Kerry Speaks

Well, I wondered where he was. Maybe he was listening.

Last night in Seattle (yes, we’re all waiting with baited breath to see if our own correspondent in that very city was lucky enough to see him and if we are, therefore, lucky enough to be able to expect a personal report on his appearance), Kerry delivered his first real speech in quite a while, and he centered it around national security, which he really needed to do. He sounded tough, which he needed to do. He threatened the terrorists, which he needed to do. He promised more reliance on negotiation and forging alliances, which he needed to do.

Alright. He did what he needed to do. He didn’t do what he could have done–talked like a statesman, talked about what it would cost, talked about why staying in Iraq was a good idea, how he expected to handle it, and what our part was. He says there’s more coming in the next few weeks; maybe he’ll address all those things then. But I doubt it.

I wanted to hear a statesman; I heard a politician. Maybe a good politician, but a politician nevertheless.

Let me now turn to a subject that I know is much on the minds of all Americans — the situation in Iraq. The stakes in Iraq could not be higher. Earlier this week, the president again said that he wanted to create stability and establish a representative government in Iraq. He did acknowledge what many have known all along; that we would be far better off if our allies were with us. What’s important now is to turn this late realization and acknowledgement from words into action.In the coming weeks, President Bush will travel to Europe and meet with members of the G-8 here in the United States. There will be speeches, handshakes, ceremonies. But will our allies promise to send troops to Iraq? Will they dedicate substantially more funding for reconstruction there? Will they pledge a real effort to aid in the transformation of the Middle East? Will they in fact become part of the stakes that are at large for all of us? That is what we need. But the day is late and the situation in Iraq is grim. Attracting international support in a situation like Iraq is a clear test of presidential leadership; it is what capable and confident presidents do. It is its own statement about this administration’s failed approach that they must so constantly be so urged to change that approach, and that they do so only reluctantly and at the last minute.

It is time for President Bush to make a sustained effort, and he should start at the summit at Istanbul by persuading NATO to accept Iraq as an alliance mission with more troops from NATO and its partners. (Applause.) He should seek help in expanding international support for training Iraq’s own security forces so that they can safeguard the rights and the well-being of their own people and allow them to come out into the streets and take part in new freedom. And he should propose the creation of an international high commissioner to work with the Iraqis in organizing elections, drafting a constitution and coordinating reconstruction.

A lot of this is what Bush is claiming to do anyway. Except for a stronger UN role, what’s really different here? He renews the old Carter pledge to lessen our reliance on foreign oil by funding options–and we know how far that’s going to get with the Pubs in charge of the Congress. Anyway, it’s an empty promise, with or without the Pubs; he has to know people wouldn’t sit still for the expense unless he convinced them there was a good reason, and he seemed to be assuming they already knew it. Maybe his audience did, but out here in Realityburg we want to see gas prices go down NOW, not watch our money flow down the spout of pie-in-the-sky ‘alternative investments’ that may pay off twenty years after we’re dead.

The high-falutin’ statesman-lite-like language will play well down here; so will the criticism of Bush which was sharp without being nasty.

More than a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt defined American leadership in foreign policy.He said America should walk softly and carry a big stick. Time and again — (interrupted by applause) — time and again this administration has violated the fundamental tenet of Roosevelt’s approach. As Roosevelt described it, if a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble. (Applause.)

And that is precisely what this administration has ignored. They’ve looked to force before exhausting diplomacy; they bullied when they should have persuaded. They’ve gone it alone when they should have assembled a whole team. They have hoped for the best when they should have prepared for the worst. They’ve made America less safe than we should be in a dangerous world. (Applause.) In short, they have undermined the legacy of generations of American leadership, and that is what we must restore, and that is what I will restore.

All that is well and good and we like it, but the rest of the speech is short on specifics, especially about Iraq. Is he going to commit more troops? Sounds like it. Probably necessary. So, John, where are they going to come from? He promises them the equipment Rumsfeld short-changed them on; OK, where’s the money going to come from? Pubs can get away with vague promises undefined and without substance; Dems can’t, not when it comes to national security. And the tax-cut/increase bugaboo is going to have to be faced sooner or later.

Still, it was a good speech, forceful and even poetic at times. It’s only a beginning but it’s not a bad one and there are months to go for him to flesh it out in. But people down here are going to be a lot tougher on him that they are on Junior: they’re going to want answers to those questions I posed and a whole lot more, and he better be ready to convince them that Junior’s patented cliches aren’t good enough when he answers them. To do that, he’s going to have to lead before he’s elected.

Junior’s a lightweight. Kerry can blow him off the map, but only if he’s more JFK than Dukakis; more FDR than Mondale. He has to come across as a statesman rather than a politician, and whether he can do that is still unclear.

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