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Stephen Zunes
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Tuesday 8 January 2013
Kerry has repeatedly demonstrated an incredible level of hubris and arrogance regarding American military power.

The Case Against Kerry

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President Obama's selection of John Kerry as the next secretary of state sends the wrong signal to America's allies and adversaries alike. Though one of the more progressive members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier in his career, Kerry later became a prominent supporter of various neoconservative initiatives, including the invasion and occupation of Iraq, undermining the authority of the United Nations, and supporting Israeli militarism and expansionism.

Kerry was an outspoken supporter of the Bush Doctrine, which declares that the United States has the right to unilaterally invade foreign countries, topple their governments, and occupy them indefinitely if they are deemed to pose even a hypothetical threat against the United States. In 2002, he voted against an unsuccessful resolution authorizing the president to use force against Iraq only if the United Nations Security Council permitted such force under the UN Charter and instead voted for an alternative Republican resolution, which authorized President Bush to invade that oil-rich country unilaterally in violation of the UN Charter.

The October 2002 war resolution backed by Kerry was not like the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution regarding Vietnam, where there was no time for reflection and debate. Kerry had been briefed by the chief UN weapons inspector and by prominent scholars of the region, who informed him of the likely absence of any of the alleged "weapons of mass destruction" and the likely consequences of a U.S. invasion, but he voted to authorize the invasion anyway. It was not a "mistake" or a momentary lapse of judgment. It demonstrated Kerry's dismissive attitude toward fundamental principles of international law and international treaties that prohibit aggressive war.

Kerry and his supporters claim he does not really reject international law. They note that, in voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq, Kerry stated at that time that he expected President Bush "to work with the United Nations Security Council and our allies... if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force." He then promised that if President Bush failed to do so, "I will be the first to speak out."

However, Senator Kerry broke that promise. When President Bush abandoned his efforts to gain United Nations Security Council authorization for the war in late February 2003 and pressed forward with plans for the invasion without a credible international coalition, Kerry remained silent. Indeed, when President Bush actually launched the invasion soon afterwards, Senator Kerry praised him, co-sponsoring a Senate resolution declaring that the invasion was "lawful and fully authorized by the Congress" and that he "commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President... in the conflict with Iraq."

Unlike the hawkish senator from Massachusetts, most Democrats in Congress voted against authorizing the invasion. For example, Senator Robert Byrd introduced a resolution in the fall of 2002 clarifying that authorizing an invasion of Iraq would not diminish Congress' Constitutional authority to declare war and that no additional authority not directly related to a clear threat of imminent, sudden, and direct attack on the United States could be granted to the president unless Congress authorized it. Senator Kerry voted against it, saying "Every nation has the right to act preemptively if it faces an imminent and grave threat."Senator Kerry's embrace of unilateralism and his rejection of the United Nations system was further illustrated in his attacks on former Vermont governor Howard Dean -- who had been a rival for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination -- for arguing that a genuine international coalition should have been established before the United States invaded Iraq. Kerry claimed that such multilateralism "cedes our security and presidential responsibility to defend America to someone else" since it would "permit a veto over when American can or cannot act." Dean's call for the United States to work in broad coalitions, insisted Kerry, is "little more than a pretext for doing nothing."

In 2004, when the newly elected government of Spain announced that it would fulfill its longstanding promise to withdraw its forces from Iraq unless the mission was placed under the United Nations, Kerry responded by saying, "I call on Prime Minister Zapatero to reconsider his decision and to send a message that terrorists cannot win by their act of terror." Not only did Kerry believe that the Bush/Cheney administration was somehow more trustworthy than the international community in resolving the serious problems besetting post-war Iraq, Kerry was arguing that if a government disagreed with him and insisted that there be a UN mandate in place before participating in the occupation of a foreign country, they were somehow appeasing terrorists.

Even after the Bush administration acknowledged that there were no "weapons of mass destruction" or WMD programs, Kerry said he would have voted for the war anyway because of the oppressive nature of Saddam Hussein's regime and the fact that Iraq could potentially make WMDs in the future. What is disturbing about this is that there are scores of oppressive governments around the world that could conceivably pose some kind of threat at some time in the future. Kerry apparently believes that the president should have the power to go after any of them right now.

Even conservative analysts like Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma and later a lecturer at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, criticized what he called Kerry's "recklessly prowar positions," arguing that Kerry's criteria for going to war were "wildly aggressive." Correctly referring to Kerry as an "uber-militarist", Edwards observed, "I know of no leading American 'hawk,' not even among the most militant of the neocons, who has said he or she would have supported going to war if it were absolutely known that the perceived 'imminent threat' did not exist."

It appears that Kerry has not changed his hawkish view. As recently as November 2011, Kerry voted against a resolution which would have repealed the 2002 authorization for the use of force in Iraq.

Kerry basically rejects the UN Charter and the whole basis of the post-World War II international legal system, which is based on the notion of collective security and the illegality of any nation launching an aggressive war. In Kerry's view, powerful nations like the United States can invade any country they want if they determine that it might hypothetically pose some kind of threat someday in the future. To have someone with this extremist position as secretary of state sends a message to the international community that little has changed since the Bush administration.

Kerry has repeatedly demonstrated an incredible level of hubris and arrogance regarding American military power. Indeed, in supporting the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Kerry apparently worked on the assumption that the United States could get away with an indefinite occupation of a heavily populated Arab country with a strong history of nationalism and resistance to foreign domination.

When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he promised to not just end the war in Iraq, but to end the "mindset" that led to the war. However, in nominating John Kerry to be his next secretary of state, it appears that mindset is alive and well.

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ABOUT Stephen Zunes

Dr. Stephen Zunes is a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, where he chairs the program in Middle Eastern Studies. A native of North Carolina, Professor Zunes received his PhD. from Cornell University, his M.A. from Temple University and his B.A. from Oberlin College. 


Zunes implies here that the

Zunes implies here that the USA has no business intervening against oppressive regimes - not because that would be so wicked, but rather because the world has so many of them. In fact these regimes do constitute a powerful bloc of votes at the UN - which Zunes apparently thinks we are obliged to trust for our 'collective security' because somehow the UN embodies the pinnacle of international 'law'. Another dubious aspect of this article: Zunes also tosses around epithets like 'Israel's expansionism' for whose truth he gives no evidence. Maybe in future he'll learn to desist from verbal tricks aimed at insinuating blame for world ills on a country of about the population and size of New Jersey.

The article's quoted Kerry critique of Dean isn't always apropos, but sometimes it is: coalition building - and similar tactics - indeed can be used as an excuse for limitless diversion, compromise, delay and doing nothing real. Just like Obama's formation of an Atrocities Prevention Board has served as his excuse for doing nothing practical to stop the actual atrocities in Syria or Sudan or elsewhere.

Ironically, while Zunes paints Kerry as hawkish, Kerry himself - long a naive patsy for Syria's tyrant Assad - has been an influence against US intervention there.

Sure, there IS a case against Kerry - in fact more than one kind of case. For Zunes the case is that Kerry has too gullibly swallowed lies from US presidents. For others though the case is that Kerry has too gullibly swallowed lies from smooth-talking self-serving foreign tyrants like Assad.

Maybe we can agree on one thing: Kerry just might be rather too gullible overall for the job? Whatever be the correct answer on that question, it is anyhow the job of US senators in confirmation hearings to be the opposite of gullible, and to ask and follow up on penetrating questions.

It's complex. I feel that

It's complex. I feel that there will be great upheaval throughout the world as 2013 unfolds and Kerry might ultimately prove to be the right man for the times. Another point is that Bush' people lied about Kerry. Kerry went to Vietnam, when he didn't have to. Bush didn't.

Until I read the brief biog

Until I read the brief biog at the end of this article, I didn't know that its author was an Obie, as I also am. Since Hagel's views differ markedly from Kerry's, and since the dangerousness of Hussein was surely influential in determining Kerry's views about Iraq, I am far from sure that Zunes' broad generalisations about invasion are entirely sound. Anybody who has read Machiavelli knows how thorny the world of politics has been for centuries. Like Obama, Kerry does appear to be a moderate. . . . I try to keep up with major international news, since I'm a dual citizen of America and Australia; but this is very demanding, and it's easy to get things wrong--especially from this distance. Our best public news channels on tv--the ABC (national broadcaster) and SBS (a branch of PBS, so we get delayed PBS NewsHour)--are judicious. Thanks, Nation of Change, for helping to keep all of us informed. Susan Reibel Moore

Your comment only points to

Your comment only points to the fact that Kerry is a moderate. Nobody's perfect.

Oligarchs are not our

Oligarchs are not our friends.

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