Michael Totten

Biden V. Kerry

It’s too bad someone like Sen. Joe Biden didn’t run in the Democratic primary. (It would have helped even more had he won it, but that’s another discussion.)
Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, compares and contrasts two foreign policy speeches in Boston, one by Joe Biden and the other by John Kerry.

Biden started by correctly naming America’s enemy. Unlike Kerry, who mentioned “terrorists,” “antiterrorist operations,” and “a global war on terror,” Biden never mentioned the “T” word. Instead, he spoke of the “death struggle between freedom and radical fundamentalism.” The difference is more than semantic. Terrorism, as commentators have pointed out, is a tactic. Sri Lankan suicide bombers who blow themselves up in the name of Tamil independence are terrorists–but we are not at war with them. If militants in Iraq shoot only at American soldiers and not at civilians, they are not technically terrorists–but they are our enemies nonetheless. Radical Islam is an ideology, and calling it the enemy implies that America is fighting a war not just of national interest, but of ideas. “Radical fundamentalism,” Biden said, “will fall to the terrible, swift power of our ideas as well as our swords.”
Kerry also lauded American values, saying, “I know the power of our ideals. We need to make America once again a beacon in the world. We need to be looked up to and not just feared.” But, because he hadn’t defined the enemy by reference to its ideas, his statement about American principles lacked context and force. A beacon is also a very different metaphor than a sword. Biden said the “death struggle between freedom and radical fundamentalism … breached our shores on September 11.” Notice the implication: The war against radical Islam began before September 11–in other corners of the globe. Thus, victory requires the United States to play an active role in conflicts within other societies, particularly Muslim ones. Kerry’s statement, by contrast, can be read as a call merely for the United States to live out its ideals at home, secure that the world is watching. Indeed, his speech said nothing about promoting democracy in Iraq or anywhere else.

There are people in the Democratic Party who understand what we’re up against here. Hopefully, if John Kerry wins, he will staff them.