft, who was national security advisor to Bush 41 and remains a prominent "realist" exponent. "He is not beset by illusions or campaigns on behalf of abstract principles. His instincts are solid."

If only they were. As Kerry's prolonged willingness to defend a monster like Assad suggests, however, his "realist" instincts are all too fallible. Of course idealists make mistakes too. But the next secretary of state might bear in mind what that other JFK understood: American foreign policy is most truly realistic when it is rooted in the ideals that have made America such a beacon.

COMMENT:   Very well said.  We are the United States of America.  We stand for something in this world, and the American people, as a general rule, insist that we stand for something right.  It's part of our DNA as a nation, one of the things that makes us exceptional.  The so-called "realists" think we should be run as a kind of loan sharking operation, but that is impossible with a nation based on Judeo-Christian principles.

As Jacoby implies, that doesn't mean going off on a tear at any injustice.  But it does mean a reasonable adherence to the principles America accepts as her own.  Churchill once said that Americans will get it right after trying all other alternatives.  In a way, it was a backhanded compliment.  He was saying that America cares about getting it right.  That is in contrast to the phonies of Europe who wave the flag of human rights while groveling before the nearest available dictator.

Kerry has no great record of getting anything right.  That means nothing to the modern Democratic Party, where his opposition to the Vietnam War makes him a hero.  But it may mean a great deal to the Americans ten or twenty years from now who have to pick up the pieces.

December 30, 2012