U.S. Newswire - Remarks of Senator John Kerry at Westminster College

John Kerry: The Problem of Platitudes:

Today the Honorable Senator Kerry spoke at Westminster, giving a policy address on Iraq. It was rich in political platitudes, almost religious in its veneration for international institutions, but demonstrated a failure of understanding.

Earlier this month the Hall held discussions on the options in Iraq. Essentially, I suggested, there were three--"big war," "small war," or failure. Senator Kerry has three options as well:

One, we can continue to do this largely by ourselves and hope more of the same works; Two, we can conclude it's not doable, pull out and hope against hope that the worst doesn't happen in Iraq; Or three, we can get the Iraqi people and the world's major powers invested with us in building Iraq's future.
The Senator's preference is rhetorically obvious. He therefore suggests we proceed:
[W]e must do the hard work to get the world's major political powers to join in this mission. To do so, the President must lead. He must build a political coalition of key countries, including the UK, France, Russia and China, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, to share the political and military responsibilities and burdens of Iraq with the United States.
Does he really mean that he wants to invite China to share the military responsibilities in Iraq? No, of course not. Neither China nor Russia will be invited to do any such thing. Both of them are involved in their own counterinsurgency fighting against Muslim guerrillas, Russia in Chechnya and China in Xinjiang province (also known as East Turkmenistan). Their counterinsurgency doctrines are brutal on an order that no Western government could support, nor would we.

They are also wasteful of lives. In the campaign for the city of Grozny, the Russians lost thousands of soldiers. This demonstrates a second problem with this line of thought: the degree to which "internationalizing" the military problems in Iraq is possible is limited by technology and training. Neither Russia nor China is capable of joint force operations with the United States. Their training is not compatible with ours; their technology is not either. None of the MOUT techniques that the US Marines use is available to them. Indeed, their communications systems are so incompatible with our own that we would have a serious technical problem communicating at all.

The Coalition has been dealing with lesser versions of this problem all along. The reason that the Latin American armies have been combined into a single unit under Spanish command is not that they all speak Spanish. It is that the units from Latin America are largely unequipped for joint operations. As such, they have been stationed to do peacekeeping in the most secure parts of Iraq. Even Polish forces, after a decade of American efforts to bring them up to NATO standards, have had to operate largely separate from the joint command. When al-Sadr's armies attacked in several cities at once, the Poles were caught by surprise because their communications infrastructure is still not able to be completely tied in to our own. They don't get the full benefits of American C4I (command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence) techniques. This makes them vunerable, and unsuitable to support US units directly.

Inviting the Security Council to "share the military burden" is not an option. France, alone on the security council, both could send useful forces and has not already done so.

Senator Kerry:

The coalition should endorse the Brahimi plan for an interim Iraqi government, it should propose an international High Commissioner to work with the Iraqi authorities on the political transition, and it should organize an expanded international security force, preferably with NATO, but clearly under US command.

Once these elements are in place, the coalition would then go to the UN for a resolution to ratify the agreement. The UN would provide the necessary legitimacy. The UN is not the total solution but it is a key that opens the door to participation by others.

In parallel, the President must also go to NATO members and others to contribute the additional military forces and to NATO to take on an organizing role. NATO is now a global security organization and Iraq must be one of its global missions.

To bring NATO members and others in, the President must immediately and personally reach out and convince them that Iraqi security and stability is a global interest that all must contribute to. He must also convince NATO as an organization that Iraq should be a NATO mission-a mission consistent with the principles of collective security that have formed the basis of the alliance's remarkable history in the pursuit of peace and security.
NATO is indeed a global security organization. The only problem with this suggestion is that NATO is stretched far thinner than US forces. NATO is already leading the International Security force in Kabul (ISAF), and devoting large numbers of forces--both land and naval--to the combined antiterror task forces operating around the Horn of Africa. The German government has taken the lead in both matters, but the French are also involved, particularly in Africa. It is not clear that NATO can devote units of the size necessary to take over combat operations in even a small part of Iraq without devolving their commitment elsewhere. That is to say, "internationalizing" Iraq by bringing in NATO means nationalizing efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Of course, that could be worthwhile, if we need them more in Iraq. But again, almost all the countries in NATO have already sent forces to Iraq. You can compare NATO membership with Combined Joint Task Force 7, which handles joint operations in Iraq. You will quickly realize two things: first, Kerry is simply mistaken to assert that we are acting 'largely by ourselves,' or that NATO members aren't already involved. Second, the number of countries in NATO which haven't sent forces to Iraq is very small--and they have sent forces, instead, to Afghanistan and elsewhere.

I said earlier this month that Kerry seems to have no strategy for Iraq beyond "Call for Reinforcements!" That is, sadly, confirmed by today's policy address. There is a lot about the need for foreign troops (which, as I noted above, demonstrates a lack of understanding about the problems of using foreign troops). There is nothing at all about what would be done with those troops when they got to Iraq. Nothing. Would we adopt a policy of seeking terrorist havens abroad? Would we try to control the Iraqi cities, leaving the deserts to the enemy? Would we try to seal the borders? Kerry has nothing to say about it at all. He scorns the idea that we should trust in "more of the same," but he has no alternative.

This same failure of thought infects his speech on the topic of Iraqi forces:

We need a massive training effort to build Iraqi security forces that can actually provide security for the Iraqi people. We must accept that the effort to date has failed: it must be rethought and reformed. Training cannot be hurried. It must be done in the field and on the job as well as in the classroom. Units cannot be put on the street without backup from international security forces. They cannot be rushed into battle before they are ready.
"It must be rethought and reformed," he says. Well, sir, are you not the opposition candidate? What have you been doing these last nine months? We know, if I may be excused the jab, that you have not been taken up with your sworn duties in the Senate.

Does Kerry wish to adopt re-Ba'athification? Does he wish to turn the process of training over from the current trainers to someone else? If so, who? Other than taking his time--a commodity not readily available--and having "international security" to stand over their shoulders, what exactly would he do differently? He does not say.

He has many generous things to say about the United Nations, and although I see little reason to share his high opinion of the organization, I'll assume he believes it all. I will let the Senator pass on his jab at the lack of armed hummers without bothering to look up whether or not he voted against funding them. I will give him credit for having grown in his office, for he now asserts his strong preference for Democracy, when once he seemed rather unsure that it was preferable.

Even granting that, this speech was sad. One is left to assume that Kerry believes that Bush's arrogance is solely responsible for the share of the burden American forces carry. One is left to assume he knows nothing whatever about the challenges of joint operations with international forces. One must assume that he does not have an opinion on what strategy we ought to adopt, or what the relative benefits and hazards of each might be.

A man who thinks in platitudes does not think. If the Senator wishes to be taken seriously on these great questions, he must take the questions seriously. Now the sole voice of the opposition, he has the obligation to offer a fully formed alternative. He has not yet begun.

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