October 11, 2004


"For some time, and including when I spoke at the Republican Convention, I’ve wondered exactly what John Kerry’s approach would be to terrorism and I’ve wondered whether he had the conviction, the determination, and the focus, and the correct worldview to conduct a successful war against terrorism. And his quotations in the New York Times yesterday make it clear that he lacks that kind of committed view of the world. In fact, his comments are kind of extraordinary, particularly since he thinks we used to before September 11 live in a relatively safe world. He says we have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance.

I’m wondering exactly when Senator Kerry thought they were just a nuisance. Maybe when they attacked the USS Cole? Or when they attacked the World Trade Center in 1993? Or when they slaughtered the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972? Or killed Leon Klinghoffer by throwing him overboard? Or the innumerable number of terrorist acts that they committed in the 70s, the 80s and the 90s, leading up to September 11?

This is so different from the President’s view and my own, which is in those days, when we were fooling ourselves about the danger of terrorism, we were actually in the greatest danger. When you don’t confront correctly and view realistically the danger that you face, that’s when you’re at the greatest risk. When you at least realize the danger and you begin to confront it, then you begin to become safer. And for him to say that in the good old days – I’m assuming he means the 90s and the 80s and the 70s -- they were just a nuisance, this really begins to explain a lot of his inconsistent positions on how to deal with it because he’s not defining it correctly.

Read the whole thing. Maybe Kerry was right to be afraid. On the other hand, Power Line is actually defending Kerry on this point: "I don't understand Kerry to be saying that we should give terrorism the same type and limited level of attention we gave it pre-9/11; rather I think he was providing a realistic, though tone-deaf, assessment of what it is possible to achieve in the war on terror."

That's probably right, though I also agree with Power Line that Kerry's statement that September 11 didn't affect his thinking is far worse than the "nuisance" bit -- especially when you see what that thinking consists of.

Meanwhile, Eugene Volokh has a followup post on this, which you should read. It links to several earlier items.

There are also interesting thoughts here on Kerry's message problem:

The bigger issue is that Kerry thinks his theories are just too complex for us. I'm a pretty intelligent guy. You will never win points with me by saying that I won't get it. That says more about you than me. It says that you think that I'm stupid. It says that you think I need to be coddled. No thank you. What it means is that you don't know how to express yourself well enough for me to understand. Or worse yet, you just don't want to try.

Kerry does seem to have problems along these lines. "I have a plan, but it's too complicated to explain" doesn't instill confidence. Reader Jay Allen's comment on this post underscores the point:

I think what Kerry is trying to say here is, "I've always considered terrorism a danger - unlike the President, who didn't swing into action until after 3,000+ people were killed on American soil. I recognized the danger in the African embassy bombings, in the attack on the Cole, in the attack on the WTC in the early 90's. I agreed with Gary Hart and others who were sounding the alarms well before we were struck at home. 9/11 gave me the ammunition I needed to convince others that we needed to step up our fight against al Qaeda."

Whether that's *true* or not is an open question, but it's not as morally bankrupt a statement as you and Powerline are making it out to be.

Does Kerry mean this? I don't think so, actually. [LATER: Eric Lindholm emails: "Keep in mind that Kerry missed 76% of the Senate Intelligence Committee meetings including every meeting the year after the first attack on the WTC." Ouch.] But if he does, well, then he should have said it.

UPDATE: Timothy Goddard emails:

I think that your reader, Jay Allen, is attributing a bit too much boldness to Kerry. He never argues, to Bai at least, that he was warning about Al Quaeda for years. I gather from the article that Bai made it clear that he wouldn't stand for that sort of exaggeration. Instead, Kerry was talking about his crusade against international money laundering--certainly a worthy cause, but a very small one, that Kerry has inflated. As I argue at my own blog, after 9-11, Kerry "seized upon the one thing in his small political repertoire that he could connect with the attacks–in this case, international money laundering, or what Kerry expands to become 'this entire dark side of globalization,' which Bai discusses in greater detail later on–and determines that, if only we had all listened to him, this whole thing could have been averted."

Here's the post from Goddard's blog.

Reader Rick Schmick observes:

Jay Allen's recent post makes a good point in that Kerry seems to be saying that he recognized the threat of terrorism before the President. This leads me to another why didn't he do something about it? Listening to Kerry gives you the impression that he knows how to fix all the major problems that we face, and he knew it before anyone else, even if he doesn't want to bother sharing many of the details with those of us in the cheap seats. So, why hasn't he done anything in his 20 year Senate career to take on this problems? What bothers me most about this guy is that now he has all the solutions, but he doesn't have any legislative history to show he's been trying to fix them before.

That does undermine his case somewhat.

James Lileks, on the other hand, agrees that the "nuisance" language isn't the big issue:

Mosquito bites are a nuisance. Cable outages are a nuisance. Someone shooting up a school in Montana or California or Maine on behalf of the brave martyrs of Fallujah isn't a nuisance. It's war.

But that's not the key phrase. This matters: We have to get back to the place we were.

But when we were there we were blind. When we were there we losing. When we were there we died. We have to get back to the place we were. We have to get back to 9/10? We have to get back to the place we were. So we can go through it all again? We have to get back to the place we were. And forget all we’ve learned and done? We have to get back to the place we were. No. I don’t want to go back there. Planes into towers. That changed the terms. I am remarkably disinterested in returning to a place where such things are unimaginable. Where our nighmares are their dreams.

We have to get back to the place we were.

No. We have to go the place where they are.


MORE: Bill at INDCJournal observes:

My verdict: the comments were politically stupid because he should know that they'd be truncated and taken out of context, but a lot of people are, in fact, taking them out of context. He was clumsily grasping for a way to describe the ominpresence of terrorism in much the same way that Bush told Matt Lauer, "'I don't think you can win" this war. Of course, the Dems spun that perceptive statement to Hell and back, so fair is fair.

That being said, there's no doubt in my mind, that based on his description of a "global test," his drastic anti-war and anti-defense history and his previous description of the WOT as primarily a law-enforcement operation, that John Kerry plans on pursuing a foreign policy that devolves US strategic thinking back to an approximation of the Clinton Administration's weakness. Such a defensive posture will be more likely to steer us towards disaster.

I think that's right. And I don't blame Kerry -- much -- for regarding terrorism as a "nuisance" in the 1990s. That's what I thought, too. I was wrong. He hasn't admitted that he was, but instead wants to turn back the clock.