Kerry vs. Bush Approach to Terrorism: I Get It!! (I think)

This week’s NY Times Sunday Magazine has a cover story about Kerry by a reporter named Matt Bai. In it, on page 45 (about half-way into a 4 - 5 page story) he describes a quote from Kerry on terrorism. The rest of the article explores this and contrasts it with the Bush/neo-con approach to terrorism. I found the article incredibly insightful - not only for the explanation of Kerry’s thinking, but also as background that explains actions both campaigns have chosen to take.

Kerry likens fighting terrorism to fighting crime from when he was in law enforcement - you can’t eliminate prositution, racketeering, organized crime, etc., but you can cut off their access to money, supplies, etc. and control them so that while their existence is a fact of life, it doesn’t have to upset the basic fabric of most people’s lives. This is why he advocates allies (similar to cooperating across law enforcement agencies to control criminals) monitoring computer networking and finance channels (to limit access to funding) and blocking borders (to limit access to new players) as well as strictly monitoring access to weapons.

Bush and the neo-cons advocate a “viral democracy” approach - insert a democratic government into a region - either voluntarily or at gunpoint - and over time it will grow its own roots and lead to a “true” democratic presence and foster democracy in that region. This is potentially a very long term approach - El Salvador, cited by Cheney during the debate, took 20 years to stabilize.

So those are their basic points of view - to me that makes the choice between them incredibly clear, which is helpful to me. But it also reveals certain campaign issues:

  1. Kerry has real trouble discussing his approach, because it means he would have to say that the terrorism challenge should be addressed more like crime than like a war and Bush would have a ton of word-twisting possibilities to use against him, regardless of whether Kerry’s approach has merit (“The Senator doesn’t even think we’re at war!! Tell that to the 3,000 people that died on 9/11 or the people fighting in Iraq!!”)

  2. The war in Iraq doesn’t align with Kerry’s approach, so Kerry would be stuck having to explain his vote (no one wants to hear “it was politically expedient” as part of a campaign, even though it is a fact of political life). Plus we are stuck in Iraq, and he has to demonstrate a full awareness of the need to deal with that.

  3. Bush really didn’t need to link Saddam to Al Qaeda in his own mind - he needed a “seed country” to plant democracy in the region and Iraq was a logical choice for a number of reasons. He only needed to make the link for PR purposes. As far as he is concerned, he is making an investment that will pay off in 10 - 20 years.

Has anyone else read this article yet? What are your thoughts?

I’ll read this piece, but-

I think Kerry has managed to explain his vote just fine in the two debates.

I don’t see what Kerry has done that would lead anybody to think he doesn’t realize we’re staying in Iraq. He’s called it a bad idea and a diversion from the War on Terror all the same.

It’ll be on my doorstep in about 9 hours. I’ll definitely look for the article, thanks for the heads up.

Marley23 - I agree with both points. My point is that if Kerry does want to address the challenge of terrorism in a substantively different way than Bush but is left with Bush’s legacy, he (Kerry) has to walk a fine line between getting us out the quagmire Bush got us into while pursuing a different approach.

FYI, it is available to read online, also. I haven’t read past the first page yet, but based on how you describe their interpretation of Kerry’s approach, and knowing what I do about his spearheading the investigations into Iran/Contra and the BCCI (where Osama bin Laden had accounts, and which was ultimately put out of business because of Kerry), I’d say you’ve definitely “got it.”

WordMan, sincere thanks for bringing this article to my attention.

I really didn’t learn much in that article about Bush and the neocon’s philosophy regarding foreign policy. Indeed, I learned much about that from my local newspaper well before the Iraq war from Pulitzer prize winning Jay Bookman’s article, “Bush’s Real Goal in Iraq.”

But until I read this NY Times article, I was unaware that John Kerry had a firm grasp on the shortcomings of this philosophy, and an alternative approach that acknowledges we are more likely to succeed by focusing on law enforcement mechanisms than military force.

I think your OP is dead on. In this political environment, he cannot succeed in winning the Presidency with such a nuanced worldview. But I now have confidence that he gets it. With regards to foreign policy, this article has moved me from an anti-Bush vote to a pro-Kerry vote.

The three paragraphs that perhaps best sum this up (from the NY Times article referenced in the OP):

i heard about this on gma and cnn this morning. it seems that some people are not quite getting the analogy. one talking head asked if this meant that mr kerry was saying that terrorist and prostitues are the same…

i believe that the bush campaign will tear into the above thought and hold on like a pit bull.

i hope the kerry campaign has anticipated that.

Clearly rocking chair - that is the issue: Whether the Kerry folks can handle the Bush/Rove response of


Heh, heh - he said “prostitution” heh heh


It is stunning, but ultimately, not too surprising, that they the Bushies would appeal to the lowest common denominator. There is a rich, informed conversation to be had regarding “viral democracy” vs. “terrorism = networked crime” to be had, but Bush will certainly not allow that to happen.

What a putz. By this, I mean - there is a legitimate place for that type of informed discussion to be had. But not only do I happen to agree with Kerry’s approach, but I am disgusted by Bush’s slimy campaigning…

I thought the article was fascinating. It certainly made sense to me, and it gave all of Kerry’s recent comments a nice framework. I found the points about the Bush administration being stuck in a Cold War mentality to be particularly interesting, and it makes sense. Bush talked in the Town Hall debate about how since the United States has control of Afghanistan, the al Qaida is somehow displaced:
The Taliban is no longer in power, and Al Qaida no longer has a place to plan.
This seems to fit very nicely with the article’s point that because of their Cold War experience, Bush’s advisors think of threats as being linked to nations, and therefore a war on terror should be conducted as a war on the nations that harbor terrorists. While I’m not disputing that there are state sponsors of terror, Kerry’s purported position that terror cells are non-national entities, like drug cartels, and should be treated as such, makes sense to me.

Bush certainly has talked about the cold war as being comparrable to his actions. This quote is also from the town hall debate:
I remember when Ronald Reagan was the president; he stood on principle. Somebody called that stubborn. He stood on principle standing up to the Soviet Union, and we won that conflict. Yet at the same time, he was very – we were very unpopular in Europe because of the decisions he made.
I recognize that taking Saddam Hussein out was unpopular.

But I made the decision because I thought it was in the right interests of our security.

So I thought this was, overall, an important point.

A terrific article. I really think that Kerry should talk about his Vietnam effort more. Kerry’s theory appears to be that the bombings and fighting merely made the Vietnamese people hate America, and all that went with it. In contrast, by normalising relations and dragging Vietnam back to the (capitalist) world community, in which Kerry and McCain played large parts, that nation has gradually become more free. That’s one hell of a useful lesson for these times.

Also, Kerry appears to see a new type of “democratic domino theory” being used by the neocons. I believe he’s right to dismiss this as Cold War thinking.

The more I hear about this guy, the more I like him. Why isn’t he running on his record more? Forget the Vietnam crap, let’s hear more about Kerry the prosecutor and Kerry the senator.

I guess these kinds of people should be called “talking asses” instead of talking heads.

I heard on PBS a while ago that the Republicans *want * a Cold-War type thing: A decades-long “war” that threatens Americans on their own soil and keeps them in a long-term state of anxiety over their safety.

The rationale is that under such an environment, people tend to vote Republican, because they are seen as tougher on defense & military issues.

So, it may not be that Republicans are “stuck” in a Cold War mentality by mistake, it may be that they actively want to spin the situation as being a “War On Terror” to bring back that long-term anxiety from the “good old days” of the Cold War, and thus give them the upper hand in elections for decades to come.

While the cynical amongst us liberal Kerry types certainly harbor fears of an Orwellian “War is Peace” strategy on the part of the neo-cons, I am inclined to see it more complexly. While there might be a small kernal of truth to that “stay in power above all else” mindset, I think the neo-cons support a more “cold war” mindset - “viral democracy” and Reagan’s “outspend them on weapons until they collapse” - because they think it works.

It may take 20 years (El Salvador, cited by Cheney) or 40 years (USSR), but it works. So if that means we forcibly install a democracy in the Middle East and have to sit back and wait for a few decades so be it.

There are so many things wrong with this argument, in my point of view, that I don’t know where to begin - look at the number of places this type of approach as failed (South America, Iran, etc.) and the U.S. is now hated. Look at the other forces at work which clearly contributed to the failure of the USSR (economic failure due to profound gov’t mismanagement, etc.). It is not clear to me that the “cold war” approach worked in any way, but just happened to be around when some changes happened.

However, regardless of what I think, there is a group of people who strongly believe that this is the right approach, and Bush and the neo-cons are some of them. It would be great to have an issue-based debate on the merits of this, but that is not how campaigns are run…

didn’t take too long i heard the first ad from the bush campaign this morning at 5am.

should be an interesting debate this week.